[This article was written for the Manukau Courier and published 7 March 2017 – link]
One of the things I love about living in South Auckland is it’s cultural diversity.
Now that’s probably not particularly riveting news from most of us who have set down roots in the South, be it as generational occupants or as migrants from far flung parts of New Zealand or other parts of the world.
Diversity is the epitome of South Auckland. That said, why are we so useless at pronouncing peoples names? I know there is a relevant groan going on about pronouncing Maori place names, but what about people’s names.
Recently I was deflated yet again about how bad we are at it – here’s what happened. I was in one of the most diverse place in South Auckland. I was at a medical lab getting some blood tests done for some upcoming surgery. There were Pakeha, Maori, Pasifika, Indian, Asian, South African and probably a few other ethnicities.
The time came for my name to be announced. I often take a gulp of air at this point because there is a fair chance they won’t get my name quite right. Sure enough a nurse announces – Peter Myhaahair (my attempt at a phonetic spelling of the tragedy I heard). Embarrassingly I stood, shook my head, and followed her into the room.
Now the nurses at medical facilities like this usually ask a question or two to verify my details and then start sucking blood from my veins. No worries, but I got an unusually brutal drilling on my details this time. The nurse asked what my name was, to which I had pleasure in pronouncing in absolutely perfect Maori, so that she could hear it clearly, “Mihaere” (think ‘Me’ + ‘haere’ as in ‘haere mai’). I usually use an anglicised version, but I felt it important that this particular person needed to hear a clear Maori pronunciation. She seemed to look at my laboratory form blankly for a moment and then asked, “could you spell that?” I said, “it’s Maori… M-I-H-A-E-R-E.” No emotion, no acknowledgement and then the clanger, “Are you a New Zealand citizen?” What? Did you not hear me say it’s Maori?
I’m sure this nurse is very confident, competent and has a professional bedside manner, but come on … you make a mess of pronouncing my name and then ask if I am from Aotearoa? Let’s try a little harder South Auckland, because nothing is sweeter than hearing your name pronounced properly.