Common Mispronunciations of Last Names
Commonly mispronounced names have been at the heart of seemingly harmless jokes for decades. But could mispronouncing last names have an even greater effect on the person than we realize?
How Mispronouncing Last Names Affects Us
Recently, I stumbled on an article written by Ruchika Tulshyan about how her colleagues’ struggle to say her name was negatively affecting her not only her psychologically, but also in her career.
Ruchika admitted she suffered losing out on job opportunities due to her name. Specifically, a hiring manager decided not to call her back for an interview and attributed that her name is one of the determining factors. Her experience coincides with a study showing that white sounding-names were about 25-30% more likely to get an interview callback for a job.
And then there’s Arvind Narayana, a computer science professor from Princeton University. He shared a story on Twitter about how his difficultly-pronounced name also stands in the way of his job’s progression.
Arvind stated that even with all of his achievements, people still hardly knew who he is due to the easily forgettable name. He needed to run some extra miles in order to get people to acknowledge him.
Being super active on Twitter and writing a somewhat popular blog are some of the things he did to bolster outreach. He continued to do this despite the negative feedback that an online presence could have on his career field.
But to Narayana, it’s something that he has to do to make sure that people know he “exists.”
Mispronouncing Last Names Influences Children Too
This problem isn’t only prevalent in the workplace environment. It happens in schools as well, according to a study called “Teachers, please learn our names!: racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom.”
The study claimed that names mispronunciation by teachers against their students—especially minorities—can possibly harm the perceptions of a child toward him/herself and the world. Calling it microaggressions might be a stretch, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this seemingly trivial problem will, more than possibly, provide lasting impacts on the child’s well-being.
Correctly pronouncing people’s names—whether it’s their first or last name—is so important to promote inclusiveness and a sense of belonging.
We can minimize these detrimental effects by learning how to spell people’s names correctly, starting with the more common ones.
List of Some British and American Last Names Pronunciation
Unfortunately, the spelling in the English language is less consistent compared to other languages around the world. Just the letter “c” has different sounds depending on the word, like /k/ for “car,”/c/ for “check,” and /s/ for “city.”
For that reason, these name pronunciations—some of which you thought you’ve figured out—might surprise you.
- John Dowland, doh-lund (or dow-lund)
- Cathy Berberian, ber-be-ree-an (English)
- Frederick Delius, deh-lee-us
- Henry Purcell, purr-sell (stress the “purr”)
- Roger Goeb, gayb
- Leon Kirchner, kirch-ner (English)
- Monica Huggett, hug-gett
- George Antheil, ann-tile
- Nathan Milstein, mils-tein (English)
- Leonard Bernstein, berns-tein (similar to “pine”)
- William Schuman, shoo-mn (English)
- Gunther Schuller, shoo-ler (English)
- Ivan Tcherepnin, tcher-rep-nin
- Lennox Berkeley, ber-ke-lee
- Alan Hovhaness, hoh-vahn-ness
- Frederic Rzewski, zheff-skee (Polish & English)
- Bryn Terfel, brinn tehr-vl (Welsh)
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, ralph vawn wil-lee-ams
- Sir Adrian Boult, ay-dree-en bolt
- Maria Jette, jet-ee
- Gil Shaham, geehl sha-hahm (Hebrew & English)
- Jan Degaetani, dih-giy-uh-tah-nee
- Gervase de Payer, jehr-vayz de pay-er
- Richard Bonynge, bahn-eeng (British)
- Ellen Taafe Zwilich, tayf zwil-ik
- George Rochberg, rawch-bug
- Raymond Leppard, leh-pard
- Peter Schikele, shi-kul-lee
- Kathleen Ferrier, feh-ree-uh
- David del Tredici, treh-dih-chee
- Vincent Persichetti, per-see-chet-tee
- James Levine, le-vine
- Claus Adam, ah-dam
- Gustav Leonhardt, lay-on-hart (English)
- Emmy Loose, loh-zuh
- Niels Gade, neelz gah-thuh (as in “the”)
- Emil Gilels, eh-meel gee-lehls
The list of names above is only a small part of what is possibly be hundreds or even thousands of name variations you’ll encounter. Truth be told, there isn’t any surefire method for anyone to sound out a name with 100% accuracy. Frankly, it’s pretty impossible.
Dealing with a Difficult Last Name
- When the person introduces him/herself, ask him/her to pronounce it, and actively listen.
- If you still struggle to remember the correct pronunciation, take advantage of websites that can help you pronounce names such as nameshouts.com and hearnames.com.
- Once you’re able to pronounce your name, don’t continue to bring up how tough it is. It might only make the person feel uneasy.
- If you’ve known the person for quite a while and realized you’ve been mispronouncing their last name this whole time, apologize and ask them to teach you how to say it correctly.
It’s not just about sounding “good” — learning to pronounce last names correctly is a sign of goodwill. It might take time and effort. But it will show other people that you truly want to respect them and help them feel comfortable.