are part of our identity, so it can have an impact on us when they’re
pronounced incorrectly. To mark the UN End Racism Day 21 March, the Law Society is asking what’s
in a name for #SayMyName. Bansi Desai explains why it’s important to her
In an ideal world, it would be fabulous if
my name were not a struggle for both the people saying it and for the person
having to hear people struggle with it (me). It should be a non-issue, and yet
it seems to be such a common problem that I am writing an article about it. My
name is Bansi. It is pronounced Bun-see. Not Ban-sigh or Ban-zee, and certainly
not Bonzai. It is impressive how difficult a two-syllable name can be for a lot
of people, but for some reason, it is. But despite this, if I am being truly
honest, I know that the problem does not lie with people, but with the fact that
the English alphabet just does not have enough letters to fully translate my
name from my mother tongue, Gujarati, into English. ‘Bansi’ is the closest
spelling I will get. Due to this,
and because ‘Bansi’ is not a common name in Western society, I have learnt to
accept that this problem of mispronounciation will keep occurring.
However, it can be positive having a different name, and
it can certainly be a talking point. I have made an art of addressing the incorrect
pronounciation of my name. The conversation often begins with ‘Ooh that’s an
interesting name, quite unusual’. Yes, I suppose in this part of the world it
is unusual. In India, where it originated from, it is fairly common. But if I
get a comment like that, I normally begin with explaining my name’s origins and
meaning. My name means flute, in particular the flute played by a Hindu God –
Krishna. My name has a gender and it is tradtionally for males, but my parents
thought it worked for their daughter too (I agree). I love the meaning of my
name, I love that it has a meaning in general and that it is connected to my
After telling them about my name’s origin and meaning, I explain
how to pronounce it. The best way I’ve found is to tell people it’s ‘like a bun
in the sea!’ – praying that this visual aid will help with not only being able
to say my name correctly, but also remembering how to say it correctly in
future. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I have to kindly remind people
every so often how to say it, because I know some people will still get it
wrong no matter how hard they try to remember and how hard I try to teach them.
But only practice makes perfect, so I try not to push the correct
pronounciation of my name with people I will only meet once in my life. It is
with friends and colleagues that I take the time to teach them properly, as we
will be spending a lot of time together, and it is better to correct them at
the beginning than later, on when ‘Bonzai’ might very well be the name
everybody ends up calling me by.
Pronounciation of names is one of those things in life
that is sensitive because it’s so personal, so I don’t think that there is a
best time or a best way for people to ask ‘how do you pronounce your name?’. I
think it’s natural for people to feel awkward or perhaps even embarassed that
they have to ask, so I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and allow
them to try. If they get it wrong, I will hopefully have taught them by the end
of the conversation.
What I would like, and I am sure it is the same for others
who have the same issue as me, is for people to try and attempt to pronounce my
name in the way that I have taught them, and to not give up trying to say it
correctly because it is ‘too difficult’. It’s not difficult, it’s my name, and
it would be nice to hear it in the way that it should be said. Ideally, I do
not want to be in a position in life where I am seriously considering having to
change my name to Bonzai for the ease of others – but then again, I might just
Today is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, known as End Racism Day. To mark the day we are asking how to say people's names properly with messages and videos about how to #SayMyName.
No-one is perfect and we all get things wrong, but saying someone’s name wrong can make them feel unheard, unimportant, minimised. We’re highlighting the voices of individuals explaining what their name means to them, and when and how they would like to be asked how to pronounce their name. Watch the videos.
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