Kamala Harris’ full name is Kamala Devi Harris. Very Indian, if you hear it. But for some Americans, it is ‘unpronounceable’ and her name has become contested.
Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris is turning the final stretch of her campaign to the threshold of American political history into a teaching moment on accurate pronunciation as an expression of common courtesy and a nod to respecting world cultures.
Harris’ first name Kamala has long been mispronounced in US political circles. The maximum mangling has happened in the last few weeks, as Republicans have repeatedly poked fun at Harris’ first name, during an ongoing national reckoning on racial politics.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and more recently Georgia Senator David Perdue do more than mispronounce Kamala Harris’ first name. They jump off the deep end.
“KAH-mah-lah? Kah-MAH-lah? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever," Perdue, who has worked across the aisle with Harris for three years in the US Senate, said in his speech at a recent campaign rally for President Donald Trump.
“I think that the name that your parents give you, whoever you are, meaning whatever your gender or race or background or language your grandmother speaks, is a very special thing," Harris, 56, told the latest edition of PEOPLE magazine in an interview with her husband.
“Many cultures have naming ceremonies. It is a gift that is an incredible, familial gift. The family gives the child a name and so I come at it from that: not about myself, but for everyone… Respect the names that people are given and use those names with respect," Harris said.
Kamala means ‘lotus’ in many Indian languages and it is a well loved name for girl children.
“It’s about respect," Harris told PEOPLE, “and it’s about respect for all that comes with a name.
Apart from the now du jour storyboard on how to say ‘Kamala’ the right way, a fresh burst of Kamala Harris content is washing over media coverage the weekend before the big night on November 3.
If reporters aren’t scrambling to Harris’ mother’s hometown Chennai, they’re tracking down online groups devoted to ‘Chittis’ (aunt in Tamil, Harris’ mother tongue) and crunching data on how online narratives related to Harris have zeroed in much more on personal identity, compared with the men in the presidential race.
“Family," Harris had said during her nomination speech, “is my uncles, my aunts, and my Chittis".
Somali poet Warsan Shire has written, “Give your daughters difficult names.”
Trump deliberately mispronouncing Harris’ name, perhaps has more than just political connotations: It echoes in the same way, when a room full of US Senators didn’t fumble at ‘Zuckerberg,’ but struggled at Sundar Pichai.
(With inputs from IANS)