Since its premiere on Netflix in late April, Mindy Kaling’s new show Never Have I Ever has been gaining major accolades for its representation and cross-cultural sensitivity. Now, star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Hindu-Indian Devi Vishwakumar, is keeping the show’s ethos alive off-screen as well.
Maitreyi recently sat down with Variety to discuss the show’s reception and took the opportunity to shed light on something everyone should put into practice in their daily lives: pronouncing South Asian names correctly.
Speaking about how shows often tokenize South Asian characters, Maitreyi highlighted that South Asian people in America deal with their names being mispronounced on the daily. “A lot of people of color and the South Asian community [are] so used to being sidekicks, we’re so used to being comedic relief,” she explained. “When you do relate to a character, they’re usually Caucasian and then you realize you’re living your life in the shadows as a person of color and you’re only able to see yourself through white characters. [...] That active effort for Devi’s name ‘Vishwakumar,’ to get that right, it’s important because that’s her name. You deserve to be called the way you want to be called, no matter what.”
The Tamil-Canadian actor also admitted she used to anglicize her name in an effort to appease English speakers because “Tamil names are super long,” before realizing that other people could just learn the correct pronunciation. “My entire full name [has] 20 letters, but I do have my friends at school that just call me Ramakrishnan and they pronounce it correctly,” Maitreyi shared. “When I landed in L.A., they were like, ‘How do you say your name? Sorry, I don’t want to mix it up.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is my chance to reclaim my name’ because I love my name. Why would I change it?”
“Names are so important,” Maitreyi continued. “I think one of the greatest disrespects you can do to a person is not put the effort into somebody’s name.” Maitreyi’s words will likely ring true to a lot of people, not only those from the South Asian diaspora living in America — non-English names are more often than not mispronounced in English-speaking environments. But as writer N'Jameh Camara wrote in Teen Vogue last year, unfamiliar names aren't too "hard," they just take practice. Maitreyi’s story is a reminder to take the time to correct name mispronunciations, no matter how small, when they do happen.
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue