In any professional or social setting, pronouncing and saying someone’s name correctly are important skills and practices to possess. It lets others know you care, value, welcome, acknowledge, hear and respect them; and that they matter to you. It’s courteous. It’s inclusive and it’s bonding.
Some people have two common first names like me; other people may have two common last names as their first names; some a first and/or last name that may be less common in certain cultures; and certain names may be difficult for some people to enunciate.
How to politely address? First, always look the other person in the eyes if you’re in-person and as best as possible via virtual conversation/meeting; and always listen intently via either scenario or via phone meeting/conversation.
If your name often gets confused or mispronounced:
Use your EI (emotional intelligence) to assess when and how to gently correct. In a private moment you could say “Josh I just wanted to let you know my name is Alec not Alex,” or “Actually my last name is Harper and my first name is Jackson…don’t worry it happens all the time!” Or give a little tip, “The ‘ree’ is emphasized, it’s pronounced Rahd-REE-gehz,” or “My name is Nichelle – it rhymes with Michelle but begins with an ‘n’.” On that note, when first meeting someone and they make a mistake in greeting you, it is perfectly polite to address it on the spot with the same type of gentle response.
On LinkedIn, other social media and email signature it’s common to state the phonetic pronunciation after a name. For example, Siobhan [shiv-awn] O’Connor or Angie [an-gee] Allison [al-eh-son]. This is also a practice on paper or digital business cards as well as nametags. When you’re meeting the person after reading their name, say their name out loud and ask, “Am I saying your name correctly?” or “I know how to spell your name, however I’m not sure I’m pronouncing it correctly…”
If you have trouble pronouncing or just don’t think you have it right:
“Tell me again, how do you pronounce your name?” (And say it back one or two times until you get a confirmation.) Or “Remind me how to say your name again?” or “I want to make sure I say your name correctly, could you pronounce it for me please?” Then thank the person and move on to the conversation at hand.
If you’re introducing/know you’re going to introduce this new person to someone else:
Commit it to memory using your personal name recall techniques (alliteration, rhyming, repetition, visualization, association); say it to yourself or in conversation with them several times; check with the person again if you feel you need to; or ask someone beforehand to make sure you’ve got the correct pronunciation.
If you hear a person pronounce another person’s name incorrectly, in a friendly private moment, let them know – don’t embarrass or chide them. If you realize you’ve mispronounced someone’s name again, be humble and apologize, ask them to please repeat it, and then say it back to them for assurance. If it’s been numerous occasions in which you’ve mispronounced their name, “I just realized I’ve been saying your name incorrectly all this time, my apologies. Could you please say it for me?” To help with recall, perhaps put the phonetic spelling of their name with specific inflection and emphasis in your phone notes, or their contact info, or on their business card.
We all feel respected, heard and positive when someone calls us by our name correctly; then again we all make mistakes and can forget on occasion. Be humble and be kind with name pronunciations – whether it’s yours or someone else’s.