People backing Vivek Ramaswamy gathered at a debate watch event on Wednesday night in New Hampshire. Photo credit: John Tully for The New York Times.

No matter how it's said, Vivek Ramaswamy is happy to be part of the conversation.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the tech entrepreneur running for president, has seen his name mispronounced in various ways as his campaign gains momentum.

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Vivek Ramaswamy, the tech entrepreneur running for president, has seen his name mispronounced in various ways as his campaign gains momentum. From "Vih-veck" by former Vice President Mike Pence to "Vee-veck" by a Fox News panelist, the proper pronunciation of his name, with "Vivek" rhyming with "cake" and his last name as "Rah-muh-swah-mee", has proven difficult for some.

When asked by Sean Hannity why he hadn't corrected them sooner, Ramaswamy laughed it off, appreciating their "best efforts." According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of AAPI Data, this makes sense given Ramaswamy's positioning as an "insurgent candidate with radical ideas." Suggesting how others should pronounce his name wouldn't fit that image. Ramakrishnan sees it as Ramaswamy recognizing different people are at different stages in even knowing who he is, so policing name pronunciation could be counterproductive.

Ramaswamy seems to be activating a generational debate in America that moves away from racial identity politics. Still, the name issue touches on deeper challenges ethnic minority candidates face. Nicole Holliday, a linguistics professor at Pomona College, attributed the mispronunciations to factors like English speakers expecting accommodation worldwide and inadequate foreign language training in the U.S.

Past diverse candidates like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris faced racist name attacks. Of the few prominent South Asian Republicans, some like Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley have used Anglicized names more familiar to predominantly white voters. Though most Indian Americans are Democrats, a 2020 survey found 60% open to backing an Indian American candidate regardless of party. So while the name issue is familiar for South Asians, the acknowledgment by Hannity points to slow Republican recognition that respecting diversity matters.

Beyond his name, Ramaswamy may also hit a ceiling due to his Hindu faith. Ann Coulter's widely condemned tweet that Nikki Haley and Ramaswamy seem involved in "Hindu business" signals the challenge. Still, Ramaswamy seems undaunted, with his campaign spokesperson saying he's grateful for the warm support from Christian voters nationwide.

The name issue exemplifies the tension Ramaswamy faces between his Indian heritage and desires to move past racial identity politics. His parents immigrated to America, which he calls the "greatest nation on Earth." He echoes Obama's line of being a "skinny guy with a funny last name." Yet he also leans away from his background, with his platform commanding "reverse racism is racism."

Ramaswamy wants to be the insurgent who shakes up the system. But this requires downplaying racial barriers he faces to avoid seeming like a grievance candidate. Pronouncing his name correctly matters less to him than promoting his vision. But others mangling his name also risks feeding biased views that ethnic names sound strange and foreign.

It's a balancing act common for minority candidates. Appearing not to care too much about ethnicity can make them more palatable to those less comfortable with diversity. But this complicates addressing ongoing prejudices. Ramaswamy believes his ideas can transcend such divisions. Time will tell if voters agree. But his candidacy itself pushes social boundaries, making the name issue symptomatic of broader cultural reckonings.

Subtle racism persists in America, despite increasing diversity. Gender- and ethnic-sounding names on resumes get fewer employer callbacks. People of color still experience discrimination in everyday interactions. But there's also growing intolerance of bigotry. Networks swiftly condemned Coulter's tweet as racist.

Ramaswamy's rise signifies old biases mattering less in politics. Indian Americans have grown into a highly educated, affluent demographic. Yet they remain underrepresented in government. As more Americans accept leaders of all backgrounds, minority candidates can focus less on identity labels. But the name issue for Ramaswamy and others shows sensitivities remain.

America's diversity is an ongoing process. Each generation becomes more comfortable with those once considered outsiders. This expands ideas of what an American looks and sounds like. Ramaswamy's candidacy pushes such boundaries further. His name may trip up some used to more familiar nomenclature. But he seems unfazed by sincere efforts to get it right.

Ramaswamy signals rising confidence among ethnic minorities to be themselves without having to conform to majority expectations. His identity enriches America's palette. Getting his name right matters less to Ramaswamy than getting his message heard. But others learning to pronounce it properly still signals social progress. The name represents his heritage, but need not define his possibilities.

How Americans react to Ramaswamy's name offers insights into national identity itself. Identity politics can be used by those claiming injustice. But Ramaswamy flips the script, asserting reverse racism also exists. This complicates a black-and-white narrative, fitting for a candidate challenging established camps.

Ramaswamy champions a post-identity landscape where names and skin color mean less than ideas and ethics. This likely remains a distant ideal. But his candidacy suggests optimism that America is capable of continuous self-improvement. The name glitches highlight work still ahead. But Ramaswamy moves the mission forward by another hopeful increment.

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United StatesVivek RamaswamyVee-veckVih-veckVivekRah-muh-swah-meeVivek Ramaswamy for PresidentSouth Asian Republicans

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