The Unfortunate Mistake Sonia Sotomayor Made When Swearing In Kamala Harris

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are officially the president and vice president of the United States. The swearing-in went mostly smoothly, despite fears of protests breaking out (via Vox). There was one unfortunate hitch, though. When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swore in Harris, she mispronounced her name.

Breitbart tweeted footage of the historic moment, in which Sotomayor pronounced the VP's name as "ka-mah-la," emphasizing the second syllable of her name. Harris simply smiled and continued with the ceremony, although people on social media were quick to point out the mistake.

"Is it being picky to have expected Sonia Sotomayor to pronounce Kamala Harris' first name the same way she says it?" tweeted one person. Another wrote, "I have never related to Kamala more than in this moment, when she is having the most important meeting of her life, and her colleague pronounced her name wrong."

Kamala Harris' name is frequently mispronounced

Like Harris herself, many social media users refused to let the hiccup put a damper on the day. "Not even a mispronunciation can stop me from sobbing," tweeted one such person. "To all those who refused to say Kamala Harris' name correctly, it's cool," tweeted another. "Madam Vice President will do after today."

The vice president's first name has been mispronounced so often that it made the U.S. Captioning Company's list of most mispronounced names last year (via AP). Harris is so used to dealing with the mispronunciation that she even wrote about how to pronounce her name and what it means in the preface of her memoir The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.

"First, my name is pronounced 'comma-la,' like the punctuation mark," she wrote. "It means 'lotus flower,' which is a symbol of significance in Indian culture. A lotus grows underwater, its flower rising above the surface while its roots are planted firmly in the river bottom."

Sonia Sotomayor's name is also mispronounced a lot

Sotomayor herself knows what it's like to have a name that is constantly being mispronounced. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009, people struggled to pronounce her Spanish last name. Outlets quickly rushed to publish pronunciation guides to help out, with The Wall Street Journal noting that her name had been pronounced several different ways by media personalities. Television hosts David Letterman and Jon Stewart ran segments poking fun at the myriad mispronunciations (via HuffPost).

Some people even criticized Sotomayor for sticking with the Spanish pronunciation of her name instead of making it easier for non-Spanish speakers to pronounce. This inspired a backlash, with the magazine Latina pointing out why saying names properly is such a big deal, writing, "Our names are a fundamental part of our identities. We have the right to have them correctly pronounced."

So how do you pronounce Sotomayor's name? According to the Los Angeles Times, it's "SOHN-ya soh-toh-my-YOR."

Sonia Sotomayor swearing in Kamala Harris was a powerful moment

Mistake aside, a lot of people were moved by the significance of Sotomayor swearing in Harris. Both are women of color in positions of power that, historically, have been dominated by white men.

Senator Amy Klobuchar summed up the impact of that moment in a tweet, writing, "[Kamala Harris] the first African American, Asian American, and woman to become Vice President, is sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court. This is what breaking the glass ceiling looks like."

Harris has spoken about her admiration for Sotomayor in the past. In a tweet in September 2019, Harris paid tribute to the Supreme Court Justice. "Judge Sonia Sotomayor has fought for the voices of the people ever since her first case voting against corporations in Citizens United," she wrote. "As a critical voice on the bench, she's showing all our children what's possible. #HispanicHeritageMonth."

This is what Kamala Harris was thinking when she was sworn into office by Sonia Sotomayor

While the mispronunciation of Harris' name at such an important moment was unfortunate, it was a busy day for the vice president and she probably didn't give the incident too much thought. She spoke to NPR ahead of Inauguration Day and revealed what she would be focusing on as she was being sworn in.

"There will be a lot of thoughts going through my mind at that moment," she said. "I will be thinking about my mother, who is looking down from heaven. I will be thinking about all of the people who are counting on us to lead and are counting on us to see them and to address their needs and the things that keep them up at night. And I'll be thinking about the fact that we have to hit the ground running immediately to support the people of our country, to support the children of our country, and to help get us out of the crises that we're facing, but also to, you know, let's get on and move forward and do the things that will allow us to grow and innovate and prosper.'