What’s in a name? For all of us, I would argue, our name is deeply connected to our very identities. There are often stories around how we came to have the name we do, perhaps we’ve been named after a beloved family member, friend, or important person, perhaps it’s a name we’ve chosen for ourselves (but sometimes, a name that has been foisted upon us, as in the case of many First Nations peoples when dealing with the newcomers).
Personally, with a train-wreck of a spelling for my name, I hear my name mispronounced all the time (it’s pronounced “terra”). When I first meet someone, it is only slightly uncomfortable to correct the pronunciation, but after several encounters, a persistent mispronunciation can be embarrassing to correct.
I keep this in mind every time I start a new class in a new term. Some of my students have names that were previously unfamiliar to me, and it is very important to me to learn to pronounce my students’ names correctly, in addition to simply learning their names. Due to shyness, or cultural norms, a student may feel reticent about correcting your pronunciation, despite warm encouragement to do so.
For this reason, on the first day of class, and with permission and promises not to post anything on youtube, I walk around with my iPad and ask the students to hold up cards/papers with their names boldy written on them, and to state their names. The benefits? I learn students’ names more quickly, I associate the written and oral versions of the name (and thus even learn about how different letters make different sounds in languages other than those with which I am familiar), I learn to pronounce the students’ names properly (or to the very best of my ability), and I communicate to the students respect for them as individuals. This little strategy has had a significant impact on my classroom, and I’ve found that fewer international students have felt the need to offer an “English” name because I horrifically mispronounce their given names (although some students prefer to adopt an “English” name).
You may also find the site “Pronounce It Right” useful.
Educational Development Specialist
Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness