Why Getting Someone’s Name Right Matters (2023)


Names are our identities. Often, they are deeply rooted in our social and cultural beliefs. Yet, historically, many people have anglicized their names to “fit in,” appear more mainstream, or gain social and cultural advantages in countries with dominant Anglo cultures. But names are more than monikers. Casually anglicizing names is not only disrespectful of people’s cultural heritage and traditions — it is also disrespectful of them. Here’s how to get better at pronouncing names.

  • When you don’t know, just ask:Then repeat the name a few times. When people see that you’re committed to getting the pronunciation right, most will appreciate the effort more than they’ll mind minor mispronunciations.
  • Be an ally: Add the phonetic spelling of your name to your email signature to help others understand the correct pronunciation of your name. Even if the pronunciation of your name is obvious, adding the phonetic spelling to your email signature may alleviate the social hesitation others feel when doing so.
  • Be gracious:Do not show that you are doing them a favor by trying to pronounce their name right or that the effort is onerous for you. Instead, empower and support them.

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“I don’t want to butcher your name. Can I call you Raj?” a fellow student asked me.

It was the first day of my graduate program at a university in the United States. A group of us had gathered in the quad, getting to know each other. My name, Rajat, is not far off from Raj. Granted, it is one more syllable — and while I appreciated my new acquaintance’s sensitivity to potentially mispronouncing it, I also felt that he was asking me to strip away a part of my identity for his convenience.

I politely declined. It took him only two efforts, and about 30 seconds, to get it right. I wasn’t surprised. Names like Shanyuan, Pracheta, Quvenzhané Wallis, and even Joaquin Phoenix, might seem difficult to pronounce at first glance, but all it takes is a momentary effort. (In fact, you just gave one while reading this article.)

Our names are our identities. But, historically, many people have anglicized their names to “fit in,” appear more mainstream, or gain social and cultural advantages in countries with dominant Anglo cultures. In fact, research suggests that more than half of Black and Asian job applicants in the U.S. whitened their resumes to avoid any racial cues. Those who did were twice as likely to get callbacks for job interviews. Another study found that about half of the surveyed Chinese international students who attend U.S. universities adopted English names to make it easier for others to pronounce them.

This practice is highly problematic, as it often leaves people feeling less visible or valued. For instance, take one of my former colleagues, Shaghayegh, an Iranian immigrant to Canada. She followed the advice (given by another colleague) to “whiten” her name to Sherry so that she could more easily assimilate to the company culture. It worked, but at the cost of an identity crisis. “I felt like I was having to fake something that I was not,” Shaghayegh told me.

When people feel that they need to compromise their identities for social acceptance, their emotional well-being inevitably suffers. Simply put, anglicizing names undermines inclusivity. When you refuse to make an effort to pronounce someone’s name correctly, it suggests that you’re choosing your own linguistic comfort over their identity. It shows that their identity is not important enough to expel the energy — and that makes your behavior a microaggression.

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With all that in mind, to truly understand why this behavior is so damaging, you need to educate yourself on why names matter.

Names are more than monikers.

In some cultures, such as Asian or Middle Eastern, we’re given names that are deeply rooted in social and cultural beliefs. In India, for instance, the Naam Karan or the naming ceremony, which typically involves a large social gathering, is considered one of the 16 most significant rituals of life, similar in stature to birth and death. Parents, families, and relatives make extensive efforts to determine the most suitable name for a child, often relying on astrological beliefs. Although it is nuanced and complex, broadly speaking, the underlying naming belief is that you are named what you ought to be like.

Indian names often translate into a human virtue that parents and families revere and that they aspire for a child to embody. For example, Satya — the first name of Microsoft’s CEO — means truth or truthfulness. In corporate lexicon, a close metaphor for an individual’s name in Indian culture would be a company’s tagline: It reminds the company of what the company should stand for; and it communicates to the world what the company does stand for.

We’ve lived with our names since early childhoods. More than anything, they mean something to us and are core to our identities.Casually anglicizing names is not only disrespectful of people’s cultural heritage and traditions, but also of them. In some cases, such diminutions may even create blunders in translation.

Take for example the name Arijit (phonetically aa-RIY-JHiy-T). It comprises two parts: Ari (which, in Hindi, means “enemy”) and jit (which means “winning over”). In whole, this name means “someone who wins over enemies.” If we anglicized it for convenience, Ari, it does not translate well in the native language.

Calling an intervention.

