How can I make meeting new people easy and advance in my career when I have an unusual name?
February 16, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

My name is unusual in the US, and the associated hassle is inconvenient. Should I use a nickname, change my name or keep it as-is? If I keep it, what strategies can I use to wear it better?

Both my first and last name are rare in the US but common where my ancestors came from in Europe, and my last name contains a sound combination that trips up most English speakers (e.g. Gerad Rzucidlo or Andries Xerogeanes). My family has been in the US for generations, and I am an urban professional, male and in my late 20s, without an extensive publication record or professional network.

When I introduce myself, people usually look confused or mishear my first name as a similar-sounding but more common name. They sometimes think my first name is my last name, ask about the origins of my name or assume I'm a recent immigrant. This hassle annoys me. Plus, my career path has been mediocre, and I've read studies suggesting an unusual name hurts hiring prospects, with the strength of that effect ranging from minimal in some studies to significant in others.

So what can I do to make meeting new people easy and advance in my career? Use a nickname (Jerry for Gerad or Andy for Andries), even if a nickname ending in "ee" sounds childish to me? Change just my first name or both my first and last name, despite the hassle of a name change? Use my full original name and treat it as a conversation starter that makes me memorable? If I do that, should I include a pronounciation guide -- Rzucidlo (roo-ZID-lo) or Xerogeanes (zer-ROY-ans) -- on my resumes, business cards, and emails?

I don't particularly like or dislike my name, other than disliking the hassle of introductions and the potential harm to my career. Neither my middle name nor my first two initials are good replacements for my first name.

Here's the research I've come across:

Can your name keep you from getting hired?

The "name game": affective and hiring reactions to first names
"Russian and African-American names were intermediate in terms of uniqueness, likeability and being hired, significantly different from Common and Unique [names thought by the researchers to be fictitious and/or unheard of in mainstream American culture] names, but not significantly different from each other."

Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with Six Thousand Résumés(PDF)
In Canada, "a distinct foreign-sounding name may be a significant disadvantage on the job market even if you are a second- or third-generation citizen,"

The Psychology of Names: An Empirical Reexamination
"In Study 1, first names that are used more often today than in the past (young-generation names) were preferred to first names that have never been used often (not-common names), which in turn were liked more than first names that were used more often in the past than they are today (old-generation names). In Study 2, these names were evaluated in the context of résumés and personal ads. Old-generation names received the least favorable reactions, but inconsistencies were obtained between the other two classifications of names."

First Names and First Impressions: A Fragile Relationship.
"...the results argue against too much emphasis on the possible deleterious effects of a particular first name..."

What's in a Name? A Multiracial Investigation of the Role of Occupational Stereotypes in Selection Decisions
"Asian American individuals were evaluated highly for high-status jobs, regardless of their résumé quality. White and Hispanic applicants both benefited from a high-quality résumé, but Black applicants were evaluated negatively, even with strong credentials."

Stereotyping of Names and Popularity in Grade-School Children
"Good" names are correlated with popularity.

posted by zelot to Human Relations (38 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Frankly, you are the only one that can really make the call. But, if I were in your place, I would adopt an easier-to-pronounce first name for professional purposes. Your first name is the real first impression - the surname is the second level of categorisation, and is less used.

I wouldn't change my name formally - it's a part my history, and my heritage, and it would seem inappropriate to relinquish that because of the ignorance and intolerance of others. Plus, its a whole bunch of administrative hassle.

I think the pronounciation guide for your surname is a good idea.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:57 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a weird first name that is very difficult for people to pronounce and spell. To make things easier, I've gone by a nickname professionally and socially for a number of years and it has helped with the first-time experience a bit.

That said, I do not think having a "weird" name is by default going to hurt your chance of professional success. My nickname is also difficult to pronounce and spell (just less so than my real name) and, as far as I can tell, it hasn't hurt my chances at any jobs. If anything, having a weird name makes me more memorable and often provides a conversational icebreaker. People always ask me about my weird nickname/legal name and I tell them the story and they laugh and they never forget that story. It's my calling card, in a way.

