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Very few people get my name the first time they hear it. I'm used to always spelling it out or repeating it in social situations. It's not a complicated name at all (only 5 letters), the sound is a bit difficult for native english speakers to understand in one go.

At work however, this can get really annoying. You're always meeting new people and introducing yourself to them. It just doesn't have the same 'impact' when you always have to correct the other person and spell out your name.

I really don't want to adopt an alias or a nickname that sounds western. Is there any other way I can introduce myself? Should I just spell my name out every time before someone even asks so that I don't have to repeat myself?

  • I think if you gave out your actual name, we probably can give you more concrete ideas on how to introduce it. We are just getting sidetracked by all the commentators regarding their own names. – Nelson Jul 8 '16 at 8:18
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    @Nelson - If the OP gave out their name then all the advice would be about how to help someone pronounce that specific name rather than advice about how to help someone pronounce names in general. Advice on how to pronounce one name is not helpful to future visitors who will have different names. – BSMP Jul 8 '16 at 14:57
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    ProTip: omit the underscore from your name. It will surely help people. – user13655 Jul 8 '16 at 16:58
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    This is what business cards are for. – user207421 Jul 9 '16 at 18:02

12 Answers 12

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I think the issue hinges two things: first, on whether spelling your name helps people say it. Sometimes it doesn't: consider Aoife, pronounced "ee-fuh". Spelling that is only going to add confusion.

Second, on whether people are "othering" you by not recognizing your name, stumbling over it, getting you to say it again and again, making faces like "what kind of name is that?" You say you find it annoying and you need to correct them. I can't tell if it's the othering that's annoying, or something else.

I might settle for people not pronouncing it correctly rather than correcting them, especially if correcting them is exaggerating the disconnect you're feeling. For example, when I was in France, people said "ket" or even "ketty" when I told them my name was Kate. They can clearly recognize that "ay" sound - words like bébé (baybay) have that sound - but they could not say my name. I gave up and became Ket to French people (I drew the line at Ketty, I am not Katie and that's that.) If people are getting your name mostly right, and you know who they're talking about when they say their attempt at your name, consider letting it go.

Having an unusual name is generally a positive. People remember you better than one of the many Scott, Brian, or Steve people cluttering up the place. Try to keep that positive by liking your name and liking the process of telling people your name.

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    Excellent advice. That's exactly what happens to me. I'm in the UK, so people here have a 'british way' of pronouncing my name. I feel hesitant to just say it like they do (would make it easier for them) because I don't want to mispronounce my own name. I guess I should just leave it to them to give their best, would definitely take some getting used to. – IAA_ Jul 6 '16 at 11:23
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    As a frenchman, I plead guilty as charged..... – gazzz0x2z Jul 6 '16 at 13:56
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    @IAA_ Honestly I don't pronounce my own name very often unless I'm meeting someone new. People will mostly hear how other people pronounce your name. So if it bothers you, find a couple of colleagues who can do it properly, and make it a point to them to do it right. Other colleagues will notice the difference, and, in all likelihood, will try to mimic it and ask you to teach them. Honestly you can't expect someone to pronounce a foreign name correctly on their first, or even tenth try. Some people take months or years to get rid of an accent, including when pronouncing names. – Ordous Jul 6 '16 at 16:49
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    Not to detract from the bother of people getting your name wrong, @KateGregory, but our "ay" sound ([ei] or [ɛi]) is different from the [e] sound of é in French (bébé isn't pronounced baybay). Apart from that, as far as I know, é does not occur in closed syllables (those that end in a consonant sound) -- am I right, @gazzz0x2z? But the [ɛ] sound of "bet" does, e.g. in bête. So perhaps that is why people said "ket" -- it is closer to syllables that occur in real French words. – Rosie F Jul 6 '16 at 18:12
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    I've just remembered the singer Margaret Tate. "Finding that her surname was generally mispronounced in France, she changed it from Tate to Teyte before joining the Opéra-Comique in Paris." (Wikipedia) – Rosie F Jul 7 '16 at 6:58
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People who won't be contacting you in writing, or not right away, don't need to know the spelling of your name now. Stick with having a solid, clear pronunciation that people can memorize and repeat.

The solution to the ritual problem of spelling out names is the business card. Make a batch of those and hand them out to people who are likely to need to know how your name is written.

You can have contact cards even if you're not self-employed.

Another solution is to wear a name tag, even though you aren't a conference or trade show. If some new people are coming into your organization, it could be helpful.

