I'm Not Asking Too Much To Have My Name Pronounced Correctly

An incident in the Australian parliament has struck a chord with thousands of Australians with non-Anglo names: The Chair of a Senate Committee repeatedly mispronounced my last name.

Now, Faruqi, is quite an easy name to pronounce. It has the same number of syllables as the names of other Senators who were in the room, like Senator Leyonhjelm or even Senator MacDonald, who mispronounced it in the first place.

But even if it had a dozen difficult syllables, you would imagine that it is common courtesy to know the names of your few colleagues in the room, especially after having been corrected -- twice.

People getting my name wrong is certainly not a new phenomenon. If I had a dollar for every letter or email addressed to Maureen, Mireen or even Maria, I’d be a wealthy woman by now. It is particularly perplexing when someone is able to write an email address correctly, then completely butcher your name in the text.

The video of the exchange with Senator MacDonald, when I corrected him to no avail, got a pretty overwhelming and empathetic response.

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There was a collective sigh of familiarity with the incident. Many people with names like mine -- that is, not Anglo-Saxon -- have just given up and offer other names or even change their name to save themselves the agony of repeatedly correcting others.

Mohammed becomes Michael, Yuqi become Lily, Rohan becomes Rowan.

“Because no matter how long we’ve been in Australia or what we achieve in Australia, to some we’re always foreigners,” one commenter suggested.

“The struggle is unreal,” another agreed, while someone else suggested there was “finally some representation in parliament for those of us with non-Anglo names who have to repeat ourselves”.

But not all were sympathetic. Some people thought that those of us with non-Anglo names are being unreasonable in requesting our names be pronounced correctly.

Someone on twitter said, “this is why Asians are better migrants than Pakistanis (sic) Muslims. The Asians actually try to assimilate and change their first names to Western names. They don’t just land here and demand everyone learn their bizarre names.”

So what’s in a name? A lot actually.

Names are an integral part of identity, no matter what your background is. They connect us to our culture, our ancestors and the countries and regions of our heritage. We shouldn’t have to compromise on this with our colleagues, employers, friends or acquaintances.

Having a ‘foreign’ name also has consequences. Labour market discrimination, or ‘resume racism’, results in people with foreign sounding names being denied opportunities purely on this basis.

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The Australian National University sent out 4,000 fake job applications to Australian employers advertising for entry-level hospitality, data entry, customer service and sales jobs, changing the racial origin of the name of the person applying. It found that an applicant with a Chinese heritage name would have to put in 68 percent more applications than an Anglo heritage named applicant to get the same number of responses back.

For a person with a Middle Eastern heritage name it was 64 percent more, 35 percent more for an indigenous heritage named applicant and 12 percent more for an Italian-heritage named applicant.

Resume racism might go some way to explaining the results of the Australian Human Rights Commission report “Leading for Change,” which considered the backgrounds of thousands of senior managers in government, academia and business. That report found that 95 percent of Australian senior leaders were of Anglo background, despite one quarter of us having non-European and indigenous backgrounds. Having worked in all three sectors the report looked at, it certainly rings true.

We have some way to go before we’ve stamped out racism and discrimination from our society, but surely we can make an effort to address someone by their given name. That is the first signal we give another person to acknowledge who they are and include them as equals in a conversation.

Some names are difficult to pronounce for all of us. God knows I’ve struggled with many names myself. That’s reality. But it’s not that difficult to at least ask for the correct pronunciation, take the time to get it right and really listen when someone is trying to correct you. Surely we owe each other this simple courtesy and respect.