Regardless of your name, you need to be professional, skilled, and charming to give people a reason to remember you and take you seriously. Also, you need to let it roll off your back if people don't get your name right away. Laugh and tell them it's okay and just go with it.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

With Asian names at least it seems to be relatively popular these days to adopt an English first name without an official name change. So someone with the name Zhoa Xiang might go by Catherine Xiang or something like that. No need for a cute sounding nickname or even a name that sounds similar to your first name if you go that route. Generally the people doing that do tend to be recent immigrants though.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My first name is a common one but my last name is a long, Polish one. It's really not hard to pronounce but people often stumble over it when reading it aloud. I also use the Americanized pronunciation (I'm second generation), which helps a little. I've discovered most people like to get names correct, and I return the courtesy by making sure I'm pronouncing their name correctly as well.

I can honestly say that I've never experienced any employment-related discrimination or lack of advancement related to my name or my ethnic background. Anyone who meets me can tell immediately I'm not a recent immigrant and anyone who reads my resume can tell that as well. But as I said above, my first name is common. So if I were you I would use a more easily pronounced first name as suggested above. I know of dozens of Asian (mostly Indian but not exclusively) folks where I work who have done so and no one bats an eye anymore.

I wouldn't provide a pronunciation guide, however.
posted by tommasz at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2011

A friend of mine with similar pronunciation issues with her last name puts the right way to say it in parentheses in emails, just as in the two examples you used above.

Another friend, whose last name is Hartley, draws the shape of a heart with her hands whenever she asks for her check at a bar. This makes her name stick in people's heads and after the first visit they instantly recognize her. Is there anything similar you could do for your name?

Personally, I think if we can all learn to pronounce Blagojevich, we can learn to pronounce almost anything!
posted by MsMolly at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2011

I would introduce yourself like this "Hi, my name is Jarmush but you can call me Jim" to new people, potential clients, potential employers. That way people know that Jim is not your real name, but that you are magnanimous enough to give them an easy handle.

Once you get to know someone, you can decide whether it's worth the trouble to teach them your real name.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

I gather that it was pretty common, when folks were still pushed like cattle through Ellis Island & places like that, for the immigration people to simplify the spelling on last names.* Maybe keep the name (for the family connection and value to your heritage), but make the spelling more phonetic? It would at least alleviate some of the awkwardness that comes up when people can't say what they see written on the sheet in front of them.

*Then again, it was also pretty common for them to refuse to try & assign the name "Smith" or whatever else was handy.
posted by Ys at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: I have an unusual name too. I pronounce it in a slightly Westernised way to make it easier to say - the correct way to pronounce it would be equal stress on all syllables, but I place stress only on the first one. This seems to make it easier when I am meeting new people.

Your pronunciation guide sounds like a good idea. Along the same lines, when spelling out my name over the phone I start off with "Well, it's really long..." which prepares people for something unusual.

I also get the occasional questions about the origins of my name but I act like it isn't a big deal and in my experience it never has really been a big deal. I like having an unusual name: I feel like it makes me memorable and it is at least a conversation starter.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2011

My last name is a short, two-syllable German name, and basically phonetic, but people still trip up on it. I think people imagine that names are harder to pronounce than they are, and give up in advance, for fear of offending a stranger.

Another anecdote: I have a friend with a rather simple, three-syllable first name, but he uses an anglicized nickname at work. I've called asked for him by his real first name, only to get a confused reply, then I ask for him by his nickname, and they understand.

According to Wikipedia citations of court cases, One may be employed, do business, and enter into other contracts, and sue and be sued under any name they choose at will (emphasis original). But in all reality, going by an alternate first name and keeping your last name would probably be the cleanest - no need to try and tie yourself to prior work experience under a wholly new name, or feel like you're losing your family history, and you can still introduce yourself by an easy-to-remember first name. And pronunciation guides and spelling tips ("it's like this word, without that letter" works for my name) are helpful, and can further stick your name in someone's head, because they're thinking about the trick or tip, AND your real name.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2011

I use an anglicized nickname and use my full name in formal communications and usually indicate that the anglicized nickname is what I go by. My nickname is usually embedded in my e-mail address, so people know that's what I use.
posted by deanc at 2:31 PM on February 16, 2011

I, too, have a name that confuses people to no end. The vast majority of people I introduce myself to respond with, "What?" Unlike yours, though, my name is very simple. It's pretty unusual, but it's not foreign, and it's totally phonetic. Also it's mostly my first name that's the problem; my last name is OK. Still, it throws people for a freakin' loop.

