Help, I feel culturally patronised
November 18, 2009 7:11 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's mother keeps trying to rename me and I find it offensive, what should I do?

I use an anglicised version of my Chinese name for convenience. It's a nickname that my friends started using when I was around 13, so it's not just something that I made up. Upon meeting my boyfriend's mother, she concocted a more "English-sounding" pronunciation and spelling for my name - from "Xianny" to "Shanni".

I find "Shanni" to be ridiculously twee but even if I liked the name I don't like being renamed so casually and by someone else, especially someone that I'd (at the time) just met. It wasn't even in the context of "oh, that's hard for me to pronounce, can I call you Shanni instead?" - she just started doing it, no questions asked.

I would just write this off as a harmless annoyance, but for the fact that she's starting to be more aggressive about it and I find it quite rude and patronising. If other family members ask me how to spell my name in her presence, I'll start to tell them but she'll talk over me to deliver her version. On a recent birthday card from her and her mother (who I have a pretty close relationship with), she striked out my name and wrote "Shanni" instead. The rest of the family seem to have no problem with my name, it's just her, but I don't want to wind up having everyone call me "Shanni".

This is starting to bother me quite a bit. I've been with my boyfriend for about 2.5 years and I've known her for about 2 years. She doesn't take kindly to being corrected. She won't make a fuss, but usually just dismisses anyone who disagrees with her, and acts as if she's being personally insulted. How do I deal with this - should I talk to her about it at all? It's quite a close-knit family and simply avoiding her is not something I'm willing to do.
posted by Xianny to Human Relations (76 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ask your bf to explain the situation to her.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:15 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yes, you do need to talk to her about it. I would pull her aside and let her know that firmly but gently that your name is Xianny, and not Shanni. Let her know that it hurts your feelings. She may not know that it is insulting to you. She may think she is doing you a favour. You have to let her know you won't stand for it, or it will go on forever.

What does your boyfriend think? Can he help to bring this up? Does he stand up for your correct name/spelling?
posted by typewriter at 7:15 AM on November 18, 2009


Yeah, ask BF to deal with it. It doesn't sound like any great loss if she's peeved. She'll live with it. Sounds like more people should have put her in the position of being peeved in her lifetime; would have done her good.

Sounds annoying. And I'm usually in the don't make a big deal about it camp.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:18 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


BF thinks it's silly what she's doing, but I haven't really minded up to now, so we just laugh about it together when she's not around. Everyone else calls me Xianny and I don't mind if she wants to use "Shanni", I just don't want her to get everyone else using it too!
posted by Xianny at 7:20 AM on November 18, 2009


Ugh, how obnoxious.

Make it into an inside joke, as best you can. Try to get people laughing. Start renaming everyone. Try to have fun with it, as infuriating as it is.

At some point, everyone will be having a jolly time of it every time she says it or writes it in their presence. Except your boyfriend's mother. C'est la vie.

You can't control people, but you can laugh at them.
posted by kathrineg at 7:21 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Out of curiosity how do you pronounce Xianni? Is it pronounced Shanni?

She may be re-writing it Shanni because she prefers to see unfamiliar names spelled phonetically. This is a pretty common practice, actually, especially among those who deal with a wide variety of non-English names.

That said it does seem rather odd on her part to insist on spelling your name in a manner different from the way you prefer after having known you for 2 years.
posted by dfriedman at 7:22 AM on November 18, 2009


She probably does think it's a brilliant idea she had, that she's doing what she thinks is best for you, and someday you'll realize she was right. You do need to talk to her about it or else there will be nothing to stop Shanni from taking over. You will need your boyfriend with you as an ally when you sit down with her, as a show of solidarity and so maybe she'll realize it's not "just you". Your boyfriend should also be sticking up for you when she corrects you in front of other people.
posted by amethysts at 7:23 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, I see.

I would quietly tell people that she has it wrong and doesn't realize it. Perhaps she has a hearing problem that she won't admit to. You just don't have the heart to correct her anymore, the poor dear.
posted by kathrineg at 7:23 AM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


Any chance she's homophobic, and "Xianny" sounds, to her, too much like "Johnny?"
posted by jon1270 at 7:27 AM on November 18, 2009


It's pronounced like Sienna ending in a -y. That's what I tell people when they ask.

Thanks to all who've answered so far. Can anyone think of something besides having a chat with her and the BF? For variety and also because I'm not sure what to say.
posted by Xianny at 7:42 AM on November 18, 2009


I will never understand this. It's bad enough when people call me "Kim" without even asking (Pro tip: do not shorten people's names unless they refer to themselves that way), but this is obnoxious in the extreme.

It might be best to go through your boyfriend as others have suggested, but you might just want to be direct with her and tell her that you really would prefer she call you Xianny as Shanni isn't your name. And then correct her every time she says it. Bonus points if other people witness it so she has a harder time pretending it didn't happen.
posted by Kimberly at 7:48 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Address her by a name slightly off from hers every time she does this?
posted by fish tick at 7:49 AM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can anyone think of something besides having a chat with her and the BF? For variety and also because I'm not sure what to say.

Can you tell your boyfriend that when his mother calls you a name she made up for you it's infuriating (patronizing, rude) and you would appreciate it if he could find a way to make her stop?
posted by Kimberly at 7:51 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having your boyfriend to correct her seems like the obvious answer to me.

Any chance she thinks "Shanni" is how you pronounce "Xianny"? As a non-Chinese-speaker, I'm not really sure how I'd pronounce Xianny (zee-ah-nee?); it doesn't sound very anglicized to me. But I do know that, in some transliterated Chinese words, X is pronounced somewhat like "sh"--more like "zh" (as in French "j"). For example most English speakers I know say "Xinjiang" as "zhin-jang", where that "zh" is pretty close to "sh".

