How to smoothly change name pronunciation?
September 21, 2008 9:05 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to have people I know change the way they pronounce my name?

These are people I have know for as long as my whole life and as recently as last night. Is there a simple way to do this that isn't awkward?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have they been pronouncing it wrong all these years, or have you decided that you want it pronounced differently?

My last name ends in "ch" but it's pronounced as a "k". When someone says it right based only on the spelling, I congratulate them. Most folks, after a correction or two, will get it right. But then there are folks who will never say your name right. Guy I used to work with, grew up in a mixed-Slavic neighborhood, so he should be able to get it right, but I'm so used to his mis-pronunciation that I say my own name wrong in his presence. He doesn't mean anything by it, it's just completely off his radar.

Now, if you're changing the sound of your name by fiat, good luck with that. It sounds pretentious. The only person I can think of that I could wholly support the name-sound-change is a guy whose white-trash prick of a father named him Aryan - no, really - and once he figured out why no-one would say his name, he started going by Aaron.
posted by notsnot at 9:16 AM on September 21, 2008

There is a simple way to do this: tell them.

There is no non-awkward way to do this.

Keep in mind, here, that you will be correcting people for a long time to come, and you will probably get some resistance from a number of people. It's going to take some effort and dedication, so make sure you really want it before you start.
posted by lore at 9:17 AM on September 21, 2008

I think some more information is necessary because there is a difference between "I recently found out I have been pronouncing my lastname wrong, so I have started to pronounce it correctly" and "I am called Matt, but have recently decided I want it pronounced Maaout".
posted by Spurious at 9:18 AM on September 21, 2008

It's a combination of both. For a long time I've known how it's actually pronounced, but I only recently decided I would rather go by that pronunciation.
posted by alitorbati at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2008

I have noticed that some of my friends with hard-to-pronounce first names make a point of pronouncing their names very, very clearly upon first meeting someone. Or even making a point of saying it twice, along with saying something like "I know, it's a hard name." Said in a friendly, helpful tone, this can be very helpful. It not only helps to make sure that new people pronounce their name right, but also gives a good "check" to people who have known them longer. It's a good way to subtly let people know they've been pronouncing your name wrong without telling them directly.
posted by lunasol at 9:27 AM on September 21, 2008

Make a physical connection (handshake, hand on arm, etc.) and say, "Please, call me [correct pronunciation]."

lore is correct, there is no non-awkward way to do this.
posted by carsonb at 9:28 AM on September 21, 2008

Also, is it your first name or last name people pronounce wrong? If it's your first name, that's understandably annoying. If it's your last name, you might have to just make peace with it.
posted by lunasol at 9:29 AM on September 21, 2008

notsnot writes "Guy I used to work with, grew up in a mixed-Slavic neighborhood, so he should be able to get it right, "

He's basically not pronouncing the "ch" at all, or as a "gh", just a longer "aww" sound? That's actually the correct Germanic pronunciation.
posted by orthogonality at 9:32 AM on September 21, 2008

If it your last name, you could certainly say that you want to pronounce it more like they do in the old country, or something along those lines. Maybe honoring your ancestors will be considered acceptable to those who have known you a long time.

If it is your first name, good luck with that. Please pass on any tips to me. My first name has several acceptable pronunciations. I prefer one over the others, and that is what my family has always used, but I cannot seem to break people of pronouncing my name using alternate pronunciations (which I really dislike), including my own mother-in-law. I've given up on her, as part of the problem is she has no "ear" for languages, but have tried lunasol's method with others with little success, and have also tried bluntly correcting people. Certain people keep "reverting" to the alternate pronunciations, no matter what I try.

