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August 28, 2021

Pronounce it right: our names crystallize our identities.

Saif Cheval
Saif Cheval
Marketing Lead
min read

Why does it matter if names are mispronounced?

It's just an awkward moment, right? How important are names anyway?

A lot of us don’t give our names too much thought.

They’re ingrained in who we are, and for the most part, are automatic to us.

Your name is your name, and that’s all it is.

Mispronounced names force people to explain themselves because of who they are.
Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

But for anyone who has had to explain their name to someone else, things can get complicated. Their names can be difficult to pronounce or understand – they are put in a position to explain themselves because of who they are.

That experience can range from mildly irritating to downright humiliating, depending on the person they are talking to. For teenagers already reconciling their place in the world, mispronounced names become embarrassing. For immigrants looking to join a new society, it can be invalidating.

No one should be forced to change their name to fit in; our names should be the wellspring of our pride.

And that’s why, for this post, we’re looking into where names come from, what they mean, and how we can do better.

Breaking things down.

Humans name things.

Our brains break complex categories down into digestible parts, providing us with the context and clues to call things by their names.

On a higher level, these are schemas, an ongoing category of knowledge that you adjust as you learn more about the world.

Our simplest schemas help us understand what things are -- for example, what a horse is, or what a car is. We assimilate (add new information) or accommodate (adjust existing information) based on what we see and learn in the world.

Naming things to understand them is an integral part of this process. And, in fact, we can have person schemas too: schemas that identify the people around us, and what they look and act like. Central to those are their names.

Who we are is defined by our names!
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We identify people through names, understand people through names and build memories with names.

And that’s why they are, in turn, so important to us. Our names are who we are.

Some love the names they are born with. Others choose to change them. But we should never impose our own names on others -- unsolicited nicknames, shortened “easy” names, familiar “simple” names. After all, we have self-schemas as well. And what do you think is central to that?

Patching in to the network.

But that’s all high-level. Why does this matter to you?

People spending time together: mispronounced names can impact relationships!
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

No person is an island. It’s important for all of us to make connections, build strong, lasting relationships with the people around us.

For some, their work revolves around connecting with others across the world. Leveraging those cross-cultural relationships can be difficult enough -- things become more complicated with the introduction of language barriers.

A person's name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Dale Carnegie

When trying to navigate the intricacies of cutting deals across borders, it can help to have that trick up your sleeve. Nothing kills rapport like a mispronounced name.

It shows you have respect for the person, as well as their wider culture and history.

And most importantly, you align yourself with their self-schema: you affirm their identity, rather than confront or deny it.

It starts with names.

How can you make this a reality?

It’s easy. Invest in people’s names.

Listen to people when they tell you their names, their stories. Offer your ears without judgement. Don’t say a name is difficult -- it’s unfamiliar.

Offer your own name with the same respect, whether it’s short and sweet or lengthy and powerful.

When you’re in a high-stakes situation, prepare yourself. Take a second to understand a name, to realize what it means. These words convey so much about us, and they should be treated with the respect they deserve.

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Remember that it isn’t life or death, and sometimes you might mispronounce a name. It’s your actions after the fact that matter most: that’s when it’s time to step up, take responsibility, and show them that who they are is important.

Because names matter. People matter. We all want to make the best connections we can.

Mispronounced names are a problem. Respect is the simple, elegant answer.

NameShouts is a tool designed for building stronger cross-cultural relationships. We envision a world where people and their tools can pronounce any name, no matter how unique.

Check out our web application today. Use code "NSBlackFriday2019" for 30% off any annual plan.

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