Ever Had Your Name Mispronounced?

If you saw the name Mhaira on a list of people attending your meeting, and you had never met that person before, how would you expect to pronounce their name?

Myra? Maria? Marra? Something else with a ‘Mmm’ sound at the beginning?

I had exactly this situation for a workshop I was running and guessed it would be the first of those…but it turned out I was completely wrong.

When the person arrived and introduced herself she said, “Hi I’m Mhaira – it’s like ‘Barry’ but with a ‘V’.”

It took a few moments to get my head around the fact her name was pronounced entirely differently from what I’d assumed. But after mentally repeating ‘Varry’ a few times, I got the hang of it and was able to say her name properly. (Which as anyone who has read this blog before knows, is something that matters a lot.)

Give people a helping hand

The tip here is: this woman knew her name was unusual – in the UK at least – and wanted to make sure people felt comfortable saying it. So she took the positive step of offering a way to remember it, which created a positive impression of her personal brand in my mind.

(As opposed to another person I met with a name that was pronounced very differently from how it was spelt. They fully expected others to know how to say it and got mad when they didn’t. I’ll be honest and say their personal brand came over as a little egotistical.)

Make it memorable

There are also names that, whilst they would seem to be easy to remember, people can have a hard time lodging in their brain. For instance, a guy on another workshop called Wei (pronounced pretty much as you’d assume: Way) said some of his colleagues kept getting it wrong.

I asked what he’d done to help them and he looked at me puzzled. “Well, why don’t you say, ‘My name’s Wei – as in I did it my way’. I’m pretty sure that’ll help.”

Clarify the options

It’s not just names with an unusual spelling (at least to Anglicised eyes) that are worth clarifying. Even common names can be pronounced different ways, so it’s worth telling people your preference. Or flipping that on it’s head, it’s worth asking someone what their preference is.

I was having an chat with a woman called Claudia about possibly delivering a keynote speech at her event. We’d not spoken before, so at the top of the conversation I said, “Can I just check – how do I pronounce your name? Clawdia or Clowdia?”

She replied, “Thank you so much for asking. So many people get it wrong. I tell people, ‘It’s Claudia – like a cloudier sky – not like Claudia Winkleman.'” It helped get our conversation off on the right foot and I went on to get the booking.

Do you have an unusual or easily mispronounced name? If so, what do you do to help people get it right? Or how do you go about getting other people’s names right? There’s a comment box below ready and waiting for your answer…

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6 responses to “Ever Had Your Name Mispronounced?”

  1. Coleen says:

    Isn’t the name “Mhairi”? it is a fairly common Scottish name so not unusual in the UK – just everywhere other than Scotland!

  2. Emma-louise Marston says:

    Hello Jennifer,
    Thank you as always for taking the time to write an engaging and fun post. This one appeals especially to me, but not strictly from a pronunciation point of view. As an Emma-louise, I find it so frustrating when people elect to call me Emma especially in written communication when they can see how I spell my name (yes the lower case l is deliberate, but thank you to all those on LinkedIn who contact me to point out my mistake). Maybe I let it bother me more than most would like – mainly because I view it as laziness and put a little x against attention to detail in my mental summary of their personal brand and it’s a sure fire way for me to not engage back; however I’m happy with the name I have and would prefer not to use the version you may be suggesting. It has though made me more attentive to the pronunciation of other people’s names both first and surnames, I usually use it as an icebreaker and ask them to teach me how to pronounce it the way that their mother chose. Their reaction is always one of surprise and delight as they have had to become accustomed to the Anglicisation of their name and appreciate the effort of someone trying to get it right. I hope we remain curious and attentive to the names of others whilst recruiting others to the noble practice.
    Emma-louise (never Emma as I will think that you’re speaking to someone else)

  3. Chris says:

    Nobody ever could remember my first name, so I switched to my second name quite early in my life. And even the second name is still frequently misspelled and mispronounced (I have no idea why my parents made it so difficult for me). As even my family never called me by my full second name and my friends wanted a nickname for me, it became “Chris”. And of course, a lot of people assume that I’m a man when they see the name.
    I always find it disrespectful when people insist on using their wrong pronunciation, I even heard a teacher claim that she couldn’t pronounce a name correctly and she had to stick to the wrong way. Just laziness and disrespect in my opinion.
    Several of my friends say their own names in the wrong way most people pronounce them because they have given up on correcting people.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Having the extra complication of a name that could be for a man or a woman is a facet I hadn’t considered. That’s an interesting addition to discussion. Thanks.

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