On Pronouncing Names and Owning Mistakes

All of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders have been learning about the amazing work of Vashti Harrison in preparation for her visit through the Virginia Festival of the Book next month. They’ve been talking about her nonstop, and we’ve been studying her work in many of my classes. And last week, in a meeting about her visit, I realized that I’ve been teaching all of them to pronounce her name wrong.

I’ve been saying Vashti with an aah, like job. And I learned that it’s correctly pronounced as Vashti with an ah, like fast.

When I first realized my mistake, my white fragility took full control. Who cares about that one little vowel?! It wasn’t my fault! It should come with a pronunciation guide! How was I supposed to know?!

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 9.54.51 AMOnce that flash of shame passed and my thoughts became more logical, I realized that this was a learning opportunity. It is no one else’s job to teach me. I practiced saying the name correctly and let the adults in my orbit know about my error. Then I talked to the kids.

I told each group that I had made a mistake. We talked about how a name may be new to us, but that doesn’t mean it’s weird or wrong. Then we discussed how our names are important – they are a huge part of our identity! – and how it’s a sign of love and respect to work until you get it right. We talked about how it might feel to have someone mispronounce or dismiss a part of our identity that we loved and were proud of. And then we practiced saying it correctly together.

Mistakes happen! And getting defensive or hiding them doesn’t make them disappear. I love that my readers and I got to decide together that showing the love and respect is worth the effort. It is the least that we can do. I hope that they’ll remember this moment and carry that lesson with them in the future. And when Vashti Harrison comes to see us, we will be ready to welcome her the right way.



I’m on a journey towards becoming a better antiracist educator and all around human being. You can join me here.

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