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    For a lot of people, seeing the spelling of an unfamiliar name (or word) is a huge help to pronouncing it correctly. – David Z Jul 7 '16 at 0:42
  • @DavidZ: For most such names, the spelling is of no substantial help whatsoever. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 7 '16 at 9:33
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Yes, but if you pronounce it correctly when you introduce yourself, then hand over a business card they should be able to remember roughly the pronunciation and can then associate that with the written name. A lot of English speakers, though, will simply just anglicize the pronunciation of anything that is outside the English repertoire of phonology - for anyone but English speakers this is usually called "an accent", but for English speakers it's oddly often just considered "wrong". The easiest thing to do if people don't get it right is usually just to let it go. – J... Jul 7 '16 at 10:53
  • @J.. Yes indeed. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 7 '16 at 10:56
  • for anyone but English speakers this is usually called "an accent" @J... For regular words sure, but I've never seen this work with a person's name. With names you either get it right or you don't. – BSMP Jul 7 '16 at 18:12
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When you introduce yourself, say your name slowly and distinctly putting emphasis on the harder to pronounce sound, that's about all you can do.

Otherwise join the millions of other people in the same situation and use a transliterated version or just ignore mispronunciations.

My name is hard for people to pronounce here even if I spell it to them, the local language doesn't have one of the sounds, other languages have the sounds but not in that consonant/vowel combination, so I'm known as Kilisi. Transliteration is a very common way of dealing with this issue. It's only a problem if you make it one.

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    Do you by any chance own any dragons? – Adrian773 Jul 7 '16 at 4:16
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    @Adrian773 not even one unfortunately – Kilisi Jul 7 '16 at 5:06
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    @PierreArlaud hunger + omelette – Kilisi Jul 7 '16 at 10:30
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    @Adrian773: Now you see? That's what the OP's talking about. His name is clearly KILL-ee-see, not KHAL-ee-see. Yeesh. ;-) – T.J. Crowder Jul 7 '16 at 13:52
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    ahaha actually it kee -lisi, the first i should have a macron over it – Kilisi Jul 7 '16 at 14:41
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Two possibilities:

  1. Find an English word that has the same vowel/consonant sound that people are getting wrong in your name or a word your name rhymes with and use that to explain the pronunciation. So if your name was Kal-el, you could say, "It's Kal-el like Cal-ifornia."

  2. Create a mnemonic device for your name. This should be for the pronunciation, not the spelling, so you want something for the syllables not each letter of your name.

Either way, do go ahead and give the pronunciation hint when introduced. It's not considered rude to help people get your name right so it won't be seen as rude or odd. Afterward, if they get it wrong you can just say, "Actually, it's [name]" and leave it at that.

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    If your name is something alien like "Kal-El" its probably better to adopt an alias the people of the metropolis you live in can pronounce. – user9158 Jul 8 '16 at 0:20
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    It's kinda hard to suggest ways for the OP to introduce themselves, if they don't mention their name... – Mazura Jul 8 '16 at 6:25
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    @Mazura - I think it makes sense not to: the advice is meant to be helpful for future visitors with the same problem and they won't all have the OP's name. – BSMP Jul 8 '16 at 14:46
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Seeing that this was tagged under professionalism, I think the situation should be considered.

If you are in retail, and you are trying to sell a customer something, then correcting them when they say your name wrong or spelling it out will most likely hurt your possibility of a sale. If you meet a lot of people in a day, and the people you meet are transitory, you may want to consider just letting them get your name wrong. Why go through the trouble of getting them to remember your name if you don't see them again or very often? Even if it is a person you work with on a daily basis, you may want to let it slide. The person may eventually come around to saying it correctly.

I have worked with people who have names that are tonal and/or contain letters not in our alphabet. But, after time, I started being able to say their name properly. Having people in the workplace always hearing you correct people's pronunciation of your name might lead to negative thoughts. I would be careful doing such a thing with a boss, unless you knew their personality and thought it would not adversely affect their view of you.

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    Likely not the situation, but +1 for keeping the answers complete. – user42272 Jul 6 '16 at 17:37
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I sympathise as I have a non western spelling of a common-ish western name (think of Aleks instead of Alex) and my surname looks like a commonly used English word, but has a completely different pronunciation (š becomes s when moving into a latin alphabet as an example).

What I have found easiest for me ultimately is to let them pronounce my name incorrectly, unless they ask for the correct pronunciation. Most people give me a nickname, and though I never introduce myself with the nickname, I don't get offended when people use it.

