Let’s Talk About: Characters With ‘Difficult’ Names

difficult-names
Full title: Give me characters with ‘difficult’ names – I’ll give them the love they need

I want to talk about names today.

Names, or specifically my name, was something I struggled with during my childhood and well into my teen years. Today, I want to talk about this struggle, but more importantly, how my name was – and is – so important to my identity. And then, I want to talk about names in fiction, particularly non-English names for characters of colour.

As a disclaimer, my discussion post today will address how names are construed and perceived in Western societies, as that is specific to my experience.

(Note: I do not condone names that are offensive or overly bizarre, e.g. ‘Lord’ or ‘V8’ – I wish I was kidding.)

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Some personal (and cultural?) context

I go by CW in the blogosphere and Twittersphere, and I prefer to be known and called this way for privacy reasons. [See-double-you] isn’t actually my name though – CW is an acronym for my actual name.

I want to preface this by saying that I love my name. My name and my struggle isn’t a tragedy or something that is sad. I love that my name is different, I love that it is mine, and I love that it is part of who I am, who I have become, my identity, and also my family’s history. Without going into the specifics, naming traditions in my culture are really important. A great deal of thought goes into choosing a name for a newborn, and not just the I can’t decide which name! The meaning of the name and how it sounds is important, and sometimes can reflect a parent’s hopes for their child’s future.

All through my childhood and well into my years at university, I struggled with my name. My name has a sound that does not exist in the English language, so a lot of my friends don’t (or can’t) pronounce my name right, even to this day. I will concede that it is difficult for most people to pronounce, and that’s fine. I don’t fault anyone who pronounces my name wrong the first time – it’s what happens after I correct them that matters.

Part of my experiences growing up with my name: friends pronouncing it incorrectly (and not being corrected because you wanted to be liked and have friends), teachers hesitating before your name (and you know it’s your name because you always sit in alphabetical order on the first day), or having to repeat your name over and over as people stand awkwardly in front of you as they try and pronounce your name right (but hey, it’s the effort that counts). The less pleasant experiences involved questions like, ‘why don’t you just get an English name?’ or ‘well, that’s a very unusual name’.

But, enough about me. With my personal experience in mind, I want to talk about characters with names like mine.

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On unique or ‘difficult’ names…

For reasons above — I like unique or ‘difficult’ names. Or, perhaps more accurate: I appreciate them and I like them unconditionally.

And I know. I know when we talk about ‘difficult’ or ‘silly’ names, people are talking about high-fantasy names. However, I implore you to consider how similar the fantasy name arguments are similar to names of characters of colour. To help you out: “difficult to remember”, “difficult to pronounce”, “weird spelling” (especially since English is the point of comparison), or “cannot be bothered to remember”. (Likewise, also consider why people love fantasy names and how that relates to names of characters of colour: “so exotic”, and cultural fetishism.)

Characters are not real people. But, people, especially children who are starting to socialize with others, relate with names that are similar to their own – especially children of colour. Any child who has ever had a unique name or one that is difficult for others to pronounce will learn very, very early in their youth that their name is different to other, more English-sounding names.

Therefore, when people make judgments of an individual’s character, personality, likability, etc. based on their name, I side-eye; I side-eye a lot. When people say they don’t bother to learn the name, it disappoints me. (Because hey! I have met people who have not wanted to befriend me because of my name! It sucks.) When people say that a name gets in the way of a reader liking a character, it makes me a little sad.

Consider these real life implications of how we interact, judge, or the assumptions made about characters/people with non-English names:

1. In New Zealand, having a Western name affords someone with privilege and allows them more and better opportunities, insofar that having a non-English names can affect your chances of employment . I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened outside New Zealand too. (Personally speaking? Having, keeping, and using a non-European name is brave — and something that should be celebrated.)

2. Consider, when, you devalue a book for its character’s name (because it is not an English name, you can’t pronounce it, or it is ‘too difficult’ to remember), you are perpetuating:
a. the idea that people who speak English are more valuable than people who don’t speak English (especially if they have a non-English names), and thus are more deserving of attention, recognition, or acknowledgement of their humanness;
b. English/Western supremacy and linguistic imperalism (note: this is why a lot of non-English speakers change their first names to English names);
c. the idea that people that do not have an English name have not ‘fully assimilated’;
d. Othering people that do not have a non-English name.

