The Fear of Butchering Names

By Elena

All of my life, I have had a 12 letter long Russian last name that everyone seems to struggle with pronouncing. I have heard of almost every possible pronunciation, but my least favorite of all is “I’m not even going to try to pronounce that!”, but this is also what I get most often from people I meet. Americans seem to have this strange fear of butchering names which is completely unreasonable. 

Note: I am not including my last name in this post because I am a minor and my parents do not want me to include my full name on this blog.

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Saying you don’t want to butcher someone’s name is outright rude. You aren’t saying that out of consideration for this person, you are saying that just because you don’t want to embarrass yourself. In reality, you are telling this person that their name and the story behind that name is not worth as much as your possible embarrassment. This is ostracizing someone on the basis that their name doesn’t fit within what is considered to be “normal”. 

I guarantee you, you won’t give a pronunciation that this person has never heard before. Most people would rather you mispronounce their name rather than straight up refuse to even try. I know I would.

If you really think that mispronouncing someone’s name is disrespectful, it’s more disrespectful to say you aren’t even willing to try. If someone is bothered by your pronunciation, they will correct you. It should not be viewed as embarrassing to be corrected, and it really doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me when I correct someone on their pronunciation. I do, however, see it as a big deal when  someone refuses to even try.

I would rather you mispronounce my name than tell me my name is too hard for you to even try. I know it’s a hard last name. I understand there are 12 letters in it and a weird combination of letters in the middle of it. But my name is still important to me. Telling me my name is not worth your effort because it’s too foreign or difficult for you to even try tells me I am not important enough for you to give any sort of effort.

Furthermore, Americans need to understand that whatever pronunciation they use or is given to them is not the actual pronunciation (most of the time). You are probably going to get an Americanized version of the name, so it ultimately doesn’t matter all that much how you pronounce it, as long as it is somewhat resembling the name.

You can always ask someone how you can pronounce it if you’re worried about it. Everyone I know with a complicated name is perfectly ok with someone asking them the correct pronunciation, or asking how they would prefer to be called. 

All I ask is that you show a little bit of effort. Show that you understand my name is important, and that it’s more important than your embarrassment. I have never gotten mad or upset at someone for mispronouncing my name or asking me how to pronounce it. I do get upset and angry when people tell me they don’t want to try or when they skip over it and pretend it doesn’t exist. 

Every time someone skips over my name, or tells me it’s too hard for them to try, I feel small and unimportant. I feel like my culture and the history behind this name isn’t valued. I love my 12 letter long Russian last name, and all I want is for people to respect my name enough to at least attempt a pronunciation.

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