Care and Feeding

My Daughter’s Boyfriend Can’t Pronounce Her Name

So instead he just calls her “Sara.”

Young multiethnic couple in love isolated on pink background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 21-year-old daughter is a beautiful, smart, and funny half-Black half-white young lady. She also has a very unique name that I can’t share for obvious reasons, but it’s an ethnic name from my husband’s home country. It can be a difficult name to pronounce if you’ve never seen it before, but once you’ve heard it a few times, it simply rolls off the tongue. So here’s the problem. She broke up with her longtime boyfriend and started dating a new guy last month and she really likes him, but I overheard him call my daughter “Sara.” When I confronted my daughter about it, she said that he does it because her name is too difficult for him to pronounce, so he decided to give her a nickname that starts with “S” as her real name does. Just to be clear, her real name sounds nothing like Sara, it just starts with the same letter. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but I’m completely outraged by this. Am I wrong? If I’m not wrong, how can I get it through to her that it’s disrespectful? Her new boyfriend is white, and I’m worried this is some sort of fetishization thing.

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—Say It’s Not Sara

Dear Say It’s Not Sara,

This one hits close to home for me because I also have a difficult-to-pronounce name from my dad’s home country. The big difference is that it would be a cold day in hell before I allowed someone to call me “Doug” because it made life easier for them.

Although I have my assumptions, I’m not going to comment on whether he’s dating your daughter because of some creepy fetish; but I will certainly offer my opinion about his character. Very few things in life are more personal to humans than our names, and if her boyfriend won’t exert a ridiculously minimal amount of effort to learn your daughter’s name, it’s obvious that he doesn’t respect her.

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I think it’s time to calmly sit your daughter down for an honest and serious conversation about your concerns. I would ask your daughter: If he’s unwilling to learn her name, then what makes her think he’ll love her and emotionally support her? Would she ever consider making up a name for any of her friends? What would her friends say if they found out about her boyfriend’s behavior? It is Level 10 disrespectful for him to behave this way toward her.

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I would gently but firmly urge her to get on board with the idea that unless he starts calling her by her name, the relationship can’t continue. And I don’t think it’s too much for you to show your support for your daughter by letting her know that if he’s going to call her Sara, this guy is not welcome in your home. Hopefully she’ll snap out of it (show her this column if you need to), but this absolutely needs to stop.

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More importantly, there must be some sort of a self-esteem issue going on here if she’s allowing this to happen in the first place. Perhaps the breakup with her longtime boyfriend made her question her worthiness, and that could be the root cause of the problem. You used a lot of accolades to describe her in your letter. Remind her of how amazing she is and that she should never settle for less than the best. Pronouncing her name correctly should be a given for anyone who decides to be in a relationship with her.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our son is fascinated with world cultures and is curious about the world. We are saving to spend a few years home schooling and traveling around the globe, so we spend a lot of time discussing this at home. However, my blond, blue-eyed 8-year-old son has started going up to people and saying things like, “You talk funny. How come?” or “You look like you might speak another language.” I have told him this is rude, but I’m afraid that just saying this without more explanation will either limit his curiosity about others’ experiences or make him think something is wrong with others who are different. We have discussed accents and how many people speak other languages, we have several bilingual Swedish/English-speaking family members, and we are learning Spanish at home as a family in preparation for the first leg of our trip. We have had discussions about how others look is not a sign of whether they grew up in another country or speak another language. I want to encourage his curiosity about the world, and I want him to be able to ask questions when he’s excited like he does at home. But I also want to help him foster awareness of when he’s singling out others for being different. I know that he’s asking the wrong questions. Are there right questions? Or should I be teaching him about asking questions at the right place and time?

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—Curiosity Quandary

Dear Curiosity,

I love the fact that you’re exposing your son to different cultures across the globe, but it’s obvious that his tact needs some polishing. The first thing I’d teach him is it’s not a good idea to talk to strangers about accents, their appearances, or anything really—because you have no idea how they’ll react. I totally get that he’s a curious kid, but if he’s asking inappropriate or offensive questions, it could potentially put him (and you) in an awkward situation at best or a dangerous situation at worst. I would encourage him to direct his questions toward you without being in earshot of his target.

The good news is most reasonable adults will see an inquisitive child and humor his clunky curiosity. For example, I was in Maine many years ago and a white boy who was probably around your son’s age came up to me and asked, “Why is your skin burnt?” His mom was completely mortified and apologized profusely—but I laughed it off. There are probably 37 Black people in the whole state, so he most likely had never seen anyone who looks like me in person before. That said, if he asked that question to a Black person who wasn’t in the mood to educate a white kid, it could’ve ended badly for the kid and his mom.

