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Pronunciation is Important to President Obama; And to me, too. Why Not You?

It is 7:15 in the morning and I am in an Atlanta, Georgia. hotel room pounding this blog out practically in the dark. My mother is asleep in the next bed and I don’t want to disturb her with my early morning antics… you know, facebook, blogging, Politico, CNN, and the like. From the sounds of her heavy breathing (I dare not say snoring), I think my consideration is having its intended impact.

As I scrolled down the top stories of last evening on Nino Brown (my beloved Crackberry), I saw that in the late evening hours, Sarah Palin announced her resignation as governor of Alaska. What is she thinking? As I went to retrieve the story from,another headline caught my eye: Obama, A Stickler for Pronunciation. I eagerly read the story. It basically spelled out the reason Obama say’s PA-kih-ston instead of Pa-ka-STAN like all his predecessors. And Moo-slim, instead of Muz-lim. Tal-e-bon, instead of Ta-li-BAN.

This is President Obama’s way of being respectful of others, by pronouncing their names and where they live correctly. It shows he tries to see the world from other people’s point of view. Whether you are the head of a small agency or the head of a state, President Obama requires phonetic spellings of names and places to be included in his daily briefings. He considers correct pronunciation to be baseline diplomacy which is important, especially foreign affairs. But not just in foreign affairs, but also right here, with Teowonna.

I love my name. I’m so glad my mother was ingenious enough to come up with Teowonna. Therefore, it is extremely important to me that it is pronounced and spelled correctly. I remember giving my primary school teachers a fit because they tried to tell me my name should be spelled T-e-o-w-a-n-n-a, instead of the way my mother spelled it. That conversation went on for a few days, but ultimately, they lost that battle.

But all educators were not as disrespectful as my primary school teachers. In fact, I recall my high school principal coming to me and asking how to pronounce my name correctly. She wrote it down phonetically on her flash card so that when she called me to walk across the stage and receive my diploma, she would pronounce it correctly. What great consideration Mrs. Blanton had!

But everyone isn’t quite as considerate as President Obama and Mrs. Blanton. Not everyone recognizes the impact and power of something as simple as name pronunciation. Reading the story on President Obama’s concern about pronunciation, reminded me conversation I had just a few nights ago.

It was the first (and only )conversation (so far) I had with a guy that I’d never met before. A mutual friend thought we’d make a nice couple. As a matter of fact, my friend said, “Teowonna, you are the only person I know that could truly appreciate the breadth of the man.” Wow… this man has breadth… I was excited, needless to say. So, I called the guy up, since he was expecting my call. Within moments, the conversation was off to a great start. We both had excitement, intrigue, and interest in our voices. He was articulate, and worldly, and everything else I love in a man.

We went through the whole name thing. His first name is a little unique so I asked him to pronounce it for me. Throughout the conversation, I made sure I was accurate in my pronunciation. And when I felt ‘iffy’, I called him ‘Mr. Johnson’; I couldn’t possibly go wrong with that. We went through the same drill with my name. No, it’s not Tawana or Taiwana or Tawanda. It is Teowonna. But my friends call me Tee, and you can too.

As the conversation progressed, I found myself becoming a little more stand-offish. I wasn’t as amused as I was in the beginning of the conversation. I think my new ‘friend’ recognized that and politely ended the conversation.

I reflected back upon the conversation (as unrelentingly I do of most conversations – a major flaw of mine), to determine why the conversation had gone sour for me… why my mood had changed. I narrowed it down to two things: he never really asked me anything about myself (even though I inquired about him) and he kept mispronouncing my name.

Why, after I corrected him a couple of times, and even gave him permission to call me Tee, would he not make the effort to pronounce my name correctly? My name, Teowonna, is the absolute foundation of who I am. The premise. If you know me, can you see me being called Michelle? Or Patricia? Or Shaniqua? Absolutely not, I’m Teowonna Clifton, dammit!

Didn’t he see my facebook profile? I’m a for-real sista!

Anyway, like Jenny Sanford, I am willing to forgive (but not that Mark Sanford foolishness’!) So, if Mr. Johnson were to call again, I’d put his past transgressions aside (as serious as they were) and we’d move forward and really get to know each other. But if he doesn’t, that’s cool too.

I sigh as I think about our president. Simple things like his being a stickler for pronunciation really build my admiration of President Obama. His compassion and concern for others is so genuine, that it is almost foreign to many American politicians. This just adds to my ever-growing list confirming that Michelle has quite a man on her hands. I want one just like that! Edit


Hey Tee!