Readers should endeavour to look beyond the name. Some names, especially if it belongs to characters of colour, have beauty and history in them, and it is important to their identity. As good readers, we should endeavour to find and appreciate that beauty and meaning. As good people, we should make an effort to pronounce names correctly and properly. (Are you struggling to pronounce a name? Try googling ‘how to pronounce [name]’ or just simply ask.) You may not pronounce it right the first time, but genuine effort will not go unnoticed.

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Name diversity, and what I’d love to see

I’m tired of seeing youths, or anyone, change their names purely because they don’t want to be bullied for their names. I have seen youths regard their given names as a point of shame, and that is so heartbreaking to me. Your name is nothing to be ashamed about. There’s nothing wrong with adopting a Western name, especially if that’s their own choice, but if it’s because they don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons, they don’t want to be bullied, they want to be liked by people who do not respect their personhood enough to learn their name, they think it will help them get employed — then something is wrong and something needs to change. And it’s not on us with the non-English names.

We need to recognize that names are more than decorations of a character, but that names are meaningful facets of a character’s identity and, sometimes, heritage. I would love to see these names being celebrated (and not exoticized), and given the same chance as characters with Western names.

As someone with a non-English name and made a conscious decision to not change my name, seeing these names mean a lot to me and gives me hope that, one day, an individual’s name will no longer be an ‘indicator’ of a person’s character, ability, or degree of belonging.

I want to see characters in books, especially young adult literature, with names like Vân Uoc and Agnieszka and Li Jing and Reshma and Kamala. We need to create spaces that are accepting of name diversity. Name diversity is vital in books, especially in YA.

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Let’s talk about it

Again, I’d like to emphasize that this discussion post comes from a specific perspective – specifically from someone who lives in a Western country and is the child of first-generation immigrants. Nonetheless, I welcome any thoughts that you may have, regardless of your background.

  • What do you think about ‘difficult’ names? Is this something you have given thought to?
  • What do you do when you come across a character with a name that you cannot/don’t know how to pronounce?
  • Do names matter to you?
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65 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: Characters With ‘Difficult’ Names

  1. Ahh I loved this post so much CW 💕 As someone that has absolutely struggled through everything name associated growing up and even now (teachers pausing, people getting in wrong, repeating it 5 times, being imposed with nicknames), I totally understand. But, saying that, I’m proud of it and would love to see more YA characters with “difficult” names!

    • Hi Jananee! Thank you so so much!
      I completely understand the nickname thing; I have so many too. It’s never bothered me but the more firm I am with my name, the less nicknames I’ve received as of late.
      I’m glad you’re proud of it! I am too. <3 And yes yes! We need more characters with name diversity. :D

  2. I adore this post as much as I love everything else you write, CW! I can relate to this on so many levels. My own name isn’t too dificult, but I feel for my brother who has been taught his real name is something to be embarrassed of, simply because Westerners cannot fathom words having a different pronunciation and weighted with so much more meaning than what they’re used to. As you know, my real name is only two letters long and I still get conversation like this:

    “Hello, nice to meet you, I’m An” (it rhymes with ‘barn’ or ‘yarn’ for those who don’t know)
    “Ohhh, hi Anne”
    -___-….

    I do admit I have difficulties with some names myself, especially some of the longer South Asian ones – and I do have to pronounce them vocally on a daily basis because of my job, but honestly – it’s not that hard to ask? No one is ever offended that you have to ask as long as you make a genuine attempt to get it right. Why do people insist on butchering things and making it awkward for all parties involved?

    • Hi Aentee!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! <3
      Ugh, that's terrible and I completely empathize. My name has a beautiful meaning too, and it's sad that some people will never see past it and appreciate its meaning. I feel for your brother.

      It's very strange how people insist on distorting uncommon names to fit more common names? I've had this so many times??

      I think we all do, especially if it's a name that's from a different language/culture. And I agree! Tbh, asking is the best way and because we're so used to it, we really don't mind being asked! And you're so right – I've never been offended by being asked to teach someone how to say my name right, but I HAVE been offended when people scoff or just butcher my name for their convenience.

  3. Love love love this post. I often wonder why people I know prefer to adopt an English name and they go with it instead of their given Chinese names.

    Now I’m incredibly intrigued. What is your name, CW? (It’s cool if you don’t want to share it)

    • Hi Kevin!
      Ahh thank you so so much. It’s a very common practice in Western countries – a lot of new migrants who come to New Zealand will adopt an English name, almost like a rite of passage.

      Hahah I’ll DM you on Twitter, my friend!

  4. I read a lot of fantasy, so my focus is definitely there. But, honestly, I think authors go out of their way to give their protagonists unique names these days. (Which, of course, is not necessarily the same as “hard to pronounce.”) But there seems to be a drive to give your character a name that no one else has. So that when people say “Feyre” or “Katniss” or “Rune” or whatever, it can only refer to YOUR book. I was honestly shocked that the protagonist in Heartless is named “Cath.” That’s “easy to pronounce” and a common name! (At least in the US.)

    So maybe the combination of “branding” and the drive towards more diversity and authentic representation will lead to a greater increase of non-Western names. Anyway, so many authors now use the cheat of having a character clarify how to pronounce the name in the book that I don’t see why “difficult” names would really be a problem. Or one could just be Sarah J. Maas and put a pronunciation guide for EVERYONE’s name in the back of the book.

    • Hi Briana!
      There definitely does seem to be a drive to give characters unique names. Personally, I am not averse to the idea at all. I am fine with it, because of my personal experiences.

      That’s a good point and definitely true. I just hope that it’ll lead to better and more meaningful representation, as opposed to shallow representation for the purposes of marketing. That could be potentially bad.

      • Oh, yeah, I definitely hope people aren’t like “Well here’s a unique name from another culture! Let’s use that!” But hopefully the drive to purposely give your character a name other book characters don’t have yet means people will be more open to the idea of supposedly “hard” or “unusual” names in general.

  5. I’m so with you on this CW. I went to a very diverse primary school in Christchurch, so I never felt self concious about my name, and now I attend an international school in INdia, so no problems here (but other people, esp. Thai and Korean people at my school do have teacher unable to pronounce their name, so many take English nicknames, which is interesting and sad). When I was born, my white great grandmother told my parents that my name was too weird and that’ I’d get teased at school for it; my Indian great grandmother told my parents that my name was too common. (Interestingly my white grandmother had actually written a book with a character called Shanti before I was even born). But other than that, I’ve never seen my name in a book, especially not in YA. That makes me a little sad. I also totally agree with the pronounciation thing–just ask. My names pretty easy, but people shorten the ‘a’ all the time, and my gymnastics coach used to call me “shontay” which is just ridiculous. My twin sister has it harder, though: her full name is mongolian with a rolled r, and hardly anyone says it. Anyway, this is great discussion post, and yesyesyes to name diversity!

    • Also, about the privelege thing, I was reading about a psychology study where they emailed landlords with houses to let, one with a typical white name (john) and one with a muslim name (mohammed) but otherwise identical, and obviously ‘john’ got way more replies.

    • Hi Shanti!
      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me. <3
      I think your name is beautiful and neither too common or 'too weird'. It's a part of you, and that's something we should celebrate. :)

      Ah, I totally understand your sister. There comes a point where you just give up trying because it's a lot of energy. But, I recently started teaching my name right and I was quite blown away with how people were willing to take the time to learn and told me that if they said their name wrong, to tell them. I hope people will start to pronounce your sister's name right. It's what she deserves. <3

  6. Although I was not raised up in a Western society, even in my country I had to face that somewhat annoying situation where people can’t pronounce my name because it is too foreign and unfamiliar (despite being purely and completely Bangladeshi, both my first name and my middle names are foreign–Tanaz is Persian and Masaba is African–thanks to my grandmother who loves diversity and culture).

    I am lucky though; I never felt bullied or insecure to wish for a different, more (in my case) Bengali-sounding names because–

    a) As someone who lives in her native country, I have never faced that painful situation where people judge me for my identity.

    b) I was raised in a society where diversity is not only appreciated, it is something that my people have always been very, very interested in. Every time a teacher read my name during roll call, or whenever I introduce myself to someone, they say, “what a unique name! What does it mean?” I love that they always ask me what my name means, instead of just stopping with a comment. Because like you said, my name is a huge part of my identity, and it was chosen very carefully because just like in your culture, the meaning of a child’s name in my country reflects what the parents hope for their child.

