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What’s In A Name?

by Aleasa Word, FAACT’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

May 2022

With a name like Aleasa Word, it seems like it would be easy enough to say. Yet I have had my name mispronounced more times than one can imagine. Some of the ways my first name has been said have left me confused, perplexed, and at times laughing as I tried to figure out how the sound of the letter “Z” made its way into my name. The most confusing encounter was when someone asked me if I was sure I was spelling my last name correctly. Although Word is not the most common name, it is probably one of the easiest to spell, so I usually get it right! (chuckle)

This brings me to the importance of names and pronouns. Each time someone says my name incorrectly, I cringe just a little bit inside. I used to just answer to anything and then realized that the name I have represents who I am, and now I gently correct people. People who have non-traditional American names are faced with this reality every day. Children face ridicule from other children if their names veer off the path of what some think are “okay” names when, in fact, all names are okay. Imagine someone constantly calling you a boy when you are a girl or non-binary. If you think that’s not a big deal, what about if they called you a moose or a shoe with the excuse they just didn’t have the energy to figure out what to call you? What if someone called your particular food allergen by some other name because they didn’t have the mindset to figure it out?

Not taking the time to pay attention to how you address someone, or you acknowledge the things they manage can truly be hurtful, even dangerous to a person’s physical and or mental health. We all need to be mindful of how we address others. Everyone is equally important, no matter how they identify or even what health challenges they face. Making assumptions is just not an acceptable way to deal with people.

Similar things can be said about misgendering others. Gone are the days of she/her and he/him. There are plenty of pronouns to go around, and it only takes asking how someone would like to be addressed to remedy the hurt people feel being misgendered over and over. I have heard people say, “Well, I don’t understand it.” There are a lot of things we don’t understand at first, so it is important to take the time to learn. If you are from generations that only referred to people in a male or female persona, it may be difficult for you to grasp the newness of what is happening today. With practice and simply being considerate enough to ask, you will get the gist of it quickly. Don’t believe it? We all figured out how to use email and went from MySpace to Instagram, Facebook Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Trust me, you will get it. 

Having a sense of self is important to us all. People are constantly trying to find the best way to feel comfortable in their identity. It is not up to others to decide how people identify because we are not the ones living in another person’s head or heart. Instead, we can have an open heart and be kind enough to let people feel comfortable being exactly who they are. This is a lesson in compassion. As a mom who has managed food allergies at home for years, I have pushed the need for compassion for my child and others living with food allergies. In the food allergy community, we know all too well what it feels like to be told we need to just get over it, act “normal,” stop making excuses, stop thinking our issue is so important, and so on. Inclusion is what we have strived for. We are champions at fighting to receive it, so we can also be champions for creating inclusive spaces for all.

One way we can do this is by being open to the concept of different pronouns. These are a few of the pronouns you may see today: she/her, he/him, they/them, ze, zim, zir. This is not a full list, and you can find more information in the resources listed below. The best way to understand how someone wants to be addressed is to simply ask. 

So when we ask, “What’s in a name?”, the answer for many people is, “Everything!”

For more information on pronouncing names correctly, pronouns, and gender-inclusive language, visit the following resources: