Is Mispronouncing A Name A “Microaggression”?

I have been a long critic of the erosion of free speech on college campuses and the use of the ill-defined concept of “micro aggressions” to sanction students and faculty alike. Now there is a national campaign by the National Association for Bilingual Education and the Santa Clara County Office of Education that indicates that a teacher who mispronounces a student’s name is causing an offense to the student’s identity. negative emotional state that can lead to poor academic success.

The campaign, titled “My Name, My Identity” says on its website, “Did you know that mispronouncing a student’s name negates the identity of the student? This can lead to anxiety and resentment which, in turn, can hinder academic progress.” The author of an influential report on the issue, Rita Kohli, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, maintains that such mistakes can be deemed a “microaggression.” That is chilling for some of us who are notoriously bad at pronouncing names.

Kohli coauthored a report with Daniel Solorzano entitled “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microagressions and the K-12 Classrooms. The report stressed “[w]hen the child enters school and teachers – consciously or not – mispronounce, disregard or change the name, they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the students as well.”

I can see how mispronouncing names can be stressful but it is part of life for many people. One has to have some understanding that most people do not mean anything hostile or intentional in such mistakes. Yet, Kohli insists that teachers who mispronounce a student’s name because they are incapable “to center cultures outside of their own.”

This point was driven home by education blogger Jennifer Gonzalez:

Name mispronunciation – especially the kind committed by the arrogant manglers—actually falls into a larger category of behaviors called microaggressions, defined by researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” (Sue et al., 2007).

In other words, mutilating someone’s name is a tiny act of bigotry. Whether you intend to or not, what you’re communicating is this: Your name is different. Foreign. Weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right. Although most of your students may not know the word microaggression, they’re probably familiar with that vague feeling of marginalization, the message that everyone else is “normal,” and they are not.

She stresses that you should not take it personally to be called a microaggressor or bigot:

“And before you get all defensive about the bigotry thing, let’s be clear: Discovering that something you do might be construed as bigotry doesn’t mean anyone is calling you a bigot. It’s just an opportunity to grow.”

The campaign seeks to have teachers sign a pledge to “show respect to others’ names and identities in schools by pronouncing students’ names correctly” and “share my name story on social media” as well as other pledges.  I have never met an educator who did not want to pronounce the names of students correctly, so I hardly think that the pledge to do so is problematic . . . or necessary.  What concerns me is the ongoing effort to create a new basis for sanctions or compelled “cultural appreciation” or “cultural sensitivity courses” for “microaggressions.”

A category for ““brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” is chilling.  An unintentional “negative” comment is a standard conveys that it turns on how it is received rather than intended.  We have seen where an ever-widening range of speech on campuses — particularly conservative speech — is deemed as offensive or harmful to some listeners.  Recently we saw professors and students actually support a professor who criminally assaulted pro-life advocates with some calling such advocates “terrorists” for their views.

We have seen students rise in protest over what they believe is “cultural appropriation” in schools offering yoga or students wearing dreadlocks or serving Mexican food. Recently students at Oberlin even fought to stop the school from offering students sushi as “cultural appropriation.”  We are losing the important lesson that in a pluralistic society you need to be prepared to hear opposing views and overcome slights that come your way. Ideally you develop an appreciation that some insults are not intended and to develop a thicker skin in dealing with people from different cultures or perspectives. Instead, we seem to be plunging our educational institutions into the dangerous waters of speech regulation and sanctions.

Putting aside the immediate debate over mispronounced names, we have never had a real debate over the meaning or necessity of microaggression codes in this country.  However, advocates of the expanding range of speech regulation are succeeding in establishing these ambiguous standards on our campuses despite the threat to free speech and academic freedom.

88 thoughts on “Is Mispronouncing A Name A “Microaggression”?”

  1. If not micro, then its macro. What kind of kids call it notso?
    Fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks.
    Small kids big fat macro kids…
    Even kids with chicken pox say…
    Micro. Micro micro.
    The dogs, kids… like…
    To BITE!

  2. Well, since Polish names are impossible to pronounce without knowing Polish, I guess that means that those white folks get sympathy and can claim micro-aggression against white folks too.

    1. You obviously don’t understand the rules of the PC game. White people cannot be victims. Only oppressed minorities can claim victimhood. I grew up w/ Pollacks. If their name is hard to pronounce you insert a few vowels, or just call them “Ski” “Jerzy” or “Stashu.”

