Understanding the importance of name pronunciation

Joseph Aninakwa, (A-ni-na-kwa) our Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, delves into name pronunciation in and outside of the workplace, challenges that may arise, and how to overcome them.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of correct name pronunciation within and outside of the workplace and how this creates a more relaxed environment for both you and your colleagues.

Name pronunciation is incredibly important; when someone gets it wrong, it can be more harmful than many realise. Many people have had to shorten their names, solely for the ease of others, rather than for personal preference.

This name pronunciation guide will focus on why correct name pronunciation matters, how to get it right, how to correct those that don’t and more.

What is name pronunciation?

Name pronunciation is simply being able to pronounce a person’s first and last name, as they would prefer it to be pronounced in its original, intended form. This means without deviating or shortening names for ease.

Why does name pronunciation matter?

A person’s name means a lot to them; it is part of their identity.  Our names (often) go back to the beginning where it all began, a few days or weeks after you were born and were given a name by your parents or guardians.

It is a moment of joy for a lot of parents who took much thought and pride in choosing a name for their child. This is a moment in time that they will never forget, a milestone to remember.

Some people know the meaning of their name and the weight it carries in their culture, community, and their own consciousness.

So, why does name pronunciation matter? Because it speaks to the core of a person’s identity. It matters that someone pronounces your name correctly or incorrectly because to some of us it means that person has taken the time and effort to make sure they show respect by pronouncing your name accordingly.

Some names may never be pronounced incorrectly, because of perceived familiarity or phonetic pronunciation of the name. Some names may be perceived as harder to pronounce but committing to getting them right is the most important step.

Simply asking how you pronounce someone’s name is a remedy or prevents mispronunciation. Moreover, when it comes to shortening a name, especially without the person’s approval may subliminally signal to them that we have not really acknowledged who they are or shown them enough respect to ask them how they would prefer to be addressed.

Our experiences at Inclusive Employers

Take a look at some of the personal experiences our team have with name pronunciation below.

Joseph Aninakwa:

There have been many times where people have attempted to shorten my name to ‘Jo’ and I always correct them and let them know that my name is Joseph. There are many reasons why Joseph means a lot to me.

One reason is that my parents took time to name me Joseph, it is a biblical name and means God will add/increase. I have taken so much pride with my name, so when some shortens it without even asking me what I would prefer, I really take offence. When you shorten my name it name loses its meaning.

Farhanah Iqbal: 

My name has been mispronounced so many times that it now comes as a surprise when someone says it right at first. Over the years I have softened the pronunciation to make it more palatable to a solely English speaking tongue.

Yet, my name is part of my identity, it is a gift from my parents and honours my heritage. My name means joy, it means happiness, so it reminds me every day to come back to myself – to find joy, speak of joy, and be a vessel for joy. Pronouncing it correctly, or gently asking how it should be pronounced, is a beautiful act of acceptance of who I am.

Natalya Stecko:

My name is often pronounced wrong. I have got used to answering to wrong pronunciations or spellings of my name and not correcting people. My name is part of my Ukrainian heritage and was chosen by my Grandad. 

If you don’t know how to pronounce it, I’m more than happy to explain it and chat about it. I love talking about my Ukrainian roots – so will happily discuss my full name. On the flip side, I am happy to be called by nicknames such as “Tally”, but I would prefer to be asked first. If you’re unsure of name pronunciation, just ask rather than trying to guess or shorten it.

Jilly Svikis:

I really appreciate it when people try to pronounce my surname, even when they get it wrong! With most things in inclusion (and life!) it’s better to acknowledge discomfort, rather than ignore something just because it’s easier in that moment.

The link between names and personal identity

When you look at the link between names and personal identity what comes to mind? Our name helps to shape our identity. Being called by our name in its authentic form is powerful. It allows individuals to feel seen and respected.

Names are very much attached to who we are as individuals, their part of our personal DNA. Names are also often linked with our ethnicity and culture. Pronouncing names correctly shows respect and signals inclusion.

How to correct someone who calls you the wrong name

My surname is Aninakwa and is pronounced (A-ni-na-kwa). There are a lot of people who have butchered my name many times, either through lack of effort or simple mistakes.

I also understand that my surname is not a common name you come across in the UK as it originates from Ghana. How I correct people is to pronounce it phonetically and repeat it in a back-and-forth exchange until it is pronounced correctly.

Tips on pronouncing names correctly

Here are some tips on pronouncing names correctly:

  • Allow people to introduce themselves and listen attentively to their pronunciation.
  • Repeat the name out loud to show your intention of getting it right.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the person to pronounce it again if necessary. Name pronunciation help is normal and many people are happy to help.
  • Try and clarify the pronunciation again. If you meet someone for the second time after some time, it’s ok to say, “apologies, please remind me how to pronounce your name again”.
  • If at some point you overhear someone else mispronouncing another colleague’s name when that colleague is not present, step in and then correct that person, “I believe it’s pronounced this way.”

The “Say My Name Campaign”

The “Say My Name” research campaign was conducted in July 2021 by academics at the University of Warwick exploring interactions around names with their staff and students.

A driver for this project was that research shows that our brains ‘light up” when we hear our name, while mispronunciation can lead to feelings of alienation.

Correct name use, therefore, goes to the heart of creating an inclusive workplace culture and beyond. Out of this research, the project created recommendations about how to manage uncertainty over names with respect to creating more equitable and culturally responsive interactions. This can be accessed here.

The race equality ‘My Name is” campaign has also drawn attention to this issue. This campaign has highlighted that 73% of respondents from more than 100 organisations said they had their names mispronounced leading to them feeling “not important,” “disrespected” and that they “didn’t belong.”

To practically remedy this problem, they have innovatively created a digital tool to help people share their real names by translating them to phonetics.

The aim is to encourage organisations to standardise the phonetic spelling of names in email signatures. By typing your name into the tool – you can see the phonetic spelling and there is an audio feature that pronounces names. This name pronunciation tool can be accessed here.

How Inclusive Employers can help

Inclusive employers can help in this area of inclusion as well as many more areas of interconnected issues through Inclusion and Diversity training.

We very much believe in an inclusive working environment for all. We don’t just provide training and consultancy for our clients, but we champion these values among our team too.

For more information, please click here to see how we can help to make your organisation more inclusive with all the great resources we have put together for our members.