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Refusing to Say Black Names Properly is a BIG Problem

Love Island’s Yewande Biala &Lucie Donlan recently made headlines with an argument that isn't necessarily new to our timelines. Sistem Contributor Yasmin dissects the politics behind the refusal to say Black names and the effects that often has.

It all began with Lucie accusing Yewande of “bullying” her during their time on the reality show in 2019.
Whilst it was allegedly an old conversation rehashed by a red top staring into the face of a slow news day. It was new news to us reading the headline in 2021.

When faced with a label often unjustly used against Black women, Yewande, 25, immediately defended herself. Via tweets, she let the world know that contrary to the claims of bullying, what had actually occurred was the need to correct the mispronunciation of her name “multiple times” – and explain the harms of radicalised renaming.

This opened the floor to a much bigger issue, in a lengthy post Yewande described her experiences of joining a new school – and being asked to go by her middle name, Elizabeth, instead of her first name. It was at this point she made a decision; she would ensure people knew the importance of her name – which means ‘mother coming back’ – as it is an important part of her identity.

She continued: “She mispronounced my name, I corrected her again and her reply was ‘yeah whatever you know what I mean’. I remember one of the producers putting her arms around me.”

“Being black on TV means not raising your voice, not being too defensive, because you don’t want to create the narrative of being an angry Black woman or being a bully… Examples of name-based micro aggressions include giving unwanted nicknames.”

Other Love Island co-stars including Amber-Rose Gill and Amy Hart rallied behind Yewande.

Her message inspired a trending hashtag on twitter of others sharing their experiences. Many expressed that the disregard of the right pronunciation of their names caused them a great deal of anxiety, shame or feelings of being othered. (Read Sistem Magazine writer Yinka’s experience here)

This situation shines a light on a much wider issue in society. Acts such as refusing to pronounce someone’s name correctly are only slightly subtly racist and it is important to unmask racial micro-aggressions where and when we can.
Names are often the very first thing you learn about someone, and for a lot of Black Britons, they are not simply a marker to be recognised, but a sign of culture.
Whilst we find this is an issue that affects British people with African names, which is certainly the case with Nigerian- Irish Yewande. The problem is actually more widespread.

Take newly elected Vice-President Kamala Harris, who pronounces her name “Comma-la,” but many — including Fox News host Tucker Carlson — mispronounce it as “kuh-MAH-luh” or “kuh-MALL-uh.”

When called out about this on his TV show, Carlson shrugged it off defensively: “So I’m disrespecting her by mispronouncing her name unintentionally? … kuh-MAH-luh Harris or KAM-uh-luh Harris or whatever.”

Psychologists argue that trivial incidents of “forgetting or mispronouncing a name” are “equally disruptive and harmful” as “large, overt racial or gender gaffes and overt obvious acts of discrimination.” To put it plainly, to refuse to say someones name correctly could be one and the same making a huge racial faux pas.

It is this act of dismissal, this erasure of the identity that has been presented, that make this an issue that we cannot let die just because the topic is no longer trending. If we can learn (and rightly so) to allow names like Siobhan, Schwarzenegger and Gyllenhaal to roll off of our tongues. We can do better.

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