Is getting our names right too big an ask?

By Tariana Turia


At the weekend, the prize-giving for the little ripper rugby was held.

Little Mr 3-year-old has gone along every week, touching up on his skills before he gets called up for the All Blacks.

So there they all are - 40 3-and 4-year-old boys and girls, sitting together on the mat waiting for their names to be called, certificates presented, ribbons awarded. One by one, they go up until the coach falters on one name "can't say that" and resorts to calling out his surname. The next certificate also clearly stumps her "that name's too long", and so the offending certificate is discarded while she goes with names she can pronounce.

They get to the end of the pile and the mokopuna-with-the-long-name is the only one without a certificate. It's no big deal to him, he thinks his name is Piri Weepu anyway and so he runs off, disengaged. The coach is busy getting on to the team photo, and tells Mum, just write his name on a blank certificate.

Mum wasn't convinced it was just an oversight - and, sure enough, when she looked through the pile there was her boy's name all right - it was the one pronounced "too long".

And yes, there are 11 letters in his name - like there are in Christopher or Veronica-Lee - but does that warrant the coach's actions in missing him out?

These sorts of "slip-ups" occur on a daily basis, not just in sports clubrooms but in school classrooms, the doctor's surgery, the chemist.

So is it a big deal?

Recent research in the health sector says it matters a great deal. Access to General Practice for Pacific Peoples: A Place for Cultural Competency tells us that Pasifika peoples found incorrect name pronunciation frustrating and felt it signalled a lack of cultural sensitivity.

And in a study, The Value of te Reo in Primary Health Care, they found incorrect name pronunciation made Maori patients feel unwelcome and discouraged from attending care, whereas "gold standard" health care was present when everyone in the practice (medical receptionist, nurse and general practitioner) pronounced their name correctly.

The correct pronunciation of names is the greatest sign of respect we can give one another.

Over the past fortnight, the nation has been spellbound by the names of top international athletes - but such is the respect accorded the athletes that no one would tolerate a reporter saying: "Oh, their name's too hard, we'll just call him by his surname."

We expect announcers to try - we should expect nothing less for our teachers, nurses and sports coaches.

Mispronunciation of names is jarring to the ears; it is disrespectful and a marker of racial discrimination. It can so easily be avoided by a simple question - how do you say your name?

We have ample evidence in health and education settings that a simple thing such as mispronouncing one's name can have drastic consequences in terms of sending a signal to the individual that they matter. Doing it right demonstrates respect for them and their heritage, and it is a key to connection.


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