What's in a name? When you're a minority, everything.
March 2, 2017 9:07 AM   Subscribe

This past Sunday night, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award—best supporting actor for his tender performance as Juan in Moonlight. [...] God forbid a black Muslim man simply be honored at Hollywood's most glamorous and esteemed event without facing the kind of microaggression that people of color do every single day. [...] During one of the night's comedic bits, Kimmel had the audience shout "Mahershala!" instead of "surprise" to welcome a tour group. As if Ali's name, his identity, is some sort of gimmick.
posted by numaner (137 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Uma, Oprah! Oprah, Uma!
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:09 AM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Jimmy Kimmel is in his 40's, right? About my age, wouldn't you say? Old enough to have been a little kid right when the first children of hippies started joining kindergartens? Old enough that he would have gone to school with kids named "Moon Blossom" or something, and should know better?

...My grade school bestie was named "Krishna". She was not Hindi, her parents just liked the name (before they heard it, they were going to name her "Dulcinea"). Her brother and sister were named Theoden (yes, after the King of Rohan) and Guinnevere. The very first conversation Krishna and I had came our first day of Kindergarten, when we were on the see-saw and she was giggling at me as I repeatedly was asking, "wait, what's your name?" But within five minutes I was all like "okay, her name's Krishna, whatevs" and from that day to this, I do not remember a single instance of anyone giving Krishna or her siblings shit about their names. It's entirely possible there may have been an instance or two, but the bulk of the student body just rolled with it (and I'd know - Krishna and I basically were in each others' friend circle from Kindergarten through high school and we were both part of the honor student/theater kid crowd, and Theoden was in my younger brothers' crew through Junior High and they had his back). We all met them when we were little, and after an initial "wait, what?" we all learned how to roll with it because "okay, they just have a slightly funky name, but that's okay." And the ones who didn't got informed that they were shits.

Jimmy Kimmel is old enough that he would almost certainly have been in grade school with kids that had names like "Siddhartha" or "Eagle Riot", and so he should fucking know better than to make fun of names like "Mahershala."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:32 AM on March 2, 2017 [31 favorites]


The article mentions an important point: Ali already shortened his name once. His full first name is Mahershalahashbaz. So to complain that his name is long and hard to say is to be unwilling to meet him even halfway.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2017 [54 favorites]


I think the point is that he's not saying "ha ha that's a funny name", he's saying "ha ha that's a funny foreign name" and that is inexcusable.
posted by billiebee at 9:37 AM on March 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


Jimmy Kimmel lectures viewers to be more tolerant to make the country great again, and then makes fun of a Muslim Oscar winner and an Asian newlywed for having "funny" names. He can go suck it. PS I follow Yulree on Instagram now and she's awesome (she's doubled her follower count since I started following).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:44 AM on March 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


My 9-y.o. daughter and I were talking today about her classmate's name: Nuri. My Molly said, "It's short for [something longer]. She's from India" -- and that was that. We agreed that it has a pretty sound. *shrug* No giggling, no "why do I have to learn to say this?" and no nothing.

Kimmel, why you gotta be a boor? Wikipedia says, "Kimmel's mother is of Italian ancestry; two of his paternal great-great-grandparents were German emigrants, and his family's surname was "Kümmel" several generations back.[9][10][11][12]" The odds that Little Jimmy heard trash about his name as a kid in New York are definitely greater than zero. He should know better.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:44 AM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Yeah, how is he getting away with this? I think a public appology would be in order.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:48 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


(Our admiring the sound of a name isn't because we are a family of jolly, patronizing racists, it's recognizing that the signifier is distinct from the signified and can be appreciated for its own beauty. My own name is a monosyllable, and I am jealous of people with more to hear in their names. My full name is a trochee but it's not lovely by any means the way "Nuri"and "Molly" are.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Tina Fey and Amy Poehler highlighted the ridiculousness of similar 'jokes' made about nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o at the Golden Globes in 2014.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:50 AM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Mahershalahashbaz (the original unshortened version) is a biblical Hebrew name, being the name of one of Isiah's sons, and is often cited as the longest word in the Bible. The way he has shortened it makes good sense because mahershalal and hashbaz both mean the same thing, so mahershalahashbaz is redundant.
posted by w0mbat at 9:51 AM on March 2, 2017 [27 favorites]


Jimmy Kimmel is in his 40's, right? About my age, wouldn't you say? Old enough to have been a little kid right when the first children of hippies started joining kindergartens? Old enough that he would have gone to school with kids named "Moon Blossom" or something, and should know better?


I am in the same age cohort, and I have heard people half my age pull the same trash, and it's not just in regards to names -- but accents and even facial features.

I was born in Canada and lived here all my life, and yet I still have white people from the same city I live in ask my about my "accent" (everyone has an accent to someone else, stupid, and it's the same accent you have). I sound just like anyone else in the region, but since I have Slavic features, somehow, I could not have possibly been from the same country -- and if I am someone of white Eastern European extraction who faces this discriminatory garbage even from a generation who think they are more enlightened and identify as being from the Left, I know it is much, much worse for people who have more pigment in their skin with a name that isn't John Smith.

I have a revulsion for small-minded peasant thinking. It is none of your business what my "accent" is or have a right to editorialize or draw attention to anyone's name. Pigeonholing people is a form of profiling, and drawing attention to people's names and accents is a form of social shaming and isolation.

Mahershala Ali won an Oscar and broke a barrier -- that's all that mattered that night.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:54 AM on March 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


Jimmy Kimmel is the infuriating, insecure, and insensitive class clown that you thought would grow up once you got out of elementary school, and then to your horror has somehow carved out a career on national TV while pulling the same shtick. Othering Mahershala Ali is so disrespectful and stings.
posted by yueliang at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2017 [26 favorites]


I think we all know names are not that hard. Sometimes, they involve a phoneme that the person trying to pronounce them doesn't have in their language, but mostly, they don't. "Mahershala" is four syllables, all of which an English speaker can say easily. The only reason to linger over it is to other him.

My kid's godparents are coming to visit for his birthday today, and they have the Hungarian names Lehel and Imola. We're talking a grand total of ten letters and five syllables between them and still, they're going to have to be gracious at the birthday party while people pretend that asking them to say those names is like some kind of unfathomable verbal trigonometry.

And at their jobs (in Canada), their co-workers have nicknamed them "Larry" and "Melinda" just to "make things easier."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Uzo Aduba from Orange is the New Black on not changing her name:
When I started as an actor? No, and I'll tell you why. I had already gone through that. My family is from Nigeria, and my full name is Uzoamaka, which means "The road is good." Quick lesson: My tribe is Igbo, and you name your kid something that tells your history and hopefully predicts your future. So anyway, in grade school, because my last name started with an A, I was the first in roll call, and nobody ever knew how to pronounce it. So I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, "Why?" I said, "Nobody can pronounce it." Without missing a beat, she said, "If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka."
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:58 AM on March 2, 2017 [160 favorites]


Last night the DCCC called me for a donation,

Her: [MyName], now that's an unusual name.
Me: Actually it's a very usual name for my ethnicity.
Her: Oh... What are you?
Me:
Her:
Me: So are you ready for the first four digits of my credit card...

This is from someone who is ostensibly my ally. As I've gotten older I'm much less patient with people who make an issue of my name.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2017 [50 favorites]


Similar stupid shit was said about Quvenzhané Wallis' name, and she was 9 at the time.

An ex co-worker of mine used to play dumb on "foreign" names all the time, making out that she just couldn't get her tongue round Rafiq or Sunetra, when she could manage Siobhan or Jolyon just fine. Straight up racism under a veneer of civility.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2017 [23 favorites]


I had wondered about "the first Muslim actor" prior to the ceremony and was doing a little Googling.

Oddly enough, Ellen Burstyn MAY have beat him to the punch: she got into Sufism "in her late 30's" and won Best Actress in 1975, when she was 42.

