On Names

August 4, 2020

One of the things I do when I meet someone for the first time and perhaps have only met them online or read their full name until this point, is ask them how to pronounce it if I'm unsure. This sometimes produces an awkward first interaction because I've noticed my hearing (especially in loud group settings like parties) isn't as good as it used to be, and I err on the side of asking my new acquaintance to repeat their name until I can get it right. I sometimes worry that if I don't get it right by the second or third try that I'm causing a different sort of offence, by implying that the name is difficult, but really it's just that I'm not confident I heard it right.

I mention this because I view names, and getting them right, as important. They are a fundamental piece of a person's identity.

I have a name that's very easy for Anglophones to pronounce. So you'd think that I wouldn't have much experience with people getting my name wrong. You'd think, but you'd be wrong, because I grew up in Québec, and went to French high school. I spent all 5 years of high school training every single new teacher on how to pronounce my name. This is because "Archer" is also a real word in French, and teachers would pronounce it "Ar-shay", instead of "Ar-tcherr". The correct pronunciation of my last name has always been important to my family (It's also a little odd, because my dad's side of the family is French-Canadian yet insist on pronouncing the name in the English manner).

At any rate, it annoyed me no end when teachers couldn't get my name right during roll call, and every September I had to correct them on the first day of school. Sometimes into the first week, and even, rarely, on into the first month. By the second or third year, I had my entire cohort of students trained: when the teacher would ask if "Katrina Arshay" was present, the entire class would respond with "Ar-tcherr."

It was nice to know they had my back. Because it's a form of erasure when a person refuses to get the most basic thing about you—your name—right. And my classmates decided to take it upon themselves to make sure that didn't happen to me.

Which brings me to the Hugos.

Being nominated for, and then possibly winning a Hugo, is one of the biggest moments in an SFF writer's career. I can't imagine how nervous I'd be the night of, how excited, if it ever happened to me. And in that big moment, I'd want the hosts and presenters to have my back, to get that most fundamental piece of my identity correct. To make sure that nothing could take away from or mar my joy in that moment. George RR Martin didn't have everyone's back. I've seen his written "explanation" as to why, and it's inadequate. It makes excuses when there really are none. It is NOT too much to ask to find out the correct pronunciation for 120 nominees, because that night was about THEM, not him. That was his one, most important job as toastmaster. If he was unsure, he should have had the basic courtesy to ask, and *make sure* he got it right.

He didn't, and too many people had their big moment diminished.

Should I ever get your name wrong when I meet you, know that I will gladly accept, and expect, correction.

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