    All of this being said though, I still do understand how people with “different” names feel when they are in Western society, because when I was old enough to get my own passport, my mother filed a petition and had my name changed from Syeda Tanaz Masaba Kabir to just Tanaz Masaba with the hopes that should I ever leave my native country, I will not be judged for having a Muslim name.

    As always CW, your thought-provoking posts have made me write you an essay! But this, this is so important, and I am really glad you brought up this topic.

    • Hi Tanaz!
      Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. <3 I'm happy to hear that people take an interest in what your name means as opposed to making a silly comment. It's nice when people ask me what my name means, because I'm very proud of its meaning too!

      But, your name IS beautiful. <3

      Yes, it can be a mixed bag sometimes, but I think, with age, I've learned to appreciate my name much more and how it interweaves with my family's traditions.

      Aw, thank you so much for the kind words! I'm glad that it was thought-provoking to you — and as always, I love your 'essay' comment! :D

  7. When it comes to characters, I don’t think a name matters to me. A name in a book is simply a placeholder for me to associate thoughts, feelings, and actions. I don’t judge the names. Though, I often wonder why an author picked a particularly difficult name (especially in fantasy novels where many names are often just made up.) But I suppose names are another aesthetic to the story. Other than that, I don’t really pay much attention. (After all, there are so many other things to pay attention to in a book.) I do, however, pay attention to names IRL and do my darndest to pronounce a person’s name the way it should be. That’s simply a sign of respect.

    • Hi Melanie!
      Fair enough! Everyone, with their different experiences and ideas, will think of names differently. Because of my experiences, I think about names in books (and real life) in the ways detailed in my discussion post, and that’s why names are meaningful and important to me.

      That’s good! You are right, it’s a sign of respect and the most fundamental, basic level of decency. And yet, somehow people seem to forget. :/

      • I am sorry about your own personal struggles with your name. I think it truly is a shame that people don’t feel the need to respect someone’s name, understand it’s a part of their identity, and have the decency to treat them like an equal human being. Unfortunately, that comes back to people believing their levels of being human and some people (those with difficult to pronounce names, in this instance) are below them, not as human. Which is garbage!
        I hope to live long enough to see the day when the people who /don’t/ show respect to a person’s name and heritage are the people who are ostracized from society and not the other way around.
        /rant… oops.

        • Hey Melanie!

          Thank you. It was difficult when I was young because I didn’t possess the vocabulary or knowledge to put my muddy thoughts into more coherent ones.

          The politics around names can be very complex, especially in Western countries, but I think it’s very sad.

          Hahah! I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone – I only hope that people will be more open and exposed to different worldviews and be empathetic to people who are different to them. I’ll be content with just that. :)

  8. My name is quite easy, and your post has made me realize the struggles that can come with a “difficult’ name. Since I do a study to become teacher, I became more conscious of the importance of names. By knowing someones name, you show that you really “see” someone. I am ashamed to admit that I do not always know how to pronounce names. Of course I try the best I can, but I often feel a bit awkward for asking it multiple times. After reading your post I have resolved to do better. Thanks for writing this!

    • Hello Anouk!
      Thank you so much – I am glad that this post was thought-provoking and helpful to you in some way.

      That’s so true! For people with ‘different’ names like mine, where we’re treated in a certain way because of the uniqueness of our names, names mean even more to us.

      Hey, that’s okay! I think, depending on our backgrounds, we’ll have difficulty pronouncing certain names. In those instances, it’s always okay to ask! We really don’t mind and we like it when people are patient enough to learn and will put in the effort to learn. :)

  9. I don’t think that these names should be considered “difficult.” That title is incredibly discouraging and it’s kind of rude….especially to children. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a teacher or professor comes across a name that they’re unfamiliar with and they say “we’ll just have to come up with a nickname” and don’t even bother trying to pronounce it.
    At my graduation ceremony a lot of minorities had their names mispronounced despite the fact that 1. they were pronounced exactly how they were spelled (nothing tricky) AND 2. they provided a phonetic spelling. Meanwhile a Polish last name that also had uncommon letter combinations was pronounced flawlessly.

