“His name is Daveeeed,” I said, over-enunciating the /ee/ sound.
“But it says David,” my colleague said, reading directly off of her roster sheet.
“Yes, but he pronounces it like in Spanish, so we say it ‘Daveed,” I replied.
My colleague looked dismissive. “Well, he’s going to have to get used to people calling him David. That’s how we say it.”
My colleague in question here is a great teacher and a kind, well-meaning person. I hate to over-analyze the things fellow teachers say; I constantly catch myself saying things that don’t reflect my true opinions only because I am frazzled with all of the children and workload and daily demands. I do not consider myself someone who is easily offended, but this…this rubbed me the wrong way.
You see, David’s mom gave up her entire life in Mexico. She left her friends, her family, and even her husband so that her children could have some opportunity in this country. She works hard, she supports her three boys, and she does the best she can with what she has. When she named her son, she named him in Spanish, because that is the language that she speaks. She named him David because that was her father’s name, and his father’s before that. His name was not Day-vid.
In our exchange, my colleague and I chose sides, without realizing it. We inadvertently categorized ourselves into a we which reflected our identities. I said, “Daveed is how we say it,” classifying myself alongside other Spanish-speakers. In retrospect, I realize this may cause those around me to become defensive, and to then assert their own ethnicity’s dominance over my own. My colleague’s response was “…he’s going to have to get used to…how we say it.”
Now, let’s not over-think this. In my experience, most kids don’t freak out when adults mispronounce their names. Adults are the ones in charge and they are usually correct, so when an adult tells them they’ve been saying their name wrong since birth, it’s ok. They smile and they adjust to being called whatever adults want to call them. But to me, this is such a great opportunity to teach kids that it’s ok and normal to have multiple ways of pronouncing a name, especially if one’s family comes from another country.
Because half my class are native Spanish-speakers, my 25 students are quite used to me calling Iris “Ee-reese,” and other teachers calling her “Eye-ris.” Iris is comfortable with both pronunciations. My students have been immersed in discussion after discussion on names and accents, and although they are five, they get it. They get that there is not always one way of doing things. There are always options.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably in a group of educators that has heard a story similar to this one before. You’re probably in a group of educators that is open and empathetic to a diverse group of learners. I beg of you, I implore you–my voice as a Spanish-speaking teacher is not enough– to lead the charge and have these kinds of conversations with your students. Make an effort to say a student’s name the way their parents intended. And if you can’t, if it’s just too difficult, have a talk with your class about that. It’s ok to acknowledge that other languages are tricky for our mouths.
What’s not ok is to completely disregard a student’s name and identity and change it into something that is more convenient for you.
As we close out this school year and prepare for our summer reflections, here are some questions for thought:
- What are some ways we can address discomfort with name pronunciation among our peers?
- What are some ways White teachers can be voices & leaders for their kids of color?
- How can we help honor a student’s culture– not just their home culture, but their culture as a BILINGUAL American?
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy
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