Imagine this: It’s the first day of school. As you get settled, your professor begins the roll call. When they get to your name, there’s an awkward pause. You know what is happening. You resign yourself again and brace yourself for the now-familiar routine of pronouncing your name in front of the whole class.
My name is AH-nuhn-dee, not Ah-NAN-dee.
This is the experience that I share with countless other students. While the majority of my professors take the time to learn my name, I’ve still received several mixed reactions to my name. Some professors ask me for an Anglicized nickname, as if my heritage is a burden to the classroom environment. Other professors are skittish around any potential situation to offend, so they overlook my identity by gesturing vaguely at my raised hand.
Students are often forced to dance around the situation. Is it worth it to stop the class to correct the professor? Does it mark me apart as a problematic student on the first day? How big is the class, and will they judge me for this?
Some international students like sustainability studies and marketing sophomore Enqiong, or Eric, Xie chose an English name to alleviate problems with pronunciation.
“I asked some (students) why they chose an English name for (themselves), and they said, ‘We don’t want to explain that,’” Xie said. “Sometimes people like asking you why you have this name or the meaning behind it. It’s not a bad thing to explain your name, but for some people, it’s more personal.”
Professors could resolve these problems by adding the NameCoach option to their Canvas page.
NameCoach is a software that allows students to record themselves pronouncing their names, and can be integrated into Canvas courses. This recording can be accessed by professors and other students and allows them to practice pronouncing names they may be unfamiliar with.
Government professor Scott Wolford said in an email that if that option were available, he’d make use of it.
“I always ask students to let me know what they’d like to be called, but in large classes, it can be tough to keep track of those names spread across multiple emails,” Wolford said. “As long as it’s not too burdensome on the students, then to me it seems like a pretty good idea.”
When a student is forced to speak up at an instructor’s mispronunciation, no matter how well-intentioned that attempt may be, it redefines the student as the outsider or the “different one.” Students can feel embarrassed, frustrated or even bitter as a result.
Psychology Today conducted an interview with Ranjana Srinivasan, who defined mispronouncing names as a microaggression.
“Microaggressions describe instances of subtle and indirect racism against marginalized populations,” Srinivasan said. “Under this umbrella, name-based microaggressions constitute a specific category of microaggressions that capture the subtle discriminatory comments that minority individuals experience when interacting with others given their first and last names of ethnic origin.”
NameCoach would alleviate the burden on students trying to teach everyone their names and place the responsibility on their professors and classmates to respect and affirm the student’s identity and cultural heritage.
Special education sophomore Elena Regalado said that she would definitely use the software if the option was offered on Canvas.
“I feel like I would be seen and noticed a lot more by my professors and my classmates,” Regalado said. “My pronouns and the pronunciation of my name are also parts of my identity, so I would love any way to clarify that and express that to people.”
In order to make their classes more inclusive spaces for all students, UT professors should make NameCoach an available option in their classrooms.
Barker is a government sophomore from Arlington, Texas.