Sunaina Khaylar is a Paraplanner at The Verve Group and after recently seeing ‘#mynameis’ trending on LinkedIn and from reading all the various posts from people with unique, non-anglicised names; she’d never read anything more relatable or felt more understood as a person. And with it being International Women’s Day and the theme being #breakthebias, Sunaina wanted to tell her story…

From as little as age 3, I’ve been very aware of how ‘different’ my name is to all my friends and the people around me. Except at that little age, I was very proud of my name, telling my nursery teacher, ‘My name isn’t Sunaina, it’s Sunaina Kaur Khaylar!’. The sass.

However, as I grew older, I began to notice how uncomfortable it was making me feel, anticipating people saying it wrong. Particularly at school when we would have a supply teacher, and the absolute dread that would come over me, thinking of them having to read my name out loud from the register, in front of the whole class! Sometimes my name would be left until last so they didn’t have to say it and instead they’d just look over to me and nod. Or if they did say it, everyone would laugh and think it was hilarious they’d got it so wrong, so in order to save the embarrassment, I’d try to speak to them beforehand and let them know how it’s pronounced.

When booking tables at restaurants or ordering taxis, I never use my own name or at work I’ll have emails sent to colleagues, to save the uncomfortable conversations that follow, ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you properly’, ‘Ooh, no, I can’t say that, is there not another name for you?’, ‘Do they not call you anything else?’

I’ve spoken to family members about this, as most of my aunties and uncles are now referred to by their ‘English names’. It’s something they’re used to now. And maybe it’s my stubbornness, but I refuse to have an ‘English name’, the whole notion seems ridiculous to me and completely disregards your identity. Your name is who you are.

Those who know me well call me Naina, but even some people struggle with that. And honestly, it’s not a problem having to explain it’s Sun-neigh-na (I even spelt it out phonetically when I applied for my role at The Verve Group five years ago!). I’d much rather have a conversation with someone to explain the correct way, rather than it be ignored or getting called something else. But don’t get me wrong, I fully understand it isn’t the simplest of names, and I haven’t always liked it, I even asked my mam, ‘Could you not have just called me Bob instead?’ Much easier!

Nevertheless, Sunaina was chosen for me especially and I’m happy to announce it with pride now, instead of humiliation (even if I do have to repeat it four times). Especially considering it means ‘beautiful eyes’ and my middle name, Kaur, means princess, and I think that’s pretty cool.

I think the idea of simply pronouncing someone’s name incorrectly may appear to be very trivial and in a lot of cases, it is of course an innocent error. However, from having first-hand experience of the biases surrounding it, I can say that it can unfortunately be very belittling and make you feel insignificant.

We work with a number of clients across the UK and I myself have come across names I haven’t known how to pronounce. I think everyone can always do better. Here are a few tips and suggestions that I believe are the best ways to approach it:

  1. Ask!! Striking a conversation around the differences can not only make yourself and others feel much more comfortable, but it can also help break down the bias barriers.
  2. Take responsibility of how your reaction may affect others.
  3. Show understanding and interest. By acknowledging the uniqueness, it can promote positivity.

“A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.” – International Women’s Day 2022

Sunaina Khaylar, Paraplanner