I have no idea if this is really correct, but it sounds like your boyfriend's mother might not be intentionally renaming you, but just mis-pronouncing your X as the closest sound she can find in English. Most English speakers aren't sure how to pronounce transliterated Chinese anyway. Get your boyfriend to explain.
posted by k. at 7:51 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would first go to the boyfriend and tell him that the Shanni thing was silly at the start but it has been 2 years now and it is annoying you. And it really bothers you that she's introducing you to others with the wrong name. If he thinks you're being silly he needs to man up and confront his mom or you will. If she wants to have a pet name for you that's OK if you're OK with it but that's for just you two.

Xianny is a perfectly good name and you shouldn't have to put up with people bastardizing it.
posted by birdherder at 7:54 AM on November 18, 2009


Can anyone think of something besides having a chat with her and the BF?

There is no more polite and reasonable solution. This is the way people should interact with each other. She DESERVES to be corrected in no uncertain terms, just as you deserve to be called by your own name.

-
posted by General Tonic at 7:54 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Can anyone think of something besides having a chat with her and the BF?

Don't have a chat with her and the bf. Have a chat with the bf. Then he can have a chat with his mom.

Him making a comment to his mom ("Oh, by the way, just so you know next time you see my gf, her name is actually spelled Xianny and she really likes it to be spelled and pronounced like that") is a less caustic approach than you doing it ("Excuse me, but please stop calling me ___ and start calling me ___").

Also, as fish tick said, he might want to point out to her that she could empathize with you by thinking about how she'd feel if one person insisted on spelling and pronouncing her name differently than everyone else does. E.g. if her name is Ann, she could imagine one person insists it's spelled "Anne" or that it should be "Anna." Again: have the bf say this when you're not around. Do not confront her about this yourself.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:54 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Regardless of how she pronounces it, the fact that she CROSSED OUT YOUR NAME AND WROTE IN HER SPELLING is atrocious and obnoxious.

I would ask your boyfriend to step in and say something to her about it. Since you say you don't really mind if that's how she says it, you can ignore that part of it. But your BF really should have stepped up when she edited the card. He needs to call her on it, and after he does, you should mention it to her anytime she corrects anyone about the pronunciation or spelling.

I feel for you. What a difficult and awkward conversation to have--but luckily, your boyfriend should say something first (since he's related to her) and then all you should have to do is reiterate your preference after that. I expect you'll be reiterating your preference forever, but he should have the first conversation with her.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:57 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


It sounds as though your name is being made the focal point for larger issues in the relationship-- probably classic MIL/daughter-in-law territory-marking, with potentially a soupcon of judgment over what MIL perceives as an affected or inappropriately odd-sounding name. I wouldn't count on a casual chat's having much effect except to escalate things.

It's 100% not fair, but unfortunately, you're kind of on the wrong end of the power imbalance here, so you may end up having to suck it up, to some extent; after all, if the rest of the family pronounces your name correctly, that's a triumph in itself, right?

If you really can't stand this, though, could you try to skirt the issue altogether by inventing a simple, un-mispronounceable, non-twee nickname ("See"?) and asking that she use that instead? That way it's not either of you telling the other that their version is wrong; it's just that you like MIL so much that you feel ready to move to another level of intimacy with her, complete with new naming conventions.
posted by Bardolph at 7:59 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Show her this: That's not my name.
posted by trip and a half at 8:08 AM on November 18, 2009


It's interesting that she would "escalate" the behavior after two years. Is there any event you can think of that might have led to a change? For example, did you and your boyfriend somehow indicate your relationship was entering a more serious stage?

In any case, if you need a script for your boyfriend to talk to his mom (which I agree is the way to go), just have him bring it up in casual conversation. Something like,

Mom: How's Shanni?

BF: She's good. Oh, that reminds me - she found it sort of endearing that you would come up with a personal nickname for her, but to the rest of the family and the world at large she wants to be known as Xianny.

Mom: (if something defensive)

BF: Oh, she's fine if you want to call her Shanni still, but please don't correct Grandma or others when they use Xianny.

Probably a good thing to get this resolved now, before she starts re-naming the grandkids.
posted by mikepop at 8:14 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


What about wearing a "Hell, My name is..." sticker with the correct spelling of your name to your next visit to her house. If she didn't get it the first time, then the next time, I'd have the sticker with "Shanni" crossed out and "Xianny" written in larger letters. Heck, I may even keep a couple in my purse, ready to go so that the next time she starts to talk over me to a relative about how I spell my name, I could say "Let me clear this up for everyone." Whip the sticker out and put it on.
posted by onhazier at 8:14 AM on November 18, 2009


Those who are suggesting that this is "no big deal" and that you should just "laugh it off" are flat-out wrong. What's going on here is a power play between your bf and his mother, one as old as civilization.

Your bf's mother is diminishing you by assigning you this nickname, which is in turn subtly reminding her son who the prime woman in his life is. You need to sit your bf down and make it clear to him that (a) you don't appreciate what your mother is doing, and (b) it's up to him, not you, to correct the behavior. Unless you want to be in a relationship with a Momma's Boy, he needs to stand up to her in your defense.
posted by mkultra at 8:14 AM on November 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


Ugh.

My name is easily translated into a billion languages, and often when people are speaking to me in French they address me using the French word instead of the English. I hate it. It's not my name.

So, if people don't listen the first few times I politely ask them not to do this, I simply stop responding to it.
posted by aclevername at 8:14 AM on November 18, 2009


oops. That's "Hello, My name is..."
posted by onhazier at 8:15 AM on November 18, 2009


BF thinks it's silly what she's doing, but I haven't really minded up to now, so we just laugh about it together when she's not around. Everyone else calls me Xianny and I don't mind if she wants to use "Shanni", I just don't want her to get everyone else using it too!

You're going to be known as "Shanni" before long unless you stop telling your BF that it's okay while it actually drives you batty. Make it clear to your BF that it's insulting and rude and what, does his mom have a problem with you being Chinese? The thing where she crossed out your name is INSANE. She's rejecting Xianny as "not a name." That's fucked up. He should talk to his mom.

