My name is Sonny


September 23, 2013 10:01 PM

It's an interesting perspective, but I must admit that it got my hackles up. I really have no concept of what the demographics of Olympia, Washington are like, but I know that for me, a person in her early 30s who lives in a multicultural, cosmopolitan city, that name is not remotely odd nor surprising. Furthermore, the description of what "white people" want from non-white people's names is highly limited, stereotypical, and quite honestly, rather insulting.

September 23, 2013 11:42 PM

It sounds like the guy is quite the racist, with an inferiority complex to boot. There's a very simple explanation for why people (of any color!) ask him how to pronounce his name, and it's almost entirely language-based: they see his surname (which is familiar but unpronounceable Vietnamese) or his Asian features, and they overthink it a bit, figuring the given name must be following non-English phonetics and orthography, and just happens to look like an English nickname-name. They're trying to be polite by not botching the pronunciation of his name.

By hyz
September 24, 2013 12:03 PM

I agree the guy is probably excessively vehement about it and employs some incorrect stereotypes and assumptions of his own, but I do get where he's coming from. It is frustrating to have a perfectly sensible and familiar name be constantly butchered because people make incorrect assumptions based on race/surname. My daughter's first name is M!nna. It is pronounced MIN-ah. It is uncommon these days, but does exist as an anglo name. Moreover, it follows all the rules of phonics. But at the doctor's office, etc., it is constantly mispronounced as MEEN-ah or MINE-ah. Maybe these nurses and receptionists are just bad at phonics, but I do wonder if it would happen quite so consistently if her last name were Smith. It is a rare and mild annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. I have seen countless examples of this sort of thing over my life, and I only experience it second-hand, so I imagine those who live it first-hand every day may become more irritated. My husband's first name is Korean, so it is unfamiliar, but is only 5 letters, two syllables, and actually very straightforward to pronounce. It amazes me, though, how many variations people give it--not just by misremembering it, which I can understand, but when actually reading it off the page. They switch letters around, give vowels unnatural pronunciations, add in consonants (sometimes multiple consonants) that are clearly not there, etc. Or they'll hear it and say, that's too hard, can I just call you [first syllable]? Really? These people who expect to be called 3 and 4 syllable names every day can't trouble themselves to learn and use 2 for somebody else? All of this bothers me much more than it does my husband, who just shrugs it off.

One more anecdote, and I'll stop--in high school, I was briefly on the debate team, and a judge at one event said to two students about to debate, "Tell me your names and I'll write them on the board behind your podiums." Then, looking at my teammate, who was Korean, she said, "Actually, your name's probably too complicated, why don't you just write your own name on the board." Much to her credit, I think, my teammate replied, very deadpan, "Whatever his name is [gesturing to the other student], I'm sure it's more complicated than mine. It's Bo Kim. That's B-O K-I-M." You add that sort of thing up with all the times native-born Americans of non-white descent are told how good their English is, or are told to "go back to their country," or have random ignorant strangers make "Chinese" sounding nonsense noises at them, etc., etc., and I can imagine even some well-intentioned questions about your straightforward name can start to feel a bit like harrassment.

By EVie
September 24, 2013 6:23 PM

I take his point, but I agree that any argument about unconscious racism that makes huge generalizations about how "white people do this" and "white people do that" is not going to win him any allies. I also think that he's assuming that everyone does know how to pronounce Sonny, and I'm not sure where his evidence for that is coming from. I had a friend named Sonny back in school (nickname for Sonia—she was white and blonde), and I do seem to remember her getting called SAW-nee, or her name spelled Sunny. The story about the customer awkwardly trying to ask whether Sonny was his birth name is cringe-inducing, yes, but I don't see the harm in her initial question about how to pronounce his name (in response to which he got snarky with her). People have trouble with my name all the time, and I'd prefer that they ask if they're not sure than just assume and get it wrong.

September 24, 2013 10:01 PM

As someone who lives in the area, I can tell you *why* people ask constantly. There is a large contingency of weirdly spelled/weirdly pronounced names in the PNW. So just because you *see* the name Magnolia, doesn't mean that it is *pronounced* Magnolia. Or, you hear Leslie, but don't expect to see Lezzlee. 

When I lived in Seattle and worked as a receptionist, it became habit upon meeting someone (wearing a name tag or who was checking in by last name) to ask how their name was pronounced (yes, even if it said Jon--I had one person tell me it was pronounced Joan) or how they spelled their name if I heard it first. Because if you made assumptions, you just p***ed people off. And in most cases, African-Americans were the ones who were the touchiest about their names. It was more polite to ask than to just assume. 

October 4, 2013 12:52 PM

"Sonny" on a name tag would give me pause, too.  Rather than asking about it or doing any interpretive dance, I'd probably just avoid using his name, but I would have a hard time calling him Sonny for the same reason I'd have a hard time calling a person of color "Boy."  "Sonny" seems like a disparaging nickname.  It reminds me of that ad about Mr. Dumass:  I'd rather ask than accidentally insult.