Many in the workplace take for granted that they will be called by their correct name. For others, this simple matter is a daily struggle.
The Race Equality Matters survey 2021/22 revealed that 73% of respondents had their name mispronounced, so we spoke with a number of Venn Group employees about their experiences and why it is such an important issue.
Shahroz Hussain recalls the number of times that he has heard his name mispronounced: ‘It becomes draining having to correct people, it got to the point where I would just let it pass.’ Offering the correct pronunciation is not always well-received; Miraid Linehan describes how ‘I introduced myself by name to an individual and they said, “No, that’s too hard, I can’t say that.”’ Siobhan Allinson similarly tells us how some people on the phone deliberately avoid using her name in conversation.
So why is it important to use a person’s name and get it right? Levi Northrop highlights the cultural significance of names: ‘I’m mixed race – my dad is part Dominican – so pronouncing names correctly is about being aware of those cultural differences.’ Adesua Obetoh clarifies that due to the cultural roots of a name, to pronounce it incorrectly can entirely change its meaning.
A person’s given or chosen name is deeply tied to their cultural and personal identity; to repeatedly mispronounce or refuse to use someone’s name is not only an issue of manners but can have a deep impact on their sense of self. Miraid recalls regularly going home from school in tears after other students would refuse to pronounce her name and make other ones up instead.
Those we spoke to recognised that names can be difficult to pronounce. However, to ask the question is a sign of respect and care and is always gratefully received, so people shouldn’t shy away from asking. The step forward is not to expect everyone to get it right first time but to be willing to try. As a result of his own experiences, Shahroz explains that, ‘When I speak to candidates with names that I’m not used to, I make a conscious effort to check how they want me to pronounce their names or what they would like me to call them. It shows that we care and that these things really do matter.’
Having discovered the significance of names and the impact their use can have, Venn Group are proud to introduce the option for our employees to include a phonetic spelling of their name in email sign-offs. We recognise that by itself this will not solve the issue and the responsibility remains on individuals to make the effort and be willing to be corrected, but we hope that this will raise awareness and allow our employees to have more confidence in standing up for a central part of who they are.