I would say you shouldn't change it, because it's not your fault that people are slow. It's your name, and they can learn to deal with it. (Well, honestly sometimes they can't, but that's their problem and not yours.) Maybe that's easy for me to say though, because I don't want a conventional career. I'm a freelance writer, so if people think I'm weird, well, they probably already thought I was a little weird. And of course there's nothing wrong or unusual about having a nickname if your full name is long, or difficult for speakers of the language you're speaking to pronounce. If you do that, I agree that you shouldn't formally change your name, as His thoughts were red thoughts says, and that you should introduce yourself as 2bucksplus says.

One more thing. I was reading something about "ghetto" names once, and how they can hinder the careers of people who have them. But the other argument was that who you are and what you do is more important than your name, and once you succeed, the name won't seem "ghetto" anymore. I remember it said something to the effect of, "You can't get much more ghetto than Condoleeza, and it didn't stop her." I tend to agree with that for the most part - just do so well for yourself that it will make people learn how to pronounce your name.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:35 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (My father has a "furrin" first name and I know it bothers him; it is not common at all here in the states and he's a "wants to fit in" kind of guy--and he definitely doesn't want to explain what the pronunciation is or its origin. He struggled with the idea of legally changing it, but didn't opt to in the end.

He uses the shortest common name similar-sounding English first name as a nickname and in written communication (without explanation), but still signs his actual name on legal papers. Something like (this is made up) real name "Fridobach," name used in everyday communications, "Fred." For a resume, he'd send it in as Fridobach "Fred" Lastname.

I have an hard-to-get-right last name, even though it's only three letters. I find it's easier to just let it go, none of my well-being is tied up in how people say it. Even my common first name is spelled wrong about half the time. As long as I get my pizza, who cares?)

To answer your question, if your name is really intimidating try adopting a "easier" first name, as suggested above. If your name is clearly "ethnic" or identifiable as a particular nationality at a glance, there are douchebags in the world who will say things like "all Irish are drunks, no way" or whatever. I'd recommend not working for these people, but if you're desperate for a job it might be possible your name is the first and last thing they see on your resume, in which case consider adopting the nickname.

If you decide to just keep using your name, which is cool, be friendly and open about helping people with it rather than defensive and dismissive (not saying you are now). It can get old, but most people are happy to just have a little help.
posted by maxwelton at 2:44 PM on February 16, 2011

Friend of mine had an 11-letter Polish last name with that "zew" in the middle that's pronounced "shev."

He introduced himself as, "Hi, I'm Mark T."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:46 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: Change it. Life's too short. As soon as you do, you'll never have to worry about it again, and it will free up so much time spent agonizing. I have a German last name that is often mispronounced, and am seriously considering changing it- the only thing stopping me is that I assume I'll get married some day and change my name then, so I don't want to go through two name changes. Consider all the writers and famous people throughout the ages who have named themselves- you're in good company. Lord Byron, Mark Twain, George Elliot, blah blah blah- there are numerous, numerous examples.

I second the motion that an unusual first name is probably more of a detriment to your career prospects than an unusual ethnic last name, however, so that's a good place to start. I have a long (but not unusual) first name and the relief I feel after establishing a nickname is comparatively minor but very real.
posted by Nixy at 2:48 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My big problem with my first name is with doctors, nurses, etc. (and when I was younger, with teachers). I still get a wretched and embarrassing mispronunciation about once a month and it grates me every single time. I never liked my first name to begin with, so this hasn't helped matters.

Having said that, it's mine, my parents chose it lovingly, it was given to me in honor a kick ass lady, and the people I know get it right 95% of the time.

Hassle? Absolutely. Enough to go through the pain of getting it changed? No.

