How do you say your name? Does it get pronounced incorrectly every day by customers, colleagues and other work contacts, making you uncomfortable, annoyed – even offended – and determined to make sure it never happens again? Or have you struggled to pronounce a person’s name and been too embarrassed to ask the correct pronunciation? If so, we’re here to help.
“When you have an unusual name or when people are used to pronouncing it in a certain way, you get used to hearing it mispronounced. There is a certain creativity to how people choose to call you – I’ve had such a range that I would be almost excited to see what comes next! In reality, it would be so much simpler to ask politely what’s the correct sound just the way we ask what’s the correct spelling. All of us know that we have names that are unusual or difficult to figure out so it does not come as a surprise to us, when asked, but it does make us feel an effort is being made to be inclusive – through the name, we also acknowledge the heritage we bring, the back story. There’s a lot in a name that can help organisations be mindful, to recognise and accept differences and make staff welcome. I love that my organisation is diverse and we have people with different backgrounds – they bring richness and creativity to our approach to problem-solving and how we engage with our market. Calling them by their correct name is the least effort to thank them for their work.”
Dana Denis-Smith | CEO | Obelisk
Everyone deserves to have their name pronounced correctly. However, name pronunciation – alongside the hot topic of personal pronouns – can be challenging. In the workplace it is especially important both as a key part of Individual employee identity and in helping employers increase inclusivity.
It’s time to be practical, proactive and professional about overcoming these problems and start adding name pronunciation to email signatures..
In this blogpost I’ll show you
- What name pronunciation is and why it’s so important
- The benefits of correct name pronunciation in the workplace
- How to create a more inclusive work environment through name pronunciation
- Why email signatures are the ideal tool to ensure correct name pronunciation
- How to show name pronunciation in email signatures
- How Rocketseed can help
Let’s get started…
What is name pronunciation?
It might sound like a simple question but to ensure a focus on inclusivity, we like the clear, helpful definition given by Joseph Aninakwa, Inclusion and Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers.
“Name pronunciation is simply being able to pronounce a person’s first and last name as they would prefer it to be pronounced in its original intended form. This means without deviating or shortening for ease.”
While some names are undeniably more straightforward (being pronounced exactly as they are spelt), for those names that are more uncommon in your country (or the country you are communicating with) additional effort with name pronunciation is required.
With that in mind, let’s explore just why correct name pronunciation is so important.
Why is name pronunciation important?
Firstly, let’s be clear, name pronunciation is important. Here’s why…
Names are linked to personal identity
Our names are key to who we are. As Jane Bryan, of the University of Warwick’s ‘Say My Name Project, notes in The Times Higher Education supplement “Our names are entwined with our personal identities, often chosen with care and laden with meaning” – meaning that spans all kinds of personal, cultural and symbolic associations as well as reflecting our family, ethnicity and heritage.
“Names are so pivotal to people’s identity, but so many people find that the majority cannot be bothered to try and say names that are different in any way. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. My full name is Mousumi, (pronounced Mow-shoo=me). At school teacher’s refused to try and say it so I used Mo, and then when I started working I found that a career in sales meant spelling my name all day to people as they couldn’t be bothered to try and say my surname either which is pronounced exactly as it’s written. Shortening people’s names for them, mispronouncing them or refusing to say a name are all forms of microaggressions which can cause people distress, frustration and irritation. It can damage a person’s sense of identity and completely alter the meaning of a name. We now see that many people add the phonetic spelling of their name in email signatures, and platforms like LinkedIn have a function to record how to say your name. We always encourage people to try and say people’s names or ask people how to say their name instead of shortening it for them. It’s such a fundamental thing to get right for people, and crucial to help people feel they belong.”
Mo Kanjilal | Co-creator | Watch This Sp_ce
Correct name pronunciation shows respect
Someone taking the time and making the effort to pronounce your name correctly – or even asking how you prefer to be addressed – is a simple sign of respect to you, your race and ethnicity.
Correct name pronunciation signals inclusion
As names are often linked with ethnicity and culture, their correct pronunciation, or asking the correct pronunciation, is an act of acceptance and can open opportunities to discuss name heritage and promote inclusivity.
“As a professional with a non-anglicised name, when meeting with new contacts my name inevitably leads to conversation. My first name I’ve never taken any offence over, and do find it endearing if anyone correctly rolls the ‘r’. Also, refusing to Anglicise it as a child has been a wise decision, as it has inevitably been a talking point, and often memorable for people. Regarding my last name Atijas, unfortunately the ‘j’ remains an ongoing challenge for all non-phonetic language speakers. I may very well remove it in future, and simply keep Atias. If I had a dollar every time someone asked me if Darko was my real name, I would be a wealthy man”.
Darko Atijas | CEO | True Altitude
But… mispronunciation can cause lasting damage
Name pronunciation is also so important because mispronouncing or misusing names can have the reverse effect, undermining personal identity, disrespecting the individual, leading to feelings of alienation and causing more harm than many realise.
