I can’t count the number of times people have mispronounced my last name. (Hiyama. Hee-YAH-muh.) I’m shocked if someone says it correctly the first time. My 93-year old grandpa has pronounced it wrong on purpose for a lot of his life so he doesn’t have to constantly correct people. It’s really not hard to say once you know how to say it, and people generally get with the program quickly, but there is still something that feels crappy about having to explain myself and how I came to be whenever my last name comes up.
Our names beget our personhood and confirm our existence. To have a name that is consistently fucked up by other people is to always feel like you’re abnormal, other, less. You feel simultaneously conspicuous and invisible. Everyone notices the difference, but nobody sees beyond it. In the United States, family names are important, but as an unapologetically individualistic nation, our first names are even more essential to our being. So as much as I identify with that experience of people mispronouncing my last name, it is a wholly different experience to not only have people mispronounce your first name but also to make fun of it. And while anyone can have a name that is tricky to pronounce by American English standards, names are racialized and the mockery is certainly a racialized experience. Continue reading on the importance of names and jimmy kimmel’s sweet embrace of white supremacy