It has also in now way inhibited me from doing anything (except maybe being somewhat anonymous on the web - I refuse to donate to political parties in excess of $200 because my name is so incredibly unusual I am Google fodder).
posted by Leezie at 2:56 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is impressionistic, but I'll offer my impression:
I think changing a non-English name to a soundalike English nickname seems old-fashioned and somehow not as hip as keeping your own name with confidence. I guess it seems more melting pot than global -- kind of insecure about the differences that are, these days, more and more celebrated without apology.
So if you are having trouble with a difficult name, I'd really change it to an easier to pronounce nickname of the same national origin. Not Gerad to Jerry or Jim, but Gerad to an authentic nickname Geradistan.
I think you'll sound cooler and more confident as whatever you are than as makeshift "Jerry."
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 2:59 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I should add that my name is unusual, and I certainly adopt my husband's much simpler, more common one when I want to order a pizza :-).
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 3:02 PM on February 16, 2011

Speaking for myself, as one with a strange name: never! My name is part of my identity -- why should I make it easier on those who don't respect me enough to learn my name? I respect people enough to learn to pronounce their names the way they choose, and they can do the same for me. As far as the career goes: if anyone kicks at my name, I know I don't need to consider their job any further, and so far (I'm in my 40s now) I've done fine.

That said, at sandwich places etc. where they call out your name, I use an alias. Something like "Gandhi", because who doesn't know the Mahatma?
posted by phliar at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a second-generation American with an extremely foreign-sounding (Thai) first and last name - I have one of the long polysyllabic Thai last names clocking in at sixteen letters in English transliteration. Most people don't even attempt my last name, and I've had people mispronounce my first name Pravit as "Private", either in error or as a lame joke, more times than I can count.

When I go to cafes or delis that call out your name, I usually use a made-up name to avoid confusion or having to explain how to pronounce my name.

Getting phone support always tends to be painful because they always want your last name, so I usually give some other ID (e.g. an account number) if possible. Ditto for receptions or front desks - I usually just give my driver's license instead of spelling out my name.

Despite the name difficulties, I don't go by any nickname in my personal or professional life, and I've had no problem starting my career in finance here in Toronto. If anything, sometimes I feel it helps me - I imagine that long unusual name just sticks out in a pile of resumes or in Outlook, and makes you at least give it a read out of curiosity.

If you do decide to use a nickname that is substantially different from your real name, then make sure at work they set you up in Outlook/the directory with your nickname. I work with a lot of people who have a name like "Xiaofei Zhang" who go by "Bob" and there is always a disconnect and trying to remember who goes by what nickname.
posted by pravit at 3:19 PM on February 16, 2011

I love my uncommon last name. My online usernames are never taken. It does help that my first name is common in the US, though.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: Speaking only from my personal preference: when I encounter someone with an unintuitive name (one where I can't figure out how to pronounce it from the spelling, or it has some difference from normal English pronunciation), I feel a small amount of anxiety. Will I screw it up the first time I try to say it? When the person tells me how to say it, will I be able to remember the next time or will I screw it up again? I don't want to offend them, I don't want to screw it up, so an unintuitive name takes a little extra mental effort (not necessarily a bad thing) and causes a tiny bit of anxiety. This goes away after the second or third meeting, once I've got it down, but you are wondering about first meetings, yes?

If you can provide an intuitive nickname which you feel comfortable with, it would ease those (small) extra cognitive burdens. It's not a big huge deal, but yeah, I would say if you aren't bothered either way it would be a good idea to use an intuitive-to-pronounce first name.

I don't think most Americans hear "Andy", "Jerry" et al as necessarily being childish. (Though I can understand if you hear them that way.) Plus with Jerry anyway, people will end up calling you "Jer".

If there's no standard English name that fits, maybe you can use some kind of intuitive-to-pronounce substitute? An example would be "Aga" for "Agnieszka"; Aga's a real Polish nickname/diminutive for Agnieszka, it's not an English name but it is much easier for an English speaker to pronounce and spell. Could you use just the first syllable or middle syllable of your name, spelled in a way that makes it intuitive to pronounce?

In short, if you don't care, keep your full name but give people an intuitive nickname to use. You can put it on your business card, resume, and in the address book and signature line of your email as:
Gerad "Jerry" Dumbrovincz
Gerad Dumbrovincz - "Jerry"
or whatever.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:48 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it is more likely that you will regret changing your name than not changing it, and if you don't already have an easily-graspable nickname now, it's probably never going to feel entirely comfortable.

I think in the long run, the thing to do would be to find a way to come to terms with the annoyance.

I know a few people with unusual first names (one is a woman whose name is frequently mistaken for a common name, the other is a woman who has a name so foreign to the Western ear that it isn't even identifiably male or female). It's a pain, but it hasn't gotten in their way.

