What's In A Name? A Lot!
My first name, Debra, is spelled in a nontraditional way. I spell it out for people, and it still comes back “Deborah.” You would think that I would have become accustomed to this by now, but to be truthful, each time it happens, it’s slightly more annoying than the previous infraction. My name is part of my identity, and when someone can’t be bothered to spell it correctly, I feel a bit marginalized.

I work with clients from all over the globe, and from many diverse cultures. If I am unsure as to the pronunciation of a client’s name, I ask for the correct pronunciation. Their name is central to their identity, and I want to be certain that I am both respectful and accurate.

Oh, but this is no big deal! People mangle and misspell names all the time! You need to lighten up, Deb!

It is a big deal. In fact, it is a HUGE deal. When you don’t make a concerted effort to pronounce someone’s name correctly, and to spell it the right way, you are effectively saying that they mean nothing to you. You have no respect for them, because if you did, you would at least TRY.

But, Deb, some of these names are just so darned hard to say! And they can be spelled so many different ways! You really need to cut us some slack!

Can you say Dostoyevsky? Botticelli? Mohammad Ali? Schwarzenneger? Barack Obama? Mao Tse Tung? Gandhi? Discussion Between Two 3d Characters Shows CommunicationNetanyahu?

I assume that you can, and that if you were to meet any of these people (the ones who are still alive), you would do your best to pronounce their names correctly! If Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was delivering a keynote speech at a conference you were hosting, I bet you would also ensure that his name was spelled correctly in all conference materials.

If you are unsure how to pronounce someone’s name, just ask. The chances are that you are not the first person to pose the question, and they will probably be happy that you have the desire to say their name correctly. And, if someone mispronounces your name, speak up! If you don’t correct their pronunciation, no one else will either. And always confirm the correct spelling of a person’s name. Even “Jane” might actually be “Jayne.” Just ask.

Getting people’s names right takes such minimal effort, but so many people do not place value on it. For those of us who are often on the receiving end of this lack of courtesy and respect, encountering someone who understands the importance of our names is a refreshing, respectful change. And by all means, please don’t use a nickname unless you’re specifically instructed to do so. Don’t assume that Robert wants to go by “Bob,” or that Debra wants to be known as “Debbie!” That’s not for you to decide.