I was given the name Sukhjiwan; it is pronounced “Sook-Jee-Vun.” It is a Sikh name that, in Punjabi, translates to “happy life.” So, why do I go by the name Jeevyn?
When I entered elementary school, no one (not even my teachers) could pronounce my name. As a young student, I always felt anxious when a teacher read through a roll call. I became more anxious as the teacher worked down the list. It was always the same. The awkward silence before the teacher attempted to say my name, followed by the teacher’s epic failure to pronounce it, accompanied by giggles and guffaws from my peers. Sometimes, rather than obliterating my name, teachers would skip over me altogether. One classmate gave me the name Sooj or Soojiwan. This name stuck with me until grade 12. Rarely would someone take the time to ask me how my name was actually pronounced. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my name. I blamed myself for having such a difficult name. Because of this, I felt less important than my peers.
Although most people would say that they are not racist, it is important to recognize the racism and colonialism that are engrained in our societal structures, cultures, and policies. As people may engage in microaggressions without recognizing it, we are all obligated to recognize the role we may play in perpetuating racism. By failing to take the time to learn how someone’s name is pronounced, we show disrespect to the person. This not only results in othering the person, it can also lower that person’s self-worth.
What do I hope to leave imprinted in the mind of the reader? It is my sincere hope that we, as physicians, take the time to understand each patient’s culture, worldview, values, and identity. This can start by learning a patient’s name, asking about a patient’s name, and learning how to pronounce a patient’s name properly.
Read the full article in the BC Medical Journal.
By Dr. Jeevyn K. Chahal
Family Physician, Kamloops
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