Whether you’re still in school, freelancing, or working at a corporation, you can make a deliberate effort to create a more welcoming, respectful, and inclusive environment by addressing people by their actual names.

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Here are a few things you can do (and inspire other to as well).

When you don’t know, just ask.

Making new friends on the first day of school or meeting new colleagues at work? Simply state your desire to pronounce their name correctly. You could say, “I don’t want to mispronounce your name. Would you mind pronouncing it for me so I can get it right?” Then repeat it a few times after them. When people see that you’re committed to getting the pronunciation right — even if doing so might take multiple attempts — most will appreciate the effort more than minding minor mispronunciations.

Be an ally.

Add the phonetic spelling of your name to your email signature to help others understand the correct pronunciation of your name. For example, if your name is Shanna, you could add (rhymes with Donna) to your signature. Or if your name is Xiaoou, you could add “pronounced as shee- au-oh.” If you don’t know how to do that, don’t worry. You can use this guide to help phonetically write your name. I’ve also seen some people record an audio file of their name’s pronunciation and embed it in their signature.

Even if the pronunciation of your name is obvious, adding the phonetic spelling to your email signature may alleviate the social hesitation others feel when doing so. In other words, your actions help to normalize the practices and makes it easier for those who benefit from it to do the same. For example, if your name is Eric, you could add to your signature — “pronounced as err-ik.” Xiaoou and Shanna would be happy to see that!

Be gracious.

Lastly, remember that often people with ethnic names are in a vulnerable position. Do not show that you are doing them a favor by trying to pronounce their name right or that the effort is onerous for you. Instead, empower and support them. If someone corrects you for mispronouncing, for example, don’t respond with “I’m so sorry!” Do say, “Thank you for correcting me.”

Make learning to say names right a positive experience for yourself and those whose names you are trying to honor. We have the power (irrespective of hierarchy) to promote a more diverse, inclusive, and accepting culture. More than anything, out of respect, let’s say names correctly.

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Why Getting Someone’s Name Right Matters? ›

When you refuse to make an effort to pronounce someone's name correctly, it suggests that you're choosing your own linguistic comfort over their identity. It shows that their identity is not important enough to expel the energy — and that makes your behavior a microaggression.

Why is getting someone's name right important? ›

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.

Why do I keep getting people's names wrong? ›

Most everyone sometimes mixes up the names of family and friends. Their findings were published in the journal Memory & Cognition. "It's a normal cognitive glitch," Deffler says. It's not related to a bad memory or to aging, but rather to how the brain categorizes names.

Is it rude to mispronounce someone's name? ›

Miss Manners: Repeatedly mispronouncing a name is disrespectful.

How can your name affect your life? ›

Consequently, proper names affect how people treat us and how we feel about ourselves. This fact was confirmed by research in 2000 finding that people who disliked their name tended to have a poorer psychological adjustment, due to a lack of confidence and self-esteem.

What is the power of using someone's name? ›

Using someone's name can be an effective way of breaking into conversation. It can also be effective when a person seems distracted or has disappeared off into their own head. Formal and informal. Using a formal name is often associated with obedience and can be seen as a sign of respect.

What is the right of having a name? ›

Article 7 of the UNCRC says that all children and young people have the right to a name and nationality, which they should be granted at birth. It also says that they have a right to – as far as possible – know and be cared for by their parents.

What is the psychology behind calling someone the wrong name? ›

Psychology suggests that when someone calls you the wrong name, it's because they love you. Calling someone you know by the wrong name is a phenomenon known as “misnaming.”

Does a person's name affect their personality? ›

Some researchers have found an unusual association between the name of a person and his/her personality. They even go so far as to say that people with the same names seem to have similar personalities. Turner (2009) observes that Levitt (2005) theorizes that one's name can affect one's ability to succeed.

What is the psychology behind someone saying your name? ›

THEY ENSURE THAT YOU LISTEN TO THEM: Another reason why people use your name in a conversation is that they want you to listen to them carefully. They could judge you when you are not listening to them. By calling your name, they want your total attention towards them and follow the conversation.

How do I deal with a colleague who keeps pronouncing my name incorrectly? ›

Thank them for trying to pronounce it correctly and help them to do this. You might have to keep persisting and that might feel awkward, but keep at it. “Likewise, when coming across people with names that we are not familiar with, the best thing to do is to ask the person how to pronounce their name.

How do you apologize for saying someone's name wrong? ›

Apologize when you get it wrong, as soon as you realize. A good rule of thumb is to say, “I'm sorry I mispronounced that. Could you please repeat your name for me?” If you've known someone for a while, perhaps even a number of years, and you realize you've been mispronouncing their name, operate with humility.

How does the pronunciation of your name affect your identity? ›

Our name helps to shape our identity. Being called by our name is powerful, and allows us to feel seen and respected. shows that our brains 'light up” when we hear our name, while mispronunciation can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation.

What do names tell us about a person? ›

In addition to appearance, our names are associated with our personality, character, the way we act and our psychological adjustment. As far back as 1948, studies indicated that the names we are given affect how we perform later in life.

Does your name affect your destiny? ›

So are our names our destiny? They undoubtedly have influence, but "destiny" is too strong a word. "Names only have a significant influence when that is the only thing you know about the person," says psychologist Dr. Martin Ford of George Mason University.

What happens in your brain when someone says your name? ›

Hearing your own name causes your brain to react as if you're engaging in the behaviors and thought patterns that serve as some of your core identity and personality markers. In fact, this reaction is so powerful that similar patterns were observed in patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).

Is using someone's name condescending? ›

Name-calling, making a person feel like they can't do anything right, and phrasing insults as jokes are also indicative of condescending behavior.

Is using someones name condescending? ›

No. Though, it does often feel good that the person both remembers your name and can regard you to it. Girls especially like it. However, that won't make someone like you more necessarily.

Does a name hold power? ›

Picking out a name is a powerful and consequential process. Names convey and create meaning. They reveal something about who we are, where we come from, and where we're headed.

Do I own the rights to my name? ›

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks.

Are there rules for names? ›

Traditionally, the right to name one's child or oneself as one chooses has been upheld by court rulings and is rooted in the Due Process Clause of the fourteenth Amendment and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, but a few restrictions do exist.

What happens if parents don't agree on a name? ›

If the parents cannot agree on the baby's name and end up fighting in court, a judge will decide what name is best for the baby. what others living in the same household call the baby.

Can name-calling cause trauma? ›

Name-calling alters a child's inner world. Feelings of worthlessness, depression and a loss of control are not unusual when a child suffers in the company of their schoolmates. Some victims turn to suicidal ideation; others express major shifts in their moods.

Why is name-calling toxic? ›

Over time, name-calling and other insults can slowly eat away at self-esteem and victims will no longer see themselves realistically. 2 For example, if a person is regularly called “fat,” they may view themself as overweight even after they lose weight.

Can name-calling cause PTSD? ›

Verbal abuse can cause PTSD.

Such feelings of fear, and anxiety can be so intense, they could interfere with the daily routine of an individual. Some of the symptoms of PTSD are: Insomnia.

What is it called when your name determines your personality? ›

Nominative determinism, literally "name-driven outcome", is the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work which reflect their names. The name fits because people, possibly subconsciously, made themselves fit.

What is the Dorian grey effect? ›

In psychology, the Dorian Gray effect refers to internal factors, like someone's personality, affecting their external appearance. The link between a person's face and their name might be a sort of Dorian Gray effect, by which growing up with a name leads to alterations in our physical looks.

What is it called when someone's name matches their personality? ›

Aptronym is sometimes used in academic writing to refer to a name that fits some aspect of a character, as in Mr. Talkative and Mr. Worldly Wiseman in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

Why does it feel so good when someone says your name? ›

Feel good hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, are released into your brain when your ears encode that your name has just been said aloud. This burst of excitement makes people happy and sends unconscious signals such as empathy, trust, and compassion to the unconscious brain.

What is it called when you talk about someone without saying their name? ›

determiner. spoken used for referring to someone or something without saying their name, when you know that the person you are talking to knows who or what you are referring to.

Does saying someone's name attract them? ›

You may of heard advise on social media, stating that the “mentioning their name” trick, makes someone like you more. However it's false. If you like someone, build a friendship and ask them out. Be honest, share your feelings and never wait too long.

What is it called when someone talks bad about you at work? ›

"Gossip at work is harassment," according to the HR website Bright.

How do you address a toxic coworker? ›

Establish boundaries

Setting limits is the first step in managing a toxic coworker and ensuring their behavior doesn't affect your mood or work performance. Try to distance yourself from your colleague when they engage in conduct like gossiping, micromanaging and harassment.

How do you talk to a disrespectful coworker? ›

Deal directly with the culprit.

When you need to address rudeness, talk to the offender somewhere private. Stay calm and objective as you outline the facts as you know them, explain the negative impact of his or her behavior and how it made other people feel, and make it clear how you want him to modify his behavior.

