People Have Said My Name Wrong My Entire Life. How Chrissy Teigen Inspired Me To Correct Them

She doesn’t mind if people say her name wrong, but as it turns out, I do.

by
Chrissy Teigen name pronunciation- Chrissy Teigen wears a silver dress at a red carpet event

Photo, Getty Images.

My name is Karoun Chahinian. Fifteen letters, five syllables, an intimidating number of vowels — and, based on how my Canadian friends struggle to pronounce it, quite the mouthful.

It’s Kah-roun — with a soft A and a rolled R. It’s Armenian for spring, and I loved that definition as a kid — it matched my personality exactly. But as I noticed that my friends couldn’t roll their R’s and got nervous whenever they tried to pronounce it the way my parents do, I felt more and more conflicted about it. I started meeting them in the middle, saying, “It’s like maroon with a K.”

Having a “unique” name made me dread meeting new people and first days of school — especially attendance roll-calls. Whenever there was a pause or moment of hesitation before the teacher proceeded to the next name, I’d immediately know it was my turn. With razor focus, they’d look down closer to the attendance sheet and I could tell they were trying to conjure up their least offensive attempt at pronouncing Karoun. They’d usually forewarn with, “I’m sorry if I mispronounce this,” then they’d sputter something approximating my name —”Karon,” “Kuran,” even “Kayroun.” I’d try to cut the tension by raising my hand and saying “present” as fast as I could. Sometimes I’d correct them, but most of the time I didn’t.

It also didn’t help that I’m Armenian, so I also had a, let’s say, generous helping of eyebrow, which led to the lovely nickname “Karounibrow” in sixth grade. By then, I didn’t like my name at all, and started to do everything I could to help people pronounce it more easily. This ultimately meant accepting the Canadian pronunciation, which is something that I realized a lot of people with unique names or unusual spellings do. Even the ever-relatable Chrissy Teigen.

On Twitter, Teigen shocked us all by admitting that we’ve been mispronouncing her name for years — and she’s given up on correcting us.

After a fan called out our collective error, Teigen revealed that she even started mispronouncing her name, just so she wouldn’t have to tell people they’d been saying it wrong. Hearing that Teigen was too shy or uncomfortable to tell someone they’d said her name wrong stuck with me. Excuse the cliché “celebrities, they’re just like us” rhetoric, but I was comforted by the fact that even someone as well-known as Chrissy Teigen struggles with the same thing I do.

This internet debate even followed her to the Emmys; at the September 17 awards show, a reporter asked Teigen how she’d like people to pronounce her name during a red carpet interview. “Tee-gen. Sorry, Dad!” she replied.

Obviously people are free to choose how they’d like people to say their names, even if that’s different from how it’s actually pronounced. But her decision to go along with everyone’s mistake made me think about how I’ve been doing the same thing for years — because frankly, it’s so much easier.

My fake Starbucks name was Amanda

I planned to start teaching people how to properly say my name once I started high school, but I caved the second I made my first friend. In the sea of Julias, Brookes and Alicias at my Etobicoke arts school, I didn’t want to be the “foreign” kid again, so I anglicized my name for the sake of fitting in — and because I didn’t have the confidence to call people out when they said it wrong. My high school BFF’s grandmother, a sweet Irish woman, called me Corona for years and I still didn’t have the heart to correct her. And yes, I used a fake name at Starbucks so I wouldn’t hold up the line when the confused barista needed me to spell out Karoun. (My go-to was Amanda.)

It only got more complicated as I got older. All through 12th grade, I debated whether I should just go by my middle name, Catherine. It was simple enough, so it would be truly impressive if someone managed to mispronounce it. By then, I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and I was already wondering whether people would butcher my name if I went into broadcast — and if my name would hold me back professionally. My parents convinced me to stick with Karoun, and they were right. When I started journalism school and met dozens of women with equally unique names, I was thankful I didn’t introduce myself as Catherine during Frosh Week.

In a matter of months, my unique name turned from a self-perceived flaw into an asset; what once made me incredibly insecure actually became my source of confidence. But I still didn’t make a habit of teaching people how to properly pronounce Karoun. It had been so many years of “maroon with a K” that I thought it was too late to change.

I felt self-conscious about my name when it came to dating, too

I was also having trouble navigating the dating world with my unique name. It probably sounds silly, but when I first started dating in my late teens, my name felt like a heavy burden that I carried around with me, and it felt even heavier when I was dating someone outside of the Armenian community. I really thought if a white guy liked me — even with my unique name and background — I should consider myself lucky. When I was out with friends at a bar or at a party, I always felt like the odd one out; if I saw a cute guy, I dreaded having to introduce myself.

Something about my identity made me feel less-than, and my name was an immediate reminder of that, even when it wasn’t pronounced the Armenian way. It was only after I’d been dating my first boyfriend for a month that I realized he didn’t know how to correctly pronounce my name, and that was because I didn’t actually teach him — nor did I want to. When that realization dawned on me, I immediately felt sick to my stomach because I knew it wasn’t healthy for me to feel this way. My name had become something I was ashamed of. But once I realized that, I tried my best to actively change my mindset.

I’ve found the confidence to correct people

These days, I’ll still rely on “maroon with a K” if I’m in a hurry or I’m not in the mood to give someone a pronunciation lesson, but I have forced myself to start using the Armenian pronunciation of my name when introducing myself to new people, something I’m particularly committed to after seeing Teigen’s tweets — and the reaction of her fans, many of whom had similar experiences.

I realized the reason I haven’t been doing that all along was a lack in confidence. I functionally changed my name to avoid being troublesome or challenging anyone’s way of thinking. I didn’t have the confidence to correct people, but staying quiet only made me more insecure as time went on. I’ve always been proud of my ethnicity, but this simple act — going by an anglicized version of my name — said otherwise.

For my university graduation in June, we were asked to send in the phonetic spelling of our names to make sure they were pronounced correctly when we walked across the stage. I not only sent in the spelling, I also submitted an audio recording of me very clearly saying my name. For days before the ceremony, though, I worried the presenter would pronounce it wrong anyway. So, when I heard the ceremony spokesperson say my name perfectly through the loud microphone, with a soft A and rolled R, it made my walk across the stage even more special.