Biographies don't delve into much detail about her faith (she identifies now as more generally spiritual), but I thought it was pretty neat.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 10:00 AM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


and my full name isn't even hard it's five syllables that are pronounced exactly how they're spelled
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:01 AM on March 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


It's normal to not know who to pronounce unfamiliar names. My personal policy is to ask once, listen closely, and repeat back and then say, "Did I get that right?" so the person has a chance to tell me if I got it wrong.

I'm confused: Shouldn't the host of the Oscars have been coached on nominee's name pronunciation?

Also, the right joke to make if you are a white American and you mis-pronounce an unfamiliar name is, "I'm such a stupid American!"
posted by latkes at 10:08 AM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


Sorry for the derail, I know the Patrick mentioned in the article. He is Asian-American too and that is not his 'Americanized' name. He is the last person who would get on a tour bus so I'm still having a hard time believing this was all random and that there wasn't some kind of planning involved in choosing who got on stage.

I am an Indian (from India) named after a biblical character but one very familiar to American ears. I used to get the what's your real name question many times in grad school but always from the white people. I was friends with Chinese graduate students who had adopted a western name to make it easy for the locals to pronounce, so this was a very common question to encounter from the undergrads or people at the local church. Every first session as a TA involved telling at least one white undergrad student, yes that's my real name. People I met in rural MO were surprised when told yes, that is my real name and yes there are people of different faiths in India.

The worst was when a white ISKCON member would not believe my name and physically blocked me from moving till I would tell him what my real Hindu name was. There's no way that's your real name was his refrain as I could not have been given a Christian name at birth. And this was in of all places Los Angeles.

I lucked into my name at birth and so don't have to listen to my name being mangled at work or be assigned an easy to pronounce name by my clients.
posted by viramamunivar at 10:11 AM on March 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


Yeah, how is he getting away with this?

Well if you ask me, one half of the answer is that racism towards Asians has been totally ok in the US, even before the rise of Trump. Like it has always been the one socially acceptable kind of racism that you can perform. c.f. the little Asian kids brought out as PWC accountants one or two Oscars ago.

The other half is, even in a room full of west coast liberal hollywood elites, the kind of people that are mocked by "real america", at an event that was a highly planned attempt to be more inclusive, Americans still see us as 'other'. They want to either be congratulated for doing the work of acknowledging that otherness (patted on the head like a kindergartener when they make the barest effort like saying our names) or sympathy for when they decide that they had enough and just can't be bothered.
posted by danny the boy at 10:12 AM on March 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


Someone I know went to high school with Mahershala Ali and says he went by Hershal in high school. Good for him for going into acting with more of his full name. Can we take this opportunity to say what a gracious, thoughtful, multi-talented person Mahershala Ali is?
posted by latkes at 10:12 AM on March 2, 2017 [23 favorites]


I think the point is that he's not saying "ha ha that's a funny name", he's saying "ha ha that's a funny foreign name" and that is inexcusable.

True. My own point was that having been exposed to funny names from any source as a kid should have made him even less likely to be of the opinion that "ha ha that's a funny name/funny foreign name" was a good idea.

Just remembered another friend and another name - my Irish friend is named Cliona, which is a tiny bit unusual for Ireland but not super-out-there by any means. I admit to fucking up the pronunciation for years, but that's only because I'd only seen it written until we met in person (we were pen pals as kids) and was rhyming it with "Fiona"; when she corrected me the first time we spoke in person (it's more like "KLEE-neh"), I apologized and learned to say it right because it is her name and that is what you do, dammit.

She later told me about one of her college professors, a guy from England, who claimed to not be able to pronounce it and asked to rearrange the letters and call her "Nicola" instead. Grr.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on March 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


One more thing: Marie Claire! The women's magazines have been pretty impressive post Trump. Maybe they were better than I thought they were before it?
posted by latkes at 10:16 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


And at their jobs (in Canada), their co-workers have nicknamed them "Larry" and "Melinda" just to "make things easier."

Oh ew. That's just gross. And they are amazing to put up with it. I have a hard enough time when people in my Ottawa office translate my Engish name into the French equivalent (i.e. April but call me Avril).

Don't *do* that. It's not my name and I won't answer you.
posted by aclevername at 10:17 AM on March 2, 2017


My first name is widely common (in fact, I share it with a long-tenured political leader who only recently left office in Canada) but people reflexively change the pronunciation to match up with my French surname (I'm Anglo).


I'm willing to give people leeway on it a few times. After that it's annoying. I can only imagine how frustrating it can be for immigrants or native-born POC with uncommon names.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 10:17 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


True. My own point was that having been exposed to funny names from any source as a kid should have made him even less likely to be of the opinion that "ha ha that's a funny name/funny foreign name" was a good idea.

The white middle class trend in naming now is to give your kid a 'unique' name, and yet the same people will run off and think making fun of foreign names is funny. It's all about racism and xenophobia.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:22 AM on March 2, 2017 [15 favorites]


It's really just common courtesy--or should be--but I think the single most important thing I do as a college instructor to build rapport with my students is make sure I learn how to pronounce all their names correctly on the first day of class. From some students with rare names, there's almost a palpable sense of relief when someone takes a moment to get it right without making any comments about how weird the name is.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:25 AM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


This is the guy who co-hosted The Man Show a few years back; his whole career is based on being a jerk. I'm kind of surprised that people are surprised at his continued idiotic inexcusable behavior.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:26 AM on March 2, 2017 [29 favorites]


Also I'm surprised, though I guess I shouldn't be, that he was asked to host the Oscars in the first place.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:27 AM on March 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


Here's a video of people trying to pronounce different, unusual celebrity names.

Just so we're all on the same page: it's only considered a microaggression if a white person makes light of a minority's name?
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 10:32 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is the guy who co-hosted The Man Show a few years back; his whole career is based on being a jerk. I'm kind of surprised that people are surprised at his continued idiotic inexcusable behavior.

Not surprised by his behavior, more by the continued societal excusing of the inexcusable.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:39 AM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


and my full name isn't even hard it's five syllables that are pronounced exactly how they're spelled

My wife is Japanese and her name is only six letters, with no unusual (for English) letter combinations, and is said exactly how an English speaker would expect given the spelling.

Yet very often non-Japanese (usually white, but not always) people will find some new way to say it wrong. My theory is that it might be a result of them, from their POV, being polite and attempting to say the name the way they think a non-English name "should" sound and as a result going way too far and getting it wrong.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:40 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Kimmel has always been a douchebro from The Man Show. Trading in hush puppies for tuxedo loafers didn't change that.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Just so we're all on the same page: it's only considered a microaggression if a white person makes light of a minority's name?

No, but that is.
posted by Etrigan at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2017 [62 favorites]


Just so we're all on the same page: it's only considered a microaggression if a white person makes light of a minority's name?

Correct, the reverse is at least a felony.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:43 AM on March 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


One thing I have found is that when you do try and fail to pronounce an unfamiliar name, the situation goes better if you thank the person for correcting you and helping you get it right than if you apologize for having gotten it wrong.

The key isn't whether you can, uncoached, successfully pronounce any name in the world. The key is whether you give a shit enough to get it right when told how it should be said.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:49 AM on March 2, 2017 [25 favorites]


Jimmy Kimmel is old enough that he would almost certainly have been in grade school with kids that had names like "Siddhartha" or "Eagle Riot", and so he should fucking know better than to make fun of names like "Mahershala." isn't wrong but I propose an edit to make it "Jimmy Kimmel is old enough that he should fucking know better than to make fun of names." Especially names of minorities.
posted by brokeaspoke at 10:50 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also, the right joke to make if you are a white American and you mis-pronounce an unfamiliar name is, "I'm such a stupid American!"

This is an odd thing to say. It's not like not being able to pronounce an unfamiliar name is uniquely American problem and everyone else magically always knows how to get it right.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:51 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Upon reflection - my own surname is pretty obviously Anglo WASPy. It's even the same name as one of Tim Curry's iconic characters. And yet people fuck up the pronunciation or ask me to spell it for them all the time.