It is a simple vowel variation with "i", but significant to me ... sigh ...
posted by gudrun at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2008

Assuming people are pronouncing it phonetically from the spelling, I recommend focusing on the spelling not matching the pronunciation, suggesting it's no one's fault for mangling the pronunciation. If possible, learn about the history of how this came to be (many names were bastardized at Ellis Island, for example) and share this story as something that's new to you as well as everyone else, putting you all in the same boat. I've found "translators spelled my name wrong" goes much smoother than "you pronounced my name wrong."
posted by scottreynen at 10:06 AM on September 21, 2008

A girl I work with had to do this. We all knew her by her original first name, which was the name of an old eastern european woman, when she is actually a young, beautiful asian woman. When she got married, she changed her name entirely; not only her last name changed from an asian name to a scottish one, but she switched her first name to her middle name, which is cute and pretty and unique.

To deal with it, she sent out an email explaining why she was doing it, and that she understood that it would take time, but that she would appreciate it if we could call her by her new name.

We're doing our best! I thought it was a classy approach.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:03 AM on September 21, 2008

Ortho, naw, he pronounces it almost like a ch-shh. It's frankly, a bit humorous.
posted by notsnot at 11:05 AM on September 21, 2008

As others have said, I don't think there's a non-awkward way to make this transition.

I legally changed my first name in my late twenties, mostly because I felt that my birth name had never suited me. There was a fair bit of resistance from several people who were used to the old name. The fact that my adopted name is unusual only added to the difficulty, and the spelling always trips people up. Almost no one pronounces my name correctly the first time. I don't mind at all, though. I just smile and gently correct them, time and time again if necessary, until it sticks. If they seem embarrassed at all, I often say "Oh, don't's an unusual name, eh?" in an attempt to defuse any awkwardness.

You might consider trying to let people know the correct pronunciation beforehand in writing whenever you have a chance. Whenever I'm filling out forms at the doctor's office, sending out my resume, etc., I write my name out phonetically below the actual spelling of it. (If I'm in a situation where I don't want to bother explaining the pronunciation - such as ordering food at a place where your name is called out when your order is ready - I just give them a nickname).

I agree with lore's advice above: Names are deeply ingrained, so people are likely to have trouble making the transition. You will be correcting people and explaining the reasons for the change for a long time. Go out of your way to be patient, good-humored, and forgiving every time people don't get it right, especially when it's obvious that they're trying to respect your wishes. If you're serious and persevere, eventually people will adjust. If some people continue to pronounce it the old way in spite of all your attempts, it's probably best to just let it go.
posted by velvet winter at 11:07 AM on September 21, 2008

I think you will probably just have to do a lot of explaining of the reason you're making the change. If you have no real reason, expect a lot of ribbing and resistance. I also think being good-humored, as per many of the above answers suggestions, will go a long way. In college I knew a guy named Joseph, who went by Joseph (Joe-sef pronunciation) until sophmore year, when he suddenly wanted to be called "Yo-sef." His self-seriousness about it and lack of explanation other than being pretentious meant that no one took him seriously, and most thought him a bit of an idiot.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 11:23 AM on September 21, 2008

First off, over time, most of the people currently in your life will no longer be in your life; your family, a very few close friends, these will be the mainstays. And they will not have any problem calling you Myrtle, or Hildagard, or anything else, if that is what you'd like.

Those who won't pronounce your name correctly, because they are asses, because they are mopes who do not respect your wishes, an easy response: "My friends call me Myrtle (or Hildagard etc)." This leaves the ball in their court, you've given them the choice to remain your friend, or not.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:45 PM on September 21, 2008

It would help if I knew your name and the different pronunciations.

Why has no one asked this question yet?
posted by Zambrano at 12:48 PM on September 21, 2008

You: "It's pronounced [bahalahragahrah]."

Them: "Really? I never knew!"

You: "I just found out myself."

For people you just met you can leave off the last part.

I have a name that maybe one in a hundred people can pronounce correctly or spell correctly upon hearing, but not both. I was pretty young when I decided I didn't care, as long as we both knew who they were talking about.
posted by Ookseer at 12:49 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

A woman I knew was named "Lisa" but one day decided she wanted it pronounced "Liza." She told each of us in the office about her decision and requested we use the new pronunciation, then started using it publicly (on the phone, at meetings, etc.). I never found out why she wanted to make the change, but her approach seemed to work. After a little bit, everyone pronounced her name "Liza."
posted by the sobsister at 1:44 PM on September 21, 2008

I work with a woman. Her last name is Cimino. She knows, and I know, and some but not all eye-ties know that her name is pronounced Chuh mean o. She sys Si mean o, which is sort of giving up in frustration. So it's your name, just explain it to them.
posted by fixedgear at 2:29 PM on September 21, 2008

Ookseer I was pretty young when I decided I didn't care, as long as we both knew who they were talking about.
Very much the best approach, IMO.

