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  • Emerging Ally

What’s in a Name?

The phone rings. I pick it up. “Is Mr. Turn there?” … Sigh… My wife looks at me. I roll my eyes. She shakes her head. Another close personal friend has called to sell me a car warranty or subscription of some kind.

My name has been getting mispronounced for… well always. People can’t seem to get it right. It’s even hard to spell in this word processor. See its T E R N E with an accent over the last É.


Pronounced “turn-a”.

It has been mispronounced in every venue. School. Work. Socially. In classes I have taken and in those I have taught. Restaurant wait lists. … “Mr Turn table for 3?” … I will actually go back to places that get it right. Really enjoy hearing it pronounced correctly in public. Yes!! That’s me!

It’s usually mispronounced by accident. That’s annoying but certainly OK. And then many people try to get it right. Some stumble but eventually get it. They get embarrassed. I’ve learned to help them laugh it off. I become the one helping them thru it. It had become a bit of a bonding exercise.

It’s even more annoying when they don’t even try to learn how. Like they don’t have the time. They can’t afford to stoop down and learn it. Total power play. But in this case it is a demonstration their power in general. It’s less personal somehow. Odds are they have mispronounced several other people’s names at the event. I mean if you are introducing people at least ask.

But sometimes it’s done intentionally. Grade school was great for that. “Hey TURN”. It is malicious. They are making fun of you and looking to push any button. It’s a power thing. They are calling you out. This is true even after grade school. They are showing their power over you. Getting other people to call you something you are not. Trying to change your power. Your identity.

I still remember library class in grade school. The librarian calling roll for class. “TURN” “Is D. TURN here?” I sheepishly raised my hand. “I’m here. It’s Terné” “what?” “It’s pronounced Terné” “Uh huh … Thank you Mr Turn.” I knew right then if anything happened I would not be going to her. She would not help. Not an Ally. I passed the dewey decimal system anyway.

Some folks have gone above and beyond. Real allies. I got a phone call one day. "I figured it out!" "What" "How to get that accent over your last e in the email! You said you couldn't figure it out but I got it. All you do is ...." ... ... That was AWESOME!!!

I’ve always viewed a name as special. It is the first gift you are given. It is with you for eternity. We still talk about Plato. Lincoln. Martin Luther King Jr. You know who they are because of their name. It represents their essence. Just like your name represents yours.

I guess that’s why I always try to make sure I pronounce a name correctly. I get annoying about it. “How do you say that?” “Did I get that right?” But it matters. To me.

I met a friend recently at a coffee shop. He stopped me in the middle of the hellos. “You’re the only one that says my name… Thanks.” It’s a connection.

People with non-anglo names are often asked to conform their names to an anglo structure. To accommodate the group at the sacrifice of their own identity. “Can I call you Sam?” They often bend to the peer pressure. Even introducing themselves that way going forward. “My name is …. But you can call me….” Unless they completely insist I try to use the former. That’s who they are after all.

People always wonder what they can do to be an ally. But they are not in a position of power at work. They are not CEOs. Not hiring managers. So they think there is not much they can do. But there is. Learn names. Use them. Pronounce their names correctly when you introduce them to others. Give them their power.

I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

All the best, Dave Terné

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Nov 03, 2020

What a great post Dave! Thanks for sharing.


Nov 02, 2020

Dave, this is an interesting one. One area this made me think of is the norm that has come about in the Asian immigrant community to adopt an "American" name when they move here. And in many cases, it's not because of the difficulty in pronouncing their original name, just because our society deems it necessary. I am not sure if I should be bothered by this or not. Interested in your perspective.

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