A prime example was highlighted in a recent article in Metro “Mispronouncing African names is not a ‘harmless’ mistake – it creates lasting damage”. This contrasted the rich religious, spiritual, family and poetic significance of African naming traditions with first-hand experiences of having names mispronounced, refused, abbreviated and mocked, and the offence caused.
The numbers speak for themselves with Race Equality Matters citing a recent poll in which 73% of respondents from more than 100 organisations said they’d had their names mispronounced and consequently felt ‘not valued or important’, ‘disrespected’ and ‘that they didn’t belong’. 88% of respondents thought a phonetic name spelling campaign would help tackle race inequality and so the #mynameis campaign was launched.
As a company that has always had a strong African presence in terms of offices, staff and customer-base, it’s a topic close to our hearts and highlights the importance of correct name pronunciation in the workplace.
The benefits of correct name pronunciation in the workplace
While correct name pronunciation is important in all aspects of life, it’s especially important in the workplace, with the often complex relationships between colleagues, customers and other day-to-day business contacts.
There are clear benefits as correct name pronunciation can:
Create a more relaxed working environment
Correct name pronunciation engenders mutual respect and reduces annoyance making for a more relaxed working environment for everyone.
Help recruit and retain staff
From job interviews to performance reviews, correct name pronunciation can get working relationships off to the right start and show staff they’re valued.
Improve customer interaction
A culture of correct name pronunciation extends respect and goodwill to customers, suppliers and other business contacts through getting their names right in all interactions.
Boost brand image and commercial performance
With businesses increasingly looking to deal with, buy from and invest in inclusive companies, name pronunciation can have a positive impact on your brand and business performance.
This all sounds great, but to achieve these benefits employers need to create a culture in which correct name pronunciation is promoted and normalised. So, how can you actually make it happen?
Ensuring correct name pronunciation company-wide is a key step to meeting diversity and inclusivity compliance standards.
How to create an inclusive work environment through name pronunciation
How do you create a workplace culture where correct pronunciation is the norm? We suggest starting with some guidelines…
‘Say My Name’ Project Guidelines
An initiative that has caught our attention is the “Say My Name” project undertaken in 2021 by the University of Warwick’s Community Values Education Programme. Focusing on the importance of names to feelings of inclusion in organisations, its findings resulted in the following invaluable guidelines for handling people’s names with respect and sensitivity and boosting their sense of belonging.
Focus on pronunciation
Never assume you know how to pronounce a person’s name – ask.
Listen to the individual
Emulate their pronunciation and then invite them to correct you.
Model correct name use
Make an effort to greet everyone by name – research shows their brand ‘light up’ when you get it right!
Prepare in advance to use names
Proactively check pronunciation ideally with the name-bearer, or use websites such as NameShouts.
Question your assumptions
Don’t assume someone’s ethnicity or gender from their name or that their name is pronounced as it is spelt.
Normalise awareness of correct pronunciation
Create a culture that cares about name pronunciation including through audio name badges or pronunciation guides in email signatures.
Pay attention to the details
Note exactly how people introduce themselves or sign their emails.
Help others get it right
If you hear someone’s name being mispronounced in their absence, offer the correct pronunciation if you know it.
You can find more information about the “Say My Name” project here. There’s one other common question to consider…
Should you correct others on name pronunciation?
This can be a sensitive issue. People aren’t perfect. Whilst most mispronunciation will be unintentional (albeit it lazy or careless) and can be resolved with polite correction, intentional malicious mispronunciation is a different matter, possibly constituting harassment that needs resolving officially with HR support.
You might also find it difficult to correct people who mispronounce your name, especially if they’re your boss, a longstanding customer (the customer is always right?) or even a close colleague but the truth is, the longer the mispronunciation continues, the harder it becomes to put right, so polite correction at the outset really is the answer!
These are great guidelines so how might you promote them across your organisation? Here are a few suggestions:
How to promote name pronunciation across organisations
Lead from the top
Those in leadership positions need to set an example, following best practice, making an effort to pronounce names correctly and being open to correction.
Make it an HR priority
Whose responsibility is implementing these guidelines and championing the values? In most companies this falls to HR. As our own Head of HR says:
“Correctly pronouncing someone’s name not only demonstrates respect but also helps to create an inclusive workplace. There are various statistics available showing the impact of diversity and inclusion initiates in the workplace. From an HR standpoint, it’s important to build an inclusive workplace culture as it empowers employees to be innovative and collaborative. When employees feel valued and empowered, it has a positive impact on their performance, which overall improves the business performance. It might seem small or unimportant to address an employee by correctly pronouncing their name, but this is a great first step in creating an inclusive workplace.”
Robynne Simmons | Group HR Manager | Rocketseed
Include in training
Make sure that the importance of name pronunciation is emphasised in equality, diversity and inclusivity training.
Whether it’s internal email newsletters and email banners or simply mentioning it at a company social event, remind staff about the importance of correct name pronunciation.
Add into social profiles
Encourage staff to use audio name pronunciation in their social profiles where the platform allows, for example LinkedIn.
“I find it to be a best practice for professionals to adopt the usage of pronouns and phonetic name pronunciation wherever they can – email signatures, social media profiles, et cetera. It creates a more inclusive environment for everyone that you’re interacting with when you make it commonplace.”
