A recent episode of Ellen with Hasan Minhaj changed my perspective on all the mispronunciations of names people with color experience when introducing themselves to new people. As Lia Beck writes on Bustle,
"While Minhaj's conversation was, of course, full of jokes, he made clear that there really is a double standard when it comes to names of people of color and names of famous white people. 'When I first started doing comedy, people were like, you should change your name,' he explained. 'And I'm like, I'm not going to change my name. If you can pronounce Ansel Elgort, you can pronounce Hasan Minhaj.' He then joked that at Starbucks he just goes by 'Timothée Chalamet,' which the baristas can handle just fine."
Growing up, I always knew when the substitute was close to calling my name, because of the hesitation that preceded. The confused look, far from subtle pause and the stutters that followed the apology "sorry if I pronounce this wrong" were always the beautiful escorts to the wrong pronunciation of my name.
Throughout my life, I have never really cared about the wrong pronunciations of my name because it was truly inevitable. After a certain point, it truly did not even bother me anymore and I did not mind having 18 different names to respond to. It became an inherent reflex to respond to anything that remotely sounded like my name or started with an S by the time I was able to communicate.
Optimistically speaking, I made it 18 years without ever having a problem with social media account usernames being taken (unless I was the one who forgot my old password) lol so that was always cool.
But honestly, though I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a time I used to despise it, I used to hate my name and cringe whenever the sound of moving seats flooded my ears when the whole class turned around to check whose name was so bizarre. I used to hate the anxiety of introducing myself and the anxiety of shaking someone's hand for so long because it would take six times for them to get remotely close. I hated that my mom named me such an ethnic name when I lived in an American town where there were four Taylors in my fourth-grade class. I used to hate the fact that I had no middle name to run to for sanction.
I used to google the price it would be to get my name legally changed and would beg my mom for permission. I spent hours looking at the legality and would spend hours a day looking at the mirror with a list of names in my hand and ponder if they were fitting for my face.
This is gonna sound bizarre but in some ways, it ruined my self-confidence. Names create relationships with people they're your own identity, introducing myself in a group of people where everyone went down the line but there was always a pause at me made me both uncomfortable and insecure. I hated the way people had to struggle when they said it and I hated the confusion that it always evoked. I am a very easily approachable person, and it literally breaks me to see the hesitation people have to say my name.
Imagine shaking someone's hand for thirty whole seconds while they guessed every generic S sounding name while you repeated your own 7 times. I constantly found myself apologizing for being who I am, and that was my biggest fault.
"No. Sorry it's Soondus"
"No sorry it's Soond-is"
"You know what. Yeah perfect. You got it. That's fine."
That's how the majority of my conversations went and how the majority of each "small talk" conversation I had became unintentionally dedicated mostly to the pronunciation of my name. A lot of the time it made me feel distant from the new people I just met. Names are intimate but it always made me feel isolated to be the only "Soondus" I've ever known.
In college, I started to make people call me "Sonny." It was easier for them so it was easier for me. But sometimes I feel like I'm cheating myself. My friends from home mocked me, saying they would never call me that and honestly, I'm glad they never do. My name is who I am, and I'm learning now that it is important to realize that it's a part of me and a 30 extra seconds making sure that people know how to say it truly makes all the difference.
Again, Beck writes on Bustle:
"Minhaj has explained his name many times in his work and in interviews, and it's because he's always had to explain to people and correct them in his everyday life. By repeating the correct pronunciation and using his platform to show people how important it is to actually use it, he's helping other people with names that maybe everyone isn't so comfortable with so one day the dismissive, not-even-trying thing will be put to a stop."
Hasan Minhaj has inspired me to do the same.
He taught me that it's okay to take out thirty seconds of my life to allow someone to correctly pronounce my name. Those thirty seconds could have saved me hours of google searches and escape routes to run away from proper pronunciation. Those thirty seconds would make me comfortable with my name and happier to know that these people know me for me, and not just a nickname tied with absolutely no memory or reasoning, that I labeled myself with a couple of months ago for the sake of simplicity. Soondus is my name, it's two syllables that play a major role in my identity and I'm finally learning how important it is not to water it down.