7 Things You Should Never, Ever Say To Someone With A Unique Name

We’re so used to using one another’s names day-in and day-out, but a name is what makes us so unique. Some people have more unique names than others, and that’s just based on what your part of the world considers the “norm” versus the “different.” So, anyone who has a name outside of the norm may find themselves in daunting or outright annoying situations. There are just some things people with unique names hate hearing.

Growing up in a traditional Irish neighborhood and going to schools in mostly the same environment, my name was  the topic of conversation. And often I had to deal with many mispronunciations, many blank stares when I introduced myself, and it all just became a part of my existence. I absolutely love when I get compliments which include, “That’s such a gorgeous name!” or, “Wow that’s beautiful,” (because who doesn’t) which is occasionally followed by the repeating of “Alani” in different tones. However, there are other questions and things said that I loathe.

I’ll never have a nickname or know what it’s like to be a standard “Jane,” which I’m more than fine with, but that doesn’t stop the general population from making irritating mistakes over and over again. Everyone with a unique name is by definition unique, so not everyone gets as fed up as, say, I do. However, here are some general rules to keep in mind when talking to someone who has a name you’ve never heard before.

1. *Completely butcher my name after I just said it out loud to you*

I get it. You’ve never seen my name before, and of course have no way of knowing me from Adam. However, now is the perfect opportunity to really listen and get my name correct on the first try. It’s not super difficult, and said person with a unique name will be forever grateful that you’re not the trillionth person to ask for their name repeatedly. Because, odds are, they’ve dealt with that at least once that day.

2. “That’s so exotic. I love it.”

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Again, I understand. I know that you’ve never heard a name like mine (unless you’ve visited Hawaii), but control yourself and please don’t call me or my name “exotic.” Am I being picky or sensitive? Maybe, but it’s my name, and when someone says this (because many have), it’s just draining to force a smile and say, “thank you,” because what else can you do but pretend this is a compliment.

3. “Oh, that’s just like so-and-so.”

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No, my name is nothing like that generic name that may be easier for you to say. Don’t equate it to something similar, because it will just confuse you in the long run, and will result in you calling me “Alaina” for five years. And if it’s due to the fact that you still don’t know how to say my name, just . I kid you not, I had a teacher in high school who just said the first syllable of my name and slurred the rest in an almost comical attempt to fake it till he made it; this happened for four years. I repeat: Just ask. 

4. “Sorry, we don’t sell it in that name.”

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This one is just heartbreaking, really. Imagine this: A little kid walks into a souvenir shop after many grueling hours in an amusement park. They stop at the three turnstiles with name plates, necklaces, and bracelets just to browse the “A” section and their name is not there. Devastating, isn’t it? Yes, it’s petty and yes, I should have gotten over this decades ago, but that still doesn’t dampen the hope that always bubbles up, and the downward spiral of emotion I feel when, yet again, I’m let down.

5. “What are you?”

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This is my most hated question that I get asked often. Due to public obsession to typecast and label others, I get asked this on an almost weekly basis just because of my face alone (because I’m mixed, certain communities see me as racially ambiguous), but the name also adds to the amount of times I get asked this as well. Enjoy the name for what it is — just a name. Don’t assume that I’m something based off of my name, or guess where the name comes from. It’s usually insulting, and leads to this way more offensive question. If you would like to know what my ethnicity is, that’s one thing. But someone’s name doesn’t define that necessarily, and it certainly won’t define one’s nationality (aka, also never ask, “What nationality are you?” like I wasn’t born in America).

6. *Assume gender*

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This is obviously never OK, so you should just check yourself before anything along this line comes out of your mouth. However, it is especially taxing when you are just given my name, which is 1. androgynous, even within the Hawaiian community, and then 2. unknown to Americans, and then you choose to go with a “Mr.” or “Sir” in an email or voicemail. It’s insulting that you would default to a male pronoun (because, you know, screw the patriarchy), but also just to assume this is the bane of anyone with a strange name’s existence. Which brings us to the last point…

7. *Make assumptions of any kind, really*

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Just save yourself the air, and don’t. Basically, all of these awkward feelings you’re putting onto those of us with names different from “Cathy,” “Jane,” and “Mike” can be avoided with a quick check to your conscience. Never heard the name before? Ask questions, be excited, or just listen to what we have to say. We love to hear it, and nine times out of 10 we’ll go into why we were named what we are (similar to how you were given your name). Everyone has a story; don’t invalidate it by letting the first thought you have come to the surface.

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