My name is Minreet. It's racist to get it wrong

There is still no place in multi-cultural Britain for names that don't have an Anglo-Saxon heritage.

“How do you say it?” Minaret, Minty or Minnie Mouse is what I used to hear when I was a schoolgirl. Not Minreet, my real name, but an alternative that the other children found funny. I can forgive them because after all, we were young and we all know children can be cruel. But the teachers? They were some of the main culprits, as if my “foreign” name was yet another hurdle for them to climb in the English state school system.

“Haven’t you got another name?” they would ask, wearily. Sadly, in my experience, there is still no place in multi-cultural Britain for names that don’t have an Anglo-Saxon heritage. Trying to persuade people to use my real name invariably provokes elaborate excuses, or suggestions that I might be taking things all “a bit too seriously.” Should I ever bother to point out that their refusal to respect my name is nothing short of racist I am looked on as an extremist.

At university, I had hoped that the hallowed halls of learning would have an influence, that those in search of knowledge would be keen to correctly pronounce the name of their new brown friend. But no, it got worse. The other students wanted me to “relax.” “I’ll just call you Min,” they would say, whether I liked it or not. Which I didn’t, and I don’t.

My name is unique and it stands out! If people can pronounce Daenerys Targaryen surely, they can say Minreet.

My name is my identity and, as a Sikh, it has a meaning. As Sikhs, we have our first initial taken from the holy scripture and we are then named using the first letter that is given at the temple when the Giani (priest) is about to read the Hukamnama (guidance from the Guru). This is a very important part of who I am. Getting my name wrong takes away its meaning. It’s insulting. It is now a crime to call someone by a racist label, but not it seems to insist they give up their real names because you claim not to be able to mouth the sound correctly.

I know so many Indians who have changed their names to English names and they feel embarrassed of using their traditional name just to fit in. I do want to fit in but not at the cost of losing my identity. For years I hated my name the way it made me stand out, but recently I just thought actually I am going to embrace it, it’s who I am and if people cannot say it correctly straight away then they will have to learn how to say it.

So many Indians have changed their names to try to fit in.

I remember wanting to fit into British society and feel a sense of belonging and thinking I will just go along with it. As a child, I found it really upsetting and used to always beg my parents to change my name. Now, I regret this as I should feel proud of my name especially as I am the only one with it. 

My name is unique and it stands out! If people can pronounce Daenerys Targaryen surely, they can say Minreet. I had an employer say to me once: “Your name is going to be a bit hard to remember.” While others at my interviews have asked if it is okay to call me Min, as it’s simpler. But why should anyone change their identity to fit in, or to make life easier for others? Or be too afraid to correct someone as they may take offence? Well I am no longer that person who is going to worry about someone being upset if I correct them, as I have been upset for too long.

There are also those who assume I’m Muslim because my name is Minaret. That’s not my name, and no, I am not Muslim. Should religion come into names? I find it really offensive and insensitive that these sweeping assumptions are made.

I have so many examples of what others have confided that they have also been through. Like me, many have been asked to change, or shorten, their names to make life “easier!” Like my friend, Adil, who is often called Aldi, like the supermarket. He said: “These same people have no problem saying Benedict Cumberbatch.” And my friend, Rupinder, has been called Belinda, Roops, Rups, Ruby and received an email recently calling her Rupert. She said she finds this incredibly lazy and also thinks that subconsciously it’s another form of colonialism.

Another friend’s daughter’s name is Gagandeep, but she gets bullied at school and they call her Googan. My friend herself is called Phaldeep and she has spent a lifetime being called all sorts of names, invariably nothing like her name, mumbled versions like Faldeep or Faldip. It made her feel very depressed and she has shortened her name so it’s easier for others.

Bandna has also gone through this and has been called Banda, Bandana and the list goes on, she said. This is why I am using my voice to speak out because too many, including my parents, have shortened their names when they first came to the UK to fit in.

I turned 40 last year and decided enough is enough. I went along with Min, Reet, Minty, Minnie Mouse, Minpreet, Manreet, Manpreet for too long. Sometimes I would correct them but then some would do it again and I just kind of ignored it, but no more.

I am no longer OK about my name being changed or being called anything people feel they can call me. I am Minreet Kaur and proud of my name. I appreciate that names can get misspelt, but please, if you are in any doubt, ask. My name is very simple and if anyone needs to know how it’s pronounced it’s Min – Reet and Kaur is like saying Core.

I have put up with people getting this wrong for too long.

So, if you don’t want to insult me, or anyone else with a “foreign” name, just ask the simple question: “Excuse me, how do you pronounce your name?” I promise you; I won’t be cross or offended.

Minreet Kaur

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