No, I’m not changing my name – learn how to pronounce it


Manal Ghaith

I think Ramekiki gets first place for funniest pronunciation, but Razmani comes in close second.

“Tia Razmani, please come on back,” the nurse said. “It’s actually Ramahi,” I said. The nurse looked up from her clipboard, unamused, and just rolled her eyes and walked on back, expecting me to follow. That is a common occurrence with my name.

When people look at my last name, they never know how to react. It’s one of three ways: they butcher the pronunciation by adding letters into my name that aren’t there, they hesitate and wait for me to interject and pronounce it for them and lastly just blatantly ignore the name as if it isn’t there, taking the saying “out of sight out of mind” literally.

My last name Ramahi — pronounced Ra-ma-HE, not Ra-me-kiki — originates from the Middle East. My dad was born in Palestine but relocated to Jordan soon after he was born. Now, I’m proud of my roots and origin, but I wasn’t always.

I used to hate my heritage because of how people viewed my last name, as a nuisance that they had to learn to pronounce. I was an inconvenience to them because my name was “complicated.” On many occasions people told me to change it to something simpler.

I still remember every rude interaction I’ve had over my last name. Harsh words would be thrown my way, always having the common theme of needing a more “American” name since I lived in America.

I understand that many people find foreign names difficult to pronounce, so they end up suggesting or giving you a simpler name, for their own convenience. Some people truly don’t mean any ill-will with the idea, but they don’t understand that in reality this causes the person to have lower self-esteem, which seeps into their overall health and well-being.

A post-doctoral fellow Xian Zhao research focuses on ethnic names which has uncovered a pattern that supports that anglicized names harm individuals in serious ways. It sends a message to the person that “you are not important in this environment, so why should I take time and effort to learn it?” This is easily fixable by simply asking someone nicely how to pronounce their name. The action alone will mean so much to them, affecting their life positively.

Vice President Kamala Harris, a Black Asian-American woman, faces consistent mispronunciations of her name. People use it as a tactic to point to her “otherness.” But Harris never fails to correct people. She tells them the proper way to pronounce it, reclaiming her identity in the process.

America is the country it is today because of the immigrants that have come here. The different ethnicities and cultures in this country is what makes America unique. We are a diverse country, and we should do better about acknowledging that diversity.

The next time you stumble upon a foreign name that’s hard to pronounce, don’t roll your eyes, sigh or look terrified. Simply ask the individual how to pronounce it. They won’t bite you. At least I don’t think they will.

They’ll simply smile at you instantly elated that you cared enough to ask and you are taking initiative to ensure you get it right. If you want bonus points with the person, ask them questions about their ethnicity and what their name means.

Some may think that I’m being a bit dramatic and that it’s simply a last name, but that last name is my identity. It holds so many incredible things about my history and ethnicity. My last name has its own story.

“Can you pronounce it correctly?” I said to the nurse. She turned around with an annoyed expression. “Ramahi, are you happy now?” the nurse said. “Yes, very,” I said, and followed her.