On the other side of the equation, I share the same first name as my boss and two co-workers, in a department of 12 people, which is kind of a pain, too.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:00 PM on February 16, 2011

I can appreciate the temptation to make it easier on Westerners who, as a rule, don't like to make an effort to learn new names (or, more charitably, are embarrassed that they might mess them up).

However, it seems a shame to give up a little part of your identity and familial history in exchange for bland conformity.

I am lucky my name, while unusual, is not difficult to spell, but I do try my best to use people's original names even when they profer a Western nickname (if they prefer that, of course...if they want to use the nickname exclusively, of course I'd respect that wish).
posted by Pomo at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2011

Your name isn't hard to pronounce, only hard to parse. Perhaps you should just spell your first name phonetically on the business card and resume, and accurately on the job application? The only one who'll care is the office admin.

Don't worry about the last name - everyone screws up pronouncing everyone else's last name and expects to be corrected on it. Even us WASPs: I've heard mine pronounced Gabriel, Gahbriel, Gabrielli, Gabrill, Gabreel, Gabrielle, Gaberl, Guburu and Bagriel, only one of which is right.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:48 PM on February 16, 2011

I have an unusual first name. I chose it (actually, I've legally changed my first name twice - like shoes, you must try them on until you find the one that fits! :).

When I send out resumes or introduce myself, I use Allie. On the internet, I also use Allie.

In high school and college, I was Al. or Sam and when I started looking for jobs where I was not standing right there to apply, I decided Allie was the best name to put on a resume. And on the internet, people who do not know me assume I am male when I use Al. or Sam and that annoys me.

When I am hired, of course I must fill out paperwork for the IRS and the company hiring me. On those forms, I put my real name and include a note saying that I use my nickname on my resume because my real name is not gender neutral and is unusual and I do not want people to feel like they should not email me back or call me because they are confused about my name. My skills are stellar and I do not want a little thing like my awesome name to get in the way.

So far no one has cared about this and the bigger issue with government & forms has been my lack of a middle name.

My advice, then, is to pick a nickname you don't mind answering to and use that on your resume and stuff. If you want, you can put a little * next to it and at the bottom of the page say that this is a nickname and your legal name is ____ and that will be pretty self-explanatory for them.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 4:50 PM on February 16, 2011

My first and last name were unusual. I kept the unusual first name (good branding!) and changed my last name to something easy to spell and pronounce. It's so much nicer now.
posted by timoni at 5:07 PM on February 16, 2011

I gather that it was pretty common, when folks were still pushed like cattle through Ellis Island & places like that, for the immigration people to simplify the spelling on last names.

I recently found out that this isn't true. Ellis Island used the names as written on ship passenger lists. Of course, it's possible that this could have happened at ticket offices - especially since many people were traveling from the hinterlands to the nearest large seaport, where there might be differences of language, pronunciation, or naming convention. And clerical errors are also equally possible, especially in populations where the prospective immigrant may not have been literate enough for exact spelling to matter. However, the reality is that many people whose "names got changed by those Yankee assholes at Ellis Island" really just changed their own names, voluntarily, on the occasion of emigrating.

To bring it slightly back to the topic at hand, many immigrants made the change for reasons of personal identity or ease of assimilation into a new country*. While the OP's country isn't new, the same ideas hold true. And there's nothing wrong with doing that if you think it'll make your life easier.

Total shift in topic - if you do adopt a nickname, I wouldn't put it on stuff like your resume. If your official name is that hairy, you might as well just change it. Most people I know with nicknames (for all reasons people might go by nicknames) don't put them on their resumes.

*My great grandfather added an extra N, for reasons nobody in our family has ever been able to figure out. Shits and giggles, I suppose.
posted by Sara C. at 5:26 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: My grandmother used a shortened form of her last name when making reservations, so she wouldn't have to take all the time and hassle to spell it over the phone. Like say if it was Chmielewski, she would book hotel reservations under the name "Chime."

But I'm glad I use the name I was born with, legally and professionally. Everyone calls me by my anglicized name, and I just fill in the legal paperwork with my legal name. I like my legal name, which has family connections, even though I don't use it in day-to-day life.