  3. When African American parents name their children with hard-to-pronounce names ( LaQuisha, Del Ron, Beyounce et al.), does that signal an intent to remain segregated from mainstream society? – or does it signify a certain “deal with it Whitey”, or is it merely, in their mind, a signal that “Whitey” names are dull, no style “cracker” names?).

    Or could it be a symbolic rejection of White Devil society?

    1. It’s mostly women trying to come up with unique names to call their little angels. A black gal and I were just laughing about this the other day. Her name was Laquicia so I said her name using four syllables. She corrected me, using three syllables, leaving the last “i” silent. My statement was so mom, just had to make your name so no one could spell it correctly? She laughed.

      This is a ridiculous paper none the less. I been wondering what all the bureauRats are doing.

    2. It’s not just a Black thang. Snooty Brits have been creative in the name game from well before Blacks evolved from Washington Carver, through Marcellus Cassius to Dywanteen Edwards. The use of the names of saints as middle names is not unusual. I have a pal whose middle name is Sinjin, which is how he pronounces St. John. Blacks have simply been on a fast track in their efforts to arrive at their own historicity in this area. They have a point though. First they were given names to go with their newly applied identities. Then they lavished respect on the very people who bought and sold them by naming their kids after slave owning Presidents and other heroes. Then, looking into history for examples of greatness, they targeted Roman greats-any further and it would have been Papadopolous. Dywanteen or Laquishia may sound weird to the Bobs, Joes, and Sallys but they do belong to and are of the people who design them. Think Joe Bob, Billy Sue, Sally Mae, and Billy Bob and then ponder.

  4. I have one of those semi-difficult Slavic last names. I have a co-worker who pronounces it correctly when she talks to me in the office. Every time she has to introduce me in a meeting, she pronounces it incorrectly. That’s not a micro-aggression, that’s just plain old passive aggression.

    1. Anneke – quite right to identify that as passive aggression. So maybe consider employing Paul’s tactic in an above post. =) Might as well have fun!

  5. I’ve always wondered about the English pronunciation of “stein” In German it means stone and is pronounced “stine” but I’ve met many people who pronounce it as “steen” as in Goldstein. And one wouldn’t order a “steen” of beer.

  6. I wonder if they’ve considered the fact that many second- and later-generation immigrant families will Anglicize their names, using a pronunciation that’s easier for most of the fellow Americans they wish to join. I know my own family uses different pronunciations of our last name, and family members of my brother-in-law pronounce their last name differently.

  7. Remember, according to the study and resultant book, The Three Pound Universe, women have more cells between the hemispheres of their brain, thus logic and emotion are sometimes intertwined in their communications. There are two many jokes about it, to note in one comment. One of the oldest is that newly married man giving or selling his set of encyclopedias because his wife knows everything. That’s not the best example of the specific results of their physical brain powers but their propensity for emotional outbreaks are a part of our social culture.

    It’s the blame game syndrome. People always want to blame something, often wrong, for the ills and injustices of the world. I little boy or girl getting their feeling hurt yet we all have it done to us and half the time it is done in jest, but the recipients just don’t think it’s funny. Immigrants have always been the brunt of alleged social problems. My Grandma, being from Sicily was called a Wop as a young girl in the early 1900s. She lived to 90 and knew everything. I just remember the stupid arguments my granddad and grandma would have. He could hardly say two words without her correcting him.

    You may have heard the joke “democracy is the worse form of government except for all the others”. I argue that mankind has not yet been able to implement or develop any form of government that does two things. 1. Last for a prolonged period of time and 2. Really does what is in the best interests of the majority. A couple of hundred years is what most governments last and they generally become less democratic the older they get. Our first war was just 60 or so years from it’s origin and it was one of the most enlightened people to have attempted such a government. Government is usually run and controlled by a ruling oligarchy and they do not do it for the best interest of the majority.

    My point is because of government we have people setting policies like this, that would be laughed at in a more free market environment. It’s similar to why we have 5,000 people working for the Federal Department of Education and no ones really knows what they do or more importantly how effective they are at doing it.

    Hopefully this is not what the feminist movement is all about.

    1. Wow! Your misogynistic comments were so over the top, I almost didn’t read your entire comment. Then I came to the part asserting that this unofficial report by two college faculty demonstrates that it’s “because of government we have people setting policies like this.” Talk about logic and emotion being sometimes intertwined in communications! Double wow!

      1. Yet, I’m not misogynistic at all. I didn’t do the study, either. It was done by Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi. Two hundred scientists supposedly shared their knowledge and research. It was my girlfriend of 18 years Debi that introduced me to the book.

