“But what is your real name?”: Honoring transnational students’ complex agentive acts of identity negotiations in (re)naming practices (by Dr Sunny Man Chu Lau)

For those who are Key and Peele[1] fans, or even if you are not, I’m sure you might have come across this comical and satirical classroom sketch where Key poses as a substitute teacher in a predominately white classroom and mispronounces all their names as he takes the register. The sarcasm of the skit is unmistakable – anyone who is familiar with urban educational contexts can immediately recognize the parody on classrooms where monolingual and ethnocentric English-speaking teachers ‘bastardize’ or mess up multicultural students’ names. Except in this case, Key the mix-raced substitute teacher is the one who mispronounces some very common English names, such as Jacqueline as /dʒæ·kwa:·lɪn/ (ja-kwa-lin) or Blake as /ba·la·kɪ/ (ba-la-ke). The hilarity builds up as the teacher sees the students’ efforts to correct his pronunciation as acts of defiance, typical of inner-city high-schoolers and is all ready to declare “war” on them. When one student, Denise, retorts repeatedly that her name be pronounced as /dəˈniːz/ rather than /dɪ·naɪs/ (de-nice), the teacher lets out his anger by snapping his roster clipboard into two. His indignation is only assuaged when the only ethnic student (played by Peele) in the class, Timothy, responds readily and gladly to the teacher’s call of his name as /tɪ·məʊ·θi/ (ti-mo-thi).

The bazarro classroom depicted in this Key and Peele’s sketch jolts us to confront ethnocentric teaching practices, such as carelessly mispronouncing multicultural students’ names or even changing or imposing on them a certain new name to better fit with the dominant linguistic and cultural practice. Naming practice has “the power to exclude, stereotype or disadvantage students” (Peterson, Gunn, Brice, & Alley, 2015), particularly in the case of foreign names that bear unfamiliar sounds. One BILD guest blogger Narjes اسم من نرجس است (April 15, 2019) expressed how she felt different and out of place when her teachers couldn’t say her name right and that no one seemed to be interested in knowing the story behind her name. With her name erased, she felt part of herself got erased as well. Stories such as this reminds us as educators that insensitivity towards multicultural students’ names and identities can cause indelible harm and compels us to be respectful of linguistic and cultural diversity and vigilant of any identity-rejection practices in class.

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In the Language of Love, My Mother, My Ghost: One Day We Will Meet (by Andrew Garbisch)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Our guest blogger this week, Andrew Garbisch (Jeon, Deok Young), is a graduate student in the Teacher Education and Curriculum program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests focus on adoption, haunting, and identity formation through story-telling and spoken word. He focuses on how Cathartic Language Spaces function in identity development and how they can connect marginalized groups and attend to the silence of negative spaces. He also focuses on what he calls “Indigenous Ways of NOT Knowing” that key in on the situated knowledge adoptees develop through experiences of being too Asian to be White and too White to be Asian (Hoffman & Peña, 2013).


Haunting is the cost of subjugation. It is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great importance. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it. This confrontation produces a fundamental change in the way we create knowledge (Tuck, 2013).

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