Additionally, next time she corrects you in front of people, you could laugh and point out lightly "ohh, I know how to spell my name!" or you can just roll your eyes and sigh. But don't bother arguing with her in front of other family, because it'll make her dig in her heels more if you challenge her authority.

If your BF talking to her doesn't work, pull her aside for a talk. You can frame it as "Look, I respect you too much to argue with you in front of your family, I like being being part of this family, and don't want to avoid you, but my name is Xianny, not Shanni, and it's a big deal to me that you don't seem to accept my name. Please STOP calling me "Shanni," even if you don't understand why it bothers me so much."
posted by desuetude at 8:18 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's her name? maybe twist her name a bit and start calling her that.
posted by bunny hugger at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2009


Those who are suggesting that this is "no big deal" and that you should just "laugh it off" are flat-out wrong. What's going on here is a power play between your bf and his mother, one as old as civilization.

Your bf's mother is diminishing you by assigning you this nickname, which is in turn subtly reminding her son who the prime woman in his life is. You need to sit your bf down...


Well, yes and no. Power plays only work to the extent that all parties involved accept the framework of the interaction. You don't have to. While I think you are 110% justified in coming down hard on this, you could decide simply not to participate in this particular game at all. This would not mean that you had accepted defeat. I'm not saying this is what you should do — it's just an option.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think one tactic, that worked really well for my spouse when he was trying to get a nickname, was to correct people every single time they used the nickname. It gets annoying but eventually they'll get the hint. The trick to not turning it into a power play is to do it very politely and pretend each time that it's the first time she's made such a "mistake".

You might be out of luck when it comes to how she refers to you, but it's absolutely rude that she's telling others to spell/say your name wrong, especially if she knows better.
posted by muddgirl at 8:22 AM on November 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Address her by a name slightly off from hers every time she does this?

I think you or the bf talking with her is probably the best approach. You can even do it gently and casually. Next time she starts with Shanni you could, cheerfully and with a smile, say "My name is Xianny, thanks!" Repeat every time. You could also correct the spelling in an email.

But something like fish tick's method has worked for me. A friend's brother, who I'd met a few times, kept referring to me by the wrong name, to the point of annoyance. So next time it happened I called him something completely wrong. He never referred to me by the incorrect name again. So could you get away with calling her Karen if her name is Rose? That might work, but it could be construed as passive-aggressive, I suppose.
posted by 6550 at 8:23 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


He was trying to get rid of a nickname.
posted by muddgirl at 8:24 AM on November 18, 2009


Mom: How's Shanni?

BF: She's good. Oh, that reminds me - she found it sort of endearing that you would come up with a personal nickname for her, but to the rest of the family and the world at large she wants to be known as Xianny.


But it's NOT endearing, she hates it. Cushioning it thus will likely make BF's mom just hear "oh, it's endearing, this confirms that I'm right!"

What BF should say is, "Mom, c'mon, you know her name is pronounced Xianny, but yeah, she's good."
posted by desuetude at 8:24 AM on November 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


Start mispronouncing her name to the nearest English word; i.e. "Ruth" would be "root" (and draw out the vowel and come down hard on the t).

This is just indescribably rude. And the BF needs to get a pair.

When my grandpa died a few months ago, some distant relatives stopped by Grandma's house during the open house the day before the wake. The woman's name is Paula. My grandma, having other things to worry about, accidentally called my wife Paula - three times in a short span. All the catty cousins thought it was a riot, and made a point of calling the wife, whose name isn't anything like Paula, by that name all night long. Except, my wife had an aunt by that name, with whom she was pretty close, and who died last year, so the whole thing was doubly ignorant. She was visibly peeved by this, but I asked her, just put up with it for the night, and she did. Then two weeks later at another gathering, the whole cadre of cousins greeted her with "Hey Paula!" and I had to tear into them that they were rude - obviously they didn't know about the personal subtext, but that it's really a shitty thing to keep it up like third graders, when we're all ostensibly adults. Once they were alerted to their rudeness, they stopped.
posted by notsnot at 8:25 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nthing that it's your job to be clear with your BF about how much hit bothers you, and his job to deal with his mother after that. Not easy, but correct.

She doesn't care what you think. But if she learns that he is unhappy with her behavior ("Mom, it bothers me when you do that."), you have a chance.
posted by rokusan at 8:25 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If other family members ask me how to spell my name in her presence, I'll start to tell them but she'll talk over me to deliver her version. On a recent birthday card from her and her mother (who I have a pretty close relationship with), she striked out my name and wrote "Shanni" instead.

That is truly bizarre, and seems xenophobic to me. Is it possible that she doesn't want people to think that her son's girlfriend is "too ethnic"?

Have your boyfriend talk to her, and if she tries to pull that crap again where she misspells your name in front of you, wait until she's done, and then calmly say, "Actually, it's ...."
posted by amarynth at 8:27 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's almost holiday season. Why not make a sort of form letter to all of your friends and ESPECIALLY your boyfriend's family giving an update about you, your boyfriend, and the year you've had? Include a photo or two, be sure to make one of them a group family photo in which your boyfriend's mother is included. If you guys don't celebrate Christmas, make it a sort of "holiday roundup" letter, similar to a Christmas card, and say you guys are starting a new, annual tradition because Snail Mail is fun to get and to send and you'd like to do something more personal than an email.

Caption the photo and spell your name correctly, then in parentheses write "pronounced like Sienna ending in a -y, since so many people read my name and aren't sure how to say it :)". Make sure to spell everyone else's name correctly. I recommend including BF's mother so she will hear about it from others, even if she chooses to act as though she didn't read the letter herself. This will serve as positive reinforcement to her vs. negative ("oh, your son's girlfriend send us the cutest letter! Where was this photo taken?") etc.

Then, at the bottom of the letter, sign and print your name and reiterate the phrase above.

Secondary suggestion: Think of a nickname you'd prefer to be called, something less "twee" like Sienna (something you can live with) and make the signature something like LOVE, XIANNY (but you can call me Sienna :)!)

It's a clear, non-confrontational way to get EVERYONE on board with the spelling and pronunciation. It doesn't single out boyfriend's mom nor does there have to be an uncomfortable conversation amongst the three of you. All it does is 1) give everyone the same information at the same time and 2) is easily masked as a cute, holiday-related communication to friends and family.

After everyone's gotten it in writing, your BF's mother will likely feel like an ass forcing "her way" of naming you on everyone else, at least in front of you. If it doesn't work, you go from there with more confrontational methods.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:30 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's tempting to be passive-aggressive about this and start using an incorrect form of her name to make your point, but it doesn't sound like she will respond well to this.

I would instead be direct with her the next time she calls you Shanni: "Xianny." If she asks what you said or does it again, be even more clear: "My name is Xianny, not Shanni." If you can stomach a confrontation, tell her she's pronouncing your name wrong and it bothers you.

If you don't think you can go through with such this directly, have your boyfriend bring it up.
posted by asciident at 8:30 AM on November 18, 2009


Ask your bf to explain the situation to her.

Nthing this. Tell your bf it's starting to upset you, ask him to correct the matter with his mother.
posted by hermitosis at 8:31 AM on November 18, 2009


Anecdotally, my sister has a somewhat unusual name for an American, and several people in my family pronounce it wrong and have always done so, including one of our closest and most beloved aunts. They seem to have just gotten it into their heads that it should be said a certain way, and that's been that for the past 31 years.

That said, the insistence on using her written version of your name is absolutely fucked up, and your boyfriend really needs to step up to bat for you here.
posted by padraigin at 8:34 AM on November 18, 2009


I kind of agree with amethysts, in that it sounds as though the mother thinks it will be better in the long run for you to have a more "normal" (read: WASP-y) name, but not necessarily that she's doing it in what she thinks are your best interests. Although not explicitly stated, I'm assuming that you are Asian and that the boyfriend and family are not Asian (white, perhaps?). My initial reading saw this as rooted in xenophobia on her part, possibly due to discomfort with her son dating outside his race—either she's trying to making you seem "whiter" (or "more Canadian/North American") so you seem like less of an other, or it's her passive-agressive way of showing that she has a
problem with your background/heritage/what have you. Obviously I don't know your boyfriend's mother and could be completely off-base here, but that was what I immediately got from your question. Maybe you could talk to her about the significance of your name to you? Where it came
from, why your parents chose it, what it means in Chinese, etc. Draw connections between your family's naming traditions and hers. Approach it less as "this is a problem that needs to stop" and more
like "because you play an important role in my life, I want to share with you what my name means to me." After you've made such a big deal about the origins of your given name, what it means to you culturally, the decision to retain it in a nickname rather than adopting an English first name, what it's like having a Chinese name in a predominantly white, English-speaking culture
and so forth, it might finally click for her why it's important that you're Xianny and not Shanni. At the very least, if she continues calling you Shanni after a heartfelt discussion about the importance of your name, you'll know there's something more going on than "it's easier for me
to say/remember."
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 8:34 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


But it's NOT endearing, she hates it. Cushioning it thus will likely make BF's mom just hear "oh, it's endearing, this confirms that I'm right!"

She said that she didn't mind it and that she would laugh about it with her boyfriend for two years. The only thing she is hating is this sudden escalation.

But, you could strike "endearing" and say she didn't mind it when Mom did it for two years, or go for broke and have the BF tell Mom that she just wants everyone to call her by her proper name now.
posted by mikepop at 8:34 AM on November 18, 2009


Yeah, BF's mom is being totally passive aggressive. I wouldn't want to be renamed, and I'd pitch a fit. You sound like a nice person for dealing with it as well as you have.

This may be totally wrong, but I was under the impression that in Chinese culture a person's name is kind of a big deal. Maybe you could have your boyfriend say something to his mom about that. "Mom, I don't think you realize it, but in Xianny's culture a name is a big deal. You have been really hurting her feelings when you try to change her name. She doesn't mind if you pronounce it Shanni because she realizes that it's a tough name to say, but please leave the spelling alone and don't correct other people. It's getting kind of insulting."

It seems to me that the lady is trying to pull a power play. If it continues after your guy has the above conversation I think you will have to sit her down and tell her that you really don't like what she's doing. Tell her nicely and with a smile that when she misspells your name or corrects others it bothers you. Say something like "I'm sorry, I know it sounds nuts, but it really bothers me. I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop." By being polite and firm it should stop. You will probably have to remind her a few times so she knows you won't back down.

Of course, even if she does stop with the name stuff she'll probably find something else to passive-aggressively assert her control over your lives.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:36 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Everyone else calls me Xianny and I don't mind if she wants to use "Shanni", I just don't want her to get everyone else using it too!

When you talk to her, present your request as a "gift." That because she's special, she gets to have a special name for you. But that you don't like "Shanni" coming from any old person, just from the vaunted Mother-of-the-Boyfriend. So please do call me Shanni, but don't tell the rest of the family to call me that, oh special special lady.


Gawd, how annoying for you to be disrespected like that. Intercultural relationships can be rough. You have to deal with this presumptuous whitewashing bullshit; meanwhile, white BF gets kudos for eking out a few awkwardly pronounced phrases in your language with your family. (Or maybe that's just me.) At any rate, good luck, Xianny.
posted by neda at 8:46 AM on November 18, 2009


She won't make a fuss, but usually just dismisses anyone who disagrees with her, and acts as if she's being personally insulted.

Go ahead. Let her act insulted. Tell her nicely but firmly how you feel about it. Have a private discussion first. If she continues to do this in front of other people, go ahead and correct her publicly.

Some people only learn the hard way. There is absolutely zero reason for you to let this go on.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:47 AM on November 18, 2009


Boyfriend needs to step up, and tell her that she's insulting YOUR parents, who named you just fine on the first try.
posted by medea42 at 8:49 AM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


My boringly American name throws some people because it's actually two names. I don't use just part of it (Lulu) - I use the whole thing (Lulu's Pink). Not quite the same thing as deliberate, culturally-insensitive mispronunciation, but still an issue.