Maybe it's just that most people are really self-absorbed and fuck up everyone's name, and they just feel like they have an excuse for it if the person happens to be not-white.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


And yet people fuck up the pronunciation or ask me to spell it for them all the time.

The difference is those people are not making a joke out of it. And they're definitely not making a joke out of it, multiple times, on a night where the person with a name that they refuse to learn is being honored. It's a self-absorbed fuckup, sure, but that's not the only thing that's going on. It's not an excuse. It's deliberate.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 11:07 AM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


Just so we're all on the same page: it's only considered a microaggression if a white person makes light of a minority's name?

No, but that is.


Care to elaborate what that means, or rather: how that question defines a microaggression on my part?
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 11:07 AM on March 2, 2017


This was not Kimmel fucking up the name by carelessly mispronouncing it. He deliberately made it into a joke, and othered Ali on a night when he should have been heaped with praise.
posted by billiebee at 11:09 AM on March 2, 2017 [30 favorites]


I didn't watch the Oscars because I just cannot even stand to look at Jimmy Kimmel's smug face or listen to his jokey logorrhea.

When I saw the clip of how he handled the best picture announcement error, I was horrified by the way it minimized Moonlight's win. As host, it would have been appropriate for him to try to smooth over the moment and buy a few moments of time to steer the situation back on track...but he steps up to the mic and rattles on about how hey, they (La La Land) should get it anyway, let's just hand out a whole bunch of awards, blah blah blah? Oh man, fuck you. Maybe stop joking around for two moments and think before you open your mouth.
posted by desuetude at 11:11 AM on March 2, 2017 [18 favorites]


Any of you folks ever heard of Don Rickles?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:12 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah. And?
posted by agregoli at 11:13 AM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


> Any of you folks ever heard of Don Rickles?

Yes. And?
posted by rtha at 11:13 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


He was a bigoted asshole, too.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


It's a style of comedy. Perhaps it's not your thing.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:15 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's a style of comedy.

So was minstrelsy. Times change.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2017 [53 favorites]


Oh I see. We just don't get it, rather than thinking it's racist bullshit. Good to know.
posted by billiebee at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2017 [52 favorites]


I'm surprised he hasn't caught flak forthis
posted by Jaymzifer at 11:18 AM on March 2, 2017


> It's a style of comedy. Perhaps it's not your thing.

Oh, was it unclear to you from the comments in this thread - and elsewhere - that that style of comedy is perhaps not always appropriate, and people don't like it? (And aren't required to, even if it has a long tradition. Lots of unlikeable things have long traditions.) You are very observant.
posted by rtha at 11:18 AM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


Upon reflection - my own surname is pretty obviously Anglo WASPy. It's even the same name as one of Tim Curry's iconic characters.

Furter?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:18 AM on March 2, 2017 [20 favorites]


It's a style of comedy.

Locker room humor, perhaps?
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:19 AM on March 2, 2017 [8 favorites]


So much relate to this article. I had this exchange with a guy at my gym a few months ago:

A little more than a week ago:
- My name's Jeff by the way
- I'm Razia
- Uh, what?
- Razia - it's spelled R-A-Z-I-A
- So, were you born here? Or someplace else?

Those of us with unusual names understand that it may take a while for you to get our name right, or pronounce it correctly. We get that it might spark curiosity about its origins. It's different, I get that it's different, and I meet people with new (to me) names and I have the same curiosities and I may accidentally butcher the spelling or pronunciation in the beginning. But it's such an odd thing to assume or question birth-ness or American-ness based on nothing but your name. I have no accent. I'm wearing unremarkable workout clothes.

But it's not just a 'white people' thing. My name is predominantly South Asian in origin (dad was Indo-Pak, mom was Italian, I was born in Boston and look ambiguous). I'll never forget the time I went to pick up my pre-paid takeout from an Indian restaurant in Boston, and was asked to show ID, because I didn't look South Asian or like a 'Razia.' It's the only time in 37 years that I've been carded for takeout.
posted by raztaj at 11:23 AM on March 2, 2017 [23 favorites]


> "It's even the same name as one of Tim Curry's iconic characters."

Darkness?
posted by kyrademon at 11:27 AM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


>And yet people fuck up the pronunciation or ask me to spell it for them all the time.

The difference is those people are not making a joke out of it. And they're definitely not making a joke out of it, multiple times, on a night where the person with a name that they refuse to learn is being honored.


Yes, and I'm saying that the reason they don't do it to me is because I"m white. If my surname were [Nepali Surname] they may tease me about it, because subconsciously they may feel a "well, she's a foreigner so it's not my fault" defensiveness about it that they could feel gives them permission. But because my surname is [Anglo Surname] they just feel embarrassed and "damn, she's one of me so it IS my fault this time." but in both cases, it's still a person who can't be arsed to think about how to learn someone else's name.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


The way I try to explain this to people who don't understand how tiresome the constant remarks and jokes are (I see we have a few in this thread):

Imagine if your name was Michael Jackson. And every time your name ever came up with someone new, you had to hear them say "Oh, haha, like the singer!" There's nothing at all offensive about that sentence, there's no racism, no judgment, nothing. It's not a loaded statement in any way, except that you are now in your 10,000th iteration of having to say "Yes, exactly, like the singer." It gets old.

So to those saying it's a style of humor- yes, it is, a bad, boring, unfunny style. To those who think it's just an innocent comment and we're being too sensitive: literally all human beings with names that are remarked upon can agree that it's annoying to have your name as a center of conversation. You are wrong. Stop it. Don't ask about the names of random strangers. Google it later if you want to know more. We are bored of the conversation.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:31 AM on March 2, 2017 [44 favorites]


To short circuit the "its a style of comedy" line of non-thinking: its more than that, by a lot. It isn't just comedy, its culture.

Like this story from NPR last week about how applicants with Asian last names in Canada were less likely to get called for interviews than equally qualified (read: same damn fake resume) "white sounding" candidates.

And that is in Canada. With "Asian" names. A supposedly less racist country demonstrating bias against a supposedly "model minority."

Im maybe extra sensitive about this because at my previous job I had a very negative interaction with my old racist (and sexist, and anti-gay) boss who wanted to play "guess the ethnicity" of an applicant we had interviewed based on her name (he was very wrong, because life).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


Imagine if your name was Michael Jackson. And every time your name ever came up with someone new, you had to hear them say "Oh, haha, like the singer!" There's nothing at all offensive about that sentence, there's no racism, no judgment, nothing. It's not a loaded statement in any way, except that you are now in your 10,000th iteration of having to say "Yes, exactly, like the singer." It gets old.
Female Temp: Michael...Bolton?
Michael Bolton: Yeah, that's me.
Female Temp: Wow! Is that your real name?
Michael Bolton: Yeah.
Female Temp: So are you related to that singer guy?
Michael Bolton: No. It's just a coincidence.
Female Temp: [visibly disappointed] Oh.
Samir Nagheenanajar: No-one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It..it's not that hard. Na-ghee-na-na-jar...Nagheenanajar.
Michael Bolton: Well, at least your name isn't Michael Bolton.
Samir Nagheenanajar: You know, there is nothing wrong with that name.
Michael Bolton: No, there was nothing wrong with it, until I was about 12 years old and that no talent ass-clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
Samir Nagheenanajar: Why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael.
Michael Bolton: No way, why should I change? He's the one who sucks.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2017 [20 favorites]


Just so we're all on the same page: it's only considered a microaggression if a white person makes light of a minority's name?

No, but that is.

Care to elaborate what that means, or rather: how that question defines a microaggression on my part?


Sure, once:

When a person (particularly a person of color) starts a conversation about how Thing X sucks, and they wish it would not happen, interjecting with "But what about the inverse of Thing X, when a POC does it to a white person?" is often used as a tactic to deny that Thing X is really a problem.