        • Hi Rae!

          Thank you for clarifying; I now understand the point you were trying to make before.

          I’d also like to clarify that I don’t like the term ‘difficult’ either – and I absolutely agree that they are rude and discouraging to children. (For this discussion, I chose the term ‘difficult’ because that word has always been used to describe my name since I was young, but I definitely don’t think unique names are ‘difficult’! )

          But yes, I understand the graduation thing too. I told them how to pronounce my name but they still got it wrong, so I know how that feels.

          And yes, I understand that too. It’s particularly discouraging when people take a particular effort to learn European names but won’t with non-European names. That always stings a little bit.

  10. Hi CW!
    This is such a great post. Names are important to me too, both as a reader and as a writer. When I was a kid I was bullied because of my name. I hated my name but not anymore. Over time i just learned to accept it for what it is and I kinda like my name because it’s not that common. especially here in my country. =))

    • Hello Farrah!
      I’m so so sorry to hear that you were bullied because of your name. That’s not okay, and you don’t deserve that at all.
      But, I’m glad you accept your name and like it! I totally agree – we’re unique individuals but our names give us a different kind of uniqueness! And I think that should be celebrated. :D

  11. This was such a beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing! I think I’m lucky in the way that I have a very common name in France, and I never had too much trouble with it, so I guess I’m lucky – but names are so important. Really, they resonate with us when we read them and we often remember characters this way. I agree that there should be more names with their origins vibrant in it, and not always just English names :)

    • Hi Marie!
      Aw, thank you so much! I think Marie is such a beautiful name in itself! <3
      That's just how things are, I suppose – we're all different in different ways and so those things that make us stand out will be more meaningful or salient in our experiences.

  12. I’m a second-generation brown person and I totally resonated with your text. I don’t have a non-white name though, my name is Irish but people cannot be bothered to pronounce that correctly either. Irish pronounciation is different to English and so many people don’t care about names that are difficult to pronounce. They also assume that my name is Indian just because of the way I look and they sometimes just use my middle name (which I NEVER use nor offer) without asking. The funny thing is that the pronounciation isn’t that difficult but people insist that they want to know the spelling. Spelling doesn’t help. My name can be said with the sounds used in German and English but a lot of people act as though it is strange because it is pronounced other than the spelling and not common at all.

    I’ve never taken a more German-sounding name and I will go to bosses/university emplozees and tell them to stop using my middle name – both have done so before.

    Yeah, so long story, short: great post.

    • Hi Sinead!

      I’m sorry about the way some people have treated you regarding your name. That’s not cool at all. I’m really really astounded (and disgusted?) that people chose to use your middle name without you offering? I’m sorry you had to experience that.

      That’s quite true! I’m wondering if that’s how some people think – they think visually so think that seeing the spelling in their minds would help. It is frustrating when they get even more confused though, after you tell them. I know that feeling. :|

      But thank you so much for sharing your experiences. <3 Your name is lovely, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

      • I love my name. It might sound arrogant, but whatever! Some co-workers didn’t even know I had a different first name, because the boss just used Anja. And the university just left it of the list as well, so I was running around telling professors my proper name. I’m sure they’ll say it was by accident…

        I always feel great when I say it’s an Irish name.

        Nowadays I usually spell the pronunciation of my name.

  13. Thank you so much for this post and sharing your struggles! Although I do have an English name, the way it is spelt puts people off and I had to correct teachers at school. In The Hate U Give, ethnic names were brought up as sounding weird, but it was explained that it comes from a white lens. I know so many people who changed their names because is what you said and it’s a shame that there’s such a bias, especially in employment. Good on you for staying true to yourself!

    • Hi Jeann!
      Ahh thank you so much.
      Oh, I had no idea that THUG explores names! Gosh, I cannot wait to read it now. ;_; Thank you so much for telling me – I’m even more excited to read it!

      Thank you! It was a long road, but I’m here and I’m okay. :)

  14. I am HUGE on names. I am an American, born and raised and so are my parents but I have had my fair share of people mispronouncing my name, adding letters to my name, misspelling my name, and calling me something else entirely (just as long as the beginning sound is the same). And don’t get me started on my middle name. I dreaded the teachers that called out full government names instead of just the first because I knew that they would butcher it and then proceed to ask me why I have a certain letter/article in my name smh. It really does make you self conscious, especially since we do not name ourselves.
    Personally, I feel my first name is not even hard to pronounce so I’m always confused by the people that do mispronounce it lol. My name sounds Spanish but is spelled the French way. (I swear its not as complicated as it sounds!) but my sister went through the same thing as well growing up. Its only my parents and brother that have “normal” English names.
    Ever since I was in middle school, I made a point to get people’s names right no matter who they were and if there was someone with a non-american name, I still called them their name. Why? Because that’s their name! Lol I’ve never been keen on the idea of someone having to compensate just because someone else can’t pronounce a certain letter or series of letters. Probably because it was a constant thing for me growing up. But ah well.
    I have grown to admire and have a certain love for unique names. Especially when I find the meaning of the name beautiful. Great discussion post!

    • I forgot to add that in my case, being a black American, any unique name is easily seen as “ghetto” just like in the case for a foreigner or first or second generation immigrant seen as “not acculturated enough”. It really sucks.

    • Hi Cece!

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I can totally relate. It’s funny that you mention the middle name – I’ve never ever had a middle name and that’s always confused people! But oh gosh, I remember high school days when teachers would call out names and I’d have to correct them in front of all my new peers! Ahhh that always made me anxious.
      But I am absolutely certain that your full name is beautiful. :)

      I’m glad to hear that you took so much effort to remember people’s names! That effort honestly does not go unnoticed or forgotten. I still remember the people who have told me that they wanted to learn my name and say it right. So thank you for what you did and do. <3

  15. I remember when I first picked up Harry Potter and struggled to pronounce “Hermoine” in my head. I actually pronounced it wrong until Goblet of Fire, when she spells it out for Krum. And I remember being annoyed that Rowling had chosen such a “weird” name. I never stopped to think about all the Hermoine’s in the world who were rejoicing to see themselves reflected on the pages. Or that it was my Westernized point-of-view that was defining what names were “weird”.

    This is such an interesting post, and such an interesting topic. Thank you for giving me so much to think about, and a new perspective on names I’m unfamiliar with.

    • Hello Kelly!

      Oh goodness, thank you too, for listening and considering what I had to say! I’m very happy to hear that you found my post thoughtful!

      I can understand that – our worldviews are narrow and derive from what we experience until we learn otherwise. Funnily enough, I never even thought deeply about the implications of my name until much later in life. And now I appreciate it much more. :)

  16. I love this post so much CW! <3 my full name is Arabic and even if I go by my nickname, I'm sure most of the westerners still pronounce 'Puput' wrong ahaha I admit, I haven't been in your situation because in Indonesia where I live, people have various names! We're multi ethnic and majority of our citizens are Muslim so there are ethnic names, local sounding names, Arabic names, and some western inspired ones and it's not weird for us to have unique names hahaha buuut my friend went thru the same thing. When we were in high school, she went for an exchange program to US and turned out she had to change her 1st name because people said it was "too difficult". At first she tried correcting people and teaching them how to pronounce it correctly but then she got tired and just went with a shorter name altogether. It's sad because it seems like most of the people in her school didn't even want to learn :(

    When it comes to book, I always get incredibly excited every time I see an Asian or Muslim sounding name, even if it's not Indonesian names. Just because they're so rare, you know?hahaha I'm slightly annoyed sometimes that weird high fantasy names are more appreciated than the non Caucasian names because fantasy names aren't real. Our names are real. Anyway, great post! :D

    • Hi Puput!

      Hahaha, people always find a way to pronounce names wrong! I feel like the more they overthink it, the more wrong they are. XD

      That’s wonderful! The schools and areas I lived in growing up in NZ were pretty diverse, but I think everyone had a Western name anyway, so bleh. That must’ve been nice though. But then again, I am who I am because of what I experienced when I was young. :D

      That’s so terrible. I’m so sorry that your friend experienced that. I know the feeling of being pressured to change your name to convenience others (who don’t give a damn about you anyway)!

