Thursday, November 5, 2009

This goat will give you her soul if you'll leave her name alone.

So I was somewhere work-related the other day, where several other goats congregate. After many hours, I left with a fellow goat, who asked me why I was in a bad mood.

Goat 1: "Goat 2, I had my name mispronounced five times. FIVE TIMES. Even AFTER I corrected them."
Goat 2: "Oh dear, Goat 1. One of those things."
Goat 1: "The next time someone mispronounces my name after I have corrected them or asks me for a short-form, I am going to cry. Or scream. I don't know."

I'll add a caveat here: there are a good number of people with really long names who will request that you call them by a different, shorter name for also a good number of reasons. Perhaps one was named for a grandfather and in certain cultures, using that name would be taboo. Maybe one's name is just really freaking long. That's obviously a personal choice and I am nothing if not a reasonable goat of very mild temperament.

My pet peeve is with people who find brown names in general unfamiliar and/or long, and would rather just call you by a contracted form of one's name because of that egregious, cringe-worthy stereotype: "OMG brown names very hard to pronounce and remember!". So they either ask you for a short form of your name (ugh), simply pronounce it wrongly because it's easier that way (double ugh) or worse still, offer creative iterations of their own (triple ugh).

I have a nice name. It's aspirational and it sounds very pretty. It's also three syllables long. I have many friends and colleagues who never heard the name before they met me and manage to pronounce it just fine. Still, I get a good number of people who either pronounce it wrongly or ask: "That's, uh, kind of long. Can I just shorten it to X?"


About seven years ago, I started using the contraction of my full name to introduce myself. You know, to make it easier for people to remember my name. What's your name, they ask. And I will say, XYZbutyoucancallmeZ, it's easier to remember.

Eventually I stopped, mostly because: wait a minute, Z isn't my name at all. It's XYZ! Why, exactly, am I doing this again?

And so I realised:-

1) To offer a shorter name because someone might not want to take the effort to learn or pronounce it fully simply doesn't make sense: people with a modicum of respect for others will make the effort to learn.

2) The remaining ones should realise - and as often as possible, until they get the message - that living in a multiracial society (as we like to remind ourselves often) means you sometimes have to accommodate other ethnicities and not expect them to accommodate you (and your self-professed limitations) all the time.

3) A sense of proportion can be very illuminating at times like these: Advanced calculus? Hard. Climbing mountains? Very hard. Brown names? ARE NOT.

Splitting up a name helps. Asking the be-monikered how the name should be pronounced also helps. Shortening it on your own initiative does not help: at best, it is annoying; at worst, it could mean something vulgar.


Oh, and hello there! My name's Oh My Goat, and it's very nice to meet you. My services include occasionally dispensing pearls of what one hopes is wisdom, and eating your homework. All at a nominal price, of course.

(Credit to The Crucible for the title: I have appropriated John Proctor's words for my own admittedly lesser-anguished purposes.)


  1. It's even more galling when you think of the many 3-syllabled English names that no one has a problem with, like Jennifer, Caroline, Joanna, Tiffany, hell most people don't even think twice about Anastasia which has a consonant cluster and FOUR syllables.


  2. I was going to make the point about English names, but Cat got there first! Great post, I am sorry it has been occasioned by such appalling stupidity, and I am looking forward to further Goatly pearls.

  3. Has anyone ever gotten the "How do you say that in English?" query from people learning to pronounce your name before? It's suddenly just occurred to me that I've heard it a lot, but I've never really figured out what it's supposed to mean.

  4. @ Cat in the Cream & Magical Chicken: Exactly! I suppose it's a matter of familiarity...but still, at some point, they had to apply themselves to pronouncing those names too right?

    @ Badly Drawn Pig: That thankfully hasn't happened yet, and I really wouldn't know what to make of it. Maybe they think brown names have anglicized equivalents, like Michael for Miguel? The brain, it is confounded.

  5. Goat, I am making the possibly-wrong assumption that people who find "brown names" too long and ask you for a contraction are of a different (& majority?) race. That's downright disrespectful in not bothering to learn how to pronounce your name correctly, with an added helping of majority-race privilege to profess and persist in ignorance of pronouncing words and names in languages other than your own.

    That said, I have been asked by fellow members of my majority race whether there is an "English" version of my name. Schoolteachers tended to be the worst offenders in this respect, perhaps because some of them think that having to remember hundreds of new names each school year gives them a free pass to edit your name into a more "memorable" form - I guess it's easier for them if everyone is named Sharon or Michelle (I hope I haven't offended all the Sharons & Michelles out there; I'm trying to say that your names are English names that are relatively familiar to people in Singapore and do not present special pronunciation difficulties in most cases).

    Even better, some ask me if I have a Christian name, to which of course my answer is: "I'm not Christian."

  6. @ The Complaining Cow: Your assumption's not wrong at all - and I am sorry that others out there suffer the same fate! That's really not cool at all. I do wonder whether these people realise that it is diminishing to be so careless with names, especially when you're a kid in school (not that it gets much better with time, but still)

    LOL for the "Christian name", though - which so many of my primary school classmates professed to have. I have never understood what it meant, since names like "Rolex" or "Heather" don't have Christian connotations, least as far as I can tell.

  7. Complaining Cow - I get the "What's your English name?" (from people who assume I should/must have one) or its variant "How do you say that in English?" (a question I think Goat is partly right in explaining) a fair bit. Which has, to me, always been a bit of a mystery especially when I was younger--seeing as how we all write our names with the English alphabet, in effect "meeper beeper" already seemed English.

    It wasn't until a fair bit later, when I realised what this meant, that I was led--by my own crazy--to adopt a "Christian name", as you termed it so accurately. A name that I'm almost never referred to in certain circles, despite my usual introductions with that name.

    Anyway, I basically have such a neurosis about this name thing that at some point, I actually felt *bad* for troubling people into learning how to pronounce my oh-so-difficult name, when in actuality it is neither really that difficult a name nor demanding a request. It's also caused me to pick up even more monikers to interchange with, just so that I provide these people with a range to choose from so that they don't manger anything too oh-so-difficult for them.

    "Hi, I'm meeper beeper, but you can call me badly drawn pig, or male unfeminist pig, or oink-oink, or fancy snout."

  8. This suddenly occurred to me. Almost nobody will ever ask Lee Kuan Yew how to pronounce his name or if he has an English name. (He does, and it's Harry, right?). People just suck it up, learn it, and pronounce it as best as they can.

    That's the instant deferential benefit we accord most superior figures.

    But I can't say the same for President Barack Obama especially during when he was only a Sentaor in the nomination run. A lot of his own countrymen had the tendency to not only get his name wrong but also purposefully muck it.

    In that sense, I think how people take to your name can sometimes definitely show the setting of power relations.


Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

(See our note on comments.)