We often hear that words have power, but so do names. When people forget our names, mispronounce them, or give us nicknames we don’t like– it can have a devastating effect on our self worth. This is what one New Zealand mother refused to let happen to her young daughter.

Pronunciation Pitfall

Paris Tautu spoke out after receiving the news that her daughter’s nursery had shortened her daughter Mahinarangi Tautu ’s name– a traditional Maori name — to simply “Rangi”. Citing the excuse that they found her birth name “too difficult to pronounce” the nursery alerted Paris of this change without consulting her first. 

As any mama bear would be, Paris was furious. Not only was the nursery disrespecting her daughter’s Maori heritage, their disregard towards her given name had a profound effect on Mahinarangi’s self-confidence. Following cues from the nursery administrators, classmates of Mahinarangi made no effort to pronounce her traditional name and even went so far as to cruelly laugh at her. 

Young people are malleable, and incidents like this can have a lasting and traumatic effect on children. After Mahinarangi’s unpleasant experience at her nursery, she became so distraught and embarrassed she stopped trying to correct her peers or her teachers as to the correct pronunciation of her name. The beauty in her name risked being forgotten.

The importance of culture

As Paris explains, her daughter’s name has deep significance, going back generations. Her Ngāti Raukawa heritage has a deep line of descent, known in Maori culture as whakapapa, which often shows where someone is from. In fact, the significance is so important in the culture of New Zealand that Mahinarangi’s nursery used Maori resources in their syllabuses. 

“Can you imagine your child being too embarrassed to say their name because people won’t make a decent effort to pronounce it properly?”

– Paris Tautu

This unfortunate situation is not unique. In fact,  Paris told New Zealand Herald that her ancestors lived through similar experiences and that made her even more determined to make sure her daughter’s name is pronounced correctly and respected. The first step, according to Paris, is education. She taught her daughter to stand firm and break down her name into single syllables to help instruct people on how to properly, and respectfully, pronounce her name. 

Naming our values

Society is so fractured, and the values of respect and kindness are instrumental in coming together. If all you can do is make and effort to remember and properly pronounce someone’s name, that alone will go far towards making someone feel important and seen. We should all strive to make our peers feel that way. 

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