Three ways of name-pronunciation

Three ways of name-pronunciation


dr. Eugen Schochenmaier

Mondonomo, Chief Scientist

March 8, 2022, 9:30 p.m.

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If you grew up with a hard-to-pronounce name, you may define the way the others approached your name. We can put them into one of three camps: fumble-bumblers, arrogant manglers, and calibrators.

The fumble-bumblers mispronounce the name, slowing down and making their voice all wobbly, not trusting themselves. They would grimace, laugh, ask you how to say it, then try again. But then they sort of gave up. Over the next few attempts, they would settle into something that was a kind of approximation. Do not mind these people for they put the mispronunciation on themselves—their demeanor suggested the fault was with them, not you or your name. For instance, Samira Fejzic (FAY-zich) was used to people saying her Bosnian surname wrong, especially in school.

The arrogant manglers represent another story. They assume their pronunciation was correct and just plowed ahead, never bothering to check. In many cases, an arrogant mangler will persist with his/her own pronunciation even after they have been corrected. Adan (uh-DON) Deeb, whose family hails from Israel with Palestinian roots, experienced this as a middle school student in the U.S. Every time he was called up to the office, they mispronounced his name, no matter how many times he corrected them. It made Adan angry.

Finally, there is a small group of the calibrators, people who recognize that a name required a little more effort. They ask to pronounce it, try to replicate it, then fine-tuned it a few more times against your own pronunciation. Some of them would even check back later to make sure they still had it. The people who once came across the name Rajendrani did not announce “We’ll just call you Amy”, but tried to learn her name properly.

If you are already a calibrator, keep up the good work. If you are not — if you have let yourself off the hook with some idea like “I’m terrible with names” — know that it is not too late to turn things around, and it does matter. Though it may seem inconsequential to you, the way you handle names has deeper implications than you might realize.