I too have had issues with people screwing up my name - my last names (maiden and married). I distinctly remember calling out my sophomore gym teacher because he refused to get my name right. "Can you read?" I yelled out one day. He shot back, "I can give you a grade." "Not if you can't spell my name you can't." He got it right from that day on. (Mind you, I was 13 at the time.)

Any man worth getting to know you should respect you enough to get your name right, especially since you gave him the out of a nickname. He was clearly not interested in knowing who you are. If he does call back, I'd be curious to see if he apologizes for his lack of respect. Delete Reply

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"Tawana, Taiwana, Tawanda, no it is beautiful Teowonna, Teowonna Clifton dammit..., I think to myself as I try to remember this unusual, but cute name of this very pretty and professional young lady. I hope I do not offend her as I so clumsily try to pronounce her name to her satisfaction, while I am taking in her beauty and style. It is so much to take in at one time and I want to make a good impression and let her know about me ...but it seems as if the conversation is going south..."

Teowanna, how are you? I wrote that little "scenario" to give you another perspective of your conversation with Mr. Johnson. I guess what I am trying to say patience, give him (the relationship) another chance. Let your guard down just a little and let the brother get to know you. If your friend, who knows you and Mr. Johnson well enough to feel that there could be some "positive chemistry" between you two then I say go for it. Be patience and don't put the brother in the same category as your primary teachers. This is the year 2009, call the man! You are a beautiful person inside and out. I want this man to find this out. Good men AND a good women are hard to find,...your friend knows that you two are good people. I want both of you to have faith in her, I don't know her and I have faith in her. Now a days not many friends would step up and do what she did... take the leap of faith you two and enjoy.

Keep Sweet and May God Bless, Happy Dee
p.s. Oh yeah, you BOTH have transgressions (smile). Delete Reply


Great post! I didn't know about that particular wonderful great trait that our beloved President has. I'm not surprised.

I agree with you regarding people pronouncing one's name correctly being a sign of thoughtfulness and respect. That said, I want to share some Single Sista 'advice'- do with it what you will...

When navigating the dating world, try to be just a little forgiving. I'm not saying to ignore blatant red flags, I'm just saying that one transgression should not be an absolute end to possibly developing a friendship with someone.

While we are out there looking for Mr. Right, remember that he won’t be Mr. Perfect. Comparing men to President Obama, will leave us all home alone with our cats on a Saturday night. He’s an EXTRAordinary man and I’m sure the first lady could tell us about a few flaws that he has. I would give the brotha a second chance…but I would share with him what you have shared with us. He could have been nervous and even could have forgotten the correct pronunciation that quickly- believe me I’ve done that (as recently as a few weeks ago to a new girlfriend that I met at work and I hold her in very high regard but completely fell into the pronunciation that my mind was used to). He could be a brother with breadth…that has a couple of flaws. He could also be a jerk…but you won’t know that unless you give it a second chance along with sharing your feelings about how the conversation went. Because you didn’t mention your issue to him even after he, by your own admission, realized that your mood had changed, he may perceive you as moody, or unpleasant. But he would be wrong because he doesn’t have all of the information- give the brotha the information and move on from there. Let me know what you decide! Delete Reply

Everything everyone said has made GREAT sense. The comments have ranged from 'give the brotha a break' to 'let him ride'. The truth of the matter is I reconciled in my mind before I even posted the blog that I probably would not hear from the man again. Which is ok. But this really isn't about the dude and whether we ever speak again. It's about giving people the basic respect of saying their names right. I'm not looking for a perfect man... but at least a dang good one. For those who have inquired, I probably will not call him again. But hopefully, he will call me. Delete Reply

i am SO glad that you have put into writing from another perspective, a point that i have been trying to make for quite sometime now. it is not important what we call others, but what others call themselves, and how rude and obnoxious it is not to respect that. our names are a reflection of the character that lives on the inside. our names are the essence of our being. our names are directly tied to our destiny in life. our names prophesy our future... think about that one. now, as for the two most important names that we know, isn't it most important that we respect and get those names right?? if we as human beings desire and require that we be known intimately, how much more does our Heavenly Father require the same? how much more will He require the same of the Name that gives us all a right to the Tree of Life? ms. Tee, you have tapped a vein of which you don't realize the impact just yet. keep writing...

Vanzell Delete Reply

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