Hi! I’m Arthi, or as the lady at my graduation said it “Uh-ree-three”
I find it mildly ironic that I’m sitting here writing a piece about the (mis)pronunciation of my name when I’ve actually wanted to change it (to Meenakshi) and It’s been a bone of contention through my life. However, as with most things that are important I’m sharing my story in the hope of helping myself and anyone else feel just a little bit more included.
Going back to my Graduation, the only thing I remember from the time I walked across the stage was being upset. At first I was excited and cheering everyone on but then I get my name absolutely destroyed by a lady who looked like she had never seen any of our names before.
“Uh- ree- three Rengsraji”
Growing up, I’ve lost count of the different ways in which non-Indians say my name some people genuinely try and with others I just gave up. That being said, I’ve never complained or cared about mispronunciations of my name before. It’s just one of those things I brushed off as part of the package of living abroad; I’ve increasingly learnt how intrinsically wrong that approach is. Names are difficult, I’m sure I will struggle with many but the important thing is to try. Yet through all of that, never has it been said that carelessly and never has it been on an occasion that mattered. I actually joked earlier, that (just) my surname would be a mess.
I’m always going to remember the ceremony and I’m always going to know the shock that I felt on a stage in front of hundreds of people.
Reflecting on it now, I’m surprised that I was upset and spent the rest of the afternoon wishing my name had been anything but an Indian one. The entire event took a little time for me to process and accept that the mistake was never mine, now I’m just angry that someone made me feel like that.
It was a sharp wake up call that made me question the bias that exists at University, maybe this is just an opening anecdote to a much larger story that needs to be told?
Don’t be an institution that celebrates diversity if you’re not going to have the decency to make that ceremony matter to every student equally. I’m not just speaking for myself, there were so many destroyed names and so many people who had to deal with that – I don’t find it funny, it’s goddamn rude. Don’t take extra effort with the ones YOU find it important and not bother with the rest of us. Through the afternoon the names were read out in a manner that made it seem amusing that this lady was struggling with some students with longer names, resulting in the audience giggling as it was read out! The last time I checked Graduation ceremonies are a solemn, happy occasion but not the space for mocking anything or anyone.
That being said, I’m happy at least people from some parts of the world were given the respect they deserved.
Other (much larger) Universities call and ask people how they would like their names pronounced, don’t make me give you a card with my name on it and then read it out like it’s cute to find names difficult. Anyway, here is my favourite piece of design by the ever so talented Pranavi (@not_sari ) I wish I had worn it through the ceremony.
Guest Blog from Arthi
“I grew in in Chennai, south India and moved to London four years ago for University. Having recently graduated from the London College of Fashion, I’m working in the Art Department at a fashion house in London and planning to move back to India later this year. Star Wars & Pav Bhaji are my true love but I’m also fiercely passionate about equality and representation (I will get pretty intense about it).
I’m also working on my big personal project Plus Nine One magazine, a fashion publication made for and by south Asian creatives from around the world. It will act as a platform that represents and celebrates south Asians in the global fashion industry, encouraging the participation of image makers across India, south Asia and the diaspora. Pre-Order for the first issue will be launching soon this year!
Head over to @plusnineone_ on Instagram or my personal profile is @arthirangaraj”
Comment below with your thoughts or if you’ve ever experienced something similar.
2 thoughts on “When your name is mispronounced on Graduation”
“Other (much larger) Universities call and ask people how they would like their names pronounced, ” – this really shocked me. In South African public universitities, thousands of people graduate at one ceremony so we don’t really have this kind of personalised treatment. It would be nice though.
Ultimately, many poc or diasporic communities have become desensitised to their name being pronounced.
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Having lived in India my whole life, it would come as a surprise to you that most of my friends aren’t able to pronounce my name. Thus I have become indifferent and even patronising when non-Indians try to speak it out. I’ve heard oh so many versions of my name that I respond to any word which starts with a V and has the general air and rhythm of my name about itself.