Names, Racial Bias, and Microaggressions

My mother named me after her younger sister, my aunt Brandee. On the one hand, my name is a representation of my mother’s love for her sister. On the other hand, my name is also an alcoholic beverage, with a unique spelling. 

And for as long as I can remember, people have always misspelled it. 

I’ll never forget the day my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Berkowitz, scolded me for misspelling my own name. I explained to her that everyone else spelled my name with a “y,” so I was just going along with what everyone else did. Ms. Berkowitz told me that my mom gave me my name and spelled it “B-R-A-N-D-E-E” for a reason and to never misspell my name again. The reprimand left an impression and inspired me to always insist on people spelling my name correctly.

In addition to misspellings, some children have names that originate from other languages and cultures and have to deal with mispronunciations, unwanted abbreviations and nicknames. These microaggressions maintain White supremacy by sending the message that People of Color’s names aren’t worth getting right. 

Instead of having their names affirmed, like I did with Ms. Berkowitz, many children learn to accept being called the wrong name or having their names misspelled. This tendency continues into adulthood, with coworkers and bosses. 

Can you imagine being constantly called the wrong name? What message would that send to you about the folks around you?

Some people find it more embarrassing to correct others regarding their names than to be called the wrong name. This is another way that People of Color are expected to shrink themselves to fit into White society. 

When I was a junior attorney, I had an opposing counsel (an older White male partner) make fun of my name in an email that he accidently sent to me.  “How does one get the name Brandee?” the email read. 

I was taken aback to say the least. Once he realized his mistake, he sent me a follow up email to let me know that I wasn’t the intended recipient, but offered no apology.  I told my supervising attorney, another White man, about it. But I never responded.  Even though he didn’t work for the same firm as me, I was afraid that saying something would bring me more grief than it was worth. 

This experience and Ms. Berkowitz’s lesson from kindergarten inspired me to write Put Some Respect on My Name to help children take pride in their unique names and avoid name-related microaggressions. 

The phrase “put some respec[t] on my name” was coined by the hip hop mogul, Brian Christopher Brooks, aka Birdman, who used the phrase to tell a group of radio personalities to stop disrespecting him on their show. Although his name was not the focus of their mockery, his words were clear—respect me. Respect my brand and my personhood. 

Put Some Respect on My Name applies this idea to peoples’ names. It’s a rhyming children’s book that promotes normalizing and appreciating non-European names. The book also enables adults to open age-appropriate conversations about name discrimination for the purpose of education and empowerment. 

Get your copy of Put Some Respect on My Name today!


Sign up to download your free How to Talk to Kids about Race Resources Toolkit.