Christina Stokes | Senior VP of Talent Acquisition | Rubenstein
Include in email signatures
On every email you send, there’s an opportunity to show how your name should be pronounced. There are a number of factors that make email signatures the ideal tool to show correct name pronunciation…
Why are email signatures the ideal tool to show name pronunciation?
Email is your most used business communication channel (The average employee sends 1,000 emails a month) so it’s a huge opportunity to show customers, colleagues and contacts your correct name pronunciation.
Adding name pronunciation to your email signatures is the ideal solution because:
Even when you have a company email signature, the contact information shows your personal details – your name, qualifications, job title and pronouns – so it’s the ideal place to show your correct name pronunciation.
By regularly sending emails to a range of recipients not only will your name pronunciation reach a wide audience but with the more emails they receive from you, the more likely your name pronunciation is to stick in their memory.
A key aim of email signatures is to make you look as professional as possible. Showing your name pronunciation in the context of a well-designed on-brand email signature adds to the professionalism that correct name pronunciation implies.
An email signature with name pronunciation promotes the values of your brand to the outside world. It’s clear to your key audiences that your brand is actively inclusive.
It’s likely that you’ll be emailing somebody before having a call with them. Your email signature therefore provides a proactive way of showing people how to pronounce your name so they get it right the first time they speak to you.
So how do you add name pronunciation to email signatures?
How to show name pronunciation in your email signatures
If you choose to add name pronunciation to your email signature template, it is best to add the pronunciation details directly below or next to your name. This prominent placement ensures that recipients will see the pronunciation guidance immediately and relate it to your name easily. Making pronunciation information such an intrinsic element of the signature also shows the importance your company places on it.
There are two main ways to add name pronunciation in your email signatures.
- Add a phonetically-written form of your name in the signature
- Add an audio file of your name to your signature
Let’s look at both options.
How do I write my name phonetically?
There are two options here:
1. Spell your name as you pronounce it
This keeps things simple and is especially helpful for long names. Simply split your name into syllables and spell out all the sounds in each to help correct pronunciation (this may involve using letters that are not in the actual spelling of your name). You can also capitalise the letter sounds to be emphasised when pronouncing your name correctly. Here’s an example…
This is the approach taken by Deloitte UK.
Our names are central to our identities, they make us unique and distinctive to one another. All our people now have the opportunity to add phonetic name pronunciation via their email signatures. #RespectandInclusion #NationalInclusionWeek pic.twitter.com/qchkXKUV7G
— Deloitte UK (@DeloitteUK) September 28, 2020
2. Use the International Phonetic Alphabet
Whilst there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there are 44 sounds in phonetic transcriptions to show the pronunciation of vowels, dipthongs (the sound formed by the combination of 2 vowels in a single syllable) and consonants. Writing and reading the international phonetic alphabet also requires the understanding of special phonetic symbols and is therefore realistically too complicated for effective everyday email signatures.
Add a link in your signature to a recording of your name
By linking a recording of your name to your email signature, you’ll be sharing your name with the world in your own voice so there’s no reason for any email recipients to mispronounce it! See how you can easily record your name using Namedrop.
The recording can then be linked to your email signature and displayed by your name as a clickable speaker symbol next to your name or, even more clearly, with a ‘hear my name’ call-to-action button.
How can Rocketseed help?
Worried that adding name pronunciation to company email signatures will crowd their design? Or concerned that letting individual employees add name pronunciation in different ways might make for inconsistent branding? Rocketseed makes it easy to add name pronunciation to company email signatures.
Using our signature creator or professional signature design service, it is easy to create an email signature template incorporating a field for a written pronunciation guide. Alternatively a clickable speaker icon or ‘hear my name’ call to action button can be added to your signature linked to the recorded audio file of your name.
With Rocketseed you can be certain that your pronunciation guide will display and work correctly on all email clients and devices.
Rocketseed also enables you to centrally control staff email signatures company-wide so that the format used is consistent and in keeping with the brand look and feel of your signatures. Unless it is company policy for all names to include pronunciation details, employees can be offered the choice of whether they want name pronunciation included in their email signatures.
Finally, Rocketseed’s email signature marketing banners can be used on all HR and internal emails to promote the understanding of the importance of name pronunciation and its significance for diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. With banners linked to detailed content about pronunciation and inclusivity, recipients can simply click-through to learn more.
Here’s what our customers say…
“Our names are central to our identities, and pronouncing them correctly is a sign of respect. Rocketseed’s capabilities to include name pronunciations within email signatures is a very important step to fostering inclusion for all GLAS employees.”
Samantha Dinnan | Marketing | GLAS
Everyone deserves to have their name pronounced correctly. Adding name pronunciation guides to employee email signatures is a simple step that can make a big difference both to protecting individual employee identity and creating a company culture of diversity and inclusivity.
To find out more about adding name pronunciation to your email signatures and how Rocketseed can help, contact us today. Need email signatures for more than 50 users? Start your Rocketseed free trial today.