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Approaching Diverse Names in the Workplace — The Dos and Don'ts

August 3, 2022

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Have you ever been anxious to jump into an interview with a candidate or welcome a new co-worker to your workplace, but after reading their name, hesitated on how best to pronounce it? You’re not alone!

So, why is it important to correctly pronounce someone’s name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Remember that ol’ Shakespeare line? Our boy Willy had it all wrong. Our names carry so much meaning with respect to cultural, familial, and historical experiences that to mispronounce them can cause more hurt than is readily evident.

A man rapping, "Hi, my name is..."

When I was younger, I remember the amount of anxiety that hit me when I would walk into a classroom and realize that we had a substitute for the day. Inevitably, this meant that when they got to my name on the roll call they would pause, squint, and completely butcher the pronunciation. The rest of my classmates would giggle and we’d move onto the next person. This happened so often that I stopped correcting people. I wouldn’t raise my hand in class out of fear that they would butcher it again. It wasn’t until college where I reflected on these experiences and how I was disincentivized to participate because of a solvable issue. I decided then that I would put in the work to ensure that those around me pronounced my name the way that I wanted it pronounced.

Names are a window into the lived experiences that define who we are as a people and are a foundational part of our identity. In his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Canegie asserts:

“A person is more interested in their name than in all the other names on Earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it — and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage… one of the simplest, most obvious and most important ways of gaining goodwill was by remembering names and making people feel important – yet how many of us do it?”

An important byproduct of embracing diversity within the workplace is the discomfort that comes with getting a glimpse, and to some degree assimilating, into another person’s culture. Here are a few strategies that you can use to eliminate your anxiety around this interaction and, hopefully, build deeper connections with your colleagues.

Prior to meeting, do some research.

A man saying, "Did I mention we've been doing Internet research upstairs? Like a solid 20 minutes' worth."

What does research look like for name pronunciations? There are tons of resources online for getting phonetic descriptions of names. Hop online and do a quick search for “How to pronounce X” and you’ll be hit with tons of results. YouTube is your best friend here. There’s a whole channel dedicated to correctly pronouncing names across different cultures. Also, PronounceNames gives you more information about the origin of the name, a great way to kick off your conversation.

Don’t be afraid to ask them to pronounce it for you.

A woman talking to another woman, saying, "You might be the only person who can pronounce the name."

After doing a little research, you might feel comfortable giving their name a shot. Don’t get overconfident, though, as these name pronunciation services aren’t perfect. I always open with “Hi X, am I pronouncing your name correctly?” Inevitably this will result in an enthusiastic “Yes!” or a “It’s actually pronounced Y.” The truth is that an individual’s name is pronounced however they choose. This means that sometimes it doesn’t align with the traditional cultural pronunciation. This is a great way to build rapport with your colleague as it shows that you’re invested in getting to know them as a person. If they correct you, try re-pronouncing and check in again to make sure you’re getting it right.

Occasionally, I don’t feel comfortable taking a first stab at the name if I couldn’t find it online. I’ll open with “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you! Would you mind pronouncing your name for me so that I get it correct?” This is a very low pressure way of again showing your desire to get to know the person. This strategy can also be used with colleagues whom you might already have a working relationship but wish to verify. I had a co-worker who I respect deeply reach out and ask me this very thing:

A Slack thread screenshot asking about name pronunciation.

This not only gave me the opportunity to record a Loom video with the correct pronunciation, but also fosters a deeper level of trust and compassion between us.

Be an ally!

As important as it is to correct your own mistakes in accurately pronouncing the names of those around you, it’s just as important to help correct others when you hear them slip up. It’s exhausting to feel like you need to enter every group conversation on guard and ready to correct those that may unintentionally mischaracterize your name. Not to mention power dynamics where the individual doesn’t feel comfortable correcting someone in a higher position.

It’s important to speak up when you hear someone else make a blunder, as it makes your teammates feel like they’re truly a part of the team that celebrates their identity. Gone are the days of “the melting pot,” where the identity of the individual gets lost in the homogeneity of the workplace. Aim for more of a “salad bowl,” where different cultures integrate while maintaining their identities.

It’s time to not just recognize, but embrace, what makes an individual unique.

