People of Color Should Not Anglicize Their Names for Others

Vy Nguyen, Opinion Editor

My name. It’s the first thing I hear when my mom discovers another hoard of cups in my room. It’s what makes me grin when I actually know the answer to my teacher’s question. It’s what my three-year-old self needed to complete the corner of all her Crayola-drawn Picasso masterpieces. My name is my identity. My name is my pride. My name is Vy — pronounced like the letter — and that’s what you can call me. 

Cartoon drawing by Vy Nguyen.

A two-letter name pronounced like one letter should be the easiest to pronounce among the roll-call-stunting non-European names, right? I wish. 

In elementary and middle school, I tried to act indifferent when teachers and friends would continue to lazily tack letters onto my name even after I had corrected them — I didn’t want to seem rude. The irony. Eventually, the sharp and vibrant intonation of “Vy” morphed into what they believed to be a convenient and white “Vivian” or “Vanessa.” If my name got too “hard,” I’d even get Penelope or Jennifer — what was next? Rebecca Rolfe? This passive-aggression was once succeeded by a mousy “it’s pronounced like the letter.” Now, it’s swallowed by a chagrined, yet indignant “I don’t know who she is. You must have the wrong person,” or better yet, no response at all.  

The anglicization of one’s name out of mere convenience for others is an infringement upon their culture and disenfranchisement of their individuality. Despite being ashamed of “Vy” as a young girl living in a predominantly white community, I have grown to adore a name dense with the Vietnamese meaning of “life” and the symbolism of a flower. This is the name my parents bestowed to me. This is the name toddler-Vy proudly scribbled on the corner of her artwork so that everyone knew it was hers as it dried on the drying rack. This is the name my grandparents would exclaim when I would pick up the phone. Why forfeit this to accommodate someone else?

While a teacher or peer’s compulsory need to anglicize my name is ostensibly innocuous and, at times, strangely considerate, it is only a racial and xenophobic microaggression under the guise of  “it’s hard.” My two-letter name is not “hard” as teen heartthrob and celebrity Timothée Chalamet’s name — a name of European origin — slips off tongues with ease. Branding my name as “hard” and refusing any attempts to pronounce it properly cannot be passed as innocent. A rejection of saying my name is simply a ploy that forces me to accept erasure towards my own culture, identity and race, further solidifying centuries worth of systemic oppression and whitewashing. 

The mispronunciation and anglicization of names belonging to people of color is also a widely known political strategy used to marginalize, dehumanize and invalidate the cultural identities of political opponents. In an interview about Kamala Harris’ nomination as Vice President, Former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin quipped that Kamala (“Comma-lah”) and Kamala (“CAMel-eh”) can be used interchangeably like “tomato…tomahto.” 

For your information, it’s pronounced “Comma-lah.” 

Simply butchering a name, whether it be in pronunciation or spelling, is not rude, racist or xenophobic. However, intentionally and jestfully averting the process of learning and appreciating someone’s name is. Please ask me how to say it. Ask me how to spell it. But, whatever you do, do not ask to call me by a different name. And if you do, this is what I’ll tell you:

You can call me Vy, and if you address me by anything other than Vy —  don’t expect a response.