Project: Name Equality for Minorities
In A Tolerant World, Your Name is No Barrier
On February 24, 2020, under the leadership of Chair. Bincheng Mao, the ECC's "Name Equalities for Minorities" project received the NYU Social Impact Grant.
1. Mispronouncing Individuals' Non-Western Names Leads to Proven Negative Impacts
Source: Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Education
A recent sociological study titled “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microaggressions and the K-12 Classrooms” found that when students of color had their names mispronounced in the classroom, it affected their social-emotional well-being and by extension, harmed their ability to learn. The study also concluded that mispronouncing the names of students of color constituted a racial microaggression because it created shame and disassociation from their culture.
2. Strategies to Reduce Such Racial Microaggression
It’s important to note that it’s rare for people to be deliberately facetious by mispronouncing people's non-western names; often it’s equally embarrassing for the other person. Here are some ways to get it right.
- Ask the person to pronounce it — and actively listen
Rather than try to say a name you’re unfamiliar with, ask the person how to pronounce it. It’s awkward and embarrassing when people try to “soldier on” with my name and spend more time trying to correct themselves afterward. Listen carefully to where the person puts emphasis, and where the inflections are. Repeat after them once or twice, not more. If you know you will interact with them often, make a note on how to phonetically pronounce their name (maybe afterward on their business card). Make an effort to listen intently and ask if you’re saying it correctly; I’ve pronounced my name correctly multiple times for people, only to have them commit to memory a mispronounced version of it. If you still struggle, there are also a number of websites that have sprung up to help people pronounce names correctly.
- Make an effort to hear how someone pronounces their name to other people, even if they just pronounced it for you.
If you are introducing someone on stage or in any public forum, write down a note for yourself on how to pronounce it correctly and practice it in private. If you find that you’re introducing someone new in a public setting, ask them in advance — or ask someone who works with them — how to correctly pronounce their name.
"The memory of the first time I received a professional award will always be tainted by how the emcee butchered my name as they called me up on stage to receive it. I would have been delighted if she had clarified the pronunciation in the 10 minutes we were chatting before we went up on stage" ---Ruchika Tulshyan
- Clarify again
If you meet someone again after a while, it’s fine to say, “Remind me of your name again,” or, “Remind me how to pronounce your name again,” quite like you would if you had forgotten their name. I always prefer clarification over mispronunciation, especially if I’m meeting someone for the second time.
-Do something when you realize you’ve been mispronouncing it
Apologize when you get it wrong, as soon as you realize. A good rule of thumb is to say, “I’m sorry I mispronounced that. Could you please repeat your name for me?” If you’ve known someone for a while, perhaps even a number of years, and you realize you’ve been mispronouncing their name, operate with humility. You might say: “I realize I’ve been saying your name wrong all this time. I’m so sorry. Could you please say it for me?” Then, make a note and practice privately until you get it right.
- Be an ally
If you hear someone else mispronouncing a colleague’s name when they’re not around, step in and correct them gently, “I think it’s pronounced…” This is especially helpful if your name is more common; it can be awkward to constantly have to interrupt people, especially if you’re already part of an underrepresented minority in the workplace.
3. The Steps of Coalition Project: Name Equality for Minorities
This project, Name Equality for Minorities, includes five steps.
- First, the project team will invite our minority peers to offer to correct pronunciation of their names and, more importantly, to reveal the cultural meanings behind their names through videos. This will recover people’s sense that non-western names are just as meaningful as any other names and encourage people to respect them accordingly. We will upload these videos to ECC’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
- Second, the project team will build an Interactive Name Pronunciation Bank: to make a pronunciation resource for names of non-western origins, categorized by cultures. We are planning to launch three categories first: African, East Asian, Russian. We will also insert interactive contests to challenge people to say the names correctly and provide appropriate prizes for winners, therefore incentivizing people to learn these names. The preliminary plan for this bank’s web domain is www.namequality.com.
- Third, the project team will incorporate one of the most significant features: informative blogs. Each week, the project team will compose a detailed article introducing a figure who greatly contributed to our society while bearing a non-western name. These blogs will illustrate the origin of his or her names, the meaning of this name, the key life events of this figure, therefore letting more people learn the correct pronunciation of this name while cultivating respect. We will insert the correct pronunciation of these names at the beginning of these blogs. After careful selections, we will upload these articles on WordPress.org, Medium, and Wix.com for the highest and most meaningful impact.
- Fourth, the project team will roll out a series of offline awareness campaigns. We will organize a volunteer campaign to allow students in New York and beyond to participate as ambassadors for name equality. Volunteers will wear our self-designed name tags with their names and correct pronunciations and our self-designed T-shirts with #Proud My Name in front and a list of commonly used non-western names with correct pronunciations in the back. Ambassadors will encourage pedestrians to sign up to our email lists in which we will send out links to our interactive pronunciation banks and our high-quality blogs.
- Fifth, the project team will identify and reach out to state and federal legislators to advocate for name equality policies. ON Feb. 29, 2020, Coalition Chair. Bincheng is scheduled to testify before the New York State Senate Annual Budget Forum (Manhattan delegation) and he will utilize this chance to demonstrate the necessity for name equality to legislators. We also plan to directly talk to elected officials in their offices, because over 70% of legislators believe face-to-face constituent conversations to be the most effective persuasions. We plan to visit New York City officials in NYC and State Senators in their Albany offices.
On 29 February 2020, ECC Chair. Bincheng Proposed Minority Inclusion Policies to New York State Senate.
At the core of his policy proposals was the inclusion of minorities in our education system, particularly public schools in or near previously marginalized neighborhoods.