As for spelling out your name, you will just come across as touchy based on my experience. For a little while I had how to pronounce my name in my email (since I would get at least a question once a week about either my first or surname) but a couple people noted I came off the wrong way. I personally don't care too much, I just wanted to save myself the effort of writing the same email so often.

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    I've had some colleagues that had the phonetic pronunciation of their name in their e-mail sig & a few interview candidates that had it on their CV — personally, as someone who wants to (attempt to) get your name right, I think this is a great idea. – anotherdave Jul 9 '16 at 11:03
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I think that an important distinction here is between people you will be interacting minimally with, and people you will be commonly interacting with.

For those people you meet that you will be minimally interacting with - think people in other departments, clients if you're not in a primarily client-facing position, or upper management, I concur that allowing minor mispronunciations is the better answer. If they don't ask how to pronounce your name, and they say something that's sufficiently clear, you're better off not correcting it; it's too complicated to do that frequently, anyway, and it definitely adds an unnecessary complication to the interaction that may make one or both of you feel uncomfortable. (Still correct them if they get it sufficiently wrong that you're uncomfortable, or that they may not know who you are - think "Jack" instead of "Mack", if they switch those two it's possible they think you're a different person!)

However, if this is someone you will be interacting with regularly, I would encourage you to give them the right pronunciation off the bat. Nothing's more uncomfortable to me than finding out that, six months into an interaction with someone, I've been mispronouncing her name. I appreciate knowing up front how to pronounce names when I'm going to be using them frequently; often I ask, but in cases where I may not be aware I'm mispronouncing it, it's nice to get that feedback early on rather than later.

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    For those people you meet that you will be minimally interacting with - think people in other departments - Fair warning: You want to be sure you'll only be interacting minimally if you go for the "ignore it" route. As uncomfortable as it is getting corrected 6 months later, it's just as bad having to do the correction (or wanting to do it but avoiding it because it's been so long). – BSMP Jul 7 '16 at 7:59
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Since this is about professionalism, if it takes a long time to explain your name correctly consider using business cards. While business cards can be awkward, there are many situations where explaining your name for an entire minute is even more so.

The following advice is not always applicable, and doesn't work with all names.

If you can, find a simple way to explain the name, using a known word and replacing/adding/subtracting a single letter :

Hiran - Spelled like the country of Iran, with an H in front.

Peta - Spelled like the bread, except with an e instead of an i.

Even better if there's someone famous. In another answer someone says she had trouble with the name Kate:

Kate, like the princess.

Of course all these add connotations. If it adds a connotation you want to avoid, don't use this (e.g. "Lakshit, like _ and _, without the e")!

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    Is that first word mean to be "Lake" or "Leak"? I mean either way its still a horrible image, I just want to know how horrified to be. – user9158 Jul 8 '16 at 0:22
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    When it works with your name, this is a good strategy. People who aren't familiar with "Milo" often think I'm saying "Miles" or "Myler"(?), so having a quick comparison prepared like "it rhymes with Silo" or "like Milo & Otis" is helpful for me. – Milo P Jul 8 '16 at 20:08
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By far and away the easiest solution to this would be to adopt a shortened version of your name which is easier for people to grasp, in the same way that Richard would be shortened to Rich, or William to Bill/Will. If it works, I'd take the first syllable of your name, although there may be other options, depending on the name and the culture.

There would be no problem with you having a shortened "Goes By", and using the full name in any more formal communications.

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    Shorten a 5 letter name? – theblindprophet Jul 6 '16 at 11:07
  • Apologies, didn't see that bit. Possibly a better phrasing on my part would be to "simplify"? Essentially adapting your name to make introductions and social situations easier. There's no formal methodology to this, and it would just be something you do to make your life easier. – Jozef Woods Jul 6 '16 at 11:09
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    OP specifically mentioned he doesn't want to change his name or adopt an alias. Please read the entire question and not just the title before submitting an answer. – Lilienthal Jul 6 '16 at 11:10
  • @Lilienthal sometimes you don't have a choice though. I've actually thought of changing my last name because nobody gets it right outside of Germany. – Retired Codger Jul 6 '16 at 13:38
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    @theblindprophet "Allen" becomes "Al", and "Brian" becomes "Bri" (less common), and Katie sometimes becomes "Cat". In general, from multi-syllable to single syllable. – BrianH Jul 6 '16 at 15:42
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I deal with this myself. What works well is to enunciate the separate syllables of my first name, and to give a deliberate pause between my name and the word following. It breaks the "default" cadence of people hearing but not really listening.