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Article

Approaching Diverse Names in the Workplace — The Dos and Don'ts

August 3, 2022

Jump to a section
Share it!
Sign up for our newsletter
You're all signed up! Look out for the next edition of The Manual Weekly coming Wednesday am!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Have you ever been anxious to jump into an interview with a candidate or welcome a new co-worker to your workplace, but after reading their name, hesitated on how best to pronounce it? You’re not alone!

So, why is it important to correctly pronounce someone’s name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Remember that ol’ Shakespeare line? Our boy Willy had it all wrong. Our names carry so much meaning with respect to cultural, familial, and historical experiences that to mispronounce them can cause more hurt than is readily evident.

A man rapping, "Hi, my name is..."

When I was younger, I remember the amount of anxiety that hit me when I would walk into a classroom and realize that we had a substitute for the day. Inevitably, this meant that when they got to my name on the roll call they would pause, squint, and completely butcher the pronunciation. The rest of my classmates would giggle and we’d move onto the next person. This happened so often that I stopped correcting people. I wouldn’t raise my hand in class out of fear that they would butcher it again. It wasn’t until college where I reflected on these experiences and how I was disincentivized to participate because of a solvable issue. I decided then that I would put in the work to ensure that those around me pronounced my name the way that I wanted it pronounced.

Names are a window into the lived experiences that define who we are as a people and are a foundational part of our identity. In his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Canegie asserts:

“A person is more interested in their name than in all the other names on Earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it — and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage… one of the simplest, most obvious and most important ways of gaining goodwill was by remembering names and making people feel important – yet how many of us do it?”

An important byproduct of embracing diversity within the workplace is the discomfort that comes with getting a glimpse, and to some degree assimilating, into another person’s culture. Here are a few strategies that you can use to eliminate your anxiety around this interaction and, hopefully, build deeper connections with your colleagues.

Prior to meeting, do some research.

A man saying, "Did I mention we've been doing Internet research upstairs? Like a solid 20 minutes' worth."

What does research look like for name pronunciations? There are tons of resources online for getting phonetic descriptions of names. Hop online and do a quick search for “How to pronounce X” and you’ll be hit with tons of results. YouTube is your best friend here. There’s a whole channel dedicated to correctly pronouncing names across different cultures. Also, PronounceNames gives you more information about the origin of the name, a great way to kick off your conversation.

Don’t be afraid to ask them to pronounce it for you.

A woman talking to another woman, saying, "You might be the only person who can pronounce the name."

After doing a little research, you might feel comfortable giving their name a shot. Don’t get overconfident, though, as these name pronunciation services aren’t perfect. I always open with “Hi X, am I pronouncing your name correctly?” Inevitably this will result in an enthusiastic “Yes!” or a “It’s actually pronounced Y.” The truth is that an individual’s name is pronounced however they choose. This means that sometimes it doesn’t align with the traditional cultural pronunciation. This is a great way to build rapport with your colleague as it shows that you’re invested in getting to know them as a person. If they correct you, try re-pronouncing and check in again to make sure you’re getting it right.

Occasionally, I don’t feel comfortable taking a first stab at the name if I couldn’t find it online. I’ll open with “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you! Would you mind pronouncing your name for me so that I get it correct?” This is a very low pressure way of again showing your desire to get to know the person. This strategy can also be used with colleagues whom you might already have a working relationship but wish to verify. I had a co-worker who I respect deeply reach out and ask me this very thing:

A Slack thread screenshot asking about name pronunciation.

This not only gave me the opportunity to record a Loom video with the correct pronunciation, but also fosters a deeper level of trust and compassion between us.

Be an ally!

As important as it is to correct your own mistakes in accurately pronouncing the names of those around you, it’s just as important to help correct others when you hear them slip up. It’s exhausting to feel like you need to enter every group conversation on guard and ready to correct those that may unintentionally mischaracterize your name. Not to mention power dynamics where the individual doesn’t feel comfortable correcting someone in a higher position.

It’s important to speak up when you hear someone else make a blunder, as it makes your teammates feel like they’re truly a part of the team that celebrates their identity. Gone are the days of “the melting pot,” where the identity of the individual gets lost in the homogeneity of the workplace. Aim for more of a “salad bowl,” where different cultures integrate while maintaining their identities.

It’s time to not just recognize, but embrace, what makes an individual unique.

Article

Approaching Diverse Names in the Workplace — The Dos and Don'ts

August 3, 2022

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