What is a humble apology? ›

A humble apology is one in which you admit wrongdoing—“I'm sorry I lost my temper”—showing that you're not above reflecting on your own flaws.

What is intentionally misspelling someone's name? ›

A satiric misspelling is an intentional misspelling of a word, phrase or name for a rhetorical purpose. This can be achieved with intentional malapropism (e.g. replacing erection for election), enallage (giving a sentence the wrong form, eg.

How do you tell someone they are pronouncing your name wrong? ›

"It's important to politely set it straight from the beginning so you don't have to have an increasingly awkward conversation down the line," Gottsman says. "Simply be honest and inform them of the correct version of your name the first time you hear them say it wrong." Unsurprisingly, directness is your best bet.

What is the impact of mispronouncing names? ›

Some students felt that persistent mispronunciation of their names impacted their motivation to learn and their relationships with staff. For their part, staff revealed that they would often use their own strategies to improve their pronunciation of students' names, such as Googling and making notes.

How to tell someone they have been pronouncing your name wrong? ›

Simply be up front and state the correction directly the first time the error is made. If, after you were introduced, someone addressed you as Mary, you might correct him by saying, “It's Marie ending with an “ie.” If you are in a large group and the error is made, make the matter-of-fact correction just the same.

Does your name affect your appearance? ›

Your Name May Influence Your Facial Expressions : Shots - Health News Do you look like a Joy? Genes and culture may make it more likely that names and faces align. But researchers say people also may adjust their expressions to match social expectations of their name.

Do peoples names have meaning? ›

Like any word in the dictionary, a person's name has meaning. The study of names is called onomastics or onomatology. Onomastics covers the naming of all things, including place names (toponyms) and personal names (anthroponyms).

What is the most popular baby name? ›

Once again, the most popular names for babies born in the United States are Liam and Olivia—Liam has topped the list for six years in a row, and Olivia has been the top choice for new parents for four years.

What power does your name have? ›

A name, or identity, is a powerful thing. It is a descriptor that allows people to make quick judgments and assumptions about us.

Does your name really matter? ›

Recent studies found that our names have the potential to influence our behavior, physical appearance, career path and life choices, popularity, and how others perceive us. Based on research, it takes 1/10th of a second to assess someone's face and physicality to draw the first impression.

What determines someone's destiny? ›

“It is your decisions, and not your circumstance, that determine your destiny.” Billy Graham said, "The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously.

What is the psychology behind saying someone's name a lot? ›

IT'S A QUALITY: Mentioning someone's name in a conversation is also a personality trait that indicates the power of acknowledgement. By acknowledging other people with their name, one can tell them how important they are which also helps in strengthening their bond.

What does it mean if someone uses your name a lot? ›

WHAT IF THEY ARE USING YOUR NAME OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN A CONVERSATION? This clearly means that by saying your name over and over, that person is trying to involve you and wants your engagement in that discussion. They want that conversation to be interactive, hence, they look for responses and feedback.

What part of the brain remembers people's names? ›

For the study, subjects received electric stimulation to their anterior temporal lobes while looking at photos of faces of known or semi-famous people and landmarks. Her findings support previous research suggesting that the anterior temporal lobes are critically involved in the retrieval of people's names.

Do you have the right to not give your name? ›

You must provide your name, address, and date of birth. The police can arrest you and take you to the police station if you refuse to identify yourself or if you provide a false identity when you were required to identify yourself.

Is a name a human right? ›

A person's name is an integral part of one's identity. Both the Human Rights Committee and the European Court have ruled that a person's name falls under the protection afforded by the right to respect for private life.

Are you obligated to give your name? ›

It is your right to remain silent, and you cannot be punished for doing so. You should, however, tell the officer that you plan on invoking this right. Again, if asked to identify yourself, you must do so.

Am I legally obligated to tell someone my name? ›

In many jurisdictions, you're under no obligation to give them your name (in others, you are, so check your local laws). However, in most places, if you give a false name to a cop, that can be a felony.

Do our names define us? ›

A name is your identity. It's what people call you, it's what you respond to, it's what you understand about yourself. From the day we are born, we are assigned this identifier. Some people get nicknames or change their name entirely after they are born, but the common thread is a NAME.

Who has the right to have his name? ›

1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

Who has more right to name a child? ›

Who Has the Right To Name a Child? Generally, both legal parents must agree to change the child's name, and the change must be in the best interests of the child. Both parents have the right to be involved in the naming process.


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