‘The Year We Mispronounce Back’ Takes Off as Black South Africans Shed Light on Their Reality by Butchering White Names

They’re “Africanizing” European names to make this an experience shared by all. 

@DonovanGoliath via Twitter
@DonovanGoliath via Twitter

Nearly everyone with a non-Anglican-sounding or -looking surname can relate to the dread you sometimes feel when someone asks you what your name is with the intent of repeating it back to you. Same when a teacher butchers your name during roll call.

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You can imagine what people did with “Ozemebhoya” when I was growing up. It’s an experience shared by many Africans (or first-generation African Americans) with African names. There’s a hashtag on Twitter that went viral addressing this phenomenon: #TheYearWeMispronounceBack. 

It began with a tweet from Karabo Mahlase, a black South African, who declared that “2016 is the year for acting like you don’t know how to pronounce white peoples [sic] names.” And so, for black South Africans, it’s a fun retaliation of sorts to give white South Africans a dose of what it’s like when your name is botched, or when people don’t put enough effort into sounding out African names.


A common saying that African Americans with non-Anglican names hear is, “If people can pronounce ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ they ought to be able to pronounce [insert African name].” This is especially poignant in a melting pot like South Africa, where indigenous African names are prevalent and, so, where one would think that whites have enough familiarity with those names to do fairly well at pronouncing them. Apparently that’s not the case. Here are a few of the most compelling #TheYearWeMispronounceBack tweets that hit home.