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“Are Black names weird, or Are You Just Racist?” dives into name mispronunciation

Hayden Choate

A simple question was posed at Wednesday afternoon’s SEAT at the Table Event which was led by Professor Rebecca Lartigue, Springfield College sophomore Paris Lizana, and Springfield College alum Lakeisha Reed. 

 “Are Black names weird, or Are You Just Racist?” 

The event began with a video of Reed, who is now a second-grade teacher in Springfield, talking about why her parents gave her the name they did, why that is special to her and stressed the importance of pronunciation of people’s names. 

 Reed talked about her own experiences with the stigma of having a black name. 

“I feel like when I would fill out applications I would get turned down because of my name because people would judge me based off of that and it was bad in a way but I had to get used to it,” Reed said. 

Reed makes sure that her students understand it’s important to pronounce people’s name the right way.

“I really try to make it a part of my job and a part of me to call my students by the correct pronunciation of their names,” Reed said. 

This was followed by Paris Lizana, who gave a presentation about where a lot of black names come from, how offensive and frustrating mispronunciation of names can be and how there can be prejudices against people because of their names.

Lizana started off by talking about how there is a history behind Black names and it is important to understand where those names came from. 

When West Africans became slaves they were stripped of their names and given the names of their slave masters. 

Having their identity taken away from them, being shipped away and not being able to speak their native language was “grade A dehumanization at its finest” explained Lizana. 

Lizana talked about the origin of Black sounding names which came from the Black Power Movement in the 60s and 70s. This was when Black people wanted to take back who they were, creating their own names and they wanted to separate themselves from their white slave masters.

 “Most of them are already established names just with added prefixes and suffixes,” Lizana said. 

 Lizana admitted that she herself can sometimes mispronounced people’s names but it’s important to learn how to pronounce them. 

“It’s hard and that’s why it’s important to ask and you should always ask a person how they pronounce their name,” Lizana said. 

Lizana then brought up points about why it is easier for people to pronounce names that would be challenging generally but then mispronounce “Black sounding” names.

“`Why is it that people can pronounce unique names like celebrities like Timothee Chalmomet or Shia Labeouf like we can all say those names but it is sometimes difficult for our white counterparts to pronounce Black sounding names. I think that, that is an extreme bias,” Lizana said.

She finished her presentation by explaining the significance behind her name, Paris and that it sticks, which is a key reason why people name their children with Black-sounding names. 

“They want it to stick, they want it to be memorable and once you learn their names it’s going to be pretty hard for you to forget them,” Lizana said.

 Following Lizana’s presentation, the event was opened up to the over 150 people who attended to share their experiences, ask questions or make comments. A lot of people did share their experiences specifically regarding mispronunciation of their name and how to politely correct people. 

This included two women named Jennifer, who shared similar experiences of people seeing their names on paper then being surprised when people saw that they were Black. 

 A lot of experiences that were shared discussed their frustrations with people intentionally not putting in the effort to pronounce their names correctly. Something that is not only disrespectful to anyone, but also microaggression. 

The event was a very important learning experience that was followed by a discussion that included people of all ages, racial backgrounds and ethnicities.

Lizana added,“You should keep practicing until you get it right and don’t be afraid to keep asking them.”

Photo: Office of Multicultural Affairs

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