The first time someone gets it wrong, I correct them politely and make sure they get it. After that, I just don't respond - if they're not calling me by my correct name, they can't possibly be talking to me! If they persist, I will say "Oh, were you talking to me? Sorry, I don't usually think someone calling for Lulu is talking to me - Lulu's Pink gets my attention every time, though!" Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 8:54 AM on November 18, 2009


Sometimes when people are deliberately obnoxious to me I like to play super dumb and good-naturedly correct me in front of other people. You have to do it publicly to make sure it sticks.

Her: So Shanni and Kevin were going to New York ...

You: (smiley, friendly) Wait a sec, did you just call me Shanni?

Her: (slightly tense pause) yes....

You: (very bright and friendly, but slow and clear) Oh! That's not my name! It's "Xianny". Like "Sienna" - You know the color Sienna? (slightly patronizing mnemonic to make sure she actually does get it) Like Sienna, but ending in a Y.

Someone else: Ohhh like Sienna! That's what I thought!

You: Yeah! Sienn-y. Yeah, my grandma named me. (some small tidbit to indicate that your name has value to you)

Someone else: Ohhh, I wondered about that.

You: (bright but definite) Yep, that's how you pronounce it! (back to mother in law, big smile:) Anyway, sorry I interrupted you, I just didn't know if I was hearing you right!
So, what were you saying?

Doing this in public- ideal location is in a living room where everyone will stop talking and listen- will definitely work. Be careful not to let any irritation creep into your voice or face- just politely and innocently correct her as though it's the first time. Make sure you do it slowly and clearly so there's no chance she or anyone else will not hear you. Once you've corrected her in front of other people, she kind of has no choice but to go with it!

If she's enough of a nightmare to combat the above with something like "Yes dear but Xianny is too hard to say, I think you should change it" then you give her a surprised pause with a big smile. "Change my NAME? Oh no, I wouldn't change my name. I've been in the States my whole life and hundreds of people can say Xianny. It's just like Sienna, you know the color Sienna? With a Y on the end! Besides, I like my name, my grandmother named me! I would never change my name, it's my NAME! Xianny! (Big smile) Anyway! I think you were about to say something, about New York?"
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:12 AM on November 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


Oops! I meant,
>Sometimes when people are deliberately obnoxious to me I like to play super dumb and good-naturedly correct THEM in front of other people.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:13 AM on November 18, 2009


I kind of skipped over a lot of comments here, but I'd just like to remark about one thing: when my husband (with a three-syllable unusual-outside-of-Greece name) was living in the U.S., most people couldn't say his name. It's not hard at all, but because it was unusual, most people just called him by the first three letters (which sounds like a fairly typical Anglo name), or the last four, slightly transposed as "Lucky" (he promoted this one), or they tried and mangled it (I respected this!), or they just sort of avoided speaking his name. It became clear soon enough that only his closest friends actually called him by his name, and even very early in our relationship I could mark how well, or from what context, people knew him by what they called him.

I could sense the problem most of my family had with his name, and they mostly wavered between mangling and avoiding. So I would clearly and often say his name, as correctly pronounced (well, perfectly correctly for any non-Greek, lets say), not by way of correcting them (I didn't!), but just so that they would hear it a lot, and it would eventually come easier to them. This worked out fine, and soon enough nobody had a problem, and everyone was perfectly comfortable with easily saying this name that no one had ever seen or pronounced before.

So when you two are with his family, your boyfriend should always call you by your name as opposed to "honey, babe, etc." (once everyone's on board, he can go wild with the sweet endearments); they (or just BF's mother) need to hear your name pronounced a lot. Just because it's easy to pronounce doesn't mean it's easy to mentally process, and some people are nearly hopeless at anything new at all.

If your boyfriend's mother insists that other people pronounce your name incorrectly, your boyfriend should tell them, "actually, it's pronounced _____." If, when you talk to them one-on-one and they pronounce your name in the incorrect way, you should tell them, "actually, it's pronounced _____."

Your boyfriend's mother may just be mostly embarrassed that she can't seem to work her head around this seemingly strange name and has decided to take this whole "name business" in hand and tame it. But she will eventually cease to do so if everyone else can manage it (I think), so make sure everyone gets an earful of the correct pronunciation!
posted by taz at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find "Shanni" to be ridiculously twee but even if I liked the name I don't like being renamed so casually and by someone else, especially someone that I'd (at the time) just met. It wasn't even in the context of "oh, that's hard for me to pronounce, can I call you Shanni instead?" - she just started doing it, no questions asked.

This is the part that I'm focusing on, because I think in situations where someone is being an unbudging asshole about something, there is a tendency among certain people to laugh it off or think it's funny or whatever, when what it's better described as "terribly insulting". I'm obviously projecting a bit, but the whole "Ohhh, me and my boyfriend laugh about it" thing struck me as false, as if the only way to deal with it was through laughter. LAughing it off is fine, but if you think this name sucks, it's totally okay to NOT laugh it off.

Personally, I think Shanni is an ugly name. Xianny is fun sounding, and more importantly, your actual name. If you decide that you don't think this is funny anymore, I would 1) Convince your boyfriend that you and him need to present a united front with regards to this 2) Correct your mother every single time she does this. Not rudely, or judgingly, just matter of factly: "Oh, you know that my name is Xianny." Every time you do it, forget about the hundreds of times that you will have done it in the past. Get your boyfriend to agree to correct her to. 3) If someone else starts calling you Shanni (god, it pains me to even type that name), tell them "My name isn't Shanni. It's Xianny. The only one who calls me that is my b-friend's mom. No one understands why she does this, and we're trying to get her top stop." 4) Repeat indefinitely.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:32 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


She has been calling you this for 2 years? It's too late to turn around and ask her to stop, the time to clear this up was when you met her. Some people are weird and inappropriate when they think they are being cute and personable, it doesn't take much to accomodate them.
posted by fire&wings at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2009


Oh, no. It's not too late to learn how to correctly call someone by their name.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


She doesn't take kindly to being corrected. She won't make a fuss, but usually just dismisses anyone who disagrees with her, and acts as if she's being personally insulted.

