To former Vice President Mike Pence, he’s “Vih-veck.” To a “Fox and Friends” panelist on Thursday morning, he was “Vee-veck.” And to some Iowa voters, it’s “Vy-vick” — if they said his name at all.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a tech entrepreneur running for president who has climbed the polls in recent weeks, has branded himself as a political newcomer who, despite participating in his first Republican debate Wednesday night, seemed at ease bringing the event to near-chaos several times as he sparred with the likes of Mr. Pence and Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor.
A different hurdle he may face, however, is getting others to say his name correctly.
The son of Indian Americans, Mr. Ramaswamy has both leaned into and away from his racial background. He has often expressed gratitude that his parents immigrated to the “greatest nation on Earth,” and on Wednesday, he echoed a line from former President Barack Obama’s speech onstage when he introduced himself as a “skinny guy with a funny last name.” (Mr. Ramaswamy has said that “Vivek” rhymes with “cake” and pronounces his last name “Rah-muh-swah-mee.”)
When Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, asked after the debate why Mr. Ramaswamy hadn’t corrected the mispronunciation sooner, the candidate laughed and said, “I appreciate best efforts.”
Karthick Ramakrishnan, the director of AAPI Data, said that because Mr. Ramaswamy is running as an “insurgent candidate with radical ideas,” it “wouldn’t make sense for him to start policing, or suggesting how others should be pronouncing his name.” (One of the “10 commandments” in Mr. Ramaswamy’s platform asserts that “reverse racism is racism.”)
“It’s a recognition that different people may be at different stages along the way in terms of even knowing who he is and how to pronounce his name,” Mr. Ramakrishnan said. “He is trying to activate a generational kind of debate and divide in America that needs to be addressed and to move away from racial identity politics.”
Nicole Holliday, a linguistics professor at Pomona College, attributed the struggle for some to pronounce names correctly to a number of factors, including a sentiment that “English speakers in general expect to be accommodated everywhere in the world” and a lack of foreign language training in the United States from an early age.
Past presidential candidates from diverse racial backgrounds have faced racist insults related to their names. In 2020, David Perdue, then a senator from Georgia, faced a backlash after he appeared to make fun of Kamala Harris’s name at a rally just before the November election: “Ka-ma-la, Ka-ma-la, Kamala-mala-mala, I don’t know, whatever.” And some critics of Mr. Obama often invoked his middle name — Hussein — to falsely claim that he was Muslim.
Of the few prominent South Asians in G.O.P. politics, many have used names friendly to a less-diverse voter base. Bobby Jindal, the former Republican governor of Louisiana, changed his name from Piyush to Bobby when he was young. And Nikki Haley, another Indian American in the 2024 presidential race, has long used Nikki, her middle name, instead of her first name, Nimarata.
While the overwhelming majority of Indian Americans are Democrats, a 2020 survey of Indian American voters found that almost 60 percent said they would be open to supporting an Indian American candidate “regardless of their party affiliation.”
Mr. Ramaswamy’s name mispronunciations are all too familiar for South Asian Americans, said Sara Sadhwani, a political science professor at Pomona College. But, she noted, the acknowledgment of such mispronunciations by Mr. Hannity and others may point to a “slow recognition” among Republicans that “not only do we need to diversify, but we’ll have to be respectful to some extent of the folks who we’re able to bring to the table.”
Beyond his name, Mr. Ramaswamy may “hit a ceiling” as a result of his Hindu faith, predicted Mr. Ramakrishnan, the AAPI Data founder.
On Wednesday, the conservative commentator Ann Coulter made a comment largely condemned as racist, on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that “Nikki and Vivek are involved in some Hindu business, it seems. Not our fight.” (Ms. Haley was raised Sikh but later converted to Christianity.)
“Ann can tweet whatever she wants to,” Tricia McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the Ramaswamy campaign, said of the comment. “Vivek has traveled this country and is very grateful for the warm support he has received from Christian voters across the country.”