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Some practical tips for remembering and pronouncing someone's name correctly

April 2023


Many of us are accustomed to regularly correcting the pronunciation of our names. Growing up, my last name was regularly pronounced as "Lee-vine" rather than "Le-veen" and, by rote, I would politely correct the mispronunciation. Our names are an incredibly important part of our personal identities, often encompassing familial, cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious significance, and give us a sense of the communities to which we belong. It's no wonder that people often feel marginalized and offended when people regularly mispronounce their name or don't make an effort to learn it in the first instance. Below are a few tips for not only remembering someone's name but also pronouncing it correctly moving forward.

Do's:

  • Repeat their name back to them right away to ensure you're pronouncing it correctly.

  • Make up an association with their name that will trigger you to remember their name (e.g., if their name is Mary, imagine them wearing Mary Jane shoes in your head).

  • Repeat their name back to them when you say goodbye.

  • Actively listen when you are introduced to someone. Sometimes we forget people's names because we're distracted, multitasking, or otherwise not focusing when we speak to someone.

  • If you save their contact information (such as in your phone, email, or CRM System), write out the phonetic spelling of their name.

  • Check to see if they've recorded the pronunciation of their name on their LinkedIn profile page.

  • Admit if you forget their name or its pronunciation the next time that you see them and don't make it a super big deal. For example, "Please remind me of your name again" or "Please remind me how to pronounce your name." They'll probably appreciate you asking this rather than butchering or completely avoiding the use of their name.

  • Apologize genuinely if you mispronounce their name and ask them to please pronounce it so that you don't forget in the future. For example, "I apologize for mispronouncing your name. Could you please repeat it for me?"

  • Correct someone else that you overhear mispronouncing someone's name. You're not only being an ally to the name holder, but also reducing potential embarrassment in the future.

Don'ts

  • Don't say, "I'm so bad at names!" or "I'm going to butcher your name!" This smacks of arrogance and that you're not willing to make the effort to learn their name.

  • Don't say, "That's so complicated to remember/say. Is it okay if instead I call you [insert super Americanized version of their name]?", for the same reason described above.

  • Similarly, don't make up a nickname for the person simply because it's easier for you to remember or pronounce. "Your name is Kimaya? Is it cool if I call you Maya? That'll be easier for me to remember!"

  • Don't belabor how you've never heard that name before. This person likely hears this multiple times a day.

Any other helpful mnemonic devices that you have come across? Drop me a note at mandy@mandylevineconsulting.com!




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