Pretty much everyone I meet for the first time gets my name wrong. They call me Lenora, Leonora, Laura, or something similar.
On autocorrect, it gets changed to Langsara or Lambsa!
In fact, my name is Lanara.
I was born in Exeter, in Devon, and it happened to be the name of a boat in the harbour that my parents particularly liked the sound of.
Having an unusual name has come with its pros and cons over the years. Apart from being mispronounced often, and almost always misspelt in emails (even though the correct spelling is in my email signature), it has also drawn attention to me when I’ve least wanted it.
One Google search of my name and all of my information is available to the public. I’m easy to find. In school, I’d wait for a new teacher or substitute teacher to reach my name on the list, pause, and make a remark about how different/unique my name was in front of the class. Whilst dating, many times, various dates said how they’d expected me to be Polish, Ukrainian, or Russian and were surprised when I wasn’t.
At the same time, having a different name has also been beneficial at certain points in life. I believe it’s opened some doors for me in terms of job interviews – with the person being intrigued by the name. I feel as though it has also made me stand out when I’ve most needed to stand apart from a crowd or become a good talking point/ice breaker.
Other than that little bit of awkwardness to get over when you first meet someone, once people have learned my name – or asked me if I have a nickname I prefer to go by, which I do – from then on in it’s never an issue.
Most people would agree that names matter. At the end of the day, they are an important identifier and we introduce ourselves with them. Sometimes we pick our own, either a variant of our real name or a nickname we’ve picked up over time from friends or family. Our names are aligned with our identities and due to this importance, it should be a priority to learn to pronounce someone’s name correctly if you’re having difficulty with it.
At the beginning of the year, Yewande Biala, an ex-Love Island star spoke out about having her name mispronounced and the impact it has had on her life. She said:
“When someone doesn’t take the time to learn the proper way to pronounce another person’s name, or worse – intentionally mocks it for being ‘too difficult’ to pronounce, or tries to ascribe another name to make themselves feel comfortable – it can come across as malicious.”
In an article for the Independent Yewande said it’s a form of “microaggression” which communicates “hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatised or culturally marginalised groups.”
There hasn’t been a huge amount of research carried out on the effect of having your name mispronounced in adulthood, however, there is plenty of research available to read about the impact it has on children particularly in education settings.
A 2012 study titled “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microaggressions and the K-12 Classrooms” found that ‘when students of colour had their names mispronounced in the classroom, it affected their social-emotional well-being and by extension, harmed their ability to learn. The study also concluded that mispronouncing the names of students of colour constituted a racial microaggression because it created shame and disassociation from their culture.’
There is also some evidence that having a non-western name can negatively impact your chances of getting hired in Western countries. One study found that ‘white-sounding names were 28% more likely to get a callback for the job interview.’
If You Don’t Know How to Say Someone’s Name, Just Ask
So what do you do when you’re unsure of how to pronounce someone’s name?
The simple first answer is to ask them. There is no shame in admitting that you are unsure of pronunciation, and as long as you truly listen to learn how to pronounce it in future, then there is no damage done.
There are unusual names we’ve grown to be familiar and comfortable with pronouncing through pop culture and mainstream media. Think of the celebrities Arnold Schwarzenegger, Saoirse Ronan, and Thierry Henry.
There are also names where the spelling throws us off how to pronounce them including Niamh, Aoife, and Siobhan.
There are simple tools online to find phonetic spellings of names, particularly on Youtube if you’ve yet to meet the person and feel as though you want to be prepared before doing so.
We aren’t always going to get it right and that’s okay. Just knowing that you care to get it right and that it’s important to you to learn how to pronounce someone’s name is enough to show the person that you genuinely care. It shows a level of respect from the offset and I’m sure will be appreciated.