Former Love Island contestant, Yewande Biala took Twitter by storm after she spoke up about the ignorance she has faced throughout her life involving predominately white people refusing to learn how to pronounce her name properly and, in some cases, giving her a completely un-related nickname for their own convenience such as ‘Elizabeth’.
So why does this matter? And why are so many people discussing this?
Those that are deemed to have a ‘foreign name’ have been faced with sighs and scoffs from their UK native counterparts, especially in education and workplace settings, when they have to try say their name out loud. This can be extremely dehumanising for people with African, Middle Eastern, Asian and Hispanic names as their name reflects their culture, their heritage and who they are, and when they get told their name is ‘too hard to pronounce’ and that teachers, peers or employers want them to whitewash their name so it’s easier for them without even considering how that will make them feel.
The hashtag #SayMyName is trending in the UK with over 3,000 tweets containing the tag published it is clear to see that it isn’t just Yewande that has experienced this form of indirect discrimination.
So why is it that UK natives struggle with this subject?
Although there is no 100% sure fire answer as to why mostly white people are unable to pronounce the names there is some factors that play a major role. Some of these include: a lack of exposure to these types of names, sheer ignorance as many won’t ask how to pronounce the name properly and will instead immediately go to try renaming the individual with a traditionally white sounding name and that in some cases either mispronouncing the name is intentional or it is to make a mockery of the person.
Canadian studies have even revealed that more stereotypical white names such as John Smith are more likely to receive a positive call back from job interviews and applications. Employers have said this is due to fears over thick accents and language barriers, but it was mostly smaller businesses that used this excuse. Bigger companies were found to still discriminate based on ethnic sounding names but to a lesser degree.
A way to tackle this issue is to politely ask what the correct pronunciation and spelling is for a name you are unsure of how to say or spell, help correct and educate others that are struggling to correctly refer to someone with an ethnic name and to listen to those that are directly impacted by this topic and learn more about the implications and connotations white washing and racial ignorance has on POC (People of colour).