My name is Raquel. You can roll the “R” and pronounce it in Spanish, as my Puerto Rican parents intended. You can go the “Rock-elle” route. Really, you can even pronounce it Rah-Kwel like some of my middle school homies did. But don’t — and I mean never — call me Rachel.
It’s not that Rachel is a bad or ugly name. It’s just not my name. When you look at the “Q” and the “U” in Raquel and somehow start uttering “ch,” I begin to think that you either need to return to your elementary school language arts notes or, more likely, you are upholding a centuries-long tradition of English and U.S. colonialism: Anglicizing words and names.
In Colonial America, Anglicization was a method used to impel people of different national backgrounds, religions and classes to feel like they shared a cultural identity. It was a stripping of diverse groups' idiosyncrasies and converting it into something more "English." Today, in modern-day U.S., this process is often performed internally, with someone from an immigrant community adopting names that sound more “American” with the hopes that it might help them climb the professional ladder quicker, avoid detection or deter discrimination.
Whether carried out by an outsider or oneself, the idea is the same: the removal of ourselves, our history and who we are for the comfort of a member of the dominant group.
When you – stranger, manager, professor, troll or person emailing me — call me Rachel instead of Raquel — which is written on my necklace, ring, earrings, belt, jeans, email address, social media profiles, article bylines, transcripts and just about anything else that’s attached to me — you are refusing to see me as I am. Instead, you are looking at me through racist specs that rob me of my Boricua-ness and make me more like you, so that I am digestible to you.
As such, it makes sense that educators in California are now regarding the mispronunciation of students’ names as microaggressions.
“Mispronouncing a student’s name truly negates his or her identity, which, in turn, can hinder academic progress,” Yee Wan, the director of multilingual education services at the Santa Clara County, Calif. Office of Education (SCCOE), said.
Wan notes that saying someone’s name incorrectly causes “anxiety and resentment” — and of course it does. When who you are is denied, when your name is deemed less worthy of being pronounced correctly as your classmates “Brittany” and “Jennifer,” and you are reminded of this every day, how could you not feel apprehensive or begrudged?
It’s why I called out my seventh-grade geography teacher during roll call each day for shouting Rachel instead of Raquel (and why I was still pissed months later when, instead of attempting to get it right, she started referring to me as “Miss R and R”). It’s why I wait for the barista to scratch off Rachel and rewrite my name correctly on my plastic cup. It’s why I respond to emails addressed to Rachel with “Raquel*,” if I reply at all.
It’s why I’m so unapologetic about demanding that you call me by my name, regardless of how difficult you think it might be for you.
Here’s the thing: You call me Rachel because it’s familiar to you – it’s what you know, what you think I must really mean and what you won’t make time to unlearn, despite my insistence. Somehow, you still castigate the family that blessed me with my name for speaking a tongue that’s familiar to them, that is all they know. The problem isn’t really your familiarity to one name (or language) over another but rather your belief that the name (or langauge) you are more acquainted with, the Anglicized one, is the standard, and that the Jorge’s and Yesika's of the world should call themselves “George” and "Jessica" because the English form is above the other.
I won’t accept you calling me Rachel because my name is Raquel, and no Anglicized version is superior to it or me.