The best way to get people to pronounce your name in your preferred manner is not to people see it written any other way than how, phonetically, it is pronounced. If mis-pronounciation bothers you more than mis-spelling, create a "phonetic nickname" for yourself: change the spelling for everything other than official documents, and on those, if there's a space for "preferred name", write your phonetic nickname. For example: to friends, clients, colleagues etc, write your name "Lyza Smith". On a bank loan application, write "Lisa (Lyza) Smith".

Obviously this is easier to do with given names. For surnames, you can change the spelling. Many people have and do; it was common practice before database proliferation. (Perhaps your ancestors changed it from Pfennywygg to Pennywig in the 1800's; now might be the time to change it further to Penwig, especially if that's how it's been commonly pronounced by its bearers all along.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:38 PM on September 21, 2008

If it is your first name, good luck with that. Please pass on any tips to me. My first name has several acceptable pronunciations. I prefer one over the others, and that is what my family has always used, but I cannot seem to break people of pronouncing my name using alternate pronunciations (which I really dislike), including my own mother-in-law. I've given up on her, as part of the problem is she has no "ear" for languages, but have tried lunasol's method with others with little success, and have also tried bluntly correcting people. Certain people keep "reverting" to the alternate pronunciations, no matter what I try.

It is a simple vowel variation with "i", but significant to me ... sigh ...

This is my frustration as well. My name is simple for any Europeans to pronounce, but Americans... oh my. Too bad I'm on the wrong continent over here. Even if I introduce myself with the correct pronunciation, that one vowel sound gets changed and it sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Good luck figuring this one out. My boss mispronounces my name and it drives me bats, but I don't want to say anything because it's AWKWARD. However, her kids (and I am a nanny, so they're the ones I'm really working *with*) correct me whenever I pronounce it *correctly* and that is super-super difficult because I can't really tell them that their mom is *wrong* but rather that she says it "differently." I clicked on this thread immediately hoping someone had a non-awkward magic answer, so if someone comes up with one, let me know!

I struggle with this one all the time and wish I could just make flashcards to hand out to people, so, good luck.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:15 PM on September 21, 2008

I would say (not having done it, but knowing people who have more-or-less migrated from one common name to another) that the easiest way to do this is to introduce it at the time of a natural break in your life.

My uncle is a good example. His birthname was Charles Robert, and because there was already a Charles in the family, he ended up being called "Bob". He was always "Uncle Bob" to me and within the family that stuck. But in his extensive multi-city career, he was invariably "Chuck". When he developed dementia, he took an intense dislike to being called "Bob" anymore (his parents and most other peers who used it being long gone), so we switched too, 75 years after he was first called it.

Stephen Colbert, for another example, has a story about deciding to do it on the plane as he was going to college (or thereabouts). New jobs work too. New cities will work especially well. So I'd wait for a good such break to do something as drastic as this.

I'd change the answer you give to people to simply "It's (or I go by) blargle now." Utterly matter-of-fact, and you can always excuse it to friends further by "It's how people know me at work (or in New City)."
posted by dhartung at 4:22 PM on September 21, 2008

"Please call me {new pronunciation}."
"I wanted to get back to the original {language} pronunciation."

