Mispronouncing Names (Opinion)

By: Joshua Song

Valencia High School is an incredibly diverse school with students from all backgrounds and nationalities. As a result of this, many students and even some of the teachers that attend this school have foreign names that are often mispronounced by others. Being in a state near the Mexico-America border, those of Latin American origin with Spanish names tend to face these issues a fair amount less than other races, such as Asians or even some of those from non-English speaking European countries. In every single class, there seems to be at least one person whose name the teacher or their peers can never seem to get quite right, eventually leading the student to give up and live with a mispronounced version of their name, a truncated version, or at times replacing that name entirely with a more Western-sounding name. Although such acts are common practice as of now, there are strong reasons why everyone should work to use the proper names of the people around them.

Names are something that are incredibly personal. They connect one person to their family, their culture, and to who they are. By not using their own name, it creates a disconnect between the students’ personal and school identities. Using their name would not only be respectful to the students themselves, but to their families as well. Calling someone by their name is the most basic way to catch their attention and refer to them. If a teacher refuses to put in the bare minimum for learning who their students are, it is quite difficult for a healthy personal connection between the student and the teacher to form over time. If a friend, for instance, refused to learn your name, how would a personal connection form over time?

If a teacher constantly mispronounces the names of their students, it may also be a source of embarrassment and confusion for the student, which not only negatively affects the emotional and mental state of the student, but potentially their grades and performance. The popular comedy skit by the comedy duo Key & Peele named “Substitute Teacher” demonstrates this quite well. Although aspects of the skit are very exaggerated, the overall confusion and embarrassment shown by the students in the video are quite on point. It is fairly common – especially at the beginning of the year – for teachers to mispronounce the name of multiple students in their classroom and a nervous laughter to spread throughout that classroom. In that moment, it is quite difficult for the the “victim” in that situation to feel fully comfortable in the classroom, despite it being almost inevitable that it will happen, most likely in every class, every year. However, if a teacher continually mispronounces the names of students, this will inevitably lead to the relationship between the student and teacher to drift apart. 

Now this isn’t to say that the teachers are the ones at fault. In a society where so many different nationalities and languages come together and in a country that speaks such a phonetically ambiguous language, it is no surprise that there will be mispronunciations of names, even among English names. In addition to this linguistic barrier, the lack of awareness of certain cultures and their names also leads to this. As mentioned before, Spanish names tend to be properly pronounced here in California because of the great amount of exposure that Californians get to the Spanish language and those who speak it natively. However, in more foreign languages, such as Asian languages (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.) or certain European languages (Polish, Russian, Italian, etc. ) people tend to completely mispronounce those names. By increasing exposure to these cultures, society could have a better understanding of these foreign cultures and names. 

At the end of the day, everyone should work their best to properly pronounce the names of the people around them, while not being afraid to ask questions about how to pronounce certain names and not resorting to methods that either diminish or ignore the value and meaning of the original name without the consent of the name holder. A name symbolizes more than just a title to be called by in class, it is usually the individual’s identity itself.