Correct her, gently at first, then more firmly. If she's insulted, too bad. It's your name and she's being at best willfully clueless (dementia maybe?) and at worst, a bully.

And then, let it go. Just make sure other family members know how to spell it.
posted by zippy at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's too late to turn around and ask her to stop

This isn't true. Maybe the boyfriend could say something like, "I thought you had trouble pronouncing 'Xianny' and that's why you've been calling her 'Shanni' for the past couple years, but now that you're correcting other people's pronunciation and spelling of her name, I think I need to talk to you about this..."
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:55 AM on November 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


Never respond to anything but your name. If she calls you Shanni, then don't answer. I have a name that people feel free to use as a springboard to create nicknames. My name is Christine if you call me Chris or Tina (WTF?), I just don't answer because I assume you aren't talking to me.

If you don't want to be called Shanni then never answer to it.
posted by 26.2 at 10:03 AM on November 18, 2009


I'm evidently in the minority here: in your shoes, I would discuss this with her myself, rather than deputing my partner to deal with it... and here's why:

She doesn't take kindly to being corrected. She won't make a fuss, but usually just dismisses anyone who disagrees with her, and acts as if she's being personally insulted.

This is a dynamic that's well-established in their family, and they're all more or less accustomed to their roles in the dynamic: they don't ruffle the feathers of the Boyfriend's Mother [whom I'll now refer to as BFM].

Of course, you're also part of the family unit, but you're a newer part; your role is less well-established, which gives you some freedom. You get to establish your role in this dynamic, and if you have both nerve and tact, you can make your role that of someone who draws her boundaries very clearly and cordially, instead of someone who goes along quietly with BFM's wishes.

I'm not suggesting that you have to be aggressive or offensive with BFM ---- quite the contrary. In my experience, the best way to deal with something like this is to assume good intent. I know and you know that there may in fact be no good intent here, but for the first discussion, anyway, it is often more productive to make that assumption. For one thing, if you assume bad intent, you will put her back up and predispose her to defend her position. For another, for the purpose of the discussion about your name, it doesn't much matter what her intent is; it only matters that she stop "correcting" others.

What do I mean by "assuming good intent"? I mean: think of a positive reason why she might be altering your name and "correcting" others, e.g., she wants to seem closer to you and a nickname she invents is a shortcut to that appearance. At least for the initial discussion, if you assume that she has a goodhearted (if misguided) reason for her behavior, it's easier to open the conversation without putting her on the defensive. Since it sounds like she gets defensive pretty easily, it's to your advantage to avoid familiar territory.

This is a starting place from which to enter the conversation: you might say, "You know, BFM, it's sweet of you to want to have a private name for me [or whatever other Reason of Good Intent seems plausible given your relationship], but my own name is very important to me. You can understand that, I'm sure." Then you can decide whether to ask her to pronounce your name properly, or merely to stop "correcting" others on your name's pronunciation and spelling.

If you can't think up a Reason of Good Intent, you might simply ask her why she calls you Shanni instead of Xianny. She's likely to provide you with a Reason of Good Intent, and then you can follow the script above. Be clear, be cordial, be absolutely unwavering. It's your name. You get to decide how it's used.

After that conversation, any time someone clearly calls you "Shanni" instead of "Xianny." quietly point out the correct name: a simple and civil interjection of "It's Xianny" should do. (While you're still trying to re-train family to call you by the correct name, you might also cut some slack to those who are trying to say it properly.)
posted by Elsa at 10:11 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Don't ask another person to talk to someone about something that's bothering you. Don't ask your bf to mediate - it's your problem, not his. Trying to put myself in the mom's shoes, I would be doubly threatened if my son came to me to "speak for" his gf - it would mean that not only was she unhappy about something, but that they were talking about me behind my back....you know? So take it up with her yourself. I totally agree with what someone said upthread about this being a power struggle, in her eyes. From now on when she tries to "correct" the way your name is said when you're introduced to someone, just say "I prefer the actual pronunciation" and then repeat how your name is said. She may try again to interject, so you repeat what you said. You will "win". And she will stop doing it. Note that she will probably find something else to control about you to replace this.
posted by iconomy at 10:14 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


To clarify, by this remark

> (While you're still trying to re-train family to call you by the correct name, you might also cut some slack to those who are trying to say it properly.)

I wasn't suggesting that you've been oversensitive. I was projecting my own state of mind on you; I tend to be hyper-vigilant in correcting misspellings and mispronunciations of my full name. In a situation that is superficially similar to your own, I've found it wise to abandon that vigilance for the moment: because I'm struggling to get people to call me by my own last name rather than my new husband's last name, I'm willing to let the finer points slide for now. You might feel differently about that issue, and you're entitled to act on that feeling.

posted by Elsa at 10:21 AM on November 18, 2009


I don't think 2 years is too late to ask her to call you by your preferred name. In fact, I'd use it as a jumping off point: "I wanted to talk to you about the Shanni thing. I think it's sweet that you wanted to nickname me and if you want to use it between you and I, I'm okay with that [if that's true]. But after trying it out for the past few years, it just doesn't feel like my name and I'd prefer everyone else to call me Xianny. I just wanted to let you know how I feel about it."
posted by juliplease at 10:38 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The silly thing about malicious nicknaming (which is different from malicious nicknames. It is the action here, that clearly is malicious) is that unless it bothers you, nobody will keep at it. In other words, it is likely that she has you on the hook and knows it, too.
[People have been trying naming me names and even as a kid I usually laughed, because I found their efforts silly or funny or what - no name ever stuck for longer than a day. Until my kids started calling me what they decided to call me - that's another kind of thing altogether.]

