for the past For several years, a sentiment has been circulating on social media, which is somewhat of a variation, “If you can pronounce the name of the fictional character Daenerys Targaryen from ‘Game of Thrones,’ you can pronounce the real names of people of color.” can.”
The reluctance to say a person’s name correctly is ultimately being called out for the subtle aggression that it really is.
The year I was born, the three most popular girl names were Lisa, Kimberly, and Mary. My first name, which appears on my birth certificate, Azita, was nowhere on that list. My friends and classmates called me Zita for short – not even on that list.
Tweets about Daenerys won’t be around for many more decades. When I was growing up, every first day of school I had to get my name tarnished by my teachers, who treated its difference and difficulty as a nuisance.
In first grade, my teacher was Mrs. Patrick. Tall and tough, with a jet-black bouffant, she worked her way up the list of names. “here!” All the students immediately raised their hands when called with enthusiasm. But when she suddenly stopped, looking perplexed, I knew she would reach my name. His face distorted as if he had eaten something sour, and he said my name with a stumbling block.
“Uhzitiya? Or is it Azita? Zytah?” He looked up, and over his horned glasses, his brow raised with excitement. Looking around the room, she waited for a response. I silently raised my hand.
“Yes?” He asked looking straight at me. At that point, all the other kids started staring.
“It’s Aizita,” I replied in a low voice. She nodded, made a mark in her book, and herself, without trying to say it correctly, went to the next student whose name came off her tongue.
I was embarrassed by the negative attention and embarrassed to have a name that was so singular and difficult to pronounce. I was Latina, brown-skinned, with long, dark braids, in a practically all-white elementary school in an almost all-white town. My name combined with my ethnicity and appearance makes me worried about being fit or accepted.
Along with the wrong pronunciation, my name was also often misspelled. sometimes first “I” will be abandoned, or a “I” Will be connected. Over time, I got better at answering confusing questions about pronunciation. When asked, I would say what I thought was quite simple: “TheOne’ Is silent,I’ is long. Think of the name Rita, but with a ‘z’ instead.”
Some people get it and some people don’t but for me my best effort to say it correctly is what matters the most. When people make eye contact and want to know if they’ve said it right, it signals to me that we both matter. Knowing when my name or my skin color is perceived as a threat is a self-preserving intuition I’ve carried for most of my life. A stranger who takes 30 seconds to correctly pronounce the long “i” in ezita evokes a sense of security and belonging for me.
My family certainly knew how to pronounce my full name correctly, but they rarely used it when I was younger. my mother affectionately called me zita pita and my grandmother called me zita nita, I don’t remember what age it started, but my father came up with the surname zitter more formally, ziter-skater, One of my favorite aunts must have heard her, because she called me zitter-bomb, my brother and sister call me ziti (like pasta) And so did many of my friends.
Sometime during college, with confidence and pride, I started getting used to and asked to be called by my full name. Less concerned about belonging or acceptance, I appreciated how irresistible it was. It gave me a sense of individuality and complemented my then-recent embrace of my Latino ethnicity. But having such an unusual name also meant that other people tried to decode it or add meaning.
Not only was my name rare, I didn’t even know where it came from. The Internet did not exist then, and my parents could only offer that my father had seen it in a magazine. He found the name beautiful, he told me, as well as the woman it belonged to, and for those reasons he chose it for me.
Several times I was asked what my name meant, I really replied that as far as I knew, it didn’t make any sense. What I understood was that because I am brown-skinned, and my name is unknown, what people really wanted to know was my race or ethnicity, or if I was born in America.
“But what kind of name is it? Where is it from? What are you?”
Finally, in my early 40s, information about my name appeared online, and finding it was like finding part of myself. I finally found out who I was named after, and it was worth the wait.
Aizita Nascimiento was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1939. An actress and model, in fact, she was beautiful, as described by my father. In the 1960s, he was featured in Life Espaol magazine, where he saw pictures of him. Long, curvy and dark brown in color, her expressive eyes were often painted with a cat-eye effect and she had a big, bright smile.
Born of mixed descent, she was then called Multa, The classification used at the time for people of European and African descent and by people with darker skin. maroon derives from Spanish or Portuguese word for mule, a mixture of horse and donkey. although the word is Considered archaic and invasive by some in North AmericaIt is still sometimes used to refer to people of mixed race.
I learned that Azita became the first black woman to participate in a beauty pageant in Brazil. Azita won the 1963 Miss Renacenca pageant and went on to participate in a much larger contest in the northern part of Rio that same year. When the eight finalists were announced, Azita was one of them – an unprecedented event for a Brazilian woman.
“Queremos a Mulata, Queremos a Mulata, Queremos a Mulata!” “We want black women,” shouted a crowd of about 25,000 that evening, cheering for Azita. When she finished only sixth, the audience replaced her cheers with glee of anger and outrage.
Shortly after, the story of her pageant loss appeared in one of Brazil’s most popular news magazines, titled the crowd chant, “Curemos a mulata!” was taken from. Azita is credited with paving the way for other mixed-race women, including the winner of the following year’s pageant, who was also a woman of color.
The following year, in 1964, Ezita, who was also a registered nurse, launched herself as a singer and recorded several songs, and achieved substantial success in film and television. Going back a decade, I have found her story covered in academic articles, blog posts, and popular media about the social and cultural changes of Brazil, Afro-Brazilians, and Brazil’s remarkable black women. She is considered a tramp who changed the standards of beauty in Brazil and improved the perception of women of color.
Recently on eBay, I bought a copy of the single Azita Records described as “samba-jazz bossa nova”. On the cover, she smiles playfully, and looks alluring. My name, Azita, appears prominently in a large yellow font and all caps.
I am delighted to share the name of a revolutionary and pioneering woman known for raising women of color in Brazil. When people ask me my name, I have a story now.
I remember the scene where the audience supports Azita together in a beauty pageant, and it always makes me emotional. I love to imagine the kind of crowd that is sitting in my first class class, there to champion me. When the teacher gets angry and dismisses me and my name she can’t pronounce, my 6-year-old hears them cheering, “We want a brown girl. We want Azita. ,
Learning to say my name is respect, confirmation and acceptance of me and my identity. It makes room for me, but also the possibility of connection. If you want people of color to be included, believe they deserve to be seen, you can say so by pronouncing their names correctly.
Do you have a compelling personal story that you want to see published on HuffPost? Find out what we’re looking for here and send us a pitch.