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What's in a name?

Updated: Mar 18

You are heading into an important meeting.

You’ve done the pre-read, prepared your key messages and you’re confident your contribution can wow and win your participants over.

Half an hour before the meeting starts, you glance at the names of those attending.

Your finger stops at ‘Yoshihide’ and you panic.

‘Oh no,’ you think, ‘how on earth do I pronounce that?’

In today’s global environment our work often sees us interacting with those from different countries and cultures. I’ve picked ‘Yoshihide’ for illustrative purposes, but you could replace it with any that’s unfamiliar and the point’s the same - you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Pronouncing a colleague's name correctly is not only a common courtesy but also a crucial step in creating an inclusive workplace that values psychological safety and a sense of belonging. After all, a person’s name is an integral part of their identity and hearing it mispronounced can leave them feeling disrespected and wondering whether their contributions are valued.

Unconvinced? Research suggests that having a ‘hard-to-pronounce’ name can negatively impact social emotional wellbeing and the ability to learn; your career progression; your chances of getting a job in Western countries; and your interview chances in France. Perhaps that’s why so many Black and Asian job applicants ‘whiten’ their CVs and half of Chinese students attending US universities adopt English names to ‘fit in’.


So, how do you discover how to pronounce someone’s name well?

The important thing is not to guess and so here I share some tips to help you get it right first time.

N is for New.

A new campaign by Race Equality Matters recommends adding the phonetic pronunciation to all your communication channels; emails, social media, name badges etc. LinkedIn also offers a newish tool enabling people to record and display the pronunciation of their name on their profile. If others often mispronounce your name, and you’ve yet to do so, here are the instructions for how you can add this audio feature to your profile: Record and Display Your Name Pronunciation on Your Profile | LinkedIn Help

A is for Ask.

Perhaps the person hasn’t activated the audio LinkedIn feature or added the phonetic pronunciation of their name. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to ask a mutual acquaintance. Once you have the correct pronunciation, you might want to record it into your smart phone, so you remember and can rehearse it.

M is for Multilingual.

If that fails, check out this multilingual audio pronunciation dictionary. It’s a crowd-sourced database so I can’t guarantee it is 100% accurate, but when I’ve used it, I’ve had good results. How To Pronounce: Online Multilingual Pronunciation Dictionary

E is for Ears.

If you are already in the room, find a way of getting the individual to say their name first so you can hear it. For example, if someone’s wearing a name badge you can try something like: ‘Oh yours looks like a lovely name and I want to say it well, could you pronounce it for me?’ Or when I’m running a workshop and all I have is a register of names in front of me, I will sometimes write the name up I’m struggling with and say something like: ‘This is such an interesting name and it’s not one I’ve come across before – would you be kind enough to tell me how you say it?’

Shakespeare famously wrote ‘what’s in a name?’ And the answer is, of course, everything – our identity, the success of our interactions and a path towards better inclusion.

Susan Room is an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and professional voice coach, one of the rare few qualified to provide both types of coaching. Her Make Your Mark group coaching programme explores how you think, how you look, what you say and how you say it and enables people to feel, look and sound confident – securing successful outcomes.


Research and further reading:

Research by the University of Toronto

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