And if you want to come back with "Why don't you assume good faith?", I shall reply, "You are an adult human being, and you should understand that sometimes you will say boneheaded things, and the appropriate response to being called out on a boneheaded thing is, like 90 percent of the time, to say nothing and think quietly to yourself about whether this is the Boneheaded Hill you want to die on, because no one will remember That One Time That CWAA Did A Boneheaded Thing, but they are more likely to remember That Time That CWAA Really Dug In Their Heels On That Boneheaded Thing."

Also, google "jaqing".

Oh, and beyond all that, "a minority"? Really? You say "a white person" but you go with "a minority"?
posted by Etrigan at 11:34 AM on March 2, 2017 [82 favorites]


Imagine if your name was Michael Jackson.

Like the wine critic?
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:39 AM on March 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


I have a very unusual-for-America but very English name and it is bad enough when people get going about my white ass name. But for me, it's just annoying (it's so annoying) because I have the cultural capital and privilege to brush it off. It's not actually going to effect me if people think I have a funny name. It's not going to prevent me from getting a job or some basic human respect because my funny name is understood by other white people as being also white. There's most definitely a difference.


I do quite a bit of phone support for my job and I am so sick of having the Conversation About My Name before people will tell me what their problem is. Please stop, everyone. Google it later. It's from Shakespeare, you will find no shortage of references.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:42 AM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


And at their jobs (in Canada), their co-workers have nicknamed them "Larry" and "Melinda" just to "make things easier."

Oh for the love of... it's not that difficult an effort to learn to pronounce someone's name. So which is more important then, a minute or maybe two of my time and effort, or honoring the dignity and basic respect of another human being?
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:42 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have a very common Spanish surname as my given middle name, sandwiched in between two of the most Anglo first and last names imaginable. I can't count the amount of shit I've gotten all my life about that middle name, including from my own racist father (who gave me the name in the first place, but that's a whole other story), to the extent that as a kid and adolescent I was so ashamed of my name that I shortened it so I would "pass" -- kind of like if I were to take a name like Castellanos and alter it to Castle to "sound" more Anglo.

I own my name now, because it is my heritage: I'm of Anglo and Hispanic ancestry and I'm proud of that. But I still get looks and double-takes when I pull out the good old driver's license. "You don't look like a [Middle Name]." Yeah, well screw you, you don't look like you, either!
posted by blucevalo at 11:42 AM on March 2, 2017


Somewhat related: I'm really sick of people still claiming not to know how to pronounce M. Night Shyamalan's name. I'm not even talking about people going out of their way to make a "joke" out of it. I'm talking about people I've heard this year still stumbling over it (thinking specifically of a film podcaster who has actually shown himself to be a fan of much of Shyamalan's work, still doing the "Shy-ah-ma--ugh, I don't even know" bullshit).

How is it that I heard it pronounced correctly one time at the 2000 Oscars, and that was all I needed? I'm really not some kind of magical genius. Whatever you think of his work, the man has been a big pop cultural figure in the English-speaking world for almost 20 years. What is taking so many people so long? Is it just that he publicly expressed some arrogance about his work, and part of the backlash has been to show disrespect by intentionally not learning (or pretending not to learn) how to pronounce his name?
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:43 AM on March 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


I have a scandinavian last name that is actually very easy for Americans to say.... but there's a small quirk with the spelling that seems to really throw people off. So I often misspell it fro unimportant things like ordering food, etc. It's mildly annoying.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:46 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Maybe he used it because he likes the way it sounds, it is very mellifluous. I have to be honest though I didn't realize how his name was pronounced until I heard Kimmel make that joke (no I had never heard his name spoken before that, although I remember him from as far back as the 4400).

Also, does this make me a bad person for laughing whenever Gabriel Garcia Bernal mangles the name Hailey (usually pronounced Jai Alai) in Mozart in the Jungle?
posted by tetsuo at 11:50 AM on March 2, 2017


Maybe he used it because he likes the way it sounds, it is very mellifluous.

Still a microaggression, just like "Oh, can I touch your hair? It looks so interesting!" or "I love exotic women...".
posted by Etrigan at 11:52 AM on March 2, 2017 [22 favorites]


Upon reflection - my own surname is pretty obviously Anglo WASPy. It's even the same name as one of Tim Curry's iconic characters.

Pennywise?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:52 AM on March 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


Hexxus?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:55 AM on March 2, 2017


> It's a style of comedy. Perhaps it's not your thing.

He was hosting the Oscars, not doing standup at The Comedy Cellar.
posted by desuetude at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


There are other, very young actors who had to change their names to get decent roles. Just off the top of my head, there's James Roday (Rodriguez) and Chloe Bennet (Wang). Assholes like Jimmy Kimmel are contributing to the world that makes that kind of thing necessary, and it's fucking ridiculous that it's still tolerated.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:58 AM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


It's even the same name as one of Tim Curry's iconic characters.

Silver?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Heh; I have a story from the opposite direction, I just realized. I'm a data-entry monkey for HR where I work, and a good part of what I do involves typing people's HR data into our system. One of our recent hires was from Northern Ireland; his passport and ID all had the Anglo spelling of his name, but the rest of his paperwork all had the Irish Gaelic spelling of his name. When I was about to process it, I got a very meek and slightly anxious-sounding email from his supervisor, with him in copy, saying that "uh, there's a bit of an unusual situation with his name, I just noticed, beacuse he prefers to spell it differently in some situations, and is that...okay?"

I just emailed the guy directly to say "right - it looks like you prefer to use the Gaelic spelling of your first name, but the Saxon spelling is on your ID. So I have to use that as your legal name, but i can put down the Gaelic spelling as the preferred name so it'll be that spelling everywhere else. Is that cool with you?"

He actually called me to confirm that, just so he could also add "THANK YOU for being someone I don't have to explain all that to yet again!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:04 PM on March 2, 2017 [14 favorites]


It's even the same name as one of Tim Curry's iconic characters.

Darkness?
posted by tetsuo at 12:04 PM on March 2, 2017


Oh, and all y'all trying to guess the Tim Curry role, it's just...flames, flames on the side of my face...


heh
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:05 PM on March 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


I understand the urge, and the horse is well out of the barn, but maybe not making fun of somebody's last name in this thread about not making fun of somebody's last name would be the better collective choice.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:05 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


For reference, from Isaiah 8:
Moreover the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.
2 And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.
3 And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.
4 For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:10 PM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh, and beyond all that, "a minority"? Really? You say "a white person" but you go with "a minority"?

Sorry, I should have emphasized "straight, cis-gendered white male" just to nip all the hallmarks of the patriarchy. And "minority" because, well, punching down.

I feel that butchering an exotic name is universal. We all struggle (at first) to identify with unique, unfamiliar names. It's something we can all relate to. It also exposes our ignorance, and leads to questions like "Where are you from?" But that can be a learning experience.

I guess I'm saying: Names that are difficult to pronounce are not exclusive to any one culture, so how is it defined if one is committing a microaggression or not by making light of it?

For example, if Kimmel made some joke about Ralph Fiennes. (Can I call you Ralf, Rafe...Ron?) I'm genuinely curious: would that be considered a microaggression?

Just to shift things a little: take the Key and Peele comedy sketch lampooning unique NFL player names. And here's a picture of the show's writing team. Does it change the definition of what's funny/offensive if any of the particular names were made up by a white person on the staff? Does it inoculate any criticism because the hosts are black?

Yes, I'm JAQing off. I'm Just Asking Questions. I'm curious. Because I don't know. What surely doesn't help is snark and condescension.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


> I feel that butchering an exotic name is universal

They're not "exotic" names, they're just people's names.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:13 PM on March 2, 2017 [39 favorites]


To be a bit clearer -- saying someone has an exotic name is like saying they have an accent. Everyone has an accent! Everyone has a name! Some might not be as familiar to you, but that doesn't make them freaky.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:15 PM on March 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


I guess I'm saying: Names that are difficult to pronounce are not exclusive to any one culture, so how is it defined if one is committing a microaggression or not by making light of it?

