Stop Saying These Things If You Don’t Know How to Pronounce Someone’s Name.

There is a lot in the name. We previously discussed the easiest way to forget someone’s name, but what if you don’t know how to pronounce their name from the start?

Saying someone’s name correctly is more than just courtesy, it’s a matter of inclusion and respect. In an article for the Harvard Business Review , Ruchika Tulshyan, author of The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace , talks about the real connection someone’s name has to how they’re valued at work. Similarly, a viral LinkedIn post by Damneet Kaur explains that mispronouncing someone’s name can make them feel excluded and rejected. And these effects start showing up long before work: Studies have shown that students experience shame when their teachers fail to learn to say their names.

With all the different names in the world, we’re bound to mess up the pronunciation here and there. This experience is all too familiar to immigrants, and in particular to people with non-white or non-Western names. However, there is a way to take a new name tactfully, instead of making people feel inferior or alienated. The next time you come across a name you don’t know how to pronounce correctly, here are some examples of what not to say (and what to do instead).

What not to say if you don’t know how to pronounce the name

“I’m going to slaughter this.”

We all confuse names, but people use this phrase to release their expectations.

As someone who has said this with regret in the past, I understand the instinct to let someone know you’re apologizing before pronunciation. However, your attempt to be “shy” or self-deprecating should not come at the expense of the other person. If you announce that you are going to kill someone’s name before you even try to say it, it will sound like you have already given up. Once you feel like you’re about to kill someone’s name, you can channel that self-awareness into actually asking for the correct pronunciation.

“I’ll never get it right, can I call you something else?”

If someone has a nickname, they like to be called, they will tell you. Otherwise, it’s highly disrespectful to ask someone to change their name for your convenience.

“I’m sorry, I’m the worst. I’m such an idiot!”

It is impossible to know how to pronounce every name in the world. Don’t give it too much importance. No need for condescending, drawn-out apologies. These displays are more for you than for the person whose name is being mispronounced. What’s more, it usually ends up with the person in a weird position when they comfort you .

The instinct to apologize is good, but as a rule of thumb, consider putting the other person’s dignity ahead of your own pride. Just ask for clarification and move on.

“Wow, this is so unique. What does this mean?”

Even if you have good intentions, you still shouldn’t draw too much attention to the “unique” name. This may seem like a fetish for non-Western names, which confuses people and marks them out as “other”.

Think about it: do you know what your name, Jeff, means?

“[weird distorted mumbling]”

If you’re going to try to say someone’s name, at least make an attempt.


Don’t skip the name you can’t pronounce.

To learn how to say someone’s name, just ask

“Act with humility,” writes Tulshyan. If you misspelled a name – which is bound to happen – just apologize and ask for the correct pronunciation. Tulshian says it’s a good rule of thumb to say, “I’m sorry, I mispronounced that. Could you repeat your name for me?” Then listen carefully to where the person is stressing and where the intonation is. Repeat after them one or two times, no more. Thank them and move on.

If you have the opportunity to ask someone’s name before a meeting or announcement, take the person aside and say something simple, like, “Hi! I don’t want to misspell your name, how do you pronounce it? Try to double-check people’s names ahead of time before meeting, whether a particular pronunciation bothers you or not – this will form a strong habit.

Taking the time to pronounce someone’s name correctly is a way of showing respect and courtesy, even if it takes a little more effort on your part. We all mess up names and we can all do better.


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