Pronouncing People’s Names Right
In my line of work as an emcee I must introduce A LOT of people… AND pronounce their names correctly. And pronouncing them all at the other times as well. Examples include:
- Asking for someone on the phone or reception desk
- Introducing someone to a colleague
- Meeting someone at a networking event or party
- Reading a list of names at a school, church or other event
And that’s not to mention remembering people’s names! Are you one of those people who instantly forget someone’s name 5 seconds after they’ve been introduced to you? Or do you just forget how they pronounce their name? (Secret: Next month’s blog)
Note: I realize none of this is for pronouncing people’s names right for the Bob Smiths, Sue Woods or Jamie Whites of the world. If you can’t pronounce those, you shouldn’t be introducing ANYONE! This is for pronouncing people’s names right like pop stars David Guetta (Get-err), Loick Essien (Low-ick Es-ee-en), Wiz Khalifa (Whizz Ka-leaf-a) and Ke$ha (Kesh-a). Granted, most people don’t have a dollar sign in their name.
Anyway, I find pronouncing people’s names right to be difficult for some, so I’ll try and help with some ideas that I use as an emcee, and as just a guy out there in the world. In a nutshell, these tips can be followed to dramatically improve your ability to pronounce names:
1) Ask the Person. Sure, it sounds obvious but for some reason many people find it embarrassing. Trust me, it’s more embarrassing to have that person walk up to you afterwards slightly ticked off and say, “It’s pronounced ______!”
Have a pen ready, and when they pronounce their name for you, write it down phonetically. They often say, “That’s now how it’s spelled.” To which I reply, “No, but if I write it this way, I’ll say it correctly.” They always smile and walk away happy, knowing I’m trying my best to get it right.
Example: I once had to introduce a bigwig at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business: Lachman Krishnamurti. It didn’t matter how many times I said it, I kept getting it wrong. Then I wrote down what I heard: Locksh-men Krish-Na-Muur-Tea. When it came time… I nailed it!
Being able to quickly write down the name spelled phonetically is a very useful skill. Most emcees will develop their own system. For example, where the syllables are, and which one has the emphasis. I will also often write down a rhyming word that it sounds like, either a syllable or a whole word. You can also use the memory technique of association to something or someone you know well.
2) Research the Name and its Derivation. If you don’t have a chance to meet with the person first, this can help. You can even look it up on the Internet (yes, everything is there) for help. There are even Pronunciation Websites & Apps. No, really.
Also, don’t be timid about asking colleagues, friends and the “hive mind” of social media. One of the best is your client, the person who is bringing you into the event has also probably already talked to this person in a briefing session, so ask them.
Often the first question you should ask yourself is does the name give you any clues? Where is it from? Often a word is obviously from a certain country or region. For example: “ski” at the end of a name, means it is probably Slavic, probably Polish, Russian or Czech, (but they are more likely to be -sky or -ska.) but it’s a great clue and this obviously gives us a great starting point.
2) Pronounce the name with Confidence. What I’m saying is, give it your best shot using all your brain power and faculties. Most people will cut you a break if you try your hardest. And if someone gets annoyed, apologize and ask them the correct pronunciation. I think if you have done a bit of research as outlined previously, captured the pronunciation and practiced the word till you are comfortable the big secret is to say it with confidence.
If you say a name tentatively, or pause before you say it, people are more likely to focus exactly on how you say it. If you say it with confidence, they are more likely to accept that that is how it is said and if you are the person being introduced, they are probably less worried about it.
Hope this all helped, and it’s NOT Lie-Ah-bull, or Lie-bell … it’s pronounced Lay-ble! Thanks.
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