Just get used to explaining that, and eventually the majority of people who knew you as {old pronunciation} will call you {new pronunciation}.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:25 PM on September 21, 2008

grapefruitmoon, ... you have the option of going to your boss and saying: Mrs. B, there are several equally acceptable ways to pronounce my name, but, on reflection, I've decided I prefer that those close to me, like you and your children, use Sonya (or whatever).
posted by gudrun at 4:47 PM on September 21, 2008

I worked with a girl named Melisa (one S) who found out while she worked with me that her mom had intended it to be pronounced Meh-Lisa, but everyone kept calling her Melissa and she gave up. Melisa asked us to pronounce it the new way and we did. She had to correct new people she met, but for the most part it worked.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:54 PM on September 21, 2008

I had a good friend in college that had a fairly common name and got tired of being mixed up with all the other girls of same name; so late in sophomore year (or junior?) she switched to her middle name. I think most people were fine with it, if for no other reason than it helped specify who she was. However, I definitely heard some murmurs from some acquaintances to the tune of "how obnoxious is that!?" Think of it as a way to tell who your real friends are.
On another note, I also know of a girl who changed the pronunciation of her last name in the middle of high school. Because she was switching to a "fancy" sounding French pronunciation, she was pretty much universally regarded as a pretentious attention getter. Teenagers suck.
I agree with everyone who said be direct. It really doesn't have to be awkward; as long as you don't act awkward about it. Good luck.
posted by purpletangerine at 7:05 PM on September 21, 2008

I've had this issue all my life, as anglophones assume one particular pronunciation of my name more than 95% of the time, so I stopped bothering to correct them before I had even left primary school.

What I tend to do is if I've known somebody long enough that I'd consider them a reasonably good friend, I might mention that it's actually pronounced differently in the original language (and there's a grammar that goes along with it, ie it's different depending on whether they're talking to me or about me - the vocative case that's missing in English).

Most of the time, they take up the proper pronunciation. They still manage to get it a bit wrong, but it's at least closer to the way it should be. I feel that this marks a kind of initiation from outer to inner circles of friendship, and I think that people appreciate it as such.

Overall, though, I gave up caring long ago & if people ask why it took so long for me to correct them, my response is usually that it really doesn't matter that much to me, and I'm quite content for people to pronounce it the way they prefer.

On preview: what liquorice said. It does happen sometimes that people will overhear friends or family using the proper pronunciation, and ask what the deal is, whereupon I can explain it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:02 PM on September 21, 2008

You should make a commercial like the ones for the Volkswagen Touareg when it first debuted in the states. Where they just over and over pronounced the name so us uncultured Americans would pronounce the name properly. Worked for me!
posted by wile e at 10:50 PM on September 21, 2008

I have a full name that has two nicknames associated with it. A common one and a less common but not totally weird one. My mom picked the less common one when I was a baby because she thought the common one was too "cutesy", at about 4th grade I decided to rebel and began going by the common version. After graduating from high school I decided that what I really wanted was for people to use my full name in most situations or the original less common (that my family never stopped using) nick name in informal/close friend/family situations.

I deal with the change by only introducing myself by my full name, many people immediately begin using the common nickname, I immediately correct them (sometimes it takes more than once). People who have known me for ever and use the common nickname all know that I am switching and will use either one depending on if they remember and I just let it go, I'm not going to harp on friends about something that is really my fault.

Basically I would just say, don't hound your friends about it but new people should be told how to pronounce it correctly and should be expected to continue to pronounce it that way. Also, you need to be on top of it, do not let them get away with pronouncing it incorrectly even once. I'm not saying you should jump down their throats but when new people say the wrong name, I just immediately say the correct name with a smile, they apologize, we move on.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:24 AM on September 22, 2008

I find it really helpful if the person gives me a little mnemonic: for instance,

My aquainence Sanjay (which is frequently mispronounced as SANjay when it should actually be SUNjay) signs his nametags with a little sun drawing and a letter J.

I met a Birgit, and kept thinking it was Bridge-eet, until she announced that it was actually Beer-Git, as in "go Git me a Beer".

Canadian media personality Sook-Yin Lee used to always say, "Sook-Yin, rhymes with Book-Bin". And now people never forget it.

My coworker Marisa HATES being called Mar-issa. She reminds us that "it's Mar-eesa, like Lisa".

So I suggest you pick a little mnemonic that reminds people how to say your name, and you should only have to tell each person once.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:49 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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