#405 When someone pronounces your name right on the first try

It ain’t easy.

When I graduated from college they draped us all in slippery black gowns, put square hats on our heads, and sat us down in the hot steamy arena to wait patiently for our names to get called. When they did we got up and swished across the stage to accept little ribbon-tied rolls of paper representing years of early morning classes, all-night study sessions, and months of stressful exams.

I remember they got a fancy-pants professor from the Linguistics Department to read everyone’s name off a sheet of paper. She was mostly aces, too. Ng’s and Png’s couldn’t trip her up cause she’d just ing and ping like it was no big deal. Of course, she butchered a bunch and I’m pretty sure I was Neil Pasta-rike-ah that day.

But you know what: that’s fine, that’s fine, that’s totally fine.

Because we all mess up words all the time. Seeing new names and saying them right is tricky business and not for the faint of heart. I am terrible with names so my only strategy when I see a toughie is saying “Sorry, how… how do you say your name?” Of course, after they tell me I realize I’ll never be able to do it justice so I nod and smile and avoid ever saying it again in my life.

Of course, it’s this constant challenge that makes it so sweet when someone actually nails it on the first try.

If you actually pull it off we say good work, tongue twister.

Today we salute you as a brother or sister.


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159 thoughts on “#405 When someone pronounces your name right on the first try

  1. People always said my name wrong on the first try growing up, especially teachers. I hated “dare eee ahh” and “Darla” and of course, the crappy kids, uh hum, “diarrhea”. Luckily for me, that very cool cartoon came around on MTV called “Daria” and has made my life sweeter ever since.

  2. thanks hubby, even i cant say my last name right! I get corrected whenever i meet Dutch people, and even they vary depending on where in Holand they are from. I have got use to answering to ‘Mrs, uh van…?’

  3. For the most part only people who speak french get my name right. Most english speaking people pronounce it Jo-ZAY.. So I just started introducing myself as Josie when I am speaking english.. I think is easier for them to say because even if I correct them when I say Josee, they usually repeat it back to me wrong.

  4. Most people spell my first name wrong upon listening, or when they read it they would over complicate it and say “tiara”.
    The most trouble comes from my last name. It’s Croatian. It gets slaughtered all the time. I’m very sympathetic to anyone with a croat/serb/bosnian/ last name. You too Russians…

  5. I’m fortunate to have a name which, if there happens to be any initial confusion, I can always call on 70s band Toto and remind them how the truly awesome chorus of “Rosanna” goes.

    After sitting next to Xing (curiously pronounced Yvonne) for most of high school English, I don’t have nearly as much compassion for the Madeline who gets Madelyn, or the Joe who gets Joey. Those with the really unusual names- be it for cultural, religious or “my flower-power parents took LSD like peppermint strips”- are the real troopers.

    On the off chance someone mispronounces my name; I usually just let it go. If it’s a really odd interpretation I’ll have a giggle and maybe consider letting it catch on (like Swarley on How I Met Your Mother). But to the people with the silent v’s, the accented e’s and the “r” properly pronounced to sound like coughing up phlegm, every day must be a struggle.

    I totally agree with #405. I don’t think we give enough credit to the considerate (albeit confounded) person who takes the time to ask how a difficult name is pronounced. They’re sensitive to the fact that a name is not just a name, but a part of our identity.

  6. My last name is rarely pronounced the way my father did. I have one brother who bowed to public opinion and changed the pronounciation to the way most people said it. This is a running joke at family get togethers as we doen’t even say it the same among ourselves.

    More troublesome is people who can’t pronounce first names (I’m called kevin a lot). Our oldest son was named Seth, and we had friends who pronounced it Zeeth.

    Zeeth? Really? Who does that? Could never break them of it either.

  7. My name is mispronounced 98% of the time.

    It is not pronounced like a group of “clandestine operatives”, it’s pronounced “spēz”, rhyming with “trees”.

    At our local grocery store, when the checkers tear-off your receipt and look at your name at the bottom and thank you by name. They don’t even try with me.

    My 20 year-old daughter swears she will change her name after she finishes college.

  8. People never say my name right. My dad doesn’t even do it. My mother is the only person who calls me by my correct name. It’s Anjela. Not Angela, or Angelo. It’s pronounced ann-jay-la, or ann-jayla.

    I admit for a long time I would just go by the pronunciation Angela or Angie because I didn’t want the fight, but now I’m starting to go by my real name, explanation and all, because it deserves to be pronounced correctly. It’s MY name!

    The weirdest thing is, even when I go by Anjie (pronounced ann-gee) people still spell it wrong!
    They don’t spell the traditional Angie, which I would understand, they spell it a-n-g-e. What is that?! Ange?! Really?

  9. I teach, and I have a lot of international students. I really make it a point to pronounce their names correctly. I’ll even add symbols to the sheet to help for future name calling. Some students will give me an “americanized” nick-name to use. But often I ask how the real name is pronounced anyway. And I always try, even though I usually can’t make the same sounds.