Sure, but we're discussing something that happened in a deeply white-dominant American culture; this isn't a thought experiment pulled out of a vacuum, it's a reality in which the Kimmel's bullshit exists in the context of endless tiresome related bullshit that people of color in the US have to deal with constantly.

Trying to unpack a bunch of whatifs ends up coming off as tone deaf and obnoxious, basically; it's fine if you're curious but some of the satisfying-that-curiosity could and should be done by doing some independent googling and reading rather than dragging the conversation in the direction of your personal I Don't Get Itness.
posted by cortex at 12:16 PM on March 2, 2017 [24 favorites]


For example, if Kimmel made some joke about Ralph Fiennes. (Can I call you Ralf, Rafe...Ron?) I'm genuinely curious: would that be considered a microaggression?
Here, let me answer so that you can stop jaqing all over everybody in the thread for a few moments. No, it would not. Here's how I know. I have a long trisyllabic name that people can't spell and ask me about all the time. All my life they've playfully fooled with it; reversed syllables, made new words with it. They ask me where it comes from, too. Never once have I taken umbrage because all the fiddling with the name is laudatory. "What is that, is that English? Dutch? OMG, what an awesome name!" If you have a white name and are white, nobody is aggressing toward you. Okay? Now you can quit just asking questions! You've been answered! Byebye!!!
posted by Don Pepino at 12:17 PM on March 2, 2017 [22 favorites]


I'm curious. Because I don't know.

Turning a discussion into What Is A Microaggression 101 is often in and of itself a microaggression. I know, that sucks. It seems unfair. And it is one-one-thousandth of the unfairness that the average person of color or non-cishet person goes through. Take the hit. Google "microaggressions 101" and let other people talk for a little while without demanding that they take time to educate you.

And, to turn this derail a bit back toward the track:
I feel that butchering an exotic name is universal.

Kimmel didn't butcher "Mahershala", not a bit. He pronounced it smoothly and fluently every time, as far as I remember. He knew how to pronounce it, and he did not make a mistake. He intentionally turned it into a joke. That's the problem.
posted by Etrigan at 12:17 PM on March 2, 2017 [72 favorites]


What surely doesn't help is snark and condescension

"I have been unfailingly polite and YOU two have been nothing but RUDE"
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2017 [30 favorites]


Somewhat related: I'm really sick of people still claiming not to know how to pronounce M. Night Shyamalan's name.

Damn right. If you're going to make fun of M. Night Shyamalan's name, don't make fun of "Shyamalan," which is a perfectly normal Malayali surname. Make fun of "Night," which he just insisted everyone start calling him one day because he thought it sounded cool.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


I'll admit to calling him M. Night Shammysham, but that's meant to be a description of his plots. (And it doesn't involve pretending his name is hard to say.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2017


Damn right. If you're going to make fun of M. Night Shyamalan's name, don't make fun of "Shyamalan," which is a perfectly normal Malayali surname. Make fun of "Night," which he just insisted everyone start calling him one day because he thought it sounded cool.

But if he decided to go by Night because people were giving him a hard time about Manoj then he really can't win, right?
posted by mama casserole at 12:44 PM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


This is actually apropos because while I'd say my company, having a large and global workforce, is actually above average at this kind of thing, I was in a conference call today where we were discussing how one of the people who were supposed to be on the call was not attending because she was meeting with someone from an external institute, who was mentioned by first name (which was an easy, though not Anglo name). At that point, someone else interjected saying oh ? The first person confirmed. Second person then said I just asked to show that I could pronounce that! No one really laughed, it was kind of awkward. One person, said "Ohhh, Charlie!". And we left it that.

But it did get me thinking about names. I have a long Indian first name, one that's unusual even by Indian standards. It's also very similar to a much more common Indian first name, so ironically I got called by the wrong name much more often in India than here in the US. Most people seem to accept it fairly quickly, since it's spelled fairly phonetically and there are no sounds that are difficult for the average English speaker to pronounce. From time to time, I get the "Oh what a beautiful name!" comment, which always comes off as vaguely patronizing, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

One thing I'll note is that I do think that Americans in particular, and maybe those from Anglo countries in general, seem to be more prone to this kind of thing than people from other countries. Speaking to a friend of mine, who generally I agree with on most things, he felt that Americans feel it's almost pretentious to correctly pronounce things from a different culture, and that that extends to the names. I can understand that argument if we're talking about bruschetta, but not people's names - it's a matter of respect to pronounce people's names correctly.

I've found that Europeans rarely blink at my name, perhaps because they're more used to having to adjust to people speaking other languages with their own strange naming traditions and names. In India too, people are expected to expend effort on getting other people's names right. It's honestly not any easier for a Vikas Khanna from New Delhi to pronounce Srinivasan Ranganathanswamy as it is an American - they're completely different language families. But people make an effort and will expect you to do the same for them. On the other hand, Indians completely butcher spellings - my parents would get greeting cards addressed to all kinds of variations of their last name.

posted by peacheater at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


I thought Mahershala Ali wasn't American because he is such a good subtle character actor I assumed he was from the BBC.
posted by srboisvert at 12:53 PM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


"I’m a broken record at this point but people messing up your name and not caring is absolutely a racialised experience. no one expects people to know how to pronounce names they’ve never heard before the first time they see them, but it’s an issue when they don’t care about getting it right at all (when, in contrast, people are generally very apologetic when they screw up white people’s names and they generally correct the error). there’s a generalised disrespect and disregard for the names of nonwhite people, especially if those names are non-European (which occurs interpersonally but also shows itself in discussions of public and historical figures). ask any given person of colour (including ones with European or Europeanised names) and they could probably write you a dissertation about how their name is responded to and how those responses are clearly calling on racialised scripts. no one here is upset over nothing[...]"
posted by stoneweaver at 12:53 PM on March 2, 2017 [20 favorites]


This is an interesting post, especially given how many times MetaFilter has destroyed Benedict Cumberbatch's name for fun.
posted by Brackish at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Speaking to a friend of mine, who generally I agree with on most things, he felt that Americans feel it's almost pretentious to correctly pronounce things from a different culture, and that that extends to the names. I can understand that argument if we're talking about bruschetta, but not people's names - it's a matter of respect to pronounce people's names correctly.

Counterpoint: if I give you the anglicized pronunciation of my name, I expect you to use it. I don't want to get into a whole tedious "but how is it really pronounced? How do your parents pronounce it?" conversation. If you pronounce my name in accordance with your native/first language, we're cool, but you're not entitled to the "real" pronunciation of my name. I'm codeswitching on purpose.
posted by yasaman at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2017 [12 favorites]


This is an interesting post, especially given how many times MetaFilter has destroyed Benedict Cumberbatch's name for fun.

When white people make fun of white people's names, it's not telling those people You are Other, Mahershala. You are different, Mahershala. Remember that, Mahershala. Don't ever let yourself forget, Mahershala. Benedict Cumberbatch is not forced to go along with "Bandysnoot Crinklebomp" because he knows that fighting back will make him an Angry White Man and damage his career and the career of everyone else with a name like his.

Your postulated equivalence is a false one that has been addressed not only in this thread, but in the comment immediately preceding yours.
posted by Etrigan at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2017 [57 favorites]


I feel that butchering an exotic name is universal. We all struggle (at first) to identify with unique, unfamiliar names. It's something we can all relate to. It also exposes our ignorance, and leads to questions like "Where are you from?" But that can be a learning experience.

Wow. First of all, "exotic" is relative. Yes, anyone encountering a name that includes or combines phonemes in a way that doesn't occur in their native language may need to exert a little extra effort to get that name right. But the fundamental assumption of any such encounter should be "Well, this is new, but let me do my best to honor it, as an act of basic human respect." And please don't assume that everyone shares your assumption of the right to decide what is normal and what is exotic, or that anyone else shares your definitions.

