What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? When I was growing up, I can’t tell you the number of times people either mispronounced my name or just didn’t say it at all. In ninth grade, I switched schools and somehow a classmate assigned me a shortened version of my name. It stuck. This made life infinitely easier. As time went by, I felt a loss for my full given name. Who was I making it easier for? Me or others? I realized I was just trying to avoid microaggressions and awkward, challenging moments that others created because they couldn’t be bothered to take the time and effort to attempt an unfamiliar name.

Names are a big part of a person’s identity and probably one of the first things that you learn about a person. It’s natural to sometimes mispronounce an unfamiliar name. Most of the time, there are no bad intentions involved. Still, the impact of mispronouncing a name, not taking the time to learn the correct pronunciation, or using ‘nicknames’ can be harmful. As you begin building community with your teams, consider the importance of learning names. 

What can you do?

  • Share name stories for everyone in your team. In pairs or small groups ask people to share the story of their name. Let them know ahead of time so they can ask family or do a bit of research.
  • Ask people for the correct pronunciation of their own name. Some database programs actually have a way for students and faculty to make a recording of the pronunciation of their name. 
  • Call people by their chosen names. Please don’t use nicknames or terms of endearment. This can be harmful, especially when you are a person with power.
  • Know that it is difficult and complicated for people to correct your incorrect pronunciation, especially when it is repeated over a long period of time.
  • Know that trying to pronounce names correctly and asking for feedback is important.

Check out this episode of Code Switch with Aparna Nancherla and Maz Jobrani, well-known comedians and writers, who talk about their experiences with their names, the difficulty of correcting people, and the complicated feelings involved. 

Names are important. Names are a vital part of our identity. As a leader, you can develop a sense of community by getting to know your team members’ names. It’s a seemingly small gesture that can have a great impact and cultivate a sense of belonging. I have returned to introducing myself with my full name, Priyanthi. If you want to know how to pronounce it click the link.