When I arrived at Yale for the first time since it closed to avert a pandemic disaster, I was relieved that I would return to a sense of normalcy amid the abnormal. Even then, I did not feel as if everything was normal, at least until the rolls were called on the first day of class and I sat and listened as each professor butchered my name. Oddly enough, I had missed the back-and-forth struggle, the vocabulary tug of war with my instructors over how to pronounce my name. I would tell them, and they would repeat it incorrectly, and I would correct them, and they would fail to say it right. It is a cycle that I have become accustomed to because my name has been tortured since I first learned to introduce myself to strangers.

My name is not difficult. It is pronounced in Spanish, my native tongue. A soft “J” and a rise on the “I.” In simpler terms, it is pronounced like “Hess-ah-yee.” Not too hard, and yet it has jammed up the tongues of my professors since my first year. It does not bother me, because I am used to it, yet it still stings. There is embarrassment in knowing that you have the name professors try to avoid saying. It should not be this way. My name, like the names of other Latinx students, is what gives me my power and what connects me to my history. My name causes discomfort, and that is by design.

Non-English, non-European names are uncomfortable to pronounce in places of prestige and power, because those names do not belong to those for whom those places were designed. Yale is a place for names like Peter, Louise, Catherine and William, so it is no surprise that the University’s faculty struggles with names like Yalitza, Jairo and Eugenio. These names cause discomfort because they symbolize the struggle that took place for an underrepresented community to climb the ladder and ascend to an Ivy League institution. Therefore, these names deserve to be pronounced correctly, because doing so recognizes the presence of that person and gives them the respect that their name requires. To mispronounce, intentionally or not, is to disrespect the tradition, history and struggle that a name represents. For many Latinx students, getting to Yale was the result of overcoming barriers. Having to constantly defend the pronunciation of one’s name should not be another barrier to overcome, and yet it is one.

It takes courage and patience to stand up and correct one’s professor, but even this patience wears thin when it becomes clear that one’s name will never be pronounced correctly. In my experience, I have been called Jessica, Jessie, Jessay, Hossein and my personal favorite — Mr. Flores — which is both too formal and also an attempt to avoid saying my name. While I understand that it does take time to pronounce a name correctly, it should not take months or even entire semesters to do so. My name is one of hundreds, and it too deserves to be said the way it was spoken the day it was given to me. My name is my identity, just as it is for everyone else.

This is especially true for Latinx students, who affirm their identities every day the minute they set foot on Old Campus for the first time. Names like Filemon, Leticia, Lunashadai and Xochitl are more than just a string of letters. They are symbols of tradition, of personhood, of power. They reach back and call forth the history of one’s family and community. They commemorate the lives of ancestors and communicate their hopes. They will be passed down from hand to hand, and person to person, because names are more than just what we call each other. Names are what allows our children to remember us when we have passed. Names are what history gives us and what we give history to. Therefore, to say a name correctly and to have it leave one’s lips fluid and intact is to recognize its power. The power of a name is the power of community, of love, of protest and of identity. It is not hard to respect this power by saying these names correctly.

I am not Jessie. That is not my name. It will never be my name, and no amount of mispronunciation will somehow reshape my name into something that it is not. My name is Jessai. It was given to me by my parents, and I have grown very fond of it. I do not like it when it is mispronounced, especially when it is mispronounced by the faculty of one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Yet, this is a problem that is not exclusive to me — it affects countless students with non-English or non-European names. It is a crisis not of identities but of identifiers. It is an avoidable crisis, and its solution lies in the recognition of how these names are meant to be evoked. To do so costs nothing, but benefits everyone. To pronounce these names correctly is to put them on the same level of respect as the names of white people. It places Renan on the same pedestal as Ryan, Heli on the same terms as Helen. It gives Latinx students not just the respect they deserve, but the dignity of being recognized and heard at a place where the powerful come together to make history. To say these names is to give them the power to make history, too.