        The point that no one other than government would pay for such a study/report, is not illogical. I found one company that had 4,500 existing government contracts. They were a consulting firm only.

        Men and women are surely complex and unequal in so many aspects. We’re so different in so many ways it’s really interesting. I think were we really make the mistake is in our different motivations. In this case the reason for this idiotic report is probably the same though; the grant money.

    2. hskiprob – our first war as a new nation was the War of 1812. We had been a country 22 years.

    3. re: “Government is usually run and controlled by a ruling oligarchy and they do not do it for the best interest of the majority.”

      We’ve evolved from oligarchy to corporatocracy. All this PC nonsense is just a way to divert from real, pressing issues we should be confronting.

      1. Autumn, I disagree. You must know who our real enemies are, before you can change things. It goes much higher up with the Bank of International Settle in Basil, Switzerland, where bankers from the 60 worlds largest central banks meet every two months as well as various others meetings around the world. Don’t hear about those meeting do you? That’s because they’re private just like the Council on Foreign Relations is in this country. Go to the list of members on their website and you will see many of those who run our country. Also Goggle BIS and you get a plethora of info to digest.

        Additionally, the IMF who handles international trade, is controlled by Great Britain, The U.S., Germany, Japan and now China, as of the 1st of Oct. when they will become part of the Special Drawing Rights trade system.

        It has been researched and a book published, that 40 companies have controlling interests in the next 170 largest corporations and those corporation have controlling interests in just about every major company in the industrialized world.

        The system is much more rigged than most people know and more importantly want to even believe.

        Did you know that central bankers funding both sides of both WW1 and WWII? The book The Creature From Jekyll Island, the true story of the preparations behind the Federal Reserved Act of 1913, the Great Depression and the U.S. involvement in WW1.

        Once you know who the players are, all the pieces fall into place, as to how the ruling oligarchs from each country, control the means of production.

        It not about fairness, democracy, justice or any of that nonsense. It’s about the maintenance of their power over the ability to tax and control the creation of money, natural resources, and trade via central banking.

        A recent Princeton Univ. study came to the conclusion that the majority has literally no influence on the political process. Democracy is an illusion when specific social polices are in place. I could go down the list but that is a comment for another day.

        1. hskiprob, thanks for your post. I agree that this is a strategy game akin to Risk for the central banks which give and take control of territory and resources.

          Here’s the list of central banks from the BIS website:

          Basel’s the place to be if you’re in the know and want others to work and die for you. Getting rid of the Fed and the bankers that control our government and our military has to be given priority politically.

          1. Steve, You are correct. Most libertarians as well as those from the Austrian Economic School believe that both liberty and justice are impossible if a central or government controlled bank is in place. It provides to much control and power in the hands of two few.

            You cannot fight city hall, when they are being controlled by a higher power that even has control over you. Just so everyone understands. The powers granted to the our central banking monopoly, The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States is actually quite a lot. The ability to issue money. The broker for the issuance of all Federal Government bonds. The ability to set and change at whim, interest rates. The ability to set and change at whim reserve levels; i.e. how much each bank much hold as collateral for their loans they both get from other institutions but also when they lend to others. The power to establish underwriting guidelines for, the banking system itself as well as all private individual and commercial interests. The power to establish and enforce regulations over all financial institutions under their jurisdiction, that include their member banks, investment banks, hedge funds and brokerage houses. As one of five members of the Internal Monetary Fund, the ability and power to set international monetary trade polices. The ability to collude with other central bankers from around the world to effectuate trade but also to stop selected trades, projects and commerce undesirable to their interests. As a prominent member of the World Bank, the IMF and other institutions, the ability to fund friendly nations with loans and foreign aid to whose politicians are willing to go along with their policies and of course the ability to ostracize and even exterminate those governments and politicians who do not want to go along with their policies. Our military is often an unwilling participant in some of these endeavors.

            Eighteen people, almost all bankers, investors or investment bankers, making these policies for a nation of 325 million people.

            There are probably not 1 in 1,000 people who truly understand the full powers they have nor understand how almost every boom bust cycle and war in the 20th century was a premediated event planned by them.

            If I thought that were creating these events for a higher or greater good, one could make the argument that they are just doing what needs to be done. However, there is far to much evidence to the contrary.

            If any one wants to call any of this a conspiracy theory, go ahead and fact check me. You will be wrong. As an example. each of the three Warburg brothers, a prominent international banking family and one of the creators of the BIS operated with one brother in the U.S. State Department, one in the German government and one in the British government leading up to and during WWI, while dad stayed in Austria and Switzerland controlling a fortune.

