Sundar Pichai is a billionaire who has been running Google, a $1.5 trillion company headquartered in Mountain View, California, and its parent company, Alphabet, for the last five years.
On Wednesday, a panel of Democrat and Republican senators questioned Pichai, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, about hate speech, election disinformation, and moderating content five days before Election Day in the United States.
The senators made some good points, but there were many errors too. One of them really stood out: Most of the senators mangled Pichai’s last name (which is pronounced "pih-chai").
Pichai, who grew up in Chennai, India, is Indian American; in the languages predominantly spoken in both countries, his last name isn’t a tongue twister. Pea like the vegetable, chai like the drink. Pichai. Yet many senators, whose aides no doubt prepared them carefully, seemed to think they were addressing Mr. “Pick-Eye.”
Sen. Roger Wicker, the chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, was the first to screw it up when he asked Mr. “Pick-Eye” to present his opening remarks. More than an hour into the hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar messed it up on the first try — saying “Pee-Chey” — but got it right on her second attempt, becoming the first senator to correctly pronounce his name. It didn’t last, because soon afterward, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, and Sen. Mike Lee reverted to “Pick-Eye.”
Pichai was the only immigrant and person of color at today's hearing, so it was jarring to hear his name mispronounced when senators were able to correctly say “Zuckerberg” and “Dorsey” (although Sen. Ron Johnson did refer to “Mr. Zuckerman,” he immediately corrected himself, a courtesy that no senators except Klobuchar extended to Pichai).
Members of Congress have been able to correctly say names that seem much more difficult in the past. In 2011, “Peter Orszag” rolled off Rep. John Spratt’s tongue smoothly. Nobody had a problem saying “Austan Goolsbee” in a hearing last month, or “Eric Shinseki” in 2009; last year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski got “Dan Brouillette” spot on the first time, complete with the silent double L's; and even “Steven Mnuchin” hasn’t been that hard.
The senators have had opportunities to practice. Today was the third time Pichai has testified before Congress; the last time he testified, in July, he was called “Mr. Pick-Eye.” And they have also had reason to say his name in another context: Since 2008, Mr. “Pick-Eye” has donated nearly $93,000 to members of the Senate or their party’s reelection funds.
Correction: Pichai grew up in Chennai, India. An earlier version of this story misidentified this city as his birthplace.