As an urban professional, you should think about the fact that your name might make you seem a bit more worldly and cosmopolitan. Don't blame your faltering career path on the fact that you weren't born with the name "John Smith." I'm with the guy up above who said that excessive name anglicization is kind of old fashioned, from an era when people were vaguely embarrassed of their "foreign" connections.
posted by deanc at 6:05 PM on February 16, 2011

Yeah, I'd use your full name on resumes, but use a nickname for work. Only do it if you want to, though. I have a coworker who got a nickname on arrival that might've been as a result of someone totally mishearing? his Japanese name, and I can tell he's always found it weird that we all call him something he's not called anywhere else.

I've also known several awesome guys with hard-to-pronounce names who've gone by something kicky like "Buzz" and really owned it. That seems to be the key to whatever decision you make on naming: own it, and be gracious when you present the information to people, and they will respond accordingly.
posted by ldthomps at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: Use my full original name and treat it as a conversation starter that makes me memorable?

I'd go with this. People always misspell and mispronounce my name, and it's not all that unusual a name. When they try to give me nicknames or ask if they can shorten my name to whatever, I generally grin and say that I like my name, and so that's what they call me, and there's never been a problem. I actually think it's pretty offensive of anyone to try to Westernize or otherwise "dumb down" anyone else's ethnic or unusual names; it's important to call people what they want to be called.

If I do that, should I include a pronounciation guide -- Rzucidlo (roo-ZID-lo) or Xerogeanes (zer-ROY-ans) -- on my resumes, business cards, and emails?

I think that'd be both cool and helpful, at least on business cards and maybe in cover letters. I think tacking it onto your sig for every email would be a bit overkill, though.
posted by Gator at 6:29 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: First, please note that people are dumb, and don't pay attention to anything. No one ever pronounces everything right, and everyone always looks a little confused.

I have a last name which is perfectly pronounceable by Western rules. And yet, SO many people manage to mispronounce it. Changing your name isn't likely to affect that phenomena by very much.

Second, don't put too much stock in those sociological studies. They're a dime a dozen, poorly controlled, hugely subject to bias, and there's a huge statistical flaw which renders most of them moot.

If your career is stalling out, you'll probably get more traction by taking courses/certification/seminars to boost your skills than by fiddling with your name.

(That being said, if you're just tired of having to explain it, telling people your first name is Rupert or Robert [or, hell, Sam] is a great option.)
posted by ErikaB at 6:48 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a last name which is perfectly pronounceable by Western rules. And yet, SO many people manage to mispronounce it. Changing your name isn't likely to affect that phenomena by very much.

This. I have an exceedingly ordinary last name (see my profile if you're curious), and I have had it mispronounced before. Less now that I live in a big city with a slightly more cosmopolitan outlook, but again, it's a really really normal impossible-to-fuck-up name. And yet it has happened. I've seen it happen to other people with ordinary and easy to pronounce names, too. A friend has a copy of the Most Messed Up Shipping Label Ever with some bizarre interpretation of his name on it hanging over his desk. And his name is totally easy.
posted by Sara C. at 6:58 PM on February 16, 2011

Nthing that people mispronounce/misspell Western names all the time. In my first marriage, I took my ex's surname, which I thought would be easier on me than my birth surname. People couldn't spell my ex's surname (Phillips) correctly, not just on the grounds of numbers of Ls, either, and they mispronounced it surprisingly often.

If you want to have a nickname, have it and own it, but be aware that it will be difficult to get rid of it if you change your mind. My husband was trying to switch from a nickname (Mike) to his full name when I met him fifteen-plus years ago, and he still has a cadre of friends who haven't made the switch.
posted by immlass at 7:47 PM on February 16, 2011

Best answer: I have an awkward first name (Anglicized from a Korean name, but my poor parents didn't really get English phonics when they did it, which makes it super unintuitive) and an awkward last name (it's only four letters, Jang, but why do white people insist on pronouncing it "Yang" for no reason?).

It creates some confusion, yes, and it's taken me a long time to be okay with that. At this point in my life I think of it as an advantage - there aren't very many other people with my name - but I still come across a lot of mispronunciations and general cringiness.

If you decide to keep your name, here's what I do to deal with various situations that crop up:

- in a friendly in-person context, when I introduce myself I say, "Name, rhymes with Same" or some other easy mnemonic. I do *pronounce* my name slightly differently out in the world (as opposed to with my family), with syllables that work more naturally with English.

