Read my last name out loud. Go ahead. Whether you pronounced it right or wrong, I would never know. But at least you tried.
That is all I have ever wanted people to do when they come across my last name. Just try to pronounce it. Do not take away my last name or replace it with an “N.” Not attempting to pronounce my last name is taking away part of my identity.
I am a Vietnamese-American who was born in the state of Connecticut. My parents are immigrants from Vietnam. My last name connects me to the history of my parents and my relatives in their home country. By not attempting to try to pronounce my last name, it makes that history obsolete.
I always get a laugh out of ways that others have pronounced my last name incorrectly. My list seems to be growing longer by the week. I do not mind when others pronounce my last name wrong because I will always correct them. I appreciate it more, in fact, when someone asks how to pronounce my last name. I feel validated and respected in that way, instead of them blatantly cutting my last name out altogether during introductions and role calls.
I have had Asian-American friends who have laughed about how others have pronounced their last names wrong. They do not seem to be offended by it at all and find it as funny as I do.
I know of other students who have foreign first and last names that may be difficult for others to pronounce at first. I want to tell those students what I learned when I came to college: Do not accommodate others when it comes to your name. Your name is your identity and your history.
People will learn to pronounce your name the right away. It is all about repetition. Although it may seem tiring and frustrating, believe me, to correct pronunciations to new people and those who are around you more often, it will be worth it. You are educating them about your heritage.
In fact, when correcting others on the pronunciation of my last name, I have been able to educate those who have asked about the Vietnamese culture. No, I am not related to all the Nguyens on campus but it is a very common last name in Vietnam. Oh, by the way, here is something else you might not know about Vietnam…
I remember going home from public school and expressing my frustration to my parents about students and teachers who pronounced my last name the wrong way or did not even bother to try to pronounce my last name at all.
They told me, as I had mentioned before, to keep correcting others until they learn.
I understand that it can be embarrassing to pronounce someone’s name incorrectly. I want to make a good first impression and a name following a handshake solidifies that tentative connection. By respecting someone so much as to attempt or ask for clarification, that makes a good impression.
So, now that you have tried pronouncing my last name, I will tell you how to pronounce it the way that I know how: New-wen. Note that others with the same last name as me have their own ways of pronouncing Nguyen.
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.