Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Name is Not Sue

Act #227:  Don't try to change something just because it's easier for you.

Dear America,

My name is not Sue.  It is Mae.  I know it has three letters just the same, but it never ceases to bewilder me when new people I encounter regularly mistakenly call me, Sue - a name that has absolutely no connection to me.  Is it because you once knew a Chinese girl by that name?  Do I remind you of her?  If you want to know the truth, while I've been answering to Mae for most of my existence, my name isn't even Mae.  I have a story to tell.

41 years ago, a hopeful immigrant couple brought their only daughter into the world and gifted to her a name that was majestic and beautiful.  It translated to these words:  They believed it would always connect her to her roots, but at the same time, ground her as someone with a significant place in the larger universe. 

The name, Maetinee was so beautiful it sounded like music to their ears.  That is until her first pre-school teacher unrelentingly butchered it.  So they gently corrected her, but she somehow never managed to get it right. And then people started asking, You mean like the afternoon movie?  And children in her class would giggle every time a new teacher took attendance and painstakingly struggled to pronounce the exotic name through their stubborn Anglo-Saxon lips.  And then their well-meaning American friends suggested that they consider giving her an American name - you know something easier (for them), more accepted (by them), and not as foreign sounding (to their ears).

And that is when the couple thought that maybe you would never be able to see the beauty in that name.  And they didn't want their only daughter to be taunted at the beginning of every school year.  So they began to call her Mae.  Pretty soon, all that was left of her name of origin, was printed on her driver's license and passport.  She morphed into someone that made more sense to America.  That was more comfortable for America.  That flowed with more ease on the lazy, complacent tongue of America.

And that is the story of my birth name.....and how it evolved in order to make you feel better.  My name is not Sue.  It is not even Mae.  My name is Maetinee.  Do you think you might be ready to handle her now?



  1. Names are so important. I make an effort to always get it right. Even if I have to ask a question to ground it in my mind (does it mean something?), associate it with something familiar or even have the person repeat it to me several times and I repeat it back. I HATE it when the people at customer support (obviously not americans) tell me their name is John or Susan.....I cringe. We are very ethnocentric in this country. I am grateful to have had a parent in the military and the experience of living in other countries. I think this would open people's eyes a lot if everyone did this for a year or two while growing up.

    1. I agree with all of this goodness, Melissa!

  2. Brought here by a friend's Facebook link, I was doing some hardcore creeping on your amazing blog and came across this post. I cannot express how similar my feelings are about the sheer laziness of some people to simply try to say a person's name correctly. From personal experience, it's infuriating! When I moved from Zimbabwe and started 11th grade in NKY, frustrated and hurt by the childish comments and giggles by the "Future of America", I gave in and began introducing myself as Kerry (a childhood nickname occasionally used within my family). I introduced myself as such at Carter G. Woodson Weekend but when I finally escaped high school and began at Berea, I reclaimed my name. If someone had trouble pronouncing it I would gently correct them or tell them "it sounds like Aruba except with a K and a V". I was surprised at how many people commented on how beautiful my name was and asked me what it meant (Little Flower, btw) - of course I still get some who say things like "what a weird/strange/odd name" - ummm...what do you expect me to do with that comment?! Lol. When people I knew pre-Berea saw me, most of them began calling me Karuva and and would apologize if they slipped up and used Kerry. I didn't really mind but their effort meant so, so much to me. According to legend (my mother), the first time my late father held me as a baby, he said "Karuva kangu" (my little flower) and thus was I named. I am now deeply in love with my name rather than being afraid of how it will out me as a foreigner or be the butt of a joke. So, yeah, in summary: it is never too late to reclaim your name.

    All the best,
    Karuva Laura Emma Kaseke