May 23, 2019

Hasan Minhaj Teaches Ellen to Say His Name

“Last week, Patriot Act host and The Daily Show alum Hasan Minhaj gave voice to a frustration that’s shared by millions but rarely discussed in public. Sitting on Ellen DeGeneres’ couch, he gave an honest answer to her question about whether she was pronouncing his name correctly. “People always mispronounce it,” he told DeGeneres in a moment that quickly went viral, racking up millions of views on Twitter and YouTube. “They’re always like, ‘Haseen Minaja! Hussein!’ ” Recalling the early days of his career, when he was advised to change his name to make it more showbiz-friendly, Minhaj was defiant: “If you can pronounce Ansel Elgort, you can pronounce Hasan Minhaj.”

It’s worth dwelling on both the significant cultural work that Minhaj does in this brief, two-minute clip, as well as how he does it. First, the Netflix host dared to request that DeGeneres, and the public at large, pronounce his name in a non-Anglophone way: not “ha-SAHN mi-NHAJ,” as he himself has said it for years, but “HA-sun MIN-haj.” (For the Asian American viewers keeping track at home, the fact that he made such a pronouncement on his mom’s favorite talk show means that, yes, he won this month’s round of the Best Asian Child contest.) And for those in the audience who might ask what difference the alternate emphases make, he observed, “the real way you pronounce it” is “a big deal because my parents are here.” Minhaj insists on a less assimilationist way to pronounce his name without ever framing it as such.

No less remarkably, he’s doing this mid-career, a half-decade after entering the spotlight via The Daily Show. For most of the first season of Patriot Act, the comedian called himself “ha-SAHN mi-NHAJ,” then changed it up in the finale to “HA-sun MIN-haj.” He didn’t dwell on the shift in that episode, but as a longtime fan I definitely noticed: Minhaj was finally comfortable enough in his success to insist that people call him the way he prefers, even if it meant people outside of his culture would be slightly (like really, the tiniest possible bit) more uncomfortable doing so.”

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