My name is actually pronounced…


Janice Hwang

At her middle school graduation, Lena Hwang ‘23 (LEH-nuh HWONG, above) received a number of awards, though she didn’t know they were meant for her because her middle school principal kept mispronouncing her name.

I strain my ears to make sure I hear what’s being announced, the echo of microphones deafening, especially when paired with the restless drum of my heartbeat. As my middle school principal finishes going through the “G” last names and begins the transition to the “H”s, I run the alphabet through my head in a tedious loop to ensure I don’t miss my cue, just in case he mispronounces my name. 

It’s the day of my eighth-grade graduation, and while trying my best to be sentimental and reflective, other concerns distract my mind. As the principal starts to announce the “H” names, a contortion of my name shatters my anticipation.

“LEE-nuh HWAYNG,” he says.

My name is pronounced LEH-nuh HWONG. 

I feel myself deflate. What had I expected? Despite participating in several sports and heading countless clubs, the principal still could not pronounce my name correctly? 

I’ve heard my name mispronounced plenty of times, but hearing it mispronounced on a booming microphone during such a monumental time in my life was a belittling experience.

This fall, even as Covid continues to run rampant, we’ve been able to return to our beloved Flintridge Sacred Heart campus. During our first classes of this year, FSH emphasized name pronunciation. For instance, in English we put together phonetic spellings to be input into, and in Religion we created video introductions that are available to all faculty, staff and students on Flipgrid. 

As someone who has dealt with constant name mispronunciations, I feel grateful that what FSH is doing has been such a successful way to foster a more comfortable environment for students on the Hill.

Before this year, I had never experienced all my teachers pronouncing my name correctly within the first month, let alone within the first two weeks of starting school. This year, all my teachers at FSH got it right in record time. In the past, constantly having to offer polite corrections has not only been exasperating, it has made me feel undervalued as an individual.

My intention is not to penalize every person who has ever misspoken because I understand that humans are prone to mistakes. Rather, I want to stress both the dignity in having one’s name pronounced correctly and the way something so trivial can impact a person. I don’t hold it against my middle school principal for mispronouncing my name on a loudspeaker, or any other teacher for that matter, but regardless of the intention, until this year, uncomfortable corrections have been a central feature of my school experiences. This year, I am beyond grateful for the effort my teachers have put into pronouncing my name because it makes me feel like I’m finally in a place where I belong.

Recently, I spoke to the yearbook teacher, Ms. Rachel Russell, about photography, and I was shocked when she pronounced both my first and last name correctly on the first try, despite my having met her only once before. She told me she’d made sure to watch my video introduction before meeting with me. Beyond my shock, I was flattered that she’d taken the time to watch my video introduction beforehand. 

On the second day of English class, my teacher Dr. Amara Gero surprised me by already getting my name right. It made me feel seen, and I loved being able to continue the class discussion without any distractions.

Today, I would tell my eighth-grade self that after 11 years of school she’d find a home in a place where she didn’t have to worry about constant corrections or pushing herself to participate in everything just so everyone knew how to pronounce her name. I would encourage her to instead look forward to every positive change and tell her that the correct pronunciation of her name can be done.