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EDIT: Cleaned up some bad wording, I was in a hurry earlier.

Is there any other way I can introduce myself?

Introduce your name with a sentence that is short and simple, and where it is clear which of the words is your name. "Hello! My name is XXXXX." Say the sentence in a normal voice; if you tend to speak quickly, then try your best to slow down just a little bit. Don't overdo it. Make sure that there is a pause immediately after your name. Not a long heavy pause, just a little bit of time to let it sink in.

Avoid something like "Hello, I'm xxx and I work at yyy". If you speak that one quickly, it will just go over their head.

Should I just spell my name out every time before someone even asks so that I don't have to repeat myself?

Definitely not!

Is it possible that this is more of a self-esteem issue than a spelling issue? Did you have problems with your name in school, have you been bullied because of it?

Spelling out your name (especially without being asked about it by the other party) would just lower yourself, and make it awkward for everybody.

It is really the job of the other person to "get" your name, to spell and pronounce it correctly. Some people don't care about things like this - just accept that. It's neither good nor bad, it just is. You are not your name, your name has no magic powers over you.

Other people may be fascinated and ask you about your name; this is perfectly normal as well. In this case, talk about your name; tell them what it means in your native language, tell a little story, and at the end maybe spell it out for them. Don't bore them, have a few small facts ready.

As a comparison: my own name is Germanic (old nordic German), and written in an unusual fashion. If I meet people, I tell them may name and they usually "get it". They never guess the spelling though, because it cannot be deduced from the sound. So I deliver the spelling immediately when somebody (a clerk maybe) is about to write/type my name.

In casual settings, I tell people two ways to abbreviate it (for example when they need to yell something at me during sports). This way, they know that I am fine with the abbreviation. There is also a well known movie in my country which has a main character of the same name; if I am in a really comfortable group I give a few funny quotes from that movie, making sure to let everyone know that I am very easy about all of this. In no-nonsense high-brow but yet relaxed situations, I am able to tell people what the name means, as well as link it to literature from 900 A.D. . :)

This approach (which obviously does not apply to you, directly) takes all kind of tension or awkwardness straight out, and I find people still use my full name just fine. My own story is of course not applicable to business life, but maybe you find some inspiration.

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You say:

"I really don't want to adopt an alias or a nickname that sounds western."

Don't have illusions, this is what they will think:

"Then you hadn't ever to leave the south/east."

And the worst thing is that they will be right.

The reason:

You show very clearly that you won't integrate into them, instead you want their integration to you. This is not how things are going, first because you are the foreigner and not they, second because if you want them to make your goal (task) to integrate so easy as possible, they have every right to want the same from your side.

Of course they won't ever admit it, but earlier or later they will find a way to solve your problem while they avoid the restrictions of the so-named political correctness. On the long-term, the only thing what works if they cooperate with you not because of they must, but because they want to.

Actually, there are much larger obstacles, for example the highly different customs and culture in which you grow up, your alien native language and pronouncation (also don't have illusions: if you are not a language talent, every native speaker will hear it on the first spot until you live), and if you aren't cooperative in such a small thing as the pronouncation of your name, what will you do in more important tasks?

I, also as a "foreigner" in the so-named "west", did the following:

  1. I tested them, how do they pronounce my name if they know only the written form. Since that, I spell my name on their way.

  2. I had also luck, having multiple names, some of them is western-compatible, so I narrowed down the actually said ones to them.

These sound maybe too radical for you, but it is only because you are an egoist and cultural imperialist. Actually, they were only little steps on a long way. Actually, there were reasons that you left your home country, probably strong reasons and these strong reasons mean also high price. And now you have to pay. And this is a very little price.

  • Read this fast, it seems this answer isn't enough "west-conform"... – Gray Sheep Jul 9 '16 at 18:04
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    'you are an egoist and cultural imperialist' because I don't want to change my name? Maybe try being a little less judgemental when answering questions next time. – IAA_ Jul 9 '16 at 18:14
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    I'm not forcing anyone to learn my language. I just want them to be able to say my name, just my name, that's ONE five letter word. – IAA_ Jul 9 '16 at 18:21
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    In fact, since you are just straight up insulting me in this answer, just want point out that your grammar is terrible. So maybe, just maybe, it's you who hasn't 'integrated' properly. – IAA_ Jul 9 '16 at 18:25
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    I never said that I expected them to pronounce my name exactly how a native from my country would. – IAA_ Jul 9 '16 at 18:27

protected by Jane S Jul 8 '16 at 10:27

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