      I know what you mean! Names with Muslim or Asian origins are very rare, so I get super excited too.

      Haha, that’s such a good point! Ah well, we’re here and we matter, and the people who are important and worth getting to know will hear us and support us. :)

  17. I grew up with a super common western name: Amanda. There were 4 other Amanda’s in my grade at the time. There were also multiple Mikes, Matts, Jennifers, Ashleys, etc. etc. I HATED that so many people all shared the same name. I think this is why when I had children of my own, I tried to name them names that were slightly different so they were not one of many. My son has a variation of a traditional western name and my daughter has an Irish name. Their names can be shortened to “Bry” and “Bre” so they can go by more traditional western nicknames if they choose. I like to think I gave them the best of both worlds.

    I am drawn to characters with unique names. I love that other cultures put such a special emphasis on names, and I wish this was something we did here in the U.S.

    Very interesting post CW! I am very curious now what your real name is. I can’t promise that I would be able to pronounce it correctly, but you can guarantee that I would try until I got it right :)

    • Hi Amanda!

      Ooh I always wanted to know – what does that feel like? Sharing your name with someone and then having to call them by your/their name with a straight face? (I always imagined myself laughing in those situations! But, alas, I’ve never experienced it before.)

      Haha yes! It’s always nice when people ask me what my name means, because I love talking about the traditions surrounding it — though in saying that, I love it now because I grew to love my name and take pride in it. In my youth I was embarrassed to talk about it.

      Thanks so much! Hehe, my real name is not very exciting, though recently someone told me it sounds like a bird? That was certainly unique though.

      Hehe, I know you would! You’re a lovely human being and I know you’d have the courtesy and respect to learn my name. <3

  18. LOVE THIS POST <3 <3 <3 I went to a really diverse high school (we're talking whites in the minority) and the diversity of names was just so lovely. I find it interesting that Indian-Australian and Sri-Lankan-Australian people most often don't use Western names, but those from other Asian backgrounds do.

    It's awful that people don't even try to pronounce something correctly, though. Names are such an important thing – it must be horrible to constantly hear people get it wrong :(

    • Hi Emily! Thank you so much!
      I went to a diverse high school too, so I know exactly what you mean! That’s an interesting observation, one I admittedly didn’t notice. I can’t speak for people who are South Asian, but it is really common in East Asians – from my experience anyway. It’s a complex issue which is probably deserving of it’s own post, so I won’t start. 😅

      It is really exhausting! There comes a point where you feel like you don’t care anymore and let people call you whatever, and it’s an energy you just don’t have as a young person. There are some people who hate to be corrected and have no patience to be taught something they don’t personally care about. 😕 It sucks but ahh well. This year with my reentry into uni, I started teaching people the right way to pronounce my name. So, we’ll see how that goes. 😊

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  20. I absolutely agree with everything in this post. My name is Ceillie (pronounced Kaylee) and I literally hate nicknames because the only nicknames I got as a youngling were super shitty and were people teasing me about my name. I do use my name as a conversation starter, though. It’s always a good test to see who’s willing to do the work in retraining their brain to remember it correctly.

  21. Names are so important! They’re the number one thing about our identity.

    People never get my real name right because it’s not a popular name (it’s Irish and has a silent letter, but it’s not that hard if you look at it) – either they pronounce it wrong or completely mishear me, or they spell it wrong. It really sucks, and it’s part of the reason why I want to change my name.

    For this reason, I suppose I prefer names that are kind of unusual compared to English names but as still easy to pronounce. When I’m creating characters for stories set in the real world, I try to pick names that aren’t mainstream English names but are also pronounceable for English-speakers. That said, when I come across a “difficult” name in a book, I try to use what little linguistics knowledge I have to make one way of saying the name. Otherwise I just kind of skim over the name.

