“Hi, what’s your name?”
Denzel, duh. But how are you saying it? The way you’re pronouncing it in your head is the same way you address me as, and most likely because of how I introduced myself to you.
There are two ways that I have heard my name been pronounced: “Den-zuhl” and “Den-zelle”. Now what is the CORRECT way to pronounce it? I can’t tell you with absolute certainty. Most of you know me as “Den-zuhl” because that’s how I introduced myself until the end of highschool. A select few call me “Den-zelle” because that’s how they pronounced it when they first read my name, or it’s because…
From what I recall, my parents called me “Den-zuhl” so that’s why I thought that was the norm, and to hear otherwise felt uneasy. This was until around the end of 7th grade/beginning of 8th grade where my mom told me she actually named me after the actor: Denzel Washington, which is who most of you think of when you first meet me, or the odd few who think of Denzel Crocker from “The Fairly Odd Parents” instead. Seen this pic before?
Now I knew who Denzel Washington was, and I knew people pronounced his name “Den-zelle”. This fact blew my mind because I was introducing myself to people with the incorrect pronunciation this whole time; heck my parents weren’t even calling my name correctly. Coincidentally, my 8th grade teacher was the first teacher to call me “Den-zelle” since 1st grade (which at the time I thought my teacher was just saying it wrong); what’s more mind-blowing is my mom also started introducing me to people as “Den-zelle”. To be more precise, to Asians she would introduce me as “Den-zuhl” and then would proceed to say “ ‘Den-zelle’, like ‘Den-zelle’ Washington”. This, is where my entire life became conflicted because nearly everyone I know was now saying my name incorrectly.
Going into highschool, majority of my elementary school friends came along with me, so to start introducing myself as “Den-zelle” would be difficult and weird especially when I’m introducing myself when my current friends are around me; I’m sure if I did that they’d be thinking “Why the heck is he saying his name like that?”, and I totally understand which I why I didn’t do so and continued to introduce myself as “Den-zuhl”. During this time, I also observed that Asians tend to pronounce Denzel as “Den-zuhl” instinctively whereas non-Asians have a higher tendency to say “Den-zelle”. HOWEVER, surprisingly enough all my Asian highschool teachers called me “Den-zelle” without me having to tell them and most of the non-Asian teachers called me “Den-zuhl”. Weird huh?
At the time, only one of my friends called me “Den-zelle” (K.T shout-out), though I don’t even recall when that started because I’m sure in elementary school he said “Den-zuhl”. Regardless, this story gets whack. In grade 9, I found out there was another guy in my year also named Denzel, but EVERYONE THAT KNEW HIM called him “Den-zelle”. Like WHAT (it’s probably cause, y’know.. he was, like… black). Nonetheless, there were only a few individuals that knew both him and me but called us differently and REFUSED to call me “Den-zelle” because “I wasn’t black” (thanks a lot N.P and A.C. Don’t worry I know y’all were just playing). It didn’t really matter since I had already accepted to be known as “Den-zuhl” for the rest of my highschool days. This also extends outside of the highschool environment, as in I kept introducing myself as “Den-zuhl” to those at church, when I worked at the local pool, and the people I met during my extra-curricular activities because it was all within the York Region area; the people I interacted with likely had a few random mutual friends with me that knew me as “Den-zuhl” and if they ever brought my name up it would just cause confusion if each side pronounced it differently. So I told myself, screw it. I’ll try a new start when I enter university.
Well I basically failed because I chose to go to Waterloo, where a whole bunch of people I already knew attended. Entering into the Christian fellowship as a Frosh I thought I had a chance, but I looked around the room there was someone that I already knew. Just having that one person there blew my whole chance to start anew. So as we went around the group circle introducing myself, I had to say “Den-zuhl”. So now all these new people I met are infected with the wrong pronunciation. Hey let’s try meeting people that lived on the same floor. Hey I succeeded! Jokes, not for long because my roommates called me “Den-zuhl”. So when I hang out with these floor-mates while my roommate(s) were there, they infect the “Den-zuhl” virus to them. Let’s try my classmates! This was the most successful attempt because about 95% of them call me “Den-zelle”. It would probably be higher except one of my classmates lived on the same floor as my highschool friend in 1st year, so when my name was brought up….. you guessed it, “Den-zuhl” virus.
Well great, all these attempts never fully succeeded. Not even on my co-op terms because there was always someone there that knew me OR, which brings me to my next point, someone who simply CHANGES the pronunciation after I introduce myself. The latter happens surprisingly more often than not. I tell them my name is “Den-zelle” and then later, would call me “Den-zuhl”. Like wut duh heck m8. I don’t even have a proper explanation for that phenomenon. Vice versa happens at times too, where I have to introduce myself as “Den-zuhl”, but they later call me “Den-zelle”. Again, wut duh heck, but I’ll gladly take it. “Den-zelle” is just much easier to say. It rolls off the tongue in comparison to “Den-zuhl”, and if the environment is a bit noisy during an introduction, lip-reading “Den-zelle” is much, much easier than “Den-zuhl”. Give it a try.
Here’s a fact that blew my mind after piecing it back together from the first mind-blowing moment from my mom. I told you I was named after Denzel Washington right? Well watch the first 50 seconds of this video where the man himself talks about his name pronunciation.
In case you are unable to watch it, I’ll give you the summary. Denzel Washington was named after his father, Denzel Washington. This means the Denzel most of us know became Denzel Washington Jr. and his father Denzel Washington Sr. The original pronunciation aka the way his father’s name was pronounced was “Den-zuhl”, and because he was named after his father, his name should also be “Den-zuhl”. But because each time D.W Jr’s mom called Denzel, both of them would respond. Now because this became frustrating, his mom decided to change D.W Jr’s pronunciation to “Den-zelle” while obviously keeping the father as “Den-zuhl”. HOW…. MIND....BLOWING…. IS…. THAT ?!!??!?!?!?!?
The man I was named after, went by both pronunciations at some point in life, and so have I. Does this mean I should be pronounced “Den-zuhl” like he originally was, or “Den-zelle” because that’s what he went by when my parents named me? Geez I don’t know, and frankly I’ve learned not to care. My name is just a name; it’s just something people can address me by. Heck, if someone shouted out “HEY” or “DUDE”, I would probably respond. So to me, it really doesn’t matter anymore. The only thing that matters is whenever I have to introduce myself, I have to choose which way to pronounce it and that is the frustrating part. If I can, I just let them read it out themselves and allow their instincts to decide for me.
My father calls me “Den-zuhl”, my mother calls me both. Most people call me “Den-zuhl”. A select few call me “Den-zelle”. Majority have been infected with the “Den-zuhl” virus. And no. There is no cure.