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Encore: The Importance Of Pronouncing Names Correctly

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

What's in a name? Maybe you're named after a grandparent or maybe your name has a unique story behind it. Or your name might be rooted in a language, a culture or religion. Whatever the case may be, your name is a connection to your identity, an extension of who you are. But what happens when you have a name people just aren't familiar with? Chances are you've heard it mispronounced or even butchered. I know I have. Well, NPR's Life Kit podcast recently looked into why pronouncing names correctly matters. Here's Noor Wazwaz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NOOR WAZWAZ, BYLINE: Ruchika Tulshyan is a journalist and the founder of an inclusion strategy firm called Candour. She says her name has been mispronounced her whole life.

RUCHIKA TULSHYAN: Actually, until very recently, there was just a lot of shame associated with it, and it was more blame for myself. Like, I wish my parents hadn't named me this and this is so embarrassing. And is there a different name I could call myself?

WAZWAZ: And for years, that's what she did. When she would call a restaurant to make reservations, she'd change her name to Rachel.

TULSHYAN: I would notice that people would be like, hi, Rachel, versus when I would make a restaurant reservation with my real name, people would be like, oh, hi Ru (ph) hi, welcome, welcome in. Like, you know what I mean?

WAZWAZ: Turns out, it's pretty common for people to give fake names to make things easier to avoid the hassle of correcting people. We heard from hundreds of LIFE KIT listeners about similar experiences.

KIYOMI HONDA YAMAMOTO: Kiyomi means beautiful understanding. But in my experience, my name is anything but understood.

KESHAV MALANI: My name is Keshav, and I think I can't remember a time when my name was ever pronounced correctly all of middle school.

SANSKRITHI KOKKONDA: My name is Sanskrithi, and even though I've only lived for 12 years, my name has been mispronounced my entire life.

WAZWAZ: Last year, Ruchika wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review about her tips for making sure you get other people's names right.

TULSHYAN: I think just being honest, just saying, you know, could you pronounce your name for me, please? Or, you know, how do you pronounce your name I think is completely fine. And whenever I've had someone ask me that, I feel so much better than when someone takes a stab at it, gets it wrong, then it turns into this whole thing where you're trying to make them feel better, like, no, no. You know, they're like, oh, my gosh, I'm so silly, I got it wrong.

WAZWAZ: And if you're the one who butchered someone else's name, she says to keep your apology short and sweet.

TULSHYAN: It's totally fine just to say, I'm sorry, I think I mispronounced that. I think it's totally fine if someone says to me, oh, I recognize I've been saying your name wrong all this while. I hear that it's Ruchika. I'm sorry about that - and move on. It doesn't have to turn into like, oh, it's - that's such an interesting name. That's so exotic. I've never heard that before. Then it's, like, even more otherizing.

WAZWAZ: It's not just about the awkwardness that can happen in the moment. Pronouncing people's names correctly can have a big impact. Studies show that students who have their names mispronounced at school feel ashamed, like they don't belong.

TULSHYAN: Taking that extra moment to pronounce an unusual name correctly or a name that you're not very familiar with correctly is one of those ways that you can really practice anti-racism and practice allyship in the moment.

WAZWAZ: For NPR News, I'm Noor Wazwaz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.