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If your son insists on approaching strangers (and hopefully he won’t), I would advise against him using words with negative connotations (“You talk weird” or “you sound funny”) because it centers his experience as being right, and makes anyone who’s different from him as abnormal. Being different isn’t weird, funny, or wrong—it’s just different—and that’s what makes diversity so beautiful. Remember the rule we all learned when we were growing up? If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

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If he’s curious about other cultures and languages, there are a ton of ways he can learn about them that won’t involve awkward moments on the street. You can introduce him to kid-friendly books, movies, and articles to answer many of his questions ahead of time. Not to mention, you should encourage him to ask you and/or his loved ones as many questions as possible in a safe space. At the end of the day, he’s an 8-year-old kid and nobody should expect him to have it all figured out at such a young age.

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• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-year-old daughter will not stop cleaning the house. Up until a month ago, I would describe her as a typical kid when it came to mess. She often had to be reminded to pick up her clothes from the bathroom floor after taking a shower, and her room was pretty messy most of the time. Then it was like she woke up one day and stopped being able to tolerate the mess in our house. Our house has always tended to the cluttered side, but pre-pandemic we’d been able to clean up before it got too bad. Lately, this has been a lot harder. My partner’s job has gotten more demanding, I am also working full time, and I haven’t been able to pick up all of the slack in terms of keeping the house clean. We also have a very active 4-year-old daughter who makes a lot of messes, and it requires a large amount of support and effort to get her to clean up after herself. Sometimes I just don’t have the bandwidth to do this, and messes accumulate.

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I totally understand where she is coming from in terms of being stressed out by the mess! My partner is very similarly affected by the cleanliness of our home. But I am super sad and stressed out that her solution to this is to spend so much of her free time cleaning. For instance, even though I have told her several times this afternoon that she doesn’t have to clean, and that she should go play instead, I can hear her vacuuming our living room. I know this seems like a great problem to have, but it is making me feel super bummed that she is so unhappy living in our house! She has always been prone to anxiety, but it has gotten a lot worse in the past year. She is starting to see a therapist, and we are also working to help address her anxiety with her PCP (who thinks it is partially related to her ADHD), but I would love other suggestions on how to turn down the volume on the stress cleaning, or help us to keep our house at a level of clutter/mess that isn’t so triggering for my daughter.

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—Put the Broom Down, Please

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Dear Put the Broom Down,

I’m not going to reach for the low-hanging fruit by saying every parent wishes to have your problem, because this isn’t a joking matter to you. Taking your daughter to a therapist will help her immensely, and I don’t have too much to share in addition—but I will give you some food for thought.

Perhaps this isn’t such a “doom and gloom” situation. Have you considered that cleaning soothes her in some way? I say this because as a guy who suffers from clinical depression, sometimes I clean my house as a way to “silence my inner demons,” and I actually enjoy it. Putting things in their rightful place/state feels like an awesome accomplishment in many ways, and I wonder if your daughter feels the same sort of pride when she cleans up your house. I mean, there are plenty of less healthy ways to blow off steam that I don’t need to list here.

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Outside of that and therapy, maybe plan a COVID-safe weekend trip outside of the house where she can find her inner child again. Sometimes all it takes to press the reset button is having some good clean fun (pun completely intended) away from home. When you’re home, continue to offer her a ton of love and support—even if that means normalizing messiness for a little while. Hide the vacuum cleaner and broom, order some takeout, fire up a movie on Netflix, and keep reminding her that family time is way more important than cleaning time.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 5, soon to be 6-year-old has been so obsessed with Super Mario Brothers that for his upcoming birthday next week, I bought a ton of Super Mario Brothers–themed decorations and gifts. A week ago, he told me he doesn’t like it anymore and that he’d prefer something else. Now what? I could return some of the gifts and get other things. But my husband thinks once he sees all the stuff he will be get back into it. While I know my son will probably enjoy it again once the new favorite stops shining so bright, for now he’s convinced he won’t be happy with the current plan. What should I do? Stay the course or bail?

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—Fickleness Galore

Dear Fickleness,

How would you feel if your son had always enjoyed steak dinners, and you prepared one for him, and then he said he wanted pizza instead? Would you throw out the steak, and order a pie from a local Italian restaurant? If so, then we know who’s running your household, and it ain’t you.

He was obsessed with Super Mario Brothers. You bought Super Mario Brothers decorations. He’s getting Super Mario Brothers decorations. The end. Any variation from this plan would create a monster down the road.

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And if he’s like any other 6-year-old, he won’t care what the decorations are as soon he opens up his first present.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I am the mother of 8-month-old twins. My husband is as involved as he can be, but he also travels for work three to five nights a week while I am left to care for the kids. When he is home, I know he is trying to help, but sometimes I really question his parenting techniques. I know he loves our babies, but sometimes when he’s playing with them, I feel he’s a little rougher than he should be. What should I do?

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