It’s Pronounced “Comma-la!”

It’s not, Ka-MAH-la. Or even Kamalala – as some politicians have used when trying to throw shade on our new Vice President. Why do we struggle with new names – and why does it matter?

LACK OF EXPOSURE. Much of the challenge is simply rooted in a lack of exposure. People in small towns, like the one I grew up in, can live their whole lives without getting to know people from cultures and faiths from around the world. The names are new to them.

This was (and in many ways IS) exacerbated by the lack of real diversity in our movies and TV programming, workplaces, politics, newscasters and more. Simply seeing people of difference as high-profile players. Characters to be cared about. Repeatedly seeing and hearing from these characters makes unfamiliar names familiar. Makes them ordinary.

FEELING IT’S NOT WORTH THE EFFORT – For some, there is a sense that learning unfamiliar names is unimportant – because, after all, these people are outliers. This perspective has its roots in underexposure and is an example of white privilege at work. Exposure and occasional respectful correction can make a difference. Eventually it will take no effort at all.

THOSE WHO USE NAMES TO MARGINALIZE – ‘They are visitors in our land.’ ‘They are ruining our way of life.’ ‘They!’ ‘They’ are not us. Foreign-sounding names are mocked intentionally to highlight their difference. To dismiss them.

SIMPLE RESPECT – I see a person’s name as their flag – their recognizable symbol. We all know better than to actively disrespect or defile a nation’s flag,. We recognize the role that it plays. With more exposure, careful listening – and practice – we can make these new names – and maybe new sounds – familiar.

Why getting a name right matters

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