Second, do not ask people where they are from because their name is unfamiliar to you. Do not do this. It is rude, it is othering, and it is none of your goddamn business. This question implies that certain names do not belong, and further that anything outside what you consider normal is subject to your interrogation, simply by virtue of being unfamiliar to you.

Finally, If something has made you realize you are ignorant about something and you are truly interested in rectifying that, you can do your own research, on your own time. No one is responsible for educating you or for satisfying your curiosity.

On preview, what Etrigan said.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 1:05 PM on March 2, 2017 [19 favorites]


People get my last name wrong all the time, even though it's an occupational last name and a word in English and pronounced pretty much the way it's written. But they get my first name right (or close enough). And they don't say I have a cute accent. Nobody wants to touch my hair out of curiosity. Nobody thinks the meals I cook at home are "exotic." I can buy my preferred style of clothing at Sears, and my ethnic heritage's food traditions dominate Safeway.

Same for Benedict Cumberbatch.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:06 PM on March 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


Many, many names that are unfamiliar to US ears are common enough elsewhere in the world that googling the name along with the word "pronunciation" will lead to a brief video on YT showing you how to pronounce the name. I do this obsessively, as I'm in sales and if I can get a commonly mispronounced name correct on the first shot, I can quickly demonstrate a baseline level of decent human being-ness that helps people know I'm not a creep.

And hey look: there's one for Mahershala Ali.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:11 PM on March 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


Thanks for the responses.

I did more reading, and I get it now. My first instinct was to think, "So a black guy with an unfamiliar Hebrew name gets teased, what's the big deal?"

But it's much more than that. It's the context. It's the mocking. It's the "Amy" (very Anglo-Saxon/othering). It's the facile response to comparing Yulree and Patrick's names. All worthy of derision.

Anyway, just wanted to update. Good use of my afternoon, and sorry for the derail.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 1:12 PM on March 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


I'm a woman of color and my name is a non-Anglo name (pronounced the way it is spelled, with consonants and vowels in expected order and no diacritical marks). My spouse is a white woman with a common Anglo name.

She never gets asked where her name is from, or where she is from. No one ever "compliments" her name or tells her how much they loved visiting her ancestral countries (which they discern by just her name).

I get that the vast majority of people who ask me what kind of name mine is, where I am from, oh your name is beautiful etc. are not card-carrying racist assholes intent on othering me. I have lived 50 years with this name, and anyone who thinks they're making an original point by suggesting to me that people are just making small talk, people mean well, etc. needs to know that it is not original, they are not brilliant for thinking it up, yes it has occurred to me, because I am not stupid and I am not five.

I know most people who comment on my name are not racist assholes. It's still really fucking tiresome. I am so bored with it. If you really want to know about my name, maybe control yourself and keep from asking until we've known each other at least an hour.
posted by rtha at 1:20 PM on March 2, 2017 [27 favorites]


Anyway, just wanted to update. Good use of my afternoon, and sorry for the derail.

Well, that's nice that you learned something, but it came at the expense of a lot of people's irritation, following a demand that they educate you about a question that's been asked and answered here many, many times. And that's a perfect example of a microaggression.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:26 PM on March 2, 2017 [35 favorites]


People get my last name wrong all the time ... But they get my first name right (or close enough)
posted by The corpse in the library

Is your last name "Library", and it's the "in the" that throws them off?
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:32 PM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have a new coworker who is white and has a Czech last name. I was telling other people at a meeting that we had a new person in our office and I realised as I was speaking that I wasn't really sure how to pronounce her last name (and admitted as such), but luckily someone else jumped in who knew it.

Anyway, I was speaking to the new coworker lately and basically just said, "I want to make sure I'm saying your last name correctly. Could you repeat it for me?" And she replied with her last name pronounced correctly (which was pretty easy, but not obvious from the spelling because it's Czech) but then said that I could just call her a totally anglicized and not at all correct version of her last name because "everybody does". (I don't; I use her proper name).

My (male) partner's parents just moved and they have new neighbours who are Indian in origin and have Indian names. His parents are super friendly people so they chatted up the new neighbours and were telling us about how nice they were, about their children and what they all do, etc. and then told us that although they had asked their names, the neighbours told them they could just call them by their last name because my partner's parents were having a hard time with their first names. (I followed up this conversation with an offer to help them learn how to pronounce the neighbours' first names, since it is totally not acceptable to just avoid it).

Anyway, the number of times that people are basically forced to just offer to have people call them by something else that is not really their name is awful. Just learn how to pronounce people's names, people; it's not hard.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


> Is your last name "Library", and it's the "in the" that throws them off

First name: Mister. Middle name: period. Last name: T.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:46 PM on March 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


I (white, recent immigrant) have a German/European name that also exists in an English version. The one thing that's more tiring than people mispronouncing my name (which, honestly, I don't mind), is Americans using me as their teacher on how to properly pronounce my name the German way, when I've already, repeatedly, stated that I'm fine with the English pronounciation. Imagine a racial component on top of that and it gets really ugly, real quick. Please, just LISTEN to what people tell you about their name, and follow that direction without comment. If they pick an anglicized version, do not jump in as a White Knight and try to 'get it right', because you're trying to make a statement about how enlightened or worldly you are. It's their choice to make.
posted by The Toad at 1:46 PM on March 2, 2017 [13 favorites]


What's also fun is when you go to a Starbucks where they take your name for your order. Both my wife and I have "foreign" names so it is always a crapshoot as to what gets written on the cup and what they end up calling out. We ended up giving our kids western names (Leila and Isaac) to make things easier for everyone. People still might spell their names wrong but there'll be less pronunciation problems.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:51 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


It is rude, it is othering, and it is none of your goddamn business.
I have done this thoughtlessly and then immediately tried to correct myself, but it's so fucking cringeworthy. "Where are you from... if you want to tell me, it's no big deal if you don't, sorry, of course it's none of my business. Shit." The fact that I'm socially awkward is no excuse, and I should know better because I have to start most conversations with strangers explaining my weird name.
posted by xyzzy at 2:03 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


wow this blew up, but I'm not sure why I'm surprised.

What I related to most to the article beyond Kimmel being an asshole was the complexities of having a non-American name as a person of color. It was also very relateable because one of my best friends is also a South Asian woman with the same name as the author, and has gone through some of the same issues. But what she talked about really got to me, specifically the line:
"We let people butcher the pronunciation of our names all the time, in order to ease white people into our worlds."

I've had a complicated history with my name. My full name is similar to an American cliche when it's pronounced correctly, and everyone runs with it. I never thought my name was that special until I came to America and since then every conversation has gone like this:
-- if they saw my name written before we met
Person: Hi, are you [butchers my name]?
Me: Hi, yes, I'm [correct pronunciation]
-- then every conversation is as followed when they eventually learn my last name
Person: Oh, that's your last name too?
Me: Yes... [waits for it]
Person: Just like [the cliche]!
Me: Sure, yes, haha.
Person: [proceeds to repeat the cliche for laughs]

I've had this interaction so often that for a while, I didn't correct people. It was just easier. And most of the time people just didn't care to ask for the correction. When I was first introduced to my American Boy Scout troop, I gave them my Catholic baptized name, Peter. There's literally a couple of dozen people out there who only know me by that name. It's funny to think about.

I started owning my name and its correct pronunciation as I got older. Because the cliche is a positive one, I figured it wasn't such a terrible burden, and people should know how to pronounce my name. I have a diverse group of friends, and all of them, white and non-white, makes fun of my name, even the ones of the same ethnicity (it's a bit uncommon there, but uncontroversial; but here it's a gold mine for jokes).

When I read the whole article though, it brought some flashbacks for me. When they learn my name, there's this smirk on my friends' faces if they are also non-white and have a non-American name. A knowing "haha we both have funny names to Americans" look. For my American-named friends, both white and non-white, there's a gleam in their eyes when they joke about my name. They're surely not racist, but there's an "othering" feeling about it. Like feeling non-Vietnamese people get when they try pho for the first time, and they feel special, in the presence of the new, the exotic. When the inevitable joke and cliche of my name arrive, I internally grimace, and sometimes, I get surprised when they actually think it through and say "oh hehe you must have heard that a million times!", and I just nod and smile.