This cannot mean, however, that you have to change into a person who is so off-hand and unconcerned as I seem to be in this context. If she hurts your feelings with her immature little game, that ought to be what you have to tell her; no frills, no detours. If, on the other hand, the psychological balance is such that you can't make yourself heard (as it seems) because she bulldozers right across whatever you try to say to her, I (disagreeing with some opinions here above) find it absolutely legitimate to ask your boyfriend try do the job for you. You're both in it: the alternative would ultimately be to avoid socializing with such a person, and that is difficult to do gracefully, when they're your partner's close family. Plus he might know her better than you do.
posted by Namlit at 10:54 AM on November 18, 2009


I'm gonna go contrary. Confrontation and surrender are last resort options... so why not try something in the middle instead? Play to her personality, and turn it into a special thing you only do with her.

Next time she brings the nickname up in front of others, you look just a little hurt, pull her aside and say: hey, I always thought that was our private thing, I don't really want everyone else calling me that... just you. She may well bite -- she gets to keep being "right" and not corrected, and now gets to feel like she's got a special bond with you on top of it all!

Yeah, it's a shot in the dark... but maybe it's worth a try?
posted by Pufferish at 10:55 AM on November 18, 2009


Just wanted to pop back in to reiterate that I do think your boyfriend needs to be the one to handle this with his mom, at least the first time. It's not about asking someone else to stand up for you or defend you like a delicate flower or anything like that. Those of us with difficult families have to accept that our families ARE difficult and are likely to make digs at our significant others, and we should take the responsibility to protect them from those things, particularly when the SO has done nothing to deserve the treatment they're getting.

In my family, I even have to stick up for my mother's other kids, like when my mother insisted on calling my sister by her husband's last name even though my sister never changed her name. She just wants to pretend that the world revolves around her own reality. I know that, so I take steps to protect my boyfriend from my mother's comments. I have no doubt that he could handle himself and I would back him up without a question because I know how she is, but it's not fair to him for me to throw him to the wolves when *I* know how she is and he not only doesn't know what to expect from her but is wanting to make a good impression on these people.

In addition, most traditional advice columns have always divided these sorts of sticky situations along relationship lines anyway--Dear Abby would tell you that it's his responsibility to talk to her because they're related and she needs to understand that it's not only affecting her relationship with you, as the girlfriend, but him, as her son.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"It's Xianny. X-i-a-n-n-y, and pronounced like 'Sienna' only with a y at the end."

"But your bf's mother said--"

"Yes, I know. I have no idea why she's been getting it wrong for the past two years, but in-laws! What can you do?"

Just give up on her, because she's being an asshole and you can't fix asshole. You can, however, correct everyone else around her and make it obvious that she's the asshole.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2009


Wow. Some of these answers are way too nice, especially in light of the MIL's actions.

I think your MIL is using her "I'm going to get personally insulted and dismissive of you if you correct me" style to emotionally blackmail people into agreeing with her. This strategy seems effective within the family, but that doesn't mean you have to accept these rules.

If you're at all serious about your boyfriend, you'll be stuck with having to deal with this person for a while. She'll use emotional blackmail as long as it works.

Others said it up thread but here it is in a nutshell:

Let her get upset.

Don't even sweeten the medicine with something like, "I find it endearing that you do this," or "I know you mean well, but...". STOP. That's not going to work with someone like this.

Be firm. Be *brief*. In your own mind, think of it as a statement, not a correction. This may help steel your nerves when the time comes.

If the statement is repeated, and is firm but also sort of neutral and brief, you'll be able to execute it over and over again, in any situation, until she gets it.

Make it positive, like:

"My name is Xianny."

"I'm called Xianny."

"It's Xianny."

"Everyone calls me Xianny."

Do not get into why you want to be called Xianny -- or that you find it rude or patronizing that she uses a nickname for you. You don't have to provide any explanation, it's your name. Your task is to be consistent and neutral or as near neutral as you can get when you make these statements.

Don't watch her for the inevitable blackmail reaction. Ignore if she is offended. Go on to the next item in the conversation, or, better yet, start a new topic! It will only be a moment of discomfort, or an afternoon, but it will pass.

If you don't stand up for yourself now this will not go away, and your next MetaFilter question may be, "My MIL wants to name our baby, but I don't want her to...." etc. This is something you have to deal with yourself, not your boyfriend (although his emotional support and public backing of your assertiveness would be ideal).

You're a new member of the family -- you have license to not play by the rules. Embrace it!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


(Sorry, I used MIL incorrectly here -- please read: your boyfriend's mother. Oops.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:43 AM on November 18, 2009


I'm going to be a devil's advocate here, sort of. It's possible (and I can't speculate about the likelihood) that she is acting not out of malice or insecurity but out of a deluded yet genuine idea that she's being kind to you and pulling you into the family by giving you your own nickname within that circle. In that case, it would make sense that she'd want everyone to call you Shanni; when they don't it would seem to her like the equivalent of calling you Ms. [last name]. Hence crossing out your real name in the letter would be like crossing out your last name and inserting your first, to remind you that you're part of the family - someone to address informally, not an outsider.

Like I said, I have no idea if any of this is true, and certainly it doesn't make her renaming you any less annoying. I guess I just wanted to offer an alternative to the interpretations of her behavior above, some of which I find kind of extreme given that none of us have ever met any of you.
posted by egg drop at 12:23 PM on November 18, 2009


Nthing that it's your job to be clear with your BF about how much hit bothers you, and his job to deal with his mother after that. Not easy, but correct.

She doesn't care what you think. But if she learns that he is unhappy with her behavior ("Mom, it bothers me when you do that."), you have a chance.


Quoted for truth. The bf's mom is on a power trip, with the struggle being over which woman is more important to your boyfriend. He's the one to let her know that she's hurting him, annoying him, alienating him, maybe losing some of her power over and connection with him over her abominable behavior. It might be momentarily satisfying to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors like mispronouncing and/or misspelling her name, but it won't fix the situation and won't win you any friends.

Also, I think the "Hello, My Name Is ..." tag idea upthread is great, especially if you write in small print "pronounced like Sienna with a Y" underneath, and doing it as Shanni Xianny would be fair, straightforward, and possibly helpful.

