I remember this like it was yesterday. I was in middle school in my 7th grade Spanish class. We had a substitute that day which meant I would be subject to one of the most unnecessarily-awkward aspects of my life: roll call.
But I knew the drill. I was used to it by now.
It was probably the 147th time that I had to wait for my name, watch the teacher pause, squint their eyes, and squirm a bit as they had no idea where to start. Eventually, they would give up with an exasperated sigh and I’d usually have to interject. I found myself having to do this often.
However, this time I was distracted and couldn’t prevent what would follow next. When our substitute teacher found my name, he looked down at the roster then back at me. He looked me straight in the eye and said “I don’t know how to say this, but I know it’s your name.”
Mind you, I was the only black kid in class, and even though his assumption was correct, I was embarrassed. When I replay this memory in my head, I always imagine that I responded with some witty comeback. But I was so shocked and caught off guard all I could manage to say was, “What’s that supposed to mean?” I don’t remember what he said to that, but I do remember my classmates responding to his comment with ooohs and ohhhs as if I was on an episode of Comedy Central’s celebrity roast. This to me, signaled that the substitute was indeed out of line and I wasn’t being too sensitive.
My name is Lakeeyscia. Pronounced luh-key-see-uh. I was called Lakeisha by nearly every person I knew, outside of my family, until I went to high school. No matter how many times I corrected, for some reason it just wouldn’t stick. To be honest, after a while I just accepted it. It got to the point where I felt that my name was an inconvenience rather than a unique quality. It was as if demanding that my name be pronounced correctly with four syllables, instead of three, was too much to ask.
It wasn’t until recently that I came to realize, I was allowing people to undermine me. Even if they were unaware of their mispronunciations, it affected me in a negative way. I was letting their assumptions, regarding how my name should sound and their expectation of what a stereotypical black name looked like, to suppress an important part of my identity.
What’s even more frustrating is that people find ways to avoid using my name altogether. Though I can sense the apprehension when having to address me, people would rather save face then to admit wrong doing and correct themselves. From this understanding, it seems people value their pride more than showing respect for my identity.
I realize this is not the intent of everyone who mispronounces my name, but common courtesy and a simple question asking for verification – especially from adults and my superiors when I was a child – would have prevented these negative experiences.
Please ask. I am more than willing to repeat the pronunciation of my name. I will repeat it as many times as you’d like. To be honest, I might fall in love with you if you show an effort to get my name right after having initially struggled with it. Through asking, it shows you cared enough about my identity. You didn’t treat my “ethnic” name as something to be intimidated by.
Recently my best friend told me that her little sister – who is not African-American I might add – said she’s probably going to name her daughter Lakeeyscia, if she has one. Her words were, “It’s just a beautiful name.” You see, she isn’t concerned with the perceived “blackness” of my name or how complicated it looks but its individuality, which is all I ask for from others when they are met with anything that is culturally different. Of course, I said that I was honored and I approved if she promises to use less letters and simpler spelling. This is for the sake of her future daughter’s sanity.