Say My Name.

When moving to another country one can expect to hear their name pronounced differently. Maybe a syllable gets tweaked by the local accent or they yawl the vowels like a redneck choking on his sister’s g-string. Sometimes they just recycle your name into something that resembles lyrics from the Haka.

I always thought that Shaun was pretty universal thanks to western television. Its not that difficult to pronounce either, is it?

The Swedes have a tendency to pronounce every letter in a word. That kind of makes sense and is just so Scandinavianly efficient. This causes my language teachers to read out my name as “Sah-hoon”. That’s just the Swedes. I study with Greeks, Syrians, Ukrainians and other nationalities which most Americans would never find on a map.

I now answer to names such as John, Juan, Jeanne, Jewan and Sorn. Apparently the “sh” sound from English is unpopular on the Arabic and Greek side of the planet. The mere thought of attempting to pronounce “sh” causes them to restructure their entire sentence in order to avoid it.

I can imagine this concept of pronouncing every letter would drive the French insane. Those lazy, baguette-munching Francophones neglect every third letter in a sentence, yet they manage to sound sexy and intelligent no matter what they’re babbling about. Damnit.

“Bonjour ma petite aubergine. Tes yeux sont comme des blocs de béton et les vers de terre ont de la barbe.”

“Oh my god, Jeanne-Pierre! You’re so romantic and sophisticated. I want your bilingual babies!”

Having a single-syllable, European name in Sweden is far from the worst that could happen. Whenever I meet a Xhosa person back home I grit my teeth and pray that their name doesn’t contain a click. Those clicks are the bane of my attempts at the majority language of the Eastern Cape which, ironically, we don’t learn at school.  Don’t ask me to click a “q”. I can handle a “c” or maybe a “x” on a good day, but for the love of Ubuntu spare my whiteness the embarrassment of failing to pronounce “Ntombokuqala”.

My palms sweat with anticipation as I shake their hand and hope for something like Sandile or Jeremy. The latter is unlikely, but I’m desperate to save face on home ground.

Show respect by trying and most people will appreciate the effort. Reciprocate by not laughing at the attempt and we’re off to a good start.





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