  22. Love this post, as always, your discussions are thought provoking! 👏 Being Asian, I have western first name (Tasya), but non-western middle, last, and nick name. I never felt discrimination and character judgement based on name alone- maybe because I still live in my home country- but I do understand how hard it is people to pronounce my name.I think discrimination from names is also exist in my country, is just that I don’t experience it. I don’t have chinese name, but in my country there had always been strong prejudice to chinese that many people has to changed their chinese name to “normal” name, and use “normal” name in official documents (like changing “phang” to “pangestu”). I love seeing “difficult” names in literature, whether fantasy or contemporary, especially if it fits the story and setting, and not just keyboard-smashing-name-to-produce-difficult-name. What I love is real life name, from real people, with real meaning and stories that means a lot to real people that use it. I actually think name is important. There’s saying in my country that said that “your name is your parent’s prayer”. Like you said, a lot of thoughts and consideration go into names, it’s not about fancy-ness, but it’s actually about what our parents wish for us. Like my full name meaning is actually simple, but my baptist name was chosen because apparently my saint was a queen, so my parents expect me to behave and have high achievement.

    If I came across characters name that I can’t pronounce, I usually try to find help in goodreads or google. Some authors, like Leigh Bardugo, provide dictionary with audio how to pronounce the name and words. Other authors are usually talking about them in interview. What’s funny for me is, I never have trouble with asian name (maybe because I’m asian?). What I have trouble in pronouncing is western name, like Rhy (Re as in REad or like in rye?), Chaol (Kayol or kohl or kale or what?), Jaques, and Louis (normal louis or french louis???) 😅

  23. I loved this post! I really like my name now, although everybody calls me Shar rather than my full name which is 9 letters with three h’s and mongolian (disclaimer: I am not mongolian. All my siblings have Indian names. I’m just special). One of my friends, who is Korean, went to the US on an exchange and had her name changed to Jenny (her name is pronunouced Jin Hey. (not spelled like that) . It’s not hard). I went through a phase where I was sure that if I had a ‘normal’ name, I’d have more friends. But now I like my name :)

    • Hey Shar!
      Aw, I totally understand and relate to your experience. I used to like nicknames, like I was collecting something fun, but then when I realized it was because people couldn’t pronounce my name right…

      Aw, that’s sad! It’s funny how the harder people try to pronounce a name right, the more wrong they get. (At least, in my experience anyway!)

      I went through that phase too. :( BUT, I’m glad we both are happy with our names and like them. <3

  24. Such a great post CW 💙 it’s interesting because I ‘narrowly avoided’ being in a similar situation – my Chinese name is 陈雯伊 (Chén Wén-yī in Mandarin) and my mother initially intended on keeping it as my name when first coming to Australia, but everyone kept mispronouncing it as Wendy, so that’s what she went with 😂 I have mixed feelings towards it because unlike most Chinese names, my family tends to choose more based on phonetics than meaning, so it’s frustrating when (generally white) people insist on asking about it and I feel inadequate in answering and ‘disappointing’ them.
    I don’t have to deal with mispronounciation or that kind of thing, but know a lot of international students and recent immigrants near my age who changed their names to more Anglo ones, and I think it’s really sad. I definitely agree that we need more culturally diverse ‘difficult’ names in books!

    • Thank you so much Wendy!
      Aw, I don’t think you should feel disappointed! I think Wén-yī sounds very beautiful. My friend’s family is like that too, and her name is gorgeous-sounding, even though it doesn’t have much meaning, and I think that’s completely ok. <3

      I think it's sad too, and a part of me hopes that they're okay with that decision to an extent – if that makes sense.

      Yay! When – or I should say *IF*, at this point – I ever get around to writing my novel, my protagonist is sure as hell having a Chinese name.

  25. This is a fantastic post, CW! My experience is kind of the opposite though similar in nature. My parents gave me a Western name despite us living in Indonesia, and I’ve basically had it mispelled a dozen different ways my whole life. Growing up, I was surrounded by friends who had Western names too (Stephanie, Jessica, Melissa…) In a way, it made me not think too much about whether names reflect someone’s cultural identity, because they rarely did when I grew up. Or maybe it’s rather that Westernised names kind of became a part of mine.

    That said, I’d love to see name diversity in YA! I think it would be interesting to see this kind of conversation happening in a novel even.

    • Hi Cilla!

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with me – it’s always great to see different perspectives and experiences when it comes to names.

      I would too! I recently read a lovely book where the characters had names from their culture. It was so refreshing, and the book even had a little segment on the character’s struggles with her name. I was so happy to read it. ;-;

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