    This semester, I took a class, and the teacher would get to the names and say, “La – blah blah blah,” instead of even trying. I was really shocked! I felt it was truly disrespectful. I live in a diverse area, DC metro, and if you’ve ever had ANY diversity training, you know that this is a no-no.

    But aside, my name can be spelled with an A or an I. It always amazes/irritates me when people respond to an email – from me, with my name spelled properly at the bottom – with the wrong spelling. I mean really…

  10. Oh, and I didn’t learn how to pronounce my middle name until I was in college.

    I was getting smart with my mother, and I said, “Because I am First Middle Last, and that’s what I think!”

    She said, “That’s not how you say your middle name.” (totally ignoring my point.)

    I was SHOCKED. I’d been pronouncing my middle name wrong my entire life. Although I don’t know if I should trust her. She taught me how to spell it in kindergarten. But one day in 3rd grade, I looked at my birth certificate and noticed she’d left out a letter.

  11. omg hardly anyone pronounces my name right the first try. And after knowing me for a while, (teachers especially) don’t bother changing their pronounciations.
    And I have a fried called Chean Shuo.
    I avoided saying her name. A LOT :p
    hhaha :p

  12. Oh if that happens then I am sure he is from my home town.
    Joe is fine with all, but Zachariah is a real tongue twister for many.

  13. Late follow up…
    my maiden name is hard to pronounce even in Germany, the spelling is from the middle ages… I’ll take anything starting with a K and C and getting the ending right.
    I also automatically start spelling when asked for it, can spot unsolicited (e-)mail and telemarketers – and love being announced on the public sound system, I used to grade the pronunciation.
    want to guess knörnschild?
    95% think my first name is an abbreviation, and my married name gets letters added…

    Most people who got it right on the first attempt know one of my relations – but even then it’s still


  14. With the name that I don’t even know the origin of, it’s hard to make people pronounce it right. Or at least put “r”, “t” & “s” in their right places))

  15. yes, my first name is pronounceable, but my last name is ‘olaoye’ (don’t even try) and NO ONE and i mean NO ONE has ever gotten my name right. not on the first try, or the 3rd, or even the tenth.
    embarrassing situation:
    i dread assemblies, especially when my name gets called. this one time a teacher made the whole 5th grade class repeat my last name, because no one could pronounce it. grrr

  16. This is why I will never forget my classmates Endylion, Braxton, or Aquei.
    All first names. Yes, subs at our school are constantly baffled.

  17. My name is Danica, which is pretty popular, but EVERYONE pronounces it different than the way my name is pronounced. Everyone says Dan-ick-a, or Dan-ee-ka, but I pronounce it Day-nick-a. When I was in high school it was the running joke, that every time a sub would come in they would obviously butcher my name. I have also been called Dan-ee-cia, Dance-ia, and many more. But I am so used to it, that this awesome thing is truely true…because finding that odd person who get’s it right is a blessing!

    (P.S. I’m taking college courses and this old lady who sits beside me always yells “IT’S LIKE A GREAT DANE!” Every time my prof says it wrong during role call. So epic!)

  18. When you live in the Philippines, it’s quite difficult to have a unique name like Vichka. Because it’s so easy to butcher, baristas in Starbucks don’t even attempt to call out my name when my coffee’s ready. But most of all, people somehow easily pronounce my name as “Bitch-ka”, which translates (in Filipino) as “you’re a bitch” So, it’s my curse, but when people do get it right, it’s pretty AWESOME. :)

  19. My name is SO complicated. But it’s not. I’ve always had a tendency to swallow words, so somehow, whenever I say my name, EVERYONE hears Laura. Always. And then when it comes to writing it down, it’s even worse. Nobody can wrap their heads around the fact that I don’t spell Nora with an H on the end. And then I had a new teacher write my name down on a list, not being sure how I spelt it, and wrote it down without the H. Hallelujah! Apparently her niece spells it like I do. It was just the most awesome feeling to have somebody realize that my name is my whole name and spell it right without question. AWESOME!

  20. For the last names, seriously only happened about 6 times in my life and I personally don’t think they’re that difficult at all!
    For the first name, I’ve had “Windy”, like the 60’s song often enough…and “It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas!”

  21. Haha when someone can pronounce my surname properly, it tends to be because they’re well-travelled or deal with a lot of ethnicities and so have fgured out Eastern European names. However, since my first name is spelled in an anglicised fashion ( cos having a difficult surname is hard enough), if someone not from those parts were to pronounce the ‘hr’ in it properly, THAT would be even more impressive. Not happened yet, LOL

  22. Most people try to spell my name “Candice” which is fair enough. I get “Candance” quite a bit too which doesn’t make sense to me. Most people can pronounce my name, but occasionally I get called “Kansas”. I have a last name that’s more commonly a first name, so a lot of people call me “Lindsay” thinking it’s my first name. It’s not a big deal to me though.

  23. When I was in preschool, NO ONE got my name right. It’s really easy to pronounce, too! Cogdill. I was all, ‘no, it’s COGdill!’ they were all, ‘she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’
    When I grew up, they apologized. It’s hilarious to look back at now.

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