Gaurav Sharma. A name we’ve heard a lot over the last week in New Zealand media, and a name that we’ve heard pronounced incorrectly almost every time.
Journalists and presenters getting it wrong is one thing, but Sharma’s colleagues doing likewise is another.
His boss getting it wrong is the biggest thing, especially considering she is the leader of our nation.
For the record, his name is pronounced “Shuhrr-ma”, not “Shaa-ma”.
If you can roll the r in kia ora, Aotearoa, Māori, tamariki, rangatahi, and Tāmaki Makaurau (just to name a few), then you can say Sharma correctly.
And, if you can say Taupō without leaning towards saying “tao-po” then you can say “gau-raav” instead of “goo-rav” or “go-rav”.
The name has become so popular in New Zealand this week that Google has come up with a pronunciation guide. It’s laughable by just how wrong it is and infuriating to know how many people are saying it incorrectly because of this one tool. It's also infuriating that people can’t just research a bit further to find the correct pronunciation.
Part of the problem is that Google has given just two options for pronouncing a Hindi word - British and American. Neither of those pronunciations should even exist for a word outside of the English language because that’s normalising incorrect pronunciations. It gives the message that ‘if you speak British English then you can say this foreign word like this’.
I understand not every newsroom will have an employee that can advise presenters and reporters on pronunciation - that’s a whole other topic about diversity.
However, the Labour Party prides themselves on being diverse. In fact, they say they stand for “celebration of diversity” on their website.
So, my question is why haven’t any party members corrected the Prime Minister? Do they not cringe every time they hear a name being said incorrectly? And if colleagues and employers aren’t taking time to learn someone’s name and correct those who get it wrong, then is that a workplace where you’re really valued as a team member?
I’ve given the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt for a few days, thinking she’d correct herself or that someone else will. She hasn’t. Nor has anyone else. To me it doesn’t seem like she’s just getting someone’s name wrong now but rather she’s degrading someone’s identity.
As a country we’re starting to put a lot more effort into pronouncing Te Reo Māori correctly, as we should.
But why doesn’t that extend to at least trying to pronounce other words from other languages correctly too? Especially ones like Hindi where the phonetics is very similar to that of Te Reo Māori. And why aren’t we holding our leaders accountable for not doing so?
I’ve lived in this country for over 20 years and not once have I heard a non-ethnic person pronounce Sharma and Kumar correctly. Unfortunately many of the Sharmas and Kumars out there have just accepted their fate as “shaa-ma” and “koo-ma”.
Quite often we laugh in our ethnic circles when people can’t pronounce such basic names correctly that are phonetically written out for them. But we’ve hardly spoken out about this outside of our communities.
Many of our immigrant parents have not taken it seriously because for generations they have just assimilated so that their kids can have ‘brighter futures’, and we love them for everything they have gone through in moving countries. Their stories of racism are rife, so a simple mispronunciation of their name was probably trivial compared to the discrimination they experienced.
I know second gens like me will concur here.
I know some of our immigrant parents, aunties and uncles often think, ‘perhaps to be more successful in this foreign country I’ll change my own name, or my child’s name, so it’s easier for this westernised society to accept us.’.
Many of my cousins have easier names than mine and some of my friends have westernised names that we know them by, despite their legal name being an ethnic one.
In year 7 I went from Vandhna to Vandi as a nickname. I’d heard numerous variations of my name, gave up on correcting people, and laughed at what new pronunciation I’m going to hear.
I accepted whatever name western society wanted to give me, whatever they wanted to call me to make their life, and subsequently my life, easier.
And I know many of us do that, we allow our names to get watered down.
I’ve noticed Gaurav Sharma has even introduced himself with the westernised, incorrect, pronunciation of his name, and I get why.
But that’s not to say he wants to be called “Shaa-ma”, he’s probably tired, like the rest of us, of correcting people.
I’ve heard my own dad alter his name with a Kiwi twang and sometimes even I subconsciously alter my name slightly to make it “more understandable” because honestly, we can’t be bothered with the back-and-forth conversations, which many of us have had, with those not from immigrant communities who just can’t get it right.
It’s a waste of our time. We’ve got better things to be doing. And spending two minutes correcting someone is excruciatingly painful sometimes. So, we give up and accept “Shaa-ma”.
This has been happening for years now and while some circumstances may be that of casual racism and pure ignorance, we are partly to blame for the lack of effort from the general public to learn how to pronounce our names, because we’ve hardly put the effort in to correct them.
It’s time we start correcting and it’s time others start asking for correct pronunciations.
It’s time we stop changing our names to fit western society and instead we start taking pride in our language, our culture and our names that hold such rich history, and beautiful meaning.
Vandhna Bhan (sounds like: vun-duh-nah baan)
It's a pushback against Don Brash's Hobson's Pledge.
Their answers will probably not surprise you.
“It’s not about not getting sex. It’s about not wanting sex, like at all right now.”