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It’s HA-vier, Not EX-avier

The process of revising my one-woman show for a run this fall at the San Francisco Marsh Theater is both exciting and challenging. (I'll announce dates as soon as they get finalized).

It’s hard to let go of a scene or even a small part of a scene; I do become attached to my lines. Still, as I put the material on its feet and rehearse with my director, I can feel when something no longer works. I look at her and she looks at me.

“But I really like this, Rebecca, and it’s important.”

“Yes, it is both those things, but it doesn’t work here.”

Darn. This can happen for any number of reasons: when the sequence of scenes is rearranged or new vignettes introduced the flow of the story may becomes awkward, the material tangential, and sometimes it feels like I’m beating a dead horse. (Jeez, I’m struck at how awful this expression is, who would beat a horse to death and then keep beating it? The origin of that expression requires some research, but speaking of tangents, I’ll let this go for now).

The consolation prize for taking out this material is that I can share snippets of script and provide some backstory in blogs. Here’s a now deleted scene.

Scene Outtake

I’m watching the news one evening.

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

Me: (yelling at the TV) EX-avier Becerra! That is NOT his name. It’s HA-vier. How can you NOT know how to say the name of California’s Attorney General? Dude’s in the news all the time, suing the Trump Administration. And where the hell are the news editors? They would never let someone mispronounce a French name. But Spanish names, doesn’t matter. Would this happen if they were Latinxs in the newsroom?

Annoyed with the news anchor’s pronunciation, I google the station’s website, and find her email address. I write a snarky email, and then delete it. Take Two. Dear Ms. Anchor, please note that the California Attorney General pronounces his name Ha-vier. I spell it phonetically, it’s Ha-vier not EX-avier. Please call me if you need assistance with this pronunciation. Think of me as your personal Name Whisperer. Sincerely, Irma Herrera. I attach a digital name card that allows the anchor to hear the correct pronunciation of my name (should she choose to do so) by simply clicking on a link.

An hour later I receive a very nice email from the anchor thanking me for bringing this to her attention. She wants to get it right.

End Scene Outtake

I am really annoyed when I hear newscasters mispronounce Spanish names, because I know they take great attention to pronounce French names correctly. Aren't we entitled to the same level of respect? In fact, EVERYone is. As to the Attorney General's name perhaps I feel protective because I first met Xavier when he was a Stanford Law Student and he spent the summer working as a law clerk at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's National Office in San Francisco where I worked as a lawyer. I have followed his career with interest from afar: after law school he worked as a legal aid lawyer and then public service, eventually serving in the United States Congress representing the people of Central Los Angeles for 20+ years. I have great respect for his intellect, his decency, and his humanity so I was very pleased when Governor Jerry Brown’s nominated Becerra to serve the remaining term vacated by Kamala Harris' election to the United States Senate. Attorney General Becerra is running for the post he currently holds in the upcoming election.

The lesson in this exchange with the news anchor was simple, the incorrect pronunciation of his name was nothing more than she just didn’t know, and she willingly and gladly accepted the information I provided her. Yes, we could argue that she or someone at the station SHOULD have known the correct pronunciation, but you don’t know what you don’t know.

You know the motto See Something, Say Something, well it’s equally applicable to our names. Unless we speak up when folks get it wrong it will never be corrected. Unfortunately it is not uncommon that people will avoid saying your name if they fear mispronouncing it. Those of us with “challenging” names appreciate that folks make the effort and we also understand that folks aren’t always going to get someone’s name exactly right. After all we too struggle with names that are difficult. My mother had a very hard time with Jennifer, always reverting to Yen-i-fer. And I kept prodding her.

It used to bug me when the news media referred to Tom Perez, former Secretary of Labor, now Chair of the Democratic National Committee, as Tom Purr-es. The correct Spanish pronunciation of the last name Pérez is pretty similar in sounds to the English last name, Pettus. So if you can say Pettus you can say Perez. But then I learned that this is how Tom Perez pronounces his name Purr-es, so I defer to his preferred pronunciation. I admit that it still irks me a bit, and as to anyone else with that last name, unless I know otherwise, I opt for the Spanish pronunciation.

So I get how confusing it can be. The best guide to the pronunciation of someone’s name is to ask the person to tell you (yes sometimes repeatedly) and ask for their help if you find it difficult to say their name. A friend whose first name is Paven is often called Pave-en, Pah-VEN, Pah-VON. He offers a simple and memorable tip -- it’s like “oven” with a “p” in front, Poven. Easy peasy.

Today technology allows us to tell the world how we pronounce our names. I’m partial to Name-Coach ( which allows you to record your own name and to include it as part of your closing signature or in social media. I’m looking forward to interviewing the founder of this company, Praveen Shanbhag, for a future blog. He created the software after attending his sister’s college graduation and hearing her name mispronounced so badly as to make it unrecognizable. This software is now being widely used by K-12 schools and universities to help teachers with the names of their students, and at commencement ceremonies. Of course it has many more uses than that. Check it out.

In closing, my thanks to all of you for reading my blog, and for sending me stories, articles, quotes about names.

A name is a reminder of where you’re from; it’s also a reminder of your parents’ hopes for you in this world.

— Francisco Cantu, author, The Line Becomes a River

More about Francisco Cantu and his writing at:

“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.

— Warsen Shire, Named in 2013 as London’s First Young Poet Laureate

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