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It's Blanche, Not Blanca

“Your play reminded me of two stories that have stayed with me throughout my life. Both happened when I was 14." This is from an email I got earlier this month from Rose, after she and a friend saw my mini-show at Marsh Madness weekend in San Francisco:

"My Mexican cousin Blanca came to stay with us to spend a year learning English. She was enrolled in school and the first thing her teacher did was scoff at calling her Blanca and announced she would now be Blanche. I remember we didn't quite know what to do about that and had various reactions. My mother, like most familias Latinas, never challenged the teacher's authority, I thought the name Blanche hysterical and Blanca was conflicted between having an ‘American’ name and losing her identity.

Back in Mexicali, Blanca's best friend Osvelia, a light-skinned, blue-eyed, dark-haired beauty had her own name experience when she visited the US for the first time. Some teenage boys approached her and started calling her Maria.

My name is not Maria. Why do you call me that?

All the Mexican girls we know are named Maria.

Well my name is Os-ve-li-a, she said pronouncing her name with deliberate emphasis.

Aw, that's too hard to say, we'll just call you Maria."

Many people in the United States, prefer to Anglicize the pronunciation of any name they consider . . . hmmm, how to say this . . . not a ‘real American’ name. Ir-ma becomes UR-ma, and when I offer assistance to help someone pronounce it correctly, I might be asked, can I call you something else?

And so it is that Yesenia becomes Yesi, and Blanca becomes Blanche (which ironically enough is a French name).

The Blanca/Blanche email came just days after the death of renowned French fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy. (Stay with me people, there’s a connection).

I listened closely to the news, knowing that the newscasters would do a pretty good job with his name. They did NOT call him HUE-bert dee GIVEN-shee. Instead, they honored the correct and elegant French pronunciation – Ou-behr duh Gee-von-she. Good on them.

Pronouncing French names correctly (or well enough) presents us as well-educated, sophisticated, worldly. And if you are in the news business, your editors want you to look smart and credible. I just wish they did that for other people’s ‘foreign’ names. Such attention is not typically given to Spanish names. Au contraire, mes amis!

Several years ago, Vanessa Ruiz, who grew up speaking both English and Spanish, secured a coveted anchor spot on a Phoenix news station, and was harshly criticized for correctly pronouncing Spanish words on air. The story made it to the NY Times,

Recently, I was watching the evening news on KRON.

News Anchor: Today in Sacramento, California Attorney General EX-avier Becerra announced blah, blah, blah.

I didn’t hear the rest of the story I was so distracted by the mispronunciation of the AG’s name. I wrote an email to the anchor telling her that the Attorney General pronounces his name HA-vier, not EX-avier.

To my pleasant surprise she responded within the hour thanking me for bringing this to her attention, she wants to get it right. At the station, she tells me, she helps others with pronunciation of names of foreign leaders.

We should not hesitate to offer guidance when someone does not know how to say our names. Whether someone makes the effort to get it right is on them.

Have you had similar encounters? I’d love to hear about them.

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