Self-portrait by Mikiala Ng

Aloha, my name is Mikiala Ng, and I am part Native Hawaiian. I wrote this poem to show how the importance of names, especially those of Indigenous peoples, is too often overlooked. Experiencing this over and over again is frustrating and even discouraging at times. In Hawaiian culture, names are a special gift given by elders. The origin of the name can be one’s genealogy, a ‘feeling’, or dreams. Hawaiian names have hidden meanings, kaona (cow-nuh), which are believed to shape the personality and life of the child the name belongs to. Names represent not only a person’s identity but their family and culture as well. It is understandable when someone mispronounces an Indigenous name on their first try, but they must be willing to be corrected and speak it properly in the future. To knowingly mispronounce names, cut names short or avoid saying them altogether for the sake of convenience is to disrespect a person’s culture and identity. “It’s too hard to say” is not a valid excuse. Teachers are adamant about students pronouncing “L’Hospital” and “van der Waals” and the names of every other historic French, German and British scholar correctly. The correct pronunciation of these Eurocentric names, even if their origin is foreign to the speaker, is normalized. The same can and should be done for Indigenous names. Speaking and correctly pronouncing Indigenous names respects and acknowledges native peoples and shows allyship in celebrating Indigeneity. 

My name is Mikiala

That dreaded moment at the start of every school year, roll call:

“McKayla?” 

My name is Mikiala. 

Sitting in the waiting room, 

“McKayla? The doctor is ready for you.” 

My name is Mikiala. 

Standing in line at Starbucks, 

“McKayla? Your coffee is ready.” 

My name is Mikiala. 

 

“Can I call you Mickey?” 

My name is Mikiala. 

“Why don’t you go by Mickey?” 

My name is Mikiala. 

“Don’t you have a nickname that’s easier to say?”

My name is Mikiala.

 

Introducing myself at events,

“Nice to meet you, John, my name is Mikiala.”

“Nice to meet you…”

I have a name.

My name is Mikiala.

“Hey, uhhh, you, can you pass me that?”

I have a name.

My name is Mikiala.

“Hi… you.”

I have a name.

My name is Mikiala.

 

I have a name.

It is a special name.

Given to me, just to me, by my grandfather

For a reason.

ʻōlelo that reminds me of who I come from

And kaona that shapes who I am.

I ka ʻōlelo nō ke ola

In language there is life.

I ka ʻōlelo nō ka moʻomeheu

In language there is culture.

 

I have a name.

My name is Mikiala,

It is pronounced like mickey-all-uhh. 

But only Hawaiian speakers ever pronounce it correctly,

If anyone dares attempt to pronounce it at all. 

Mikiala Ng | mikiala.ng@yale.edu