By Elsie Rivas Gomez, from Spanglish Baby, where this story was first published.
My daughter Marisol’s name is the source of some pronunciation issues for our friends and even family, sometimes. A few nights ago, Marisol did something about this that just made me so proud that I thought I should share.
I was in the kitchen setting the table for dinner with a great friend of ours, when I heard Mari in the other room saying, “No, it’s Mah-ree-SOL. Mah-ree-SOL. It’s Mah-ree-SOL, Nathan.” I ran in to see if I was hearing correctly; I was–she was correcting our friend’s pronunciation.
I know this might seem rude to some people, but not to me. You see, a few weeks back, Marisol had started talking to me about the way that people pronounce her name. “So-and-so calls me MAW-re-sul,” she would say, parroting the Anglicized pronunciation of her name. “What IS your name, baby?” I’d ask. “Mah-ree-SOL, mama,” she’d reply. We’d talk about how all the different people in her life said her name, and even play around with some of her cousin’s names. She had picked up on the fact that there were two ways to pronounce many of them and she also had picked up on which way each of her cousins preferred to be called.
We have been role-playing the correction she gave our friend tonight for a while. Before we’d go visit one of our beloved “mispronouncers,” she’d bring it up again. “K–calls me MAW-re-sul…” So I’d practice with her and encourage her to teach her friends how to say her name.
Marisol is a gentle soul and doesn’t generally get assertive with people unless she knows them real well. So, without fail, she wouldn’t give the correction, even though she would talk about it with me afterward. I figured this was just the beginning of us getting used to the unintended pronunciation of her name, especially since neither her father nor I correct family members who mispronounce her name. It feels rude sometimes to do so, and we let it go. How could I expect her to be more brave than we are, to insist on the respect of being called by her rightful name when she is not even three years old?
But she is and she did! I was so so proud of her. Like many other countless occasions, she is teaching me how to parent, how to stand up, how to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. I WILL ask people to say her name correctly. Now I see how awful it was that I let it slide before.
In my own life, there are STILL some acquaintances who either mispronounce my name, or just think it is Elise, who I don’t correct because I rarely see them! ¡Qué vergüenza!! I’m embarrassed to admit this, since I am so outspoken in so many ways…but this has always been a thing for me. Maybe it goes back to grade school when I didn’t like my name…whatever it is, my daughter just taught me how to be grownup about it!
I love that she had the audacity and PRIDE to ask her friend to say her name the way she preferred. I always ask my students to correct me if I am mispronouncing their names–”it’s your name,” I say, “and it’s only right that I call you the way you prefer to be called.” I want them to feel respected by me. I want my daughter to feel that too. Even more, I want her to respect herself enough to request that courtesy.
I only hope this is something she won’t ever lose. I hope that she doesn’t give in to all the well-meaning friends on the playground, or teachers, or anybody who doesn’t know to take care in saying her name. I want her to be this proud her whole life. I promise to keep learning from her.
SB mamas and papas–how do you handle it when your child’s name is mispronounced? Do you think it’s important to insist that other make the effort to get it right?
Elsie Rivas Gomez is a mother, wife, teacher, and writer living in Pasadena, CA. She was born in El Salvador and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her first collection of poetry, Swimming in El Rio Sumpul, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her blogging over at MamaFeminista.