The Faculty of Medical Sciences hosted another ‘My Journey’ event on Wednesday 2nd November via Zoom. This semester’s topic was ‘The lasting impact of frequent misnaming’. The talk was held via Zoom with speakers Vi Parker (she/her/hers), the university’s EDI training lead, and Farhana Chowdhury (she/her/hers), a second year PhD student.
The talk began with both hosts introducing themselves and their background. Vi is Vietnamese-Australian but has lived in the U.K. for 14 years. Farhana has lived in Newcastle her whole life.
To start, Vi asked everyone in the audience to state their name so we knew how to pronounce it. This was a helpful exercise as she also asked if some individuals had experienced misnaming with a large majority saying they had, and relatively frequently. Farhana then asked everyone to take part in some poll questions about misnaming. These questions revealed that everyone had spelled someone’s name wrong and also said someone’s name wrong in the past. The majority of people said they felt guilty about it. However, when the question ‘did you make excuses for it?’, the responses were very mixed. It was also very mixed when asked if it was a big deal when the misnaming occurred, but majority did say no. Most respondents also said they apologised after the misnaming. This shows that misnaming, whether a mistake or sometimes purposeful, is a frequent issue but Farhana and Vi used this to show how to approach this situation if it happens and the impact it can have when done often.
Vi explained how individuals who experience misnaming frequently often become desensitised to it and dismiss it, despite the feelings that come with it (feeling not seen, invisible, unvalued etc.). However, she also emphasised the fact that individuals often stand up to misnaming to begin with, but tend to lose hope when they are met with dismissive responses. Some individuals from certain cultures may be named as part of tradition and/or their name means specific things. A member of the audience also shared the fact that she believes that individuals who have names given to them which means something in their culture e.g. nationality, royalty status, circumstances of birth, etc. often feel a strong association with their identity and being misnamed takes this away. This also removes the individual from being able to connect with others from the same culture or nationality, as the wrong pronunciation changes the meaning entirely and you are then unable to identify others from the same or similar backgrounds.
The hosts also spoke about their own experiences of misnaming, with Farhana stating that she experienced instances of it throughout her school life and also into university. She said at school, a teacher found her name too difficult to pronounce and so changed her name without permission and called her this throughout her time at school, and at 12 years old, she felt unable to stand up for herself and correct a teacher. This kind of incident went as far as making her want to change her own name to ‘Hannah’ to accommodate for others’ unwillingness to learn. However, Farhana stated that despite this, she still did not know how common it was to be misnamed. At university, she was signed up by another individual to an event under the name of ‘Miss Newcastle University’ and had also been called ‘Fiona’ many times. After many instances of misnaming Farhana decided to raise this issue with her supervisor despite hesitation, and the issue was taken seriously and this lead her to write a blog post about the impact of misnaming.
Similarly to Farhana’s experiences, Vi had also experienced many instances of misnaming since coming over from Vietnam to Australia as a refugee, and still experiences it now while living in the U.K. When she moved to Australia she changed her name to Vi, despite it originally being a hyphenated name, as people found it too hard to pronounce. She also shared that her family all did the same thing and anglicised their names to ‘accommodate’ for others. However, despite changing her name, she still experiences mispronunciation and misnaming such as; ‘Viv’, ‘Vivienne’, ‘Violet’, and even ‘Number 6’. Vi said that the system which is in place which allows this needs to change as it is far too common of a problem. She shared that studies have shown that among international students, over half anglicise their name, with one audience member sharing that they have done this since primary school and now their educational documents differ from the name on their birth certificate. Vi also explained that misnaming also effects self esteem and confidence, and as a result individuals who experience misnaming are less likely to assert themselves or leads to feelings of impostor syndrome.
As the talk came to a close, Vi discussed how the burden of misnaming is often put upon the individual being misnamed themselves. People tend to apologise and stress if they accidentally misname someone, but this then falls on the misnamed individual to comfort the other person and reassure them it is okay. There also comes extra effort and learning which falls upon the individual who is misnamed, with one audience member sharing that they had to learn the phonetic alphabet just to be able to spell their name over the phone, which Vi related to and shared that a dinner reservation was once made under the name ‘Victoria Ice-cream’ as she did not know the phonetic alphabet to spell her name ‘Vi’.
In order to help and be an ally to those who may experience misnaming, Farhana shared some tips on ways in which you can lessen the burden for those who experience it:
- Step in: if you see a colleague or friend being misnamed and they are unable to or hesitant to stand up for themselves, help them out!
- Share your own pronunciation: by sharing your own name pronunciation you create an open space for others to do the same with theirs. Farhana shared a resource where you can add an audio file to your email signature with how to say your name. There is also the ‘my name is…’ campaign where you phonetically spell your name in your email signature.
- Education: by attending talks like this or reading, or listening to podcasts about instances like misnaming, you can educate yourself and take the burden off others to explain why misnaming is a big issue we need to address and how to tackle the problem.
- No excuses: don’t make excuses when you do mispronounce or misname someone, simply just apologise and learn for next time!
We would like to thank those who attended the ‘My Journey’ talk, and for those interested in attending future events which we hold once a semester, keep an eye on our twitter @FMSDiversityNCL ! We would also like to thank our speakers Vi Parker and Farhana Chowdhury for their voluntary talk on misnaming, it was extremely insightful and it sparked great discussion among the audience!