Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
March 20, 2024 ·  5 min read

Child’s name shortened by teachers for being ‘too hard’ to pronounce

Often friends give each other nicknames. They can be for fun and refer to a happy or funny memory. They can also simply be short-forms to make it faster to say a name: Josephine becomes “Jo,” and Robert becomes “Rob.” For many immigrant or indigenous peoples, however, shortening comes from other people not being able to pronounce it. A woman in New Zealand found out that her child’s name was shortened by teachers simply because they were having difficulty pronouncing it. She is now speaking out against why this is hurtful and wrong. (1)

Child’s Name Shortened By Teachers in New Zealand

Our names are a huge part of our identity. In many cultures, names have significant meaning. For many, we have no problem pronouncing names from our own culture, but this can be much more difficult when faced with the names of another.

For children living and going to school in areas where the majority culture is different from their own, this can be difficult. In New Zealand, the native Māori people struggle with this regularly. 

This is what happened to five-year-old Mahinarangi Tautu when she started preschool. Soon after starting, her mother, Paris, found out teachers shortened the child’s name to “Rangi” because they were having trouble pronouncing it. (1)

She was unsurprisingly unhappy about it.

“My ancestors changed their original name from Perepe-Perana to Phillips because of colonisation,” Tautu told the New Zealand Herald. “I will not let something similar happen with my daughter.” (1)

Read: Single Dad Opens Up About Not Having the Same Support As Single Moms

Shortening Mahinarangi’s Name Changes Its Meaning

Paris first states that when you shorten her daughter’s name, you are changing the meaning, or at the very least ignoring half of its meaning. (1)

“Rangi” translates to “sky” in their native language. “Mahina” translates to “moon.” When you put them together, Mahinarangi’s name means “moon in the sky.” When you take away part of it, you aren’t honoring the full “mana” of the name. (1)

It Damages Children’s Self-Esteem

Mahinarangi became embarrassed every time her name was mispronounced, and other students laughed. She became too shy to correct people and even became shy to say her name for fear of people laughing. (1)

Her mother says that this is not because her name is “too difficult” to pronounce; it’s because people aren’t putting in any effort to learn. Her daughter didn’t understand that despite the effort she put in at school to learn new words, people weren’t putting that same effort into learning her name. (1)

“I am sad that in 2021, in Aotearoa, a 5-year-old girl has lost the pride that comes with her beautiful name,” Paris said. “It made me so angry, especially because they’d use te ao Māori resources in her classes.” (1)

Since then, she has taught Mahinarangi how to break her name down into syllables to educate others properly. Now, Mahinarangi is not afraid to speak up and ask to be called by her full name. (1)

“She feels a sense of pride when people give it a go.” Paris says. (1)

Mahinarangi Is Not The Only One

This is a common problem minority groups face around the world. 

Raisa Patel (rye-EE-sah) from Ottawa, Canada, wrote about the struggles she faces as a minority in a primarily white-dominant city.  In her article, she wrote about an interview she read with Orange Is the New Black actress Uzoamaka Aduba. (2)

In the interview, Aduba talked about how she begged her mom to change her name to Zoe when she was a child. She said that no one at school could pronounce her name. Aduba’s mother’s response changed Patel’s outlook on her own name:

“If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” (2)

Here’s the reality of it: It all comes down to effort. If someone wants to learn how to pronounce your name, they will put in the work to do so.

It’s Time For Everyone To Make An Effort

Here’s the thing: The onus to ensure their name is pronounced correctly should not fall on that person, it should be on the person learning their name. If you meet someone with a name that has roots in a language other than your own, stop for a minute and ask again. This can sound like this:

“Hi, my name is Sarah. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Sarah, my name is Raisa.”
“Lovely to meet you Raisa.. Am I pronouncing it correctly?”

“Close! It’s rye-EE-sah.”
“Beautiful! Lovely to meet you rye-EE-sah!”

Just like that, it becomes simple. Repeat it a few times, so you don’t forget it. If you are struggling, ask for additional help.

Just Call My John

When I was doing my post-grad, I had a classmate from Bucharest whose name was Ionut (pronounced yo-nootz). It was not hard to say whatsoever, yet he would constantly say to teachers and other students, “You can just call me John.”.

My classmates, who included many more international students, refused to call him John because that was not his name. We took the time, which was only about 30 seconds, to learn his actual name and called him that the entire year. So did our teachers.

This simple act of learning someone’s name makes them feel acknowledged and important. The next time you come across someone with a name you don’t know how to pronounce, ask them and put the effort in to say it properly. You’ll be surprised at how positive of an effect you will have on that person.

Keep Reading: Is it ever okay to check your partner’s phone?


  1. Child’s name shortened by teachers for being ‘too hard’ to pronounce.” NZ Hearld. Te Rina Triponel. February 27, 2021.
  2. Here’s how to pronounce my name, and why it matters to me.” CBC. Raisa Patel. January 3, 2019.