I HATED my name growing up.
Sorry let me introduce myself first. Hi! My name is Mairātea and I hated my name growing up.
You’re probably looking at my name and scratching your head. It’s actually pronounced “My-raa-tee-ah”, but I’ve heard it said all types of ways. Marae-atea, Maria and my favourite, Margarita. I’ve been asked since primary if I had a nickname or had a shorter name to make others feel comfortable. I have never agreed to shorten my name but have been given countless nicknames.
I went to a Māori medium school growing up and have always had my name pronounced correctly, until I went to mainstream school in my secondary years. Teachers would call the names on the roll, while going down the line I would wait for the M’s. I knew my name was next because the teacher would pause, purse their lips and look around the room. Eyes would fall on me and heat would spread throughout my face. I would call out a meek “Mairātea” to save the teacher from embarrassment and have to repeat myself over and over again till they had the “Mai” of Mairātea down. The teacher would smile to themselves for doing their cultural moment of the day, whereas I was hot and embarrassed that my name went mispronounced again and I couldn’t speak up to fix it. I was so embarrassed to have my name mispronounced in class and at assemblies that I actively avoided standing out at school. I never shortened my name at school, just simply didn’t talk about it. Some of my peers knew me as the nice girl with long hair.
I once went by my middle name in highschool cause it made it easier for one of my teachers. This shame and embarrassment has followed me for years. The constant mispronunciations and lack of care decimated my confidence. Not being able to roll your “r”s isn’t a good enough excuse. If English speakers can pick up German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian etc, why can’t they pick up a single syllable from my language? How is it in a country where my name is a part of the land’s indigineous language, I almost expect people to pronounce it wrong?
My parents gave me this name expecting me to carry the mana and pride of my family. The etymology of the name has ancient roots. My name is a contraction of the words “Mai-Raiatea” which means “from Raiatea” which is an island in Tahiti believed to be Hawaiki. It has such a beautiful meaning, but for years I was embarrassed at how long and hard my name was. It wasn’t until I got to University that I gave full honour to my name. Having learnt appreciation by way of friends and learned professors, I have found my name to be a greater power than a weakness as I had always thought.
I know I’m not alone in having my name mispronounced but I’ve vowed to never do it myself. I work as a Tuākana Mentor now and I try my best to honour every name that passes through my workshops. I always ask my Teina what they like to be called and make a point of pronouncing the name as accurately I can. I relish in pronouncing Māori names. As a Māori speaker I love the way my tongue flicks pronouncing a Māori “R,” the soft “T’s” that has me pulling my lips back and the Māori “Wh” that flips off of my bottom lips. It rolls off my tongue and I enjoy watching the smiles it brings teina. I give this same effort to the Pasifika names and enjoy trying my hand at the new sounds. Kids around the motu have been blessed with powerful names that carry the ancestry and stories of their families. To not pronounce someone’s name is an implicit act of stepping on someone’s mana, pronouncing their names properly normalises their identities.
So let me try this again…Hi, my name is Mairātea. I don’t have a nickname. I have a full name. A name full of mana, full of aroha and full of the hopes of my ancestors. Hi, my name is Mairātea and I love my name.
Illustration by George Brooker