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The Law Society along with support from the Women’s Lawyers Division and Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division are launching a video project on 21 March on the International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The project addresses that many people are not being called by the right name at work. What’s in a name, and what’s the best way for people to check pronunciation?
In an ideal world, it would be fabulous if my name was 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. Despite this though, 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 to બંસી. 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.
In an ideal world, it would be fabulous if my name was not a struggle for the people saying it
However, it can be positive having a different name and it can certainly be a talking point. I seem to have made it in to an art when it comes to addressing the incorrect pronounciation of my name. I normally begin with explaining its origins and meaning whenever I receive an ‘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. 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 cultural roots.
Following its origin, I may begin teaching how to pronounce my name by stating it’s ‘like a bun in the sea!’ praying that the visual aid of a bun in the sea help with not only being able to say my name correctly but also help with remembering how to say my name correctly. Sometimes it works, often it does not. 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 how to say it correctly and how hard I try to teach them. Although practice is perfect and so you will find that 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 then 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 is so personal
Pronounciation of names is one of those things in life that is sensitive because it is so personal and that is why I do not think that there is a best time or a best way for people to ask ‘how do you pronounce your name?’. I think it is natural for people to feel awkward or perhaps even embarassed that they have to ask; therefore 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 want, 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 is not difficult, it is 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 have to.