- in a professional in-person context, I just introduce myself, making sure to speak clearly so people have a full opportunity to get it right. We're all grown-ups, and honestly at the office people should be respectful enough to take the time to say your name correctly.

- in a non face-to-face context, like when I need to give your name to someone over the phone, I say "Firstname, Lastname" and then I say "that's spelled..." and automatically rattle off the NATO phonetic alphabet for my name before the awkward pause and the " do you spell that?". People are grateful for not needing to ask.

- in a situation where it doesn't matter - giving your name at a restaurant or a coffee shop, for example, I just make one up that's easier for everyone.

You can correct people who mispronounce your name, but you have to be confident enough to do it right away. Otherwise there's the awkward "why didn't he tell me six months ago? I've been pronouncing it wrong all along! Gahh!". It can be neutral and simple: "Actually, it's pronounced 'Name'."

And don't blame your name for your mediocre career. An unusual name can just as easily be a great branding opportunity for yourself. Do good work and you can be the one and only "You know, Name!" "Oh, right, that guy!"
posted by peachfuzz at 9:21 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses. I agree that changing a name is retro, and there are many people in my field with diverse names. Research suggests nicknames are perceived less favorably than formal names, and, at least for women, names ending in "ee" can hurt a career trajectory. I was primarily interested in the study by Cotton, et al, 'The "name game": affective and hiring reactions to first names,' because it suggested men with Russian or unique names may experience name-based discrimination as much as or even more than men with African American names. Looking at more research, it appears name-based discrimination primarily happens during an initial culling of a large stack of resumes, so I might use a common first name if I ever find myself in that position, but submitting a resume as one of a hundred is bad job search strategy anyway. Instead, I'll focus on networking, credentials and quality work, plus use tricks and good humor to deal with the any name-related hassles.
posted by zelot at 6:49 AM on February 17, 2011

I have a last name which is perfectly pronounceable by Western rules. And yet, SO many people manage to mispronounce it. Changing your name isn't likely to affect that phenomena by very much.

My first name is relatively unusual - not many people my age have it, and it never was available on personalised pens etc., but it's not particularly unusual or rare - and I get this problem often because it isn't easy to pronounce for non-native English speakers. Given I live in London where many working in shops are not, I get some intriguing versions of my name whenever I ask for something to be put to one side or book an appointment. I also find I have to spell it out at work because both my first and last names have common variants, despite both being established Celtic/Viking origin names.

It's not so much pronunication that's a factor, I think, as class/race connotations. Subconsciously or not, people will respond differently to a Josef than Joseph - Polish names might get this treatment in the UK as Eastern Europeans are the current big wave of immigration (I'd be interested to see if this has been studied). The class connotations of names, even in the minds of teachers, are interesting ones. I read Freakonomics a while ago and it noted that as names 'filter' down the social structure they gain different reputations - over here, though, a hyphen running two names together (Ashley-Jade, Connor-Lee) denotes a lower class but it's a pretty established thing in Scotland so are judged differently.
posted by mippy at 7:35 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Research suggests nicknames are perceived less favorably than formal names, and, at least for women, names ending in "ee" can hurt a career trajectory.

I really wouldn't set so much stock in what "research" "suggests" about this sort of thing.

I work in a really high profile and glamorous career. I work with plenty of Steves, Robs, Dans, Bens, and Matts (though my field is somewhat more casual in tone than finance or law might be). All of them use the full name on their resumes, as you always should, of course. That might be where "nicknames are frowned upon" comes from - you don't want to get Billy Smith's resume, you want to get William Smith's resume.

As for women, I actually know more women in my field who have natural, not-a-nickname names that end in the "ee" sound (Emily, Chelsea, Lindsey, etc) than who have those kinds of nicknames. All of them are doing fine. None of them are trying to change their names.
posted by Sara C. at 10:11 AM on February 17, 2011

I know quite a few people who had nicknames that were completely different to their actual name. These were always hold-overs from their childhood, but they used these names professionally and everyone knew them as that. People did know their real names but they 99% of the time used their nicknames. They never officially changed their names so on anything official it was their real names but with everyone they met, they went by their nicknames. It wasn't really hard or confusing for anyone to understand and their nicknames were always more *them* than their real names anyway.
posted by mleigh at 7:08 PM on February 17, 2011

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