by: Daenique Jengelley, 4th year PhD Candidate, Biochemistry
When I was growing up, I wanted to change my name. My first name, Daenique, is pronounced Day-neek. To be honest, I do not know the historical origin of my first name aside from it was a unique and creative name my family blessed me with. My last name, Jengelley, is of an Indian origin with its own story. My great-grandparents were indentured servants from India that were brought to Jamaica. I imagine the language barrier was extremely difficult and what my great-grandparents said was not what was heard, but Jengelley was what everyone ended up making out of it. Of course, I understand the significance of my names and I am extremely proud of my name and my heritage, but growing up and even now, it is a challenge for people to pronounce.
I felt I had it worse because my first and last name was challenging. In class, when the teacher or professor would read names off the roster, I knew I was after the long pause and confusing look. Often, I ended up saying “it’s me” after a while because I knew they were struggling, and it was embarrassing for me. I dreaded having the extended conversations after telling people my name because they did not get it the first time, or I would cringe when I heard someone confidently mispronounce my name…I knew they were trying but I hated having to answer to something that was not me. I cannot express the variety of my names I have been called throughout the years…some from those who made an effort, others who just settled on what they felt was best, and others who never even thought to try or want to try.
In high school, I contemplated going by my middle name which is much simpler and honestly is of an English origin. But I decided against it because I always thought back to the book my mom gave me as a child, “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes—a children’s book about loving your name; and the love and effort it took for my family to come up with not two but three names for me. I have grown to love all of my names and developed tough skin over the years for those who have difficulties in pronouncing it.
This past week, I had the pleasure to co-moderate a panel discussion on Bias Incidents, Discrimination, and Harassment. We asked our panelists “how we distinguish between a microaggression and a simple mistake?”. A microaggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.
I would consider those who tried to pronounce my name or confidently mispronounced as a simple mistake. However, I have experienced and know of many others who have heard phrases like these: “Oh, I will never remember your name. It’s too difficult. Can’t you have something more simple or easy to remember?”. To me, those are microaggressions. It is implying that to have a simple or more English sounding name is better than your name. It is often directed to black, brown, and persons of color because our names are rich with vowels and syllables, often tied to deep connections within our family of origin, or the countries we are from. Our names tell a story of who are and where we are from. But we get put down when we do not have a simple name or an easy to pronounce name.
I am reminded of this video by Uzoamaka explaining why she is proud of her name (https://youtu.be/JTPC73SdRkA). While her mother’s words are a beautiful reminder, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka”, to me what Uzoamaka says after is even greater, “Do not ever erase those identifiers that are held in you. It is yours and it was given to you at birth, and it is yours to own.”
In the panel, we also asked, “is it our responsibility to educate others?” and the answers were mixed because we hold the trauma that we experience when faced with discrimination and microaggressions and in the moment, we are often stunned by what others are saying to us and we cannot effectively respond. When someone asked me “Can’t you have something more simple or easy to remember”, I replied no. While people affectionately call me “Dae” it was the tone that individual used that made me feel they never wanted to try to learn my whole name.
But in an effort to educate and help others not face these same issues, I encourage you to always try. A name has value, and it is a key identifier for an individual. Phrases such as “do you mind repeating that for me? I don’t want to get this wrong, can you help me better pronounce it? or did I say this correctly?” would be better than subtly insulting someone. It is baffling the effort that goes into saying a famous name properly but not putting the effort in learning the correct pronunciation of those around you. It hurts our feelings and makes us feel insignificant. So again, I urge you to make an effort.
Here is a link to the panel discussion as well as other resources:
Midweek Mindfulness with CAPS every other Wednesday from 12-12:30pm https://iu-baa.zoom.us/j/95117023035
Office of Equal Opportunity
Glossary of Terms:
Here is a link of complied resources for reporting: