Do you, or does someone you know, have a wonderfully unique name that is seemingly or genuinely difficult to pronounce? First name, last name, or even both – you probably cringed when substitute teachers read your name out loud during attendance and you cringe slightly now just before someone is about to attempt it for the first time. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been called Jessa, Yaysa, Jassa, Jazzna or the worst – Jason (no offence to the Jason’s out there). For the record, Jaysa is pronounced like its spelled (JAY – SAH) – but I digress! Rants aside, in all seriousness; saying names correctly is one of the most important steps in making a positive introduction, making a good impression and building a connection in any situation.
What’s the Password?
When I was a kid, I would sometimes tell telemarketers who called for Mr./Mrs. Nachatigatigagaul (aka Nachtigall) that unless they could pronounce my last name correctly, they could not speak to my parents. I was a pretty tough gatekeeper, and was doing this for my own amusement of course, but the impact of saying a name incorrectly in the professional world can be similar with actual gatekeepers. When someone contacts an organization and incorrectly pronounces a name (company, product, or person), that indicates that the person likely hasn’t had meaningful communication or worked with that organization yet, which could impact the success of their call.
Beyond initial contact, in can actually be damaging to your credibility if you repeatedly say someone’s, or their co-worker’s name, wrong throughout an interaction. Not to mention that it is extremely distracting! The focus of any conversation, meeting, sales pitch, interview, or phone call can be derailed by continually mispronouncing a name.
Names in the Workplace & More Tips
Remembering and saying someone’s name correctly is a key step in building positive rapport. In any situation where you feel unsure about pronunciation, put the onus of pronunciation back on yourself and remember it’s okay to ask “Did I say your/their/that name correctly?”! Try to be open to and appreciative of correction. Not everyone will correct you and some people will even say “ahh close enough” if you say their name wrong. You will set yourself apart by caring, genuinely expressing interest, and clarifying. No matter what level you are at in your career, placing importance on getting a name right is one simple way of showing you value an interaction and respect the person you are speaking with.
In an interview scenario, it is important to be especially careful of questions that arise during small talk as a result of someone’s name. Seemingly innocent questions like “I have never heard that name before, what is your background?” can inadvertently enter the realm of protected characteristics. Questions like this can cause issues due to perceived discrimination, particularly if the person isn’t the successful candidate and interprets that specific question as the reason.
Workplaces in Canada are incredibly diverse. Names with a cultural origin that are less familiar may be especially difficult to pronounce if the use of dialect is different from your own. In the workplace, try to listen to how others say the person’s name, if there is a shortened version they prefer, or how that person says it (even on their voicemail if possible). Remember to ask if it is okay to call them by a shortened name and avoid nicknames unless the person has approved of them and they are appropriate.
If you realize you’ve been working with someone for a long time and you’ve only now heard a different pronunciation for how to say their name, it’s not too late to change! You can ask that person to confirm, but it may be more comfortable for you to ask someone in that person’s immediate circle so that you can correct yourself moving forward. Other helpful tips are to try a memory trick by connecting that person’s name in your mind to something that rhymes, has a similar meaning or something else that is familiar to you. For example, my firm’s name is Acuity HR Solutions – Acuity is pronounced like visual acuity. Writing the name phonetically is also very useful to help you remember it and have a reference point to go back to if you forget.
In any case, whether it is a person, company, or product; names are personal and important. Make it a priority to remember and correctly pronounce the names you encounter to positively impact your personal and professional conversations.
Jaysa Toet is a Partner at Acuity HR Solutions. She leads the recruitment function for Acuity. For more information on Jaysa or Acuity HR Solutions visit https://acuityhr.ca/