Published on January 10, 2022

Say My Name!

Many fairy tales have centered around the theme that using someone’s true name results in extraordinary power (think, à la Rumpelstiltskin) so we should be careful who we share our name with. This of course is fantasy, but there is some truth to the power saying someone’s name properly can hold.

Likewise, if someone’s name is mispronounced, the negative impacts that can have on them may outweigh any positive intentions the person trying to pronounce it had. Incorrectly pronouncing someone’s name can signal a lack of respect and make the other person feel alienated and invalidated- especially if they are a member of a minority group. And worse still is struggling with the pronunciation of someone’s name, and then simply saying, “I’ll just call you Terry,” or another name that could be easier for you to say.

Yet, in the same ways that mispronouncing someone’s name can lead to feelings of alienation and invalidation, pronouncing someone’s name correctly signals respect and inclusion, and lets the other person know that their identity matters to you. Below are some tips for the best ways to approach a situation when you don’t know how to properly pronounce someone’s name:

  1. Ask the person how they pronounce their name. Oftentimes people shy away from this question because it can put us in a vulnerable position. But assuming you know how to say someone’s name and then mispronouncing it often leads to awkwardness and embarrassment for both parties, that just gets worse over time. Pay attention to how they pronounce their name and practice it a few times on your own.
  2. If you find yourself in a situation where you realize you have mispronounced someone’s name, apologize and seek clarification. Don’t ask if you can call them by a different name; own your mistake and make the effort to change your behavior.
  3. Be an ally! If you hear someone else incorrectly pronouncing someone’s name, stick up for them and kindly teach others how to pronounce it, too.

Having a conversation about how to pronounce someone’s name can be tough and takes courage. Nonetheless, having this difficult conversation will allow both of you to walk away feeling respected, appreciated and more connected.

To read the full article on correctly pronouncing names and to learn more about other ways to take action in your community, check out the City’s new Take Action page today!

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Last edited: January 12, 2022