“Guus,” says my daughter.
“Goose,” I say back.
She shakes her head.
“Guus,” she says again, stretching the sounds out slowly so I can catch each one.
“Ghuuuurs,” I say, honestly trying.
“You don’t say it right,” she says, giving up.
She has just started school in our adoptive country of the Netherlands and is trying to teach me the names of her friends.
While my children have very lovely accents when they speak Dutch, I make less than beautiful poetry with the language. It bothers me the most when I can’t say a person’s name, especially the friends of my children.
And I’m right to feel badly about this. A national campaign in America called “My Name, My Identity” focuses, according to PBS.org, on the fact that “a name is more than just a name: It’s one of the first things children recognize, one of the first words they learn to say, it’s how the world identifies them.”
I’m not sure to whom my daughter will be distributing business cards, and I found the gesture funny. But it's right to want to ensure everyone in her life takes time to learn to say her name.
The campaign centers its focus on encouraging respect for one’s name and identity in schools and stresses the importance of teachers learning the names of their students. I’m not a teacher, but as a parent in the school, this is a priority for me as well.
As stated on the website of the “My Name, My Identity” campaign—a partnership between the National Association for Bilingual Education, the Santa Clara, California, County Office of Education, and the California Association for Bilingual Education—“to be an effective member of this global world, we can model respect for each other in the school community by learning about each other’s stories, our unique names, and their proper pronunciations.”
It’s something we’ve also become mindful of with one of our three children, whom we gave an Irish name with a spelling that is not intuitive to non-Irish people and that few people here have ever heard. My husband—who tends to be a little over-the-top in his problem-solving—had 1,000 business cards printed with her photo and name on it, with it also spelled out phonetically in Dutch.
I’m not sure to whom my daughter will be distributing business cards, and I found the gesture funny. But it's right to want to ensure everyone in her life takes time to learn to say her name. Because, like with the names of some of the people I’ve met here, they are not familiar to me, but that doesn’t make them impossible to learn. It just takes more effort.
For the most part, my children’s friends and mine have names that might be new to me but that I can say with ease: Pim. Yoep. Kick. Luuk. And after many tries, my daughter has given my Guus the thumb’s up. Some names are harder than others for non-native speakers, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have to try.