Our names are an essential part of our identity. They carry deep personal, cultural, familial, and historical connections. They also give us a sense of who we are and our place in the world.

But can you say my name? Not always, according to Say My Name storytellers Dr Bilquis Ghani, Arif Ongu, Dr Zozan Balci, and Natasa Lasarevic and the thousands of other Australians whose names are shortened, anglicised, mispronounced or replaced. Listen to my own story and read on to hear how names impact our experiences in education, work and beyond.

Navigating names – or not

For many in Australia, dealing with school, the workplace, and life in general can come with unique and sometimes distressing challenges tied to their name. Say My Name is an initiative to decolonise the ways in which we understand and recognise names deemed as ‘tricky’, ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘foreign’ within Anglo-Australian contexts.

This initiative aims to amplify, celebrate and acknowledge the rich diversity in our workplaces and beyond. Colonial legacies have engineered specific sounds, words, accents and ways of speaking and listening as more ‘familiar’ than others, causing many non-Anglo-sounding names to be mispronounced – or not pronounced at all.

Say my name: a how-to guide

When you’re meeting someone for the first time, listen carefully. You could think about what rhymes with the name, or write down the phonetic spelling of the name (e.g. Laforteza = la-for-teh-za).

What you could say when you hear a name:

  • Could you please say it for me?
  • Did I pronounce it right?
  • Can you repeat your name?

What not to say:

  • It’s too hard to say your name
  • That’s a mouthful!
  • Can I just call you…?
  • Your name is so exotic!
  • Do you have a nickname?

Don’t make assumptions – the same spelling of names might be said differently, so ask if you’re not sure. Remember to be genuine, respectful, and act with humility and kindness. Practice makes perfect!

For easy reference or to share these tips with students and colleagues, download a ‘Say my name’ how to guide. If you have a name that others find difficult to pronounce or remember, you can find tips for requesting someone to pronounce your name too.

Celebrate diversity and recognise the humanity of names

To learn more about the story they tell about us as individuals and as a society at large, join us at an in-person event celebrating the diversity of names as part of Vivid Sydney this year.

Moderated by Jan Fran, hear Dr Elaine Laforteza, Sunil Badami, Dr Sanet Du Toit, and Dr Mariko Smith, as they discuss their personal experiences and the cultural, familial and historical ties of names. Say My Name will also provide insights and tools for how we can rectify mispronunciations and work towards a more respectful and inclusive society together.

Join the discussion