The Tricky (and Important) Business of Pronouncing Student Names

It’s that time of year again – back to school. Even those of us who have been teaching for years (at any level) are often a little intimidated by the first day back in the classroom. For students, the first week back can also be anxiety-filled. One thing that students with uncommon names face at the beginning of the semester – and surely don’t look forward to – is frequent mispronunciation by professors and other authority figures on campus.

Although it may seem inconsequential to those who have fairly common or familiar names, the ritual of roll call and the reaction students with less common names get from those in authority can be stressful and embarrassing. It is incredibly important that we try to get names correct, because names are so closely tied to who we are as people and to our sense of self. In fact, evidence suggests that continually having one’s name mispronounced can have long-term, negative consequences.

In thinking about this issue, I came across Jennifer Gonzalez’s post on her blog Cult of Pedagogy, “How We Pronounce Student Names, and Why it Matters.” She argues that there are three different types of people when it comes to trying to pronounce an unfamiliar name: “bumblers,” “arrogant manglers” and “collaborators.” The first group messes up, but acknowledges that it is their problem, not the student’s name that is at issue. The second group is comprised of those that simply don’t care enough to learn how to properly pronounce a student’s name or even come up with some shorthand name. And finally, the collaborators are those that make a great effort to get a name right. Gonzalez reminds us that we should never be arrogant manglers, and though bumbling isn’t an awful category, we should really all aim to collaborate and pronounce names correctly, even if that means embarrassing ourselves a bit in the process.

There is no doubt that pronouncing dozens of names – and doing so correctly – can be a little overwhelming. What tricks or tactics do you use to make sure you learn the names correctly? Share in the comments!