It seems like the best potential outcome here is to get the mom and everyone else spelling and pronouncing your name correctly, but a compromise you could live with is containing the name nonsense to the mom. The name tag would clear up any confusion for those who aren't clued in to the behind-the-scenes stuff.
posted by notashroom at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2009


Get together w/ bf and virtual MIL. Tell her that you don't mind if she uses her own pronunciation of your name (if that's true) but that you prefer she not propagate the incorrect name. Explain why it's important to you. Every time she mis-names you to another person, calmly tell them, preferably in front of her, but, if not, no matter, that the correct pronunciation is "___" and that you are so appreciative of people who make the effort to learn your name, because you are proud of your heritage (or other short explanation). Keep it very calm. Even better, have the bf do the correction.

I have been married, but have never changed my name. My ex-, about whom I dislike saying good things, calmly corrected his parents, and mine, for that matter, when they called me Mrs. HisLastName. Very effective.
posted by theora55 at 1:24 PM on November 18, 2009


Oh, popping back in to say I think YOU need to handle this, not your boyfriend. If he says something, she'll think you're "pulling him away from her" or using him against her. I say this having dated a man with a doting and occasionally unreasonable mother- it was MUCH better for me to deal with her in an innocent, just-us-girls kind of way, rather than to seem to turn her own son on her. She was already jealous enough that he seemed to like me more than her. Once you've said something, she will of course complain to him later. You should prep him to be on board with a gentle affirmation of your intent, then a friendly redirect that casts you in a positive light. MOM: She asked me to call her Xianny! HIM: Well, Mom, that IS her name. Anyway, we had fun at dinner- Xianny was saying after how good your chicken recipe was!
posted by twistofrhyme at 2:04 PM on November 18, 2009


She won't make a fuss, but usually just dismisses anyone who disagrees with her, and acts as if she's being personally insulted. -OP

Classic passive-aggressive behavior. I was in a similar situation with my now-MIL (no difference in family background, though) and now she can't remember the correct name of her own grandchild. These folks are usually very nice in many other ways, and not terribly confrontational. It's their coping mechanism. It has worked for them their whole lives and they are unlikely to change.

Do keep correcting her nicely. Maybe I'm projecting, but I believe she is indeed being backhanded. If you keep correcting her, she may eventually see that she is making herself ridiculous. Then she will find another way to torture you both! Best of luck!
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:06 PM on November 18, 2009


Just thinkin':
Print a t-shirt "This shirt belongs to Xianny"
Okay, that's mildly passive-aggressive, I see that. But in any case, you weren't printing
"Spelled with an "x" even for those who can't pronounce it properly." For some reason I've been thinking of Daffy Duck all evening...
posted by Namlit at 3:21 PM on November 18, 2009


Pedantic question. Is it pronounced "see ENN ee"?

Where in the world did she get the 'sh' from? Is Shanni pronounced "SHAN ee"? Like Sherry but with an n sound?

The reason I ask is that I thought X was pronounced differently from the hard S of Sienna, when it is used in the anglo-ization of Chinese words and names.
posted by gjc at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2009


The crossing-out of your name crossed a line. She's rebranding you, and it's about control.

1. Speak to her. Don't let her blackmail you emotionally. Illustrate the conversation by saying, "wouldn't it bother you if someone decided YOU were named [obvious variant of her name]?"

2. If she refuses to see reason, start addressing her by the obvious variant of her name. Use in christmas cards, on presents, the works.
posted by Billegible at 5:48 PM on November 18, 2009


Just change your name to Jenny and be done with it. HAMBURGER

I can see where she gets the "sh" sound. The city Xian is pronounced by most non-native speakers as "She-ahn" or "She-anne". I'm a non-native speaker of Mandarin, and my first impression was to read your name as "Shanni" or maybe "She-ahni." "Xi" in pinyin isn't exactly an "sh," but to my ears it's closer to that than to "S." All that doesn't matter, though, because your name is how you pronounce it and that's all that's important. Somebody named Ahna isn't Anna and someone named Christina isn't Christine, etc. And anyway, the mother doesn't seem like she's got any knowledge of pinyin, so I think she's just being stubborn.

Anyway, you should do what my girlfriend did with her students in China who had names like Ghost and Dreamslink and Water and Dodo. Her telling them that the names were weird wasn't enough. She instead gave an example of a student in one of her Chinese classes with the last name Mansfield who insisted on the Chinese name Man Si De (or something like that). The students immediately understood. That Chinese name means something like "slow death" and is immediately offputting to a native speaker, even though it sounds cool to the non-native speaker. In your case, I would suggest you or the boyfriend take a serious moment talking with the mother. Take the mother's name, let's say it's "Barbara," and suggest that what she has done is equivalent to someone deciding that her name is better as "Barbie" because that's a more famous name. Or "Baabaa" because lambs are cute and fuzzy. Don't actually do this, as suggested upthread. That would be unnecessarily antagonistic and would only make the relationship between you and the mother awful and possibly jeopardize the relationship between you and the boyfriend. Instead, just calmly and seriously explain that that's what she's doing to you, that you value her friendship, and don't want a silly thing like this to get in the way of that friendship.
posted by msbrauer at 6:10 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


msbrauer- that's kinda what I was thinking. That the mother was being "helpful" and teaching her the "right" was to spell. Kinda gross, but at least more plausible than this woman being that nuts that she just renames people.
posted by gjc at 6:58 PM on November 18, 2009


People do this with my name occasionally. I am hyper-vigilant about it, though, because it pains me to hear people butcher my name.

I work with someone who deliberately does it, though, and the only way I got him to stop was to pointedly call him by the wrong name immediately after he mangled my name.

Ugh, what a terrible situation this is. I really feel for you. I would blandly correct her every time she does it. Not aggressively, just matter-of-factly. If you don't stop it, everyone will be calling you Shanni in a month.
posted by winna at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2009


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