How to pronounce Kamala Harris

Louise Hall
·2-min read
Related video: Who is Kamala Harris? (AFP via Getty Images)
Related video: Who is Kamala Harris? (AFP via Getty Images)

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate, made history by becoming both the first black American and the first person of South Asian descent to be named as either the Democratic or Republican vice presidential candidate.

Following the decision, Ms Harris, who was elected California's junior US senator in 2017, was propelled further into the public eye overnight.

However, despite her prominent career and indeed her own campaign in the Democratic primary, many people still fail to pronounce Ms Harris's first name correctly.

Just hours after the California senator had been chosen as Mr Biden's running mate and potential vice president, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson wrongly pronounced Ms Harris's name and refused to correct himself when challenged on the issue.

“So what?” Mr Carlson said, during a heated exchange with a Democratic strategist live on air.

“I think out of respect for someone who is going to be on the national ticket, pronouncing her name right... is kind of a bare minimum,” political consultant Richard Goodstein said.

Ms Harris has repeatedly said her first name is pronounced “comma-lah”.

Any other pronunciation, such as “cam-el-uh” or ”kuh-mal-uh“ or ”karmel-uh", is incorrect.

This is far from the first time the issue of the pronunciation of her own name has come up for the politician.

In 2016, when Ms Harris was running for her California Senate seat, she released an explanatory video with children teaching people how to say it correctly.

She also signposted its similarity to the common punctuation mark to highlight the correct pronunciation in an interview when ABC’s The View, when questioned on the matter by co-host Whoopi Goldberg.

"It’s Kamala,” she said. “Just think like ‘comma,’ and add a ‘lah.’”

Co-host Joy Behar suggested the name was like Pamela, “like we’re used to", to which Ms Harris disagreed.

The name Kamala is derived from the Sanskrit word for “lotus", a prominent symbol in Asian cultures.

“The symbolism is that the lotus flower sits on water, but never really gets wet,” Ms Harris said at an event in 2019, The Washington Post reported. “Its roots are in the mud, meaning it is grounded. One must always know where they come from."

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