This is what people look like when they try to pronounce my name: people typically look slightly confused, intrigued and/or in pain. To be fair, I have a Japanese name, which I grew up pronouncing with a French accent. I realized after moving to DC nearly three years ago how much I cling to this pronunciation. My identity is linked to it and therefore I insist on pronouncing my name the way I always have and the way my parents meant it to be.
What is interesting isn’t so much this desire to keep my name ‘intact’, but rather that I discovered it in the U.S. Last week, I spent a few days in Toronto where I grew up. Though I had to introduce myself to several new people while there, not a single person asked me to repeat my name and all of them nailed it on the first try. This, I realize now, is pretty typical in Toronto. My experience in DC has been diametrically opposed - every single time I say my name, I need to repeat it at least twice and then explain where it comes from, why I have a Japanese name, etc.
Let’s be clear, I don’t mind it at all, and appreciate that people want to get it right but I found the stark difference interesting. I have been reflecting on this and have a couple of hypotheses as to why Torontonians don’t have much trouble at all with my name but DC residents do. The first is that more than half of Toronto’s population was not born in Canada, meaning that most people speak more than one language - undoubtedly a much higher proportion than in DC. But the second, and more interesting one in my opinion, is that there is less of a focus in Canada on losing one’s accent and “Anglicizing” names. This means that all Torontonians, not just new immigrants, grow up hearing weirdly pronounced names and develop an ear for them.
This to me exemplifies the difference between two different schools of thought with regards to immigration: assimilation and integration. A big question remains: which works best to make people feel at home in a new country?
Hanae (Pronounced Ah-nah-é)
Picture courtesy of google images