            As Milton Friedman stated in his book, Free to Choose, “the Untied States has either been in a recession, depression or war 50% of the time in the 20th century” and now 100% of the time in the 21st century.

            Both Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, if elected will take us into our next major war to get us out of the recession we will soon be reentering. Do I really need to tell you who would not? They will probably assassinate him, but I think he would be one of the few to take the risk.

            1. Great post. It’s fascinating stuff, apart from humiliating to see how ignorant I have been and so many others are, and why so many of our sons have died needlessly.

              Okay, who is the libertarian in body armor that will bury the Fed?

              Problem is that, after this November 8th election, the 99% will be more concerned with who their favorite football team is playing next week. There’s no tolerance in our collective psyche for stress of this nature.

            1. Hskiprob,
              “write a rebuttal to such a none specific comment.”

              ??? Rebuttal? No such thing needed. I am intrigued. I had not heard about the banking meeting in Switzerland. I will definitely read your posts. I have heard about Bretton Woods and I have heard about the corporate control (there is a nice picture out there of all the interconnections. I had not heard about the meetings in Switzerland, nor some of the other things you mentioned. I am usually pretty good about doing my own homework, but having links to articles (like the one you provided) helps springboard to the best works. If you thought I was being sarcastic, I am sorry. You cannot hear the sincerity in my voice and my post was too short to express that sincerity effectively. I avoid sarcasm as a rule. Thank you for the link!

              1. Hey Prairie, Thanks for the nice comment. There are so many friggin trolls that it often gets annoying. Sometime Sarcasm is appropriate and fun and I must admit I thought I sensed some sarcasm. My apologies.

                I think the entire system is really devious or I should say the people controlling it are. I and many others believe that this international banking cartel is involved in a host of illegal activities. From murder as the book The Confessions of the Economic Hitman by John Perkins who tells his life as one, claims to manipulating the loans given to countries by the World Bank and IMF. Perkins claims that he was told to fabricate the potential benefits of the loans knowing that the countries would eventual default allowing the banksters to come in and seize assets put up for collateral for the loans.

                I personally discovered a group working in the Caribbean who have ended up owning 50% to 100% of the utilities on islands such as Dominica, Granada and Turks and Caicos. U.S bankers formally out of First Union in North Carolina before merging into Wells Fargo. Dad just happened to own the Caterpillar Dealership in No. Carolina and those islands still use diesel fuel and generators for electrical power. They even use the FBI and CIA to help in their take over operations. Another story for another day

                Here is how the U.S. banking System has consolidated into the monster “To BIg To Fail” banks.

                That’s why I’m not really surprised that so many people don’t believe that 9/11 was carried out by a bunch of guys with box cutters who could barely pass their single engine designations.

                One of the worst stores is told by a guy Ed Griffin in his book The Creature From Jekyll Island. The story about the sinking of the Lusitania to get the U.S. into WWI. The Germans had issued a large press release to all the U.S. news outlets, the U.S. government and their U.S. Consulate saying they were going to sink it if it came into European waters. Only one or two newspapers in the entire country published the press release of the warning. The Germans found out that the Lusitania, a private passenger liner was shipping U.S. military supplies to Europe, in breach of the Geneva Convention. The book is about the true story of how the Banksters and government agents met in Jekyll Island, GA then owned by J.P. Morgan to plan for the legislation of the Federal Reserve Act. of 1913.

                The then, Secretary of the British Navy was Winston Churchill and the Under Secretary of the U.S. Navy was FDR. They of course sent the Lusitania unescorted in the known German U-boat waters. They were the two guys who allegedly made the decision to let her sail unescorted. The rest is history.

                I’ve read that FDR is linked to the Central bankers through his family bloodline. I don’t know about Churchill.
                Both went on to much higher government positions. Lol.

                FDR’s confiscation of gold in 1933 using an executive order and then resetting the value of gold at a higher price then he paid those who turned it in, shows you how bad these people are. Those honest enough to turn it in, lost 40% of their wealth in less than a six month period. Of course many people, especially those out west didn’t turn in their gold, facing the risk of fines and/or incarceration.

  8. This reinforces my long-held belief that it’s the fuzzy-headed faculty of teachers’ colleges that have been responsible for the decline in teacher competence and common sense. On the other hand, as someone whose name has been mispronounced thousands of times in my life, it *is* insulting when someone you have known for years still cannot pronounce your name, despite dozens of corrections.

    1. Oxa – I just roll with the mispronunciation and if they continue with it, start mispronouncing theirs. Amazing how fast they learn mine.

