The feedback from my last column on given names and nicknames (“Getting names right is matter of respect,” May 2) was both informative and inspiring.

One reader wrote: “Your article was excellent and necessary. There are people who think, erroneously, that it is friendly to immediately create a nickname for someone.”

Another reader, a retired diplomat at the U.S. State Department, shared: “In Saudi, names tell you a lot about who they are: Fatima bint Samir Bin Al-Gaddani means Fatima, daughter of Samir of the Al-Gaddani family/clan. In Korea, you can sometimes tell birth order as there are traditions for both males and females for first born, second born, etc. … Business cards in Asia become very important, so when it’s presented, it’s with both hands and received the same way. While Westerners would normally just pocket the card, there you study it so you absorb all the details, especially name, title, company.”

One response to the column was particularly moving. Bryanna Beamer, a graduate student at Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, had just submitted a poem in her final weeks of the semester on a similar topic. Raised in Philadelphia, Beamer is a young African American woman who has traveled the globe, volunteered with the Peace Corps in Ghana and will spend this summer working in Gambia. She shared with me this poem about the value of a name and the dignity it commands. It was too poignant and timely not to share.

“Say It Right,” by Bryanna Beamer

Why do you decide how to speak my name

As though your tongue is the only one to acclaim Hear me slow and hear me well

I too can speak and I can spell

And I have to admit, I’m tired of the shame

Tired of correcting your hard A

Tired of forgiving it every day

You’re an American man

So you can’t begin to understand

How it feels to have yourself stripped away

My name is not an arbitrary label

Nor little more than a childhood fable But a combination of letters and sounds That come abound

And make my world more stable

My pronunciation is true

But incorrectly spoken by you

We agree respect is at the core of dignity But the way you mangle it so flippantly Is it because of my hue?

We come here and have to Americanize

Change our tone, our manner, our native style All to make you feel better

While trying to remember that this isn’t forever Crying as we smile

Yet when the tables are turned and we ask you To try to understand our culture too

You bring Western names meant for your tongue Erase the melodies of a song that we once sung With barely a thought of my name you just threw

My name is worth a correct speaking

A word that will accept no disagreeing

More than the literal meaning of strength

Or a family history that goes on at length

So try again, maybe you can treat me like a human being

Beamer explained: “I wrote this poem because I really really like my name, pronounced Bree-ah-nuh, but despite numerous reminders, I am frequently called Bree-anne-nuh, and I’m not the only person in this cohort who has similar experiences. I am arguing that integral human development has to begin with the bare minimum — the proper pronunciation of a name — before we can even begin to concern ourselves with the intricacies of dignity. Considering most of us want to work internationally, it’s even more important that we recognize the value of a name pronounced correctly because there will be many situations where the names are more difficult to pronounce, and that difficulty shouldn’t impact the effort.

“There are numerous studies that show one of the quickest ways to connect with another person is to address that person using their name. It makes them feel seen, heard and valued by acknowledgement of their innate existence. Our names are an integral part of our identity, and refusing to learn how to pronounce it correctly doesn’t just feel like a tonal mistake but a total lack of interest. If you can’t take a few moments to show interest in my name, why would I trust you to show interest in this project that will impact my people? How could I trust you to show interest in my opinions and beliefs?

“People will not shame you for asking how to pronounce their name because they can see the effort you are taking to value them holistically. I wrote this poem because it’s important for people to see how a small thing like a name can instill power dynamics and impact relationships for better or worse. It’s such a simple step in the direction of integral human development and dignity.”

Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Share your comments and conundrums at or 505-988-2070.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.