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Chris Tooze
Professional Teacher
Is deliberately pronouncing someone's surname incorrectly as example of racism?
There is an ongoing debate about this in Australia, where a commentator has said that a player with an Italian surname lives in Australia and therefore should accept that his name is said in an Australian way.

Here are some people's opinions on the subject if you would like to listen to them:

To me it's a little strange to have to change the way I pronounce my own name, so that people where I live (in Italy) are able to understand it. And it's even stranger that they find my first name (Christopher) difficult to understand when there is an Italian version of this name (Cristoforo) which is more or less the same - but as for then they say my name...well, I'm not sure it is racism, perhaps just people being a bit lazy, or maybe genuinely finding it difficult to pronounce?

What do you think about this topic?
May 16, 2019 1:54 PM
Comments · 20

The general rule is simple: call people by the names they wish to be called by, using the pronunciation they wish you to use... as best you can. 

Courtesy consists of respecting others' wishes. It is not appropriate to tell someone that what they wish is wrong. And it is not appropriate to tell someone they don't have a right to their preferences.

As to whether someone who doesn't do this is being racist, it is hard to know what is in somebody's heart, so the racists can often get away with it.

If you call someone by a name or pronunciation that you know irritates them, then you are being irritating.

By the way, the same principle applies to things like nicknames, or titles, or category names.

On the reverse side, if your name seems unusual to other people, then you are going to have to accept the fact that they will get it wrong and you may need to spent more effort spelling your name, etc. 

May 16, 2019
Note: This being a language discussion, I’ll use the word “Europeans” to refer to people whose first language is European, regardless of “race” or what continent they live on.

First of all, how is it that an Italian and an Australian supposedly represent different races? More importantly, is it reasonable to expect people who speak another language to pronounce your name exactly as in your language? “Christopher” and “Cristoforo” are the same name, each one appropriate to the phonology of its language. That said, they sound rather different, as the stressed syllables are different and each and every vowel is different, as we can see from a phonetic transcription: /ˈkɹɪstəfə/ versus /kriˈstɔːforo/. “Fantasia” is not simply “fantasy” + “a”. The rhythm is entirely different, as is the timbre of each vowel, etc. It would be ridiculous to expect Italians who are talking fluent Italian to suddenly insert the name “Christopher” with British pronunciation.

BTW, English and Italian are not that foreign to each other. Chinese, now that’s a foreign language. When a European attempts to pronounce a Chinese name, he is butchering it to the point where it is essentially an entirely new name. The European thinks his pronunciation is close, but it’s not even as close as “Cristoforo” is to “Christopher”. That’s why Chinese people often choose to adopt a localized name for the language they’re speaking, or learn to live with their mispronounced name, which is in fact an entirely new name. They don’t cry “racism” like some European language speakers do. The USA, a land of immigrants, is full of people who pronounce their family name in an anglicized way. It’s not big deal — it just means they love their chosen country — and don’t want to torture their friends and neighbors who may have immigrated from *different* countries. 
May 16, 2019

There has been some news media coverage about this in recent years here in the US, most of it seeming to center around middle eastern and south Asian people whose names may be genuinely difficult for native English monoglots to pronounce. The coverage that takes this tack is mostly in the left-aligned portion of the online press and I assume this generates a fair amount of clicks for them.

My workplace environment is very international. I have significant numbers of colleagues from India, China, Europe, and the Levant. We all cheerfully mispronounce each others names a little bit, because it's hard for most Americans to say 'Satyanaryana' or for many of my Chinese colleagues to say 'Roberto Lopez'. 

Deliberately mispronouncing names can aggressively rude, motivated by xenophobia, racist, etc. But anglicizing names (or italianizing them, etc) is a pretty normal practice and not motivated by anything negative.

A strange thing I've gotten used to as the number of immigrants employed here in America has grown over my lifetime is having to spell my extremely common English name. This would never have happened 30 years ago but it's fairly common now. I was irritated by this for a while, but I never assumed it was due to any animus from the immigrant I was speaking to.

May 16, 2019

In my opinion, it's forgivable if people would mispronounce my name but if they would do it for fun or on purpose several times then I would think they're being mean/rude. 

My last name Zialcita can be pronounced as (ZEEAL-SI-TUH) or (SHALL-SI-TUH) but my fellow Filipinos could not pronounce my last name correctly and I forgive them for that because I have a foreign last name.

I don't think anyone would be able to pronounce a foreign name correctly like right away unless that person has a neutral accent or could pick up the pronunciation quickly. You would know if someone is deliberately being rude by the tone of their voice or their manner of addressing a person's name

Americans, most especially the left like to get offended easily and accuse others of being racist and not even giving the person the benefit of the doubt. A respectful person or someone who could pronounce names correctly could be racist at heart so it's unfair to point a finger at someone and label someone as racist all because of mispronouncing a name. Racism could be covert or overt so a person could be inept if they would just base racism on (un)intentional actions 

May 17, 2019
The word “fantasia” is already in the English language, having been borrowed from Italian around 300 years ago. Normal anglicized pronunciations can be found in dictionaries, such as Oxford, which gives both a completely anglicized and a minimally anglicized version. 

From the Oxford Dictionary: 

Two options are given, because the reality is that most native speakers are not prepared to incorporate foreign words with even close to the foreign pronunciation. In particular, foreign stress patterns are difficult for most monolinguals. By the way, Cambridge only shows the completely anglicized version.

These anglicized pronunciations are not for fun, but because it is not normal to pronounce words in a foreign manner when speaking one's own language. The dictionary indicates the more anglicized pronunciation of the “si” as /zɪ/, not /ʃ/ or /ʒ/, which tells me that the use of /ʒ/ may well be an unconscious reduction that occurs automatically. (This blended pronunciation occurs all the time in all standard accents of English, like “bless you” pronounced as “bleshu”.) Could someone “fight” the reduction process? Sure, but why?
May 17, 2019
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Chris Tooze
Language Skills
English, German, Italian
Learning Language
German, Italian