Name Pronunciation: A Simple Step Towards a More Inclusive You

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Is your name often mispronounced? If so, how does it make you feel? If not, think about how you would feel. Would you feel, for example, awkward, different, or maybe annoyed? When fostering an inclusive environment, it is important to think about how name pronunciation can play a role in how welcome someone feels. Generally, the first encounter between two people starts off with introducing names, and for some people, this comes with a feeling of being embraced or rejected.

Have you considered how many people with ethnically diverse names, adapt their name for the “ease” of their peers or go by a nickname to avoid the repeated mispronunciation of their name? Consider someone who has their name mispronounced every day, now, consider how much more comfortable that someone would feel if you asked, “Your name is pronounced (insert name) right?” instead of them having to choose whether to correct you or avoid the scenario and deal with their name being mispronounced. Name variety comes from many origins including, culture and ancestry. We should celebrate name variety, and avoid creating an emotional boundary in many daily encounters. A person’s name is part of their identity, and more so, their uniqueness.

Has anyone ever spelt your name wrong after you’ve spelled it out for them? Maybe this happened to you while exchanging information during a meeting or a networking event. Try to think about the frequency of that frustration for some people, while they walk away from the encounter thinking “Were they even listening to me?” Listening to the spelling or pronunciation of one’s name can be an initial first step in showing your care and regard for others.

Mispronunciation of names can have an effect on one’s feeling of belonging according to Karen Pennesi, a professor of anthropology at Western University [1]. At times, there seems to be a lack of attention put into pronouncing a name right if it seems like it is “different” from what one is used to. This lack of attention, can be received as a lack of respect. Now think about how simple and fast of a fix this could be! Here are some tips to making those around you feel more welcomed:

1. Listen to the people surrounding you to avoid name mispronunciations. Tune in when people introduce themselves instead of speeding along to the next part of the conversation.

2. Avoid making a big deal about someone’s name being difficult for you to pronounce [1].

3. Politely verify the pronunciation [1]. “Just to make sure I heard correctly, your name is…”. This five-second exchange could make someone feel a lot more welcome. Also, repeating the name aloud helps with memorizing the name.

4. It’s not “close enough” when pronouncing someone’s name. It’s one’s name, a part of one’s identity, not some trivial matter.

Try your best to get the pronunciation of names right or as close as possible, you don’t have to get every name perfect; the effort and respect will be appreciated! Keep reflecting on these ideas and tips, for a step towards a more inclusive YOU!

Written by Rebecca Adkins


[1] "How Canadians Can Be More Inclusive of Diverse Names." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 24 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[2] Furr, Amy. "Mispronouncing Student's Name Now Considered a 'Microaggression'." CNS News. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[3]Mitchell, Corey. "A Teacher Mispronouncing a Student’s Name Can Have a Lasting Impact." PBS. PBS, 16 May 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[4]Thornhill, Alyce. ""Actually It's…": Having a Hard-to-pronounce Name." The Aragon Outlook. N.p., 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.