Hi, my name is Berenice and I know you’re confused on how to pronounce it
I’ve been embarrassed of my name ever since I can remember.
I grew up in a small town in central Texas that was, at the time, overwhelmingly Anglo. There were Mexicans around, but they were somewhat novelty and were few in number. I can recall the overwhelming anxiety that would wash over me every first day of school, and the deep dark pit building in my stomach as the teacher called out each name.
I knew that my new teacher would massacre the pronunciation, I knew that I would have to speak out loud to correct her, and I knew the heads of all of my new classmates would turn to look at me. And while I’ve never been one to be shy to positive attention, this dramatic turn to me was out of curiosity. I was different, and it was stated from the first class.
I really wish memories could be made into video montages, because I would have a solid one made of every single time I was, “Bur-neese Guhz-men”. This happened so much so in fact, that I now actually go by “bur-neese” instead of my given “be-de-knee-se”. The thought of introducing myself in that was to anyone in a professional or casual environment gives me serious heebie- jeebies. It just easier to go by the English “Bernice” than explain to the Starbucks barista that there’s an extra ‘e’ in there, and that a rolling ‘r’ is necessary in order to pronounce it correctly. There was a particularly embarrassing instance when I had given the cashier at my local Starbucks a false name and had handed her my debit card.
“But it says here on this card your name is Bernice.”
“Well, it’s actually Berénicé. I just say [insert whatever fake name I said here] because it takes too much time to explain.”
And here’s the big thing. Here’s the worst thing about my name, hands down.
“But it’s so beautiful!”
Seriously, go step on a lego. Hit your funny bone. Drop your eggs as you pull them out of your fridge. Please do it. Because it may seem petty and it may seem oversensitive, but I couldn’t give a single second of thought about how beautiful you think my real name is. Because here we are, in a crowded Starbucks at 7:30 in the morning, and you’re holding up the line because you’re making me explain why I choose to go by a fake name when my actual name is so beautiful.
Look here, lady. I know my name is beautiful. I’m named after a strong, independent and driven woman that single-handedly raised five children by herself while running a pharmacy in a small Mexican town. My name carries weight in my family. It has history. Which is exactly why every time I have to explain it, it loses a bit of its magic. It has evolved into an annoyance that I have to explain to every new friend, every new boss, every patron at the bar I work at, and every nosy Starbucks barista. So much so, I wish it wasn’t mine.
I often fantasize about how it would be like to not cringe when I hear someone say my name out loud. After I do, I usually get a wave of guilt. Because it truly is a beautiful name. And deep down, the reason I get so fed up with people who want me to explain it is because I feel like I didn’t agree to the explanation. Maybe I don’t want to explain my name and teach you how to pronounce it. I didn’t agree to have those heads turn back at me curiously in class. I didn’t want any of it.
And friends continue to urge me to “own it!” reassuring me “It’s too beautiful not to use every day!” and that “People can learn how to say it!”.
No, I say back to them. I don’t want to teach it anymore.
Just call me Bernice. It’s fine.