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Quick Tips for Learning how to Pronounce a Colleague’s Name

It can feel intimidating when someone’s name is unfamiliar to us, or difficult to pronounce. We might feel inclined to figure out a nickname for someone, so we don’t completely butcher the pronunciation of their full name. This might make us feel more confident when addressing the person, but it can actually be microaggressive.

Not attempting to learn the full, correct pronunciation of a person’s name communicates to them, “It is not worth my time or energy to fully recognize you.”

Please take a look at this excerpt from Idealist article, “Say My Name | Why Pronouncing Names Correctly is Important,” written by Yejin Lee, which includes the following tips for learning the correct pronunciation of someone’s name:

  1. Research the name and see if there are any videos where people pronounce it. Before a new colleague begins, it can be helpful to research their name if you are not familiar with it. Sometimes, you may find videos where the name is pronounced or phonetic breakdowns that can help you familiarize yourself. While you should not assume that you have the correct pronunciation, having a point of reference can be useful. There are also resources like www.pronouncenames.com that offer some helpful guides.
  2. Be humble and admit when you’re having difficulty with a name. If you sense that you will not be able to pronounce someone’s name on the first try, humble yourself and acknowledge that it may take you a little time and effort to get it right. You can say something like, “I wanted to let you know that it might take me a little bit of time to pronounce your name correctly, but it is important to me that I do.” There’s no need to defend yourself or tell the person that their name is too difficult!
  3. Write out a phonetic spelling that you can understand and repeat. Spelling phonetically refers to the written representation of sounds you hear into corresponding letters. Take the name “Ravish Shekaraiah,” for example. When you ask him to pronounce his name, it might be helpful to write Rav-eesh Shek-ra-ja in your notebook. You can keep that written in your notebook to reference or practice it later. 
  4. Practice. This might sound basic and silly, but repetition and muscle memory are your friends! Try saying the name 10 times in a row when the correct pronunciation is fresh in your mind. Keep writing out the phonetic spelling if that helps you to absorb it. Perhaps you can find a peer who knows how to pronounce your colleague’s name and ask them whether you are saying it correctly. Do the work of committing it to memory.

    Research the name and see if there are any videos where people pronounce it. Before a new colleague begins, it can be helpful to research their name if you are not familiar with it. Sometimes, you may find videos where the name is pronounced or phonetic breakdowns that can help you familiarize yourself. While you should not assume that you have the correct pronunciation, having a point of reference can be useful. There are also resources like www.pronouncenames.com that offer some helpful guides.
  5. Be humble and admit when you’re having difficulty with a name. If you sense that you will not be able to pronounce someone’s name on the first try, humble yourself and acknowledge that it may take you a little time and effort to get it right. You can say something like, “I wanted to let you know that it might take me a little bit of time to pronounce your name correctly, but it is important to me that I do.” There’s no need to defend yourself or tell the person that their name is too difficult!
  6. Write out a phonetic spelling that you can understand and repeat. Spelling phonetically refers to the written representation of sounds you hear into corresponding letters. Take the name “Ravish Shekaraiah,” for example. When you ask him to pronounce his name, it might be helpful to write Rav-eesh Shek-ra-ja in your notebook. You can keep that written in your notebook to reference or practice it later. 
  7. Practice. This might sound basic and silly, but repetition and muscle memory are your friends! Try saying the name 10 times in a row when the correct pronunciation is fresh in your mind. Keep writing out the phonetic spelling if that helps you to absorb it. Perhaps you can find a peer who knows how to pronounce your colleague’s name and ask them whether you are saying it correctly. Do the work of committing it to memory.

Have people ever had difficulty learning the correct pronunciation of your name? Have you ever had trouble pronouncing someone’s name? Please share your experiences with us in a comment below.

-Your Friends at Undoing Racism

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