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Say My Name, Say My Name…Or Don’t

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Whether it’s the first day of class with a professor I’ve never had, ordering coffee at Starbucks or waiting for a nurse to get me for my doctor’s appointment, having a stranger try to pronounce my name is always awkward and sometimes stressful. Every time I think I’ve heard every possible variation, someone goes and butchers it into a whole other dimension.

Hi. My full name is Agnieszka Gorczyca, but you can call me Nish. To answer your questions, I’m 100% Polish. Yes, I was born there. Yes, I still speak it. No, I won’t say “something in Polish.” No, I won’t teach you to say my name. This last part is what usually gets people. I get it, you want to pronounce my name correctly. Here’s the thing: if you don’t already speak my language, you won’t. Not even after the tenth or ten thousandth try.

Having a very obviously cultural name has its ups and downs. I can always count on it to be a conversation starter; it’s always described as “beautiful” and “unique.” But, to be honest, it’s kind of just cumbersome. I have to repeat myself a million times before most people get even close. It’s long to have to write out every time, and I’m lazy. I wouldn’t change it for anything, but it does get annoying that no one with English as their first (and usually, only) language can really say it or spell it without looking it up.

I know I say I wouldn’t change it for anything, but I always tell everyone to just call me Nish. Just Nish—no last name, either. I’m like Beyoncé in that sense; I’ve made it to the point where I don’t really need one. It’s become an integral part of my personal brand, and it makes everyone’s life easier. For me, I don’t have to cringe while listening to you butcher it; for you, it saves you the awkwardness of having to try to force your tongue into a sound that doesn’t quite exist in the English language. The weird thing is, my nickname doesn’t even come directly from my actual name; it’s shortened from a mispronunciation of it. I could technically go by Agnes, the English version of my name, but I do recall bursting into tears every time my preschool teachers called me that.

I didn’t always go by Nish. In fact, it’s been maybe six years since I began telling people to call me that. Coincidentally, I became a regular Starbucks customer at around the same time. That’s not to say they always get it right, because I’ve had my fair share of times when they wrote “Dish” or “Mesh” on the sides of my vanilla lattes.

Another strange coincidence is that I never had a job until after I graduated high school and began filling out applications with just Nish instead of my full name. I was actually inspired by my Introduction to Human Communication and Culture class; we discussed a case where a man sent out two different resumes to different employers. Both had the same content, but on one, he called himself Juan, and, on the other, he called himself John. Guess who got more calls?

I tried it with my name. It worked. While Nish isn’t a more American name by any means, it’s much easier to pronounce. Could past potential employers have looked at my applications and immediately discounted me purely because they couldn’t figure out how to address me correctly?
Using Nish on job applications is actually kind of a power move. No one expects a white girl to show up; it’s a pretty gender and ethnically neutral name. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had emails addressed to a Mr. Gorczyca. It’s sad that it gives me an advantage, but I’ll milk it for as long as I can.

Names are important. Most of us can’t imagine calling ourselves or anyone we know by anything else than the name they choose to go by. To me, it’s a constant reminder of where I’m from, and I’m grateful for that. Maybe someday, I’ll go back to using my full name; after all, if they can pronounce Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky, they sure as hell can say my name, too.

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Say My Name, Say My Name…Or Don’t