Let’s start this off with some interactions, I’ve encountered many times in my life. Far too many times. Truly, I’ve lost count.
“Are you here, David?”
“I think you mean Severina, Severina David.”
Since getting married, that exchange has changed a bit.
“Valery, here’s your card.”
Insert blank stare….waiter hands card over.
I sternly say, “it’s Severina.”
My name is Severina.
My friends and family call me Sevi. This is real life. My real life.
I’ve gone by Elizabeth, Liz, Seven, and Sev – just to make it simpler on other people. I’ve heard Sabrina, Severing, the awkward silence and stare, and my personal favorite (to date) Siberian – countless of times.
In professional settings, I’ve quickly conceded in going by Sevi to make it easier on other people. No sense in making others struggle to say a name.
It’s spelled exactly how it sounds. It rolls off your tongue perfectly when you nail the pronunciation. It’s a name you surely won’t forget. Hell, I’m a person you absolutely will never forget.
Yet for years, my name has been tossed away in fear of making someone, anyone else uncomfortable.
I recently came across a tweet that made me chuckle, then filled my body with hot rage.
If white people know how to say Daenerys Targaryen, they can learn to pronounce your name correctly.
— Lana (Lay-Na) (@kirkobainz) April 30, 2019
DISCLAIMER: This does not apply to just white people. My encounters of forsaking my name have come from a number of different races and ethnicities.
My existence, the essence of who I aim to be – stems from the power of my name.
Owning my name.
I’ve always been the one to laugh it off when people mispronounce it without even attempting to say it again. I would offer them the consolation prize of my nickname to boost their confidence without realizing that it was slowly eating away at my own. Being too nervous to spend the extra time having to correct people as they stumbled over, Severina, repeatedly.
The hot rage of this tweet was a reminder of the shift my life has taken over the last few years. I became a mother, endured professional hardships, and slowly watched the world become a dumpster fire of people who want to take away my rights as a woman.
There is no reason why I should have to make excuses for others when it comes to my identity. My name is a part of me. It carries the weight and burden of being black in America. Severina shoulders stress and fear of being undermined for the anatomy between her legs. These 4 syllables illuminate that I am alive and deserve to exist.
I’m here standing in my truth and I’ve learned the power of my name. If you can pronounce Daenerys Targaryen, you damn well better attempt Severina Ware.
Severina Ware is a non-profit professional with over a decade of experience developing community resources and mobilizing volunteers. She is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.