In a recent viral video posted online by Global News, reporter and anchor Neetu Garcha discusses her decision to stop anglicizing her Punjabi name.
In the minute-long video, Garcha explains that “there is a right way to say [my name].”
“Neetu Garcha (Nee-thoo G-uhr-cha) is the authentic Punjabi pronunciation that my parents gave me,” she says.
“Like so many, I created the latter anglicized version during my childhood.” Garcha notes that her name, “like the Punjabi language, contain sounds that just don’t exist in the English language,” which is why non-Punjabi speakers may find it difficult to pronounce.
Garcha’s video went viral in the social media circles that I’m in, which consist of a lot of brown friends and family. Each time I saw the video shared or reposted, it was captioned with a familiar sentiment of how relatable it is to have your ethnic name mispronounced, or to even do it purposely yourself.
Navigating the world with a name that doesn’t play well with the English language is a story that almost all of the children of immigrants I know have lived out in their own way. And of course I can’t speak for what the experience means for my peers, but for me, it’s been part of the bigger story of trying to find my place in a White-centric narrative as a first-generation daughter of immigrants.
Like Neetu, my name, Amneet, also has a right pronunciation and a White pronunciation.
Until very recently, I would hesitate every time I had to introduce myself to someone new, because the combination of letters that make up my name can be hard to discern with an American accent.
I’d always wished my parents had named me something that was easier to pronounce. My name felt like yet another way that I was different from my peers, and another aspect of my life that I had to filter to better fit into the world outside my home.
The identity that my name carried was just not reflected back to me in the stories, in the media, or in the classrooms I encountered in the world outside.
That need to fit in has unraveled for me as I’ve grown older and more comfortable in my own skin, simply because I’ve realized the White experience is not for me. I’ve also realized I never actually wanted it to be for me, I just wanted for my own experience to be as accepted.
Decentralizing Whiteness in my life has gone hand-in-hand with gaining self-confidence, as I’ve learned that I have the power to legitimize my stories just by existing as myself, just like Neetu did.
It took me twenty-four years to realize I can choose to put my lived reality at the center of my own life, instead of aspiring for one that doesn’t have the breadth to hold my identity.
It took me twenty-four years to gain the self-confidence to believe that, if my name is mispronounced by someone who can’t make the sounds from my parent’s language, it’s not my name that needs to change.
Neetu’s video is the latest addition to a growing list of people of colour publicly reclaiming the correct pronunciation of their name in contrast to the dominant White culture.
Leading up to the 2020 United States presidential election, social media users asserted the origins and correct pronunciations of their non-White names in the #MyNameIs campaign on Twitter. The campaign was created as a response to Republican Senator David Perdue dismissing the correct pronunciation of the name of then-Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris.
In the Global News video, Neetu speaks about how the pronunciation of her name “has been a source of inner conflict for [her] for a long time.”
In contrast to Garcha’s experience, I don’t find myself being very bothered when my name is mispronounced. Correcting others on the pronunciation of my name doesn’t usually feel worth the effort, or the brain space.
But that being said, I can’t deny that it always makes me pause when someone in the professional world, the academic world, or really just any world outside my house says my name with the correct pronunciation of Amneet.
It instantly reminds me of home and makes me feel a bit more comfortable, like I’m no longer in a space where I need to continuously assert my identity.
I’m in a space where I’m already known. And it feels really, really good.
About the author: Amneet has had eight years of experience professionally writing fiction and non-fiction, six years of figuring out electronics and computers, and twenty-four years of drinking way too much cha.