For the longest time, I have been called Manu. And that was just how it was as a kid. I never thought to challenge it, or believe there was anything particularly improper about it, that is, until I met a Māori secondary school teacher. She was a woman so pro-Māori, her actions and comments were often deemed racist. I wonder if in this slightly more enlightened era, whether or not her behaviour would still be considered racist today.
As a young Māori raised in an environment where the use of te reo in the home and in the community was virtually non-existent, enrolled in a High School that didn’t offer Māori language as an elective, I found in her a strong voice and advocate for reclaiming and taking ownership of your cultural identity. Starting with your name.
“Why do you not use your full name? It’s such a beautiful name!” she asked me.
“Well, it’s what I’ve been called all my life. And I’d rather people say a short version of my name properly, than mangle my full name,” replied my 13 year old self.
To which she replied:
“No. If they can’t say Manuhiri, then you tell them they can call you Miss Huatahi!”
What she said resonated powerfully with me, but I lacked the courage to follow through with her recommendation. Maybe if she had been a teacher at my secondary school, I may have found the nerve to boldly declare, “My name is Manuhiri, or you can call me Miss Huatahi if you wish.” Instead I carried on as before, never forcing the issue, never challenging the status quo. And Manu I remained for much of my adult life.
Several years later, well into adulthood, I had a surreal experience. I was travelling to Australia. I arrived at the airport and started making my way to collect my baggage when I heard an announcement, complete with a full-bodied Australian twang, over the intercom:
“Miss Manuhiri Huatahi – Please report to the Qantas help desk”
The voice stopped me in my tracks. Not because I feared something had gone wrong, or that they had found something inappropriate in my luggage. No. What brought me to a standstill was her pronunciation of my name. It was faultless.
After years of hearing my full name mispronounced by my beloved Kiwi folk, mispronunciations I willingly and wholeheartedly forgave, it was in Australia of all places that I was to hear my name spoken so eloquently by a non-Māori. This moment had a profound effect on me because now I completely understood what Dale Carnegie was talking about when he said:
“A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”
Since then, I have travelled to South Africa, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia, and across the United States. With very few exceptions, my full name was spoken with confidence and near perfect pronunciation. After this, I promised myself that when I could, I would use my full name.
But then I return home to New Zealand, where te reo is an official language and recognised as a taonga. I jump on a domestic flight and as we board the plane, everyone is greeted by the name on their boarding passes by the crew. When my turn comes, they briefly glance at my boarding pass and politely say, “Welcome aboard”. I just inwardly sigh and make my way to my seat.
Despite my eagerness to hear my name, my heart still breaks a little every time I see someone struggle to say Manuhiri. It’s not disappointment I feel, it’s more the agony of watching them try so hard, and come up short. And I don’t really know what more I can do to help them except to repeat my name, only to hear them fail even more spectacularly the second time around.
I became aware of how difficult it can be for some when a former Manager once confessed to me that when she spoke about me to the business, she always used my full name. But she could never bring herself to say it in my presence. The fear, the discomfort, the anxiety always kept her silent.
And the temptation is always there to say “Just call me, Manu.” to alleviate that distress.
Still, I come back to this: if my name can be said well in Australia, Africa, U.S.A, I don’t think it’s unfair of me to expect to hear my name pronounced properly when I’m at home.
You can call me Manu. You can call me Marns, Marnie, Mehnu, Mumu, or any variation on the theme. I will not be disappointed. I will not disown or discredit you. Only my dad gets to call me “Baby”, only my sisters get to call me “Sisimo”, only my oldest friends get to call me “Nu”, and only my whanau get to call me names I cannot put in the public sphere. But there is a special thrill I get when I hear Manuhiri that doesn’t happen with any other name I am called. So I want to ask you something. I want to ask you this question – what can I do to help you say my name?
Ganguly, I. (2016). My word: Say my name. Big Issue Australia, 512, 11. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/documentSummary;dn=095026597642417;res=IELAPA
Martin, D. (2008, Apr 04). Viewpoint: On retailing – want to get my attention? Say my name. American Banker Retrieved from http://ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/243720613?accountid=8424
McGraw-hill education joins with national association for bilingual education to drive awareness for “my name, my identity” campaign. (2016, Mar 03). PR Newswire Retrieved from http://ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1769991586?accountid=8424