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By Kaltun Hassan

Our name is the main form of identity that is given to us from birth from our parents. We use it every time we meet someone new, when we are creating an account online and even when we are ordering a drink at Starbucks. For many of us, our names hold cultural significance and meaning that is important to our family. 

Growing up in the UK, where foreign names are difficult for native english speakers to pronounce, it is inevitable that we end up changing the pronunciation of our name or even shortening it so that others find ease when saying our name. This form of cultural erasure is normalised when we are asked whether we have ‘nicknames’ as it is easier to pronounce a shorter version of our name rather than taking the time to learn the pronunciation of our name.

From a young age, individuals with non-English names are faced with certain obstacles wherein our teachers struggle to pronounce our names, leading us to bear the responsibility of altering our names in order for teachers and other pupils to pronounce our names with ease. 

Growing up with the name Kaltun meant that I quickly got used to having my name mispronounced by teachers as it is not pronounced the way it looks. Constantly correcting my teachers whenever they pronounced my name wrong became exhausting, leading me to just give up and allow for my name to become anglicised.

Having a foreign name has also led me to experience a significant amount of bullying growing up whereby my name was used to mock and humiliate me. As my anglicised name sounds similar to the word ‘cartoon’ students in my class would often refer to me as ‘cartoon’ instead of my name or would ask me if ‘I watched Cartoon Network’, which at the time was a popular children television network. The bullying was so excessive that I began hating my name and my culture as it was constantly mocked by individuals in my class just because it sounded unfamiliar to them. I would often find myself wishing that I could change my name to a simpler, english name, so that I would not be ostracised for having a different name. Whenever my name was mocked or ridiculed, I felt as though my identity and sense of self was meaningless as it would remind me that I was burdened with a difficult name.

Growing up with a foreign name has allowed me to not only appreciate having a name that is different but has also allowed me to appreciate the cultural significance of my name. Having been named after my grandmother and also having a name that is  mentioned within the Quran, I began to appreciate my name again and the beauty that it holds. 

However, whilst I may not hate my name anymore, my name leads me vulnerable in positions where my name can be used to judge me. For example, when applying for a job, it is clear that I am not a white British man leading me to experience a higher number of unsuccessful emails from employers compared to my white counterparts. According to researchers at Nuffield College’s Centre for Social Investigation (CSI), “nearly one in four applicants from the majority group (24%) received a call back from employers”. No matter how much I learn to love and accept my own name, I will always be susceptible to judgment from my foreign name.

 After entering the working world this year with my placement, I have found it much easier to simplify my name in order to avoid constantly hearing ‘can you repeat that for me?’. The burden being placed on me almost makes meeting new people quite daunting as most of the time my name becomes forgotten from how different it is. Whilst I appreciate how unique my name is, I often find myself thinking that if I were born with a simpler name that I would not find introducing myself so stressful.

For the first time in my life, I am being told that I have a simple name that is easy as if I should be proud of myself for having a name that is easy for them to pronounce. By anglicising my name, I find that a new burden is placed on me where I have to stick to this new identity I was made to create where my new name sounds too similar to my original name but has lost its cultural significance.

 Learning how to pronounce someone’s name should never be something to be ashamed of. If you do not understand how to pronounce someone’s name properly then remind them that you want to know how to say their name the correct way because it can be quite aggravating to constantly repeat the pronunciation of your name. Our name is the most important aspect of our identity that we use almost every day so just make it easier for us by respecting the fact that our names are different and learning the pronunciation. 

Kaltun Hassan is a placement year English Literature and Film Studies student at the University of Surrey.

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