  9. Making it an educational equivalent of a misdemeanor to fail to pronounce one’s name correctly is silly, and I have to give credit for those who make the extra effort to show courtesy. Sometimes, however, trying to get someone’s name right is like not seeing the forest for the trees:

    For the most part, judges in the Superior Court are very willing to spend the time during their busy and stress-filled day to make a point of getting a client’s name right when they may see them again maybe only once or twice more in their lifetime.

    Apparently, Northwestern University and its safe sights and the Santa Clara County Office of Education have decided the gray days of Pleasantville are best.

    Anyone seen KCFleming?

  10. The using of Mr. and Miss[or Ms. you sexist!!] is fine in the classroom. But what about discussing the child w/ parents. I KNOW they would challenge you to pronounce their child’s first name. I KNOW it.

    1. Nick

      When in the formal environment of the classroom I used Mr. and Miss. When in the formal and informal environment that included the parent(s)-depending on the parent(s) and depending on the seriousness of the situation I used their first name but also, to make a point, ‘your son’ or ‘your daughter’. It would quickly become confusing to use Mr. with more than one Mr. in the room. When I referred to their child as your son or your daughter to describe a shortcoming, the parent(s) focused on the child alone. When I used this approach to applaud the child, the parent(s) beamed with pride and smiled. It is in the details.

      As I said, it worked quite well. Nuance is the first and most valuable tool on doing an end run around the almost hopeless environment of an inner city school where five of the twenty to twenty-five are two years behind, six or seven one year behind, one or two, three years behind, some living in hotels, and maybe a half dozen who really want to learn. There is a tipping point and reducing the chaos even a tad is sometimes all that is necessary. The trick is to maneuver the center in the direction of those that want to learn and away from those who faced with their own helplessness wanted to simply scream out their anger and despair.

      In any event, when using anyone’s name a respectful degree of effort must be made to pronounce it as the bearer wishes it to be pronounced. Not pronouncing someone’s name correctly illustrates anything from not caring about that person to being disrespectful. It can be a micro aggression and sometimes is.

  11. When I taught inner city kids, they were all Mr. and Miss. I had no problem with Smith, Jones, Parker, Carver, etc. This also introduced a level of maturity for them, reinforced an atmosphere of formality, and created a distance which was necessary for them to not get too friendly while I was getting to know them. It worked quite well, along with a few other ever evolving routines.

    1. issac – that is fine if your students are white, but when they are Hispanic and black it starts to get dicey.

      1. Excellent point Paul. My bro’s baby mama is Mexican. Her name is spelled “Ximena” pronounced “Heh-mena” we call her Madame X to which she takes no offense since we no hablo espanol =) I also used to work with a lady from Honduras – her name was spelled “Xocial” but pronounced “Social”

        You are right – must be a nightmare for teachers these day!

  12. Olly, It seems insanely funny but white teachers deal w/ this daily. Manipulative victimhood horse manure.

    1. One could also view the spelling as highly creative and pleasingly euphonic. Why shouldn’t “they” vote and breed? They are likely to have more wisdom than anyone who views Trump as “a good businessman” after having 6 bankruptcies and many failed corrupt businesses like Trump University, Trump Steaks, Trump wine, Trump airlines, and being so ashamed of his tax returns that he refuses to disclose them.

      1. “One could also view the spelling as highly creative and pleasingly euphonic.”

        Sure, but one should not get in a lather when others fail to see your artistic intent.

      2. re: “They are likely to have more wisdom than anyone who views Trump as “a good businessman” after having 6 bankruptcies and many failed corrupt businesses like Trump University, Trump Steaks, Trump wine, Trump airlines, and being so ashamed of his tax returns that he refuses to disclose them.”

        More wisdom? Low information voters who have been milked and bilked by Democrats

  13. Well. You all know what this is about. Black parents create names for their kids out of the blue. They follow no phonetic or other language rules and are virtually impossible to pronounce unless taught and practiced. I know a young woman who did Teach For America. Some parents ridiculed her for mispronouncing names Bonifaquita and Kuhziesha. It is a manipulative tool used by some black parents to put white people on their heals. It is apparently now being codified. Perfect!

  14. Watch out, Professor Terley, eventually misspelling will also be considered a microaggression (sp?).

  15. Put them through a Marine boot camp and have them “work through” these micro-aggressions.

    “In every class, there’s always one joker who thinks that he’s smarter than me. In this class, that happens to be you. Isn’t it, Mayonnaise?” An Officer and a Gentlement (1982)

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