On June 30th, 1982 my parents named me Shani. Take a moment and think about how you would pronounce my name. No cheating or looking below, just say out loud what comes naturally. Okay, you're wrong. I've heard (literally, sincerely, not lying), every single permutation of my name possible in the English language, and few extras spoken through accents from around the world. Ex: An Irish dude called me Shiny, as in Shiny Silver, which my friend Meghan still calls me to this day.
My name is pronounced SHAY-nee. Not shaw-nee, or sha-nee, or shana, or shan-EYE (yes, shan-EYE has happened). Basically, you can't pronounce my name correctly on the first try, whether you're reading it or hearing it spoken out loud. The first day of school throughout my childhood was essentially an effort in embarrassment. Graduation ceremonies, don't get me started. For most of my life I've hated my name. Not the sound of the name itself, or where it came from (a baby book), but simply the fact that no one, literally no one, can say it.
"Hi, I'm Jennifer, nice to meet you!"
"Hi, nice to meet you too, I'm Shani!"
"Sh..what was that?"
"Sha-nee, got it."
"Oh! I'm so sorry, Shani."
And that's if we can both hear each other clearly. Imagine being at a bar.
"Hey, I'm Josh"
"Hi, I'm Shani"
"What was that?"
"Can you say that again?"
"Rebecca, my name is Rebecca."
The Jessicas and Mikes of the world might be wondering what the big deal is anyway. It's just a name, and after a brief training course anyone can say it. That's because this is the first time you're hearing about it. You haven't been dancing around meeting new people for 31 years.
Try knowing someone online for months (a reality when you're a social media director) and then embarrassing them when they find out they've been saying your name wrong to people every single time. Or when your online date introduces you to a friend of his you've bumped into using the wrong name. Try correcting him after that. It doesn't feel very good, for either of you.
But it's my name, right? I have to love it, I have to own it, and I have to stop feeling "weird" or "awkward" about the name my mother gave me. And I do like Shani. I think it's unique, I've never met another. If everyone knew how to say it I wouldn't be writing this story. So over the years, in order to fall in love with my name, I've strategized.
My defense mechanisms are legion. At Starbucks? I'm Rebecca. Making dinner reservations? Put it under Silver. You know what? Silver isn't even my last name! Yes, friends, I was blessed with a first AND LAST name that are impossible to pronounce correctly. (Silver is a pen name, my Grandmother's maiden name, I love it).
On online dates, the first or second sentence I utter is, "So my name is Shani, in case you were wondering how to say it." I see a huge wave of relief float over them as they realize they'll never embarrass themselves by saying it wrong. Boys, you're welcome.
Friends give me the stink eye when I don't use my real name in situations where it's easy and meaningless to use another. But they don't know what it's like be at the receiving end of quizzical looks and "Oh, that's interesting"s for a lifetime. So I guard myself with Rebecca and find myself repeatedly saying "Oh don't worry everyone mispronounces it," so that feelings aren't hurt, and no one feels bad, even though I kinda feel bad.
A friend once told me he and his wife couldn't decide on the spelling of their baby's name. I told him to try out each spelling by ordering a drink at Starbucks. The cup must travel from the order taker to the order announcer, much like a game of caffeinated Telephone. Drink one? Just say the name. Drink two? Offer spelling #1. Drink three? Spelling #2. The result? The name you've chosen in its most pronounceable state. Cheers.
Why bother? For me, and this is just me, it's a confidence issue. Every time I have to repeat my name four times when meeting a new person, or correct someone (particularly someone I've known more than a day), it cracks my confidence a little and it takes me a minute to get it back. I used to think I was being dumb, or silly, now I know I'm just being me, and I've learned how to be me a little better.