According to the supermodel, we’ve been saying her name wrong this whole time… and she hasn’t said a word about it.
I could measure out my life with all the various misspellings of my name.
Whichever way you choose to look at it, I’m either blessed or cursed with a tricky moniker. I have a mouthful of a first name, double-barrelled because my parents couldn’t decide whether they wanted to call me Hannah or Rose.
Then I have a ‘foreign’ – inverted commas very much in use here – surname that many people struggle with. I have been called every variation of Yee under the sun, from Lee to Wee and everything in between, with that pesky hyphen popping up in all the wrong places.
So I can sympathise with Chrissy Teigen, who revealed on Twitter this week that we’ve been pronouncing her surname wrong this whole time. We’ve all been out here saying TEE-gen when, in fact, her last name is pronounced TIE-gen. What’s more, the mispronunciations have been so prolonged and sustained, Chrissy has since stopped trying to correct anyone who gets it wrong.
“Gave up a long time ago,” she lamented on twitter, later adding that she doesn’t “correct people, ever. They can call me Janet and I won’t. Wrong order? I’ll eat it. Taxi going to the wrong airport? I’ll change my flight.”
I used to be like Chrissy. Whenever people would call me Hannah Lee or Hannah Rose-Wee or even just Rose, I would go along with it. Whenever I would say my name out loud I pre-empted the follow-up question and spelt my surname as well. Even then, people would still get it wrong.
I would go along with it because, to employ a broad generalisation, like many women I am a people-pleaser. I never want to rock the boat, and I never want to make anyone uncomfortable.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to make others feel happy and content, but there’s a self-abnegating quality to it, nonetheless. Not wanting to upset anyone who might have mispronounced or misspelt your name means that you slowly erase that correct pronunciation and that correct spelling, and all that it stands for, from your identity.
When I was a teenager I toyed briefly and humiliatingly with changing my name. I won’t go into what my chosen new moniker was because, quite frankly, it’s too shameful to inscribe in print. In my defence I was 15 and I had a lot of feelings.
At the time, I couldn’t understand why wanting to change my name made my parents so upset. They seemed to take it stoically enough when I informed them over breakfast one Sunday morning, but then I saw my mum crying about it in private. I was nonplussed. It was my name, after all, right? What power did they have over it?
Thankfully, my desire to change my name evaporated as quickly as a similar adolescent urge to pierce my nose. But it was only years later that I understood why my parents were so hurt by my narrowly avoided decision. My name is as much theirs as it is mine. They carefully chose it, wrapped it up as neatly as possible and hopefully, reverently gave it to me. My name is their way of marrying the two halves of me: Australian and Chinese.
I don’t look very Chinese, something that is often commented on. That’s another story, for another time. But by correcting all the mispronunciations of my last name I am standing up for that half of my heritage. I’m drawing attention to the fact that I have a Chinese last name, courtesy of my Chinese father, and because of it I am a Chinese girl, just as how Chrissy has a Norwegian last name, courtesy of her Norwegian father and her Thai mother.
Our names are a hand stretched out through the void of our heritage. Mine is the thread that passes through my parent’s life in Australia to my grandparents in Hong Kong to their grandparents in China.
My name tells you what my mum’s favourite flower is. It reveals the depths of my parent’s hopeless indecision, the loveable little bit of compatibility that means they always end up ordering three desserts because it would be too hard to pick just one each.
And though it is difficult and frustrating to correct people who get our names wrong, we should always do it. Because the alternative would be, however inadvertently, to reveal that we have no pride in who we are and where we came from.
What’s in a name? Everything, it turns out. Especially when it’s pronounced correctly.