The mangled versions of Chiefs prop Angus Ta'avao's surname make for excruciating listening.

Alongside teammate Lachlan Boshier - whose surname is also commonly mispronounced - Ta'avao runs through how not to pronounce his name in the new Super Rugby Say My Name video.

Light-hearted as the video may be, Ta'avao and Boshier are fronting an issue which remains an embarrassing problem in 2019.


The mispronunciation of Pasifika and Māori names (as well as names like Boshier) continue to be disappointing not just for owners of mangled names, but for those who value what a name represents. The problem is particularly noticeable for professional rugby players in New Zealand and Australia, where many of the athletes are Pasifika and Māori, and a lot of the match commentators are not.

Mispronouncing a name as one tries to get it right is understandable. Saying it incorrectly repeatedly, and failing to realise how that is problematic is where things get dark. One former All Black turned Sky Sports commentator's unrelenting commitment to butchering names is a prime example.

His refusal to address how he says players' names not only undermines campaigns like Say My Name, it also highlights the ignorance that surrounds the wider discussion around the importance of correct pronunciation.

Justice Joe Williams, who recently became the first Māori judge appointed to the Supreme Court , touched on the subject last week. While he made no reference to rugby naming mishaps, Justice Williams discussed why properly pronouncing Māori names, including place names, in his line of work was important.

"It's a matter of the system coming to the realisation that it must signal that it values the culture from which these people come," he told Radio New Zealand. Correct pronunciation is one of the "simple" ways value and respect for culture is shown, Justice Williams said.

"Once people at the bottom of the pile see that they are valued, my experience is that that brings quite an important shift in attitude amongst those people, and I've seen that in my work as a judge often".

Justice Joe Williams recently became the first Māori judge appointed to the Supreme Court. Photo / NZPA
Justice Joe Williams recently became the first Māori judge appointed to the Supreme Court. Photo / NZPA

While speaking specifically about Māori in the justice system, Justice Williams' observation around the impact of acknowledging someone's culture through basics like pronouncing names correctly has broader application.

Over the years, my own name has been assigned some pretty interesting takes. The most disheartening is when, after deeming it too difficult, people ask whether I have a nickname.

A sharp "no" is often followed by silence while the questioner decides what to say next.

My name is an important part of who I am. It also represents more than just me. It is from my maternal grandmother's side of the family, as is my older sister's name Saleima. They were chosen for us because of the history they represent.

I do not expect the family history of my name to be particularly relevant or interesting to someone struggling to pronounce it. However, making the effort to pronounce it correctly matters because of what it represents to me.

For myself, I struggle primarily with remembering names. It generally takes me longer than most to match new faces and more than once there have been some awkward mix-ups.

I have learnt that asking, rather than presuming or even pretending to know someone's name, is a better way to go about things - even when there has been ample time to learn who people are. Yes, it can be both embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it is more appropriate than guessing.

As Justice Williams discussed, making an effort to say someone's name properly, particularly Māori and Pasifika, acknowledges the culture they are from. Conversely, not attempting to do so, and ignoring the error in pronunciation, has the opposite effect.

Not only does it sound unpleasant, it shows a disregard for someone's name and their background. And while asking repeatedly may be hard, I would much prefer that than having you read my name and call out Tallulah.