I've always felt that I'm fortunate enough to face a minuscule amount of racism compared to most other non-whites. What the article made me realized is that perhaps I'm not so lucky, even as I take the microaggressions about my name in stride. In terms of just these jokes about non-American names in general, assholes like Kimmel should just cut it out. The truth is I'm probably so numb to it that it won't ever really bother me, but if I could live the rest of my days without hearing the cliche, that would be preferable.
posted by numaner at 2:05 PM on March 2, 2017 [16 favorites]


The article mentions an important point: Ali already shortened his name once. His full first name is Mahershalahashbaz.


Thanks for this knowledge. Having become first acquainted with his work in The 4400, I thought, though wasn't certain, there'd been a name change.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:07 PM on March 2, 2017


I should add: I've started using the cliche as my starbucks name just because it's easier, and since I'm starting a conversation with that, it's ok to me.
posted by numaner at 2:08 PM on March 2, 2017


Having become first acquainted with his work in The 4400

He was one of my favorite characters on there. I was so glad that he found more work after the show ended. And I'm super proud as an early fan that he won this Oscar.
posted by numaner at 2:09 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, as a white guy, my name (Jerome) is often met with odd reactions when I introduce myself. People think I'm fucking with them, or just plain start laughing at me. Sometimes, just odd stares, "...but you're not black." I use humor to deflect: "Well shit, I've been lied to my whole life." "Shh, just keep that between us." Or if I can tell they have a really good sense of humor: "It's Jerome with a hard R."

The unusual thing for me is the number of white people who cavalierly start calling me Jerry or asking me pointedly why I don't go by that name. Seems pretty fucked up, when I think about it.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 2:11 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


My surname gets misspelled, mispronounced and even refused to read out loud, on a regular basis. I've had my boss change it by decree, ie. by changing it on my name badge, because it was easier for her, ergo it had to be easier for everyone else.

So I thought, hey, maybe it's possible to google the right pronunciation for my surname. That makes sense, right? So I googled my name + pronunciation and came across this, which is blatantly wrong.

My dad spent a year in the US in the 60s and he just told people to think "you're kidding." And if you think about it, yeah... damn.
posted by ipsative at 2:11 PM on March 2, 2017


(by now though, with real people, my bar is so low I let them get away with all sorts of pronunciations as long as they seem to make an effort)
posted by ipsative at 2:13 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


As a completely anglicized French-Canadian even I don't pronounce my name correctly.

Not this incorrectly though.
posted by srboisvert at 2:54 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, I wanted to name one of my kids Yehoyishma and I'm still kind of rankled that I didn't get to.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:55 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


While I agree with the author of the article that Kimmel was deplorable, some of the claims here in the thread are not as sensitive as they seem.

Also, I think the author, because of her personal history, is focusing too much on the name aspect of Kimmel's behaviour. Yes, the name was the joke in this case, but if it had been black Muslim "Robert Smith", there would just have been another ugly joke.

I'm totally white with a completely Danish name and have obviously never met any racism. I have met suspicion and unwanted curiosity as a child because I was foreign. And one of my kids has experienced anti-semitism. Nothing important or dramatic, I just want the facts in place before my main point.

My name is impossible to pronounce for English-speaking people. Don't try, you can't, and I'm incredibly tired of the people who feel they are better people for butchering my name in some way they personally feel is more authentic. It isn't. Ever. When I have lived in the English speaking world, I have strongly preferred when people called me an anglicized version of my name or a nickname.
Likewise, there are some languages where I really can't pronounce some words. I do my best, but if someone asks me to use a nickname, I respect that. For what I know, I might be calling a beautiful and smart person "ugly rat" with my bad pronunciation.
In my view, it's OK to not be able to pronounce someone's name. But it is not OK to turn that difficulty into a racist/xenophobic/islamophobic/antisemitic joke.

That said, some people have huge difficulties dealing with some names. I don't know why, but when I see it, it seems to be a form of dyslexia. I know quite a few people who struggle with this, and their disability is not limited to "foreign" names at all. I don't want to point out friends on the internet, but my now dead gran could not pronounce names that ended on an a. Not at all; names like Maria, Julia, Anna became Marie, Julie, Anne. If she was challenged, she would make bad jokes which were not racist because these were names held by members of her own family and friends, but were about her embarrassment. Sometimes the jokes helped her pronounce better by rhyming, but at the same time, they were so offensive, we always tried to stop her.
posted by mumimor at 4:22 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]




Boy, there's a German word for everything!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:54 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Please, just LISTEN to what people tell you about their name, and follow that direction without comment.

Oh my god yes, this. I once TAed a class with a (Chinese) student named Xin who asked everyone to call him Shin. Every single time his name came up between me and the (older white dude) professor, the prof made a big deal about how he didn't ~understaand~ why someone would do that when really his name was pronounced Sin (sic). Granted, he always respected the student's request when speaking directly with him - but for some reason (because I'm also Chinese?) he always felt compelled to vent to me afterwards, with the subtext being "oooh look at me aren't I enlightened for having a rudimentary knowledge of pinyin". Mildly infuriating.

Eventually I started just giving him a death glare every time it looked like he was about to bring it up. I think I'd trained him out of it by the end of term.
posted by btfreek at 6:41 PM on March 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


A critically important part of my job is that every other Monday, I meet 5-20 new people and spend the next 3-5 days in intensive communication with them. I love this part of my job, because I really do love meeting people!

But it is also stressful as hell. I have a series of jokes, not about names, but about how TERRIBLE I am with them. I distribute name tents. I tell them I will look at the name tents VERY OBVIOUSLY, for the first 1.5 days of the class. I write names down in my class log. I joke about that as well, mentioning it's a mnemonic. I never say "Oh what a pretty/exotic/weird/INTEResting name" because that's a crap thing to do (ahem, Jimmy). Also, while chummy nicknames have their place, I do not bestow nicknames in class, as that is a total asshole cishet white dude thing to do.

I am only a partial asshole.

I mention in my opening spiel that I am positively desperate to get names right. Please correct me if I'm mangling something. I will try harder, I swear. (I try to look at some white guy's name tent with "Fred" on it when I say this.) And when people say "Call me [X]" I ALWAYS DO. Your name, your choice.

Nonetheless, I live in terror of the deep shame of name mangling. I know that I ask students with names that are uncommon to me to pronounce their names more than once "just so I get it right" and I don't ask "Bob" that. I know that, late in the week, I will call Jane by her name, but maybe not [X] because [X] is harder and I'm ashamed I might screw it up and it's Thursday and I should have had this down already.

None of this is a complaint. I am exposing my own shortcomings. This is nothing compared to the day-to-day name fuckery I'm sure people have to put up with. I'm just trying to diminish it, really, I am.
posted by aureliobuendia at 7:03 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sorry, coming in late to the discussion, but:

Just to shift things a little: take the Key and Peele comedy sketch lampooning unique NFL player names . And here's a picture of the show's writing team. Does it change the definition of what's funny/offensive if any of the particular names were made up by a white person on the staff? Does it inoculate any criticism because the hosts are black?


What’s In A Name: On Kimmel’s Casual Racism (by Siddhant Adlakha) - 'Name-centric comedy is hardly a new line of fire, nor is it something that has or should be abandoned. Non-white names become the butt of jokes in Key & Peele’s American Football sketches, though it’s not hard to see how their varied caricatures come from a place of familiarity, in addition to the fact that the increasing absurdity isn’t focused on any one person’s actual name. Except Benedict Cumberbatch, of course. That is, until the first sketch circles all the way back around to the lone white character, Dan Smith.

'By then, the absurdity is re-directed to the perceived normalcy of the final name in question. The punch line is us looking for a punch line. In addition, the introduction of each team is always broken up by white commentators for whom these bizarre names (Morse Code? Fudge?? God???) are completely and totally normal. In fact, their second East/West College Bowl sketch also has a throwback to “Substitute Teacher,” in which the perceived racial norm of names and our familiarity to them is turned on its head.'

If they pick an anglicized version, do not jump in as a White Knight and try to 'get it right', because you're trying to make a statement about how enlightened or worldly you are. It's their choice to make.


I had the same discussion tht jumped off from the same point on tumblr. to wit: '2) for the well-meaning ally, it might seem disrespectful to use an anglicized pronunciation. please consider that it is also disrespectful to use or ask that i tell you a pronunciation other than the one i’ve already given. to ask for or use another pronunciation is to defy what i am telling you. that’s rude and disrespectful; 3) to do so also shows how entitled you as a white person are. you are not entitled to my name, my language, or my culture. you can have access to those things if i invite you in.'

Anyway, the conversation happening near the end of that chain are between Malaysians, and tbh, a lot of global POCs from multicultural settings find this a hard conversation to follow as well, because they're applying their own racial contexts, and not seeing the utter pervasiveness of whiteness, which then goes into a whole other tangent on global POCs who are otherwise their society's respective socioeconomic/sociocultural elites and their relationship to white supremacy.

From my own experience, because I have a daily Western-similar name, I've had English classmates telling me that (unlike my other Malaysian classmate who didn't have a Western-sounding daily name) at least I don't have a "weird name". And it's not because I'm particularly witty, but because I do come from a place where Western names are odd, so I replied earnestly at her, "you know, in some places, Jennifer is a weird name." Makes a good clapback though.
posted by cendawanita at 7:41 PM on March 2, 2017 [10 favorites]


(names have been changed to protect the white lady)
posted by cendawanita at 7:41 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


So this is my all-time favorite story about countering racist mispronunciation microaggressions.

I have a name that's pronounced one way in the US and a different way... pretty much everywhere else in the world. It is not a difficult name at all, but it has been a lifelong astonishment and frustration that Americans absolutely refuse to hear me when I say my name. I introduce myself with my name. They echo back INCORRECTLY. I correct them. They still say it incorrectly. I give up after seeing how fruitless my efforts are. I tell myself that at least it's an instant shibboleth if someone is actually a friend or not when I hear my name being called out across a room.

I've worked at my current place for 6 years. More than half of my colleagues, most of whom interact with me on a daily basis, continue to say my name incorrectly. Given that they manage plenty of other European names with zero difficulty and with much attentiveness... I have to wonder what it is about me (I'm gonna go with: melanin!) that makes my name just so hard to remember.

Somewhat relatedly, I have a "Starbucks name" that I use because I just want my damn coffee without either having to spell my name or hear it said with the American pronunciation (like nails on a chalkboard to me). So my Starbucks name can be reduced to just a letter. And then it still becomes a thing because the baristas are all, "and how do you spell that?"
posted by TwoStride at 7:59 PM on March 2, 2017 [11 favorites]


Appeals to the hilarity of Don Rickles fall flat. His comedy is from an era where blackface was acceptable. Hell, it's not so long ago that almost any post about a womanon this site would be met with comments of "I'd hit it." Just because things used to be shitty doesn't mean they have to stay that way.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:40 PM on March 2, 2017 [7 favorites]


My WASP name is literally impossible to write, much less pronounce, in the part of the world I call home, which means it gets mangled daily. Therefore it is customary for those of us not born in this culture to assume a name, which leads to all kinds of uncomfortable conversations like, "What?! That's your name?! No no, you don't understand our culture, let me give you a new one."

My response has been to assume ever-more unsettling permutations of my own name that make people unsure of whether they should correct me or just call me "Mr. Surname". My latest is "Bed Hero Surname", under which I take deliveries. I have also been "Your Brother Surname", "Lucky Dice Surname", and "Black Hand Surname", and "Not Bald Surname". When they try to tell me that's...y'know...I say, "Yes, I'm very aware." Usually that conversation either ends or trails into self-parody and the coinage of a new nickname used with the person/group in question. I'm okay with that result.
posted by saysthis at 11:19 PM on March 2, 2017


On a positive (if slightly off topic) note, after years of watching Norman Chad make name jokes announcing for the World Series of Poker, I've been consistently impressed with James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton's commentary for the European Poker Tour. The EPT fields players from around the world, and these two clearly make an effort to get every player's name right, regardless of race, country of origin or "difficulty."
posted by zanni at 1:09 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


My Starbucks name is Bob.
posted by alexei at 1:54 AM on March 3, 2017


So this is my all-time favorite story about countering racist mispronunciation microaggressions.

I knew exactly what story this would link to, but I still clicked on it and read the whole thing again.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:28 AM on March 3, 2017


On a positive note, it's been nice to see baseball announcers come around on names, with a majority of the pros making a real effort and foregoing the "How on earth do you say ______?" jokes that used to be standard. Given that as recently as twenty-ish years ago, many uniforms and tv channels didn't even include tildes or accents when showing names, it's a remarkable turnaround. I still remember watching Atlanta Braves games in the 1990s and having my skin crawl every time they referred to Cuban-American catcher Jorge Fábregas as "George Fabber-gas." You still hear some of that, but while it was once standard, it's fading fast.

I don't know if all sportscasters are making similar efforts. But these days, while there are still some stragglers, you're more likely to hear an earnest attempt to use the proper Korean pronunciation of Jung-ho Kang than you are to hear someone wrinkle their nose at it or give it an indifferent phonetic pass.

I mean, if sixty year-old redneck ex-ballpayer with high school educations can get to the point where they're respectfully pronouncing names of new rookies from the KBO, surely there's hope for us all.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Please, just LISTEN to what people tell you about their name, and follow that direction without comment.

Yes, I agree with this, but less so when the person tells you to call them the wrong version of their with totally defeated body language. A lot of people will put up with stuff with their names that they don't actually like, just to make others feel better. On one hand they have the right to ask for that, but on the other they have the right to have people make an effort.

I have an inexplicably hard to pronouce last name (it's really not) and I will put up with pretty much anything close, even when people add extra letters into it from nowhere. But you better believe I notice when someone listens to how I pronounce it myself and learns to say it correctly on their own.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2017


Yes, I agree with this, but less so when the person tells you to call them the wrong version of their with totally defeated body language.

I could not disagree more. If I'm already feeling frustrated and defeated, insisting on drawing the interaction out further is NOT HELPING. Quit it.
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:39 AM on March 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


You guys just made me look up interviews of athletes in America with my last name (there's more than you'd think, it's a very common last name), and to their credit, announcers and reporters actually do a decent job with the name! Like some of you have said, it's great that sportscasters have made the effort.

Also, before I started using the cliche as my starbucks name, it used to be Peter, until the third time another Peter grabbed for my drink. Then I tried to use my real name, which really didn't pan out (they've never spelt it correctly even after I spelled it out for them, how do you turn 6 letters into 5?). Then I discovered that just using the cliche works well, and they get a kick out of it without feeling awkward because I was the one that told them to use it.
posted by numaner at 8:57 AM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


On a lighter note, several Danish news commentators seem to be unable to pronounce Trump the American way: they call him Trumpf. I'm 100% certain that these people are not sneakily alluding at his crooked German heritage, they just can't do the p-ending. [sorry, not really sorry]
posted by mumimor at 10:53 AM on March 3, 2017


Some video backstory with Jimmy Kimmel and Mahershala Ali, for the sake of posterity.
posted by skoosh at 6:37 PM on March 4, 2017


several Danish news commentators seem to be unable to pronounce Trump the American way: they call him Trumpf

I don't know why but lots of people here (Northern Ireland), especially older people, pronounce it as Trumpf, including my parents. Again not as a piss-take, they just say that word in that way.
posted by billiebee at 3:50 AM on March 5, 2017


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