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What's In A Name?

It is often said your name is your calling card. It is what describes you and/or what you answer to. However, everybody does not like their name (for varying reasons) and some might take on a nickname instead. In addition, some names are difficult to pronounce which can cause misunderstandings by all involved.

To be fair, names that are different from the culture, country, or community where you grew up can garner some mispronunciations and misunderstandings.

As an African American, this is often true for several names in my community. Some of these names are difficult to spell as well as pronounce with each new generation. In an effort to sound unique, some parents stray away from the normal phonetic pattern of the alphabet when naming their child, which causes confusion in the pronunciation. Or, some parents choose to name their child after an object not usually used for names. I will not venture to list some of these names for fear I might offend someone. However, when these names are heard, they can cause others to:

  • Say, “Huh?”

  • Look at the person strangely.

  • Butcher the pronunciation.

  • Ask if there is another name they can call you.

  • And in some instances, chuckle in disbelief at the sound or spelling of the name.

Whatever the response, someone is bound to either be misunderstood, offended, upset or all of the above. To avoid this conflict, I have a few suggestions for both parties if they run into this problem.

When you hear names difficult to pronounce – These suggestions vary depending on how frequently you are with this person. (Use one or several)

  • Ask the person to say their name slowly.

  • Ask them to write their name on a piece of paper.

  • Attempt to pronounce the phonetic sound of the name.

  • Repeat the name back slowly and ask for confirmation on the pronunciation.

  • Apologize for the mispronunciation and ask if there is another way to say their name.

  • Do not give them a nickname as this can be offensive to some people. If the person suggests a nickname, then it is OK.

  • Most importantly, do not make fun of the person’s name.

If you have a name that is difficult to pronounce (Use one or several)

  • Be patient, while the person processes what they have heard.

  • Politely correct the person with a smile and repeat your name slowly.

  • Write out your name if there is going to be a continuing encounter with this individual.

  • Suggest a “sounds like” indicator for your name to help with the pronunciation.

  • Offer a shorter version of your name (if you are comfortable with that option.)

  • DO NOT get upset if the person still has challenges with your name.

  • Find a better way to handle the issue for your next encounter to avoid misunderstandings.

The above suggestions are a work in progress with much needed patience and respect by all involved. Please also note, you might have other options you would prefer to use. Since this is a sensitive topic, try to maintain calm and avoid conflict about an issue that can turn into something more than anticipated.

However, if you are a person with a difficult name to pronounce, keep this in mind; people may not remember the correct way to pronounce your name, but they will remember the negative attitude you had about the mispronunciation of your name.

Veronica Blakely is an Urban Communication Specialist who coaches individuals on how to ‘code-switch’ from their dialect to speak Standard American English. For more information, contact her through her website:

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