What’s in a name?

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The title of a BBC article caught my eye yesterday – “My African name stopped me getting job opportunities” – and it got me thinking about what’s in a name? (I’ve included the link at the bottom of this article, in case you want to read it).

Whilst the article itself is about bias and discrimination specifically for BAME females there is another angle to consider re names in the workplace…

I’ve lived most of my life with my name being misspelt (Catharine, Katherine, Kathryn, Katharine); shortened (Cath, Kathy, Kate, Cathie) and totally changed! (Kathleen, Carolyn, Caroline) … I’ve had similar experiences with my maiden name of Cotton (leading to exclamations “as in needle and thread”). You might have thought there would be a degree of relief with a married name of Smith … but no … that can also have its challenges for some … Smythe … and yet I’ve struggled to correct folk accepting whatever name they give me whilst feeling slightly irked that they have not taken the time or interest to get it right.

In our beautifully diverse and multicultural world of fantastically wonderful names with unfamiliar spellings, letter combinations, sounds, what efforts do you take to ensure that you get someone’s name right – both in spelling and pronunciation?

Our names define us, they say who we are … Have you considered the impact it might have on an individual and your relationship if you do not take the time to get it right?

I’ve witnessed folks mumbling, mispronouncing names deeply apologetic for getting it wrong ultimately settling for some kind of approximation. In the extreme, names are totally avoided and communication is made through eye contact and uncomfortable “oi you…”. Even when corrected folk turn a blind ear and persist with their interpretation of the name. Or it’s changed to something which is deemed easier to say coupled with an excuse of “I’m terrible with names” ….

The impact of getting names wrong can have a deeply profound impact on the individuals concerned. It links directly to their sense of belonging and inclusion. In one moment folk can be made to feel excluded, different and not understood. This moment is felt right at the beginning of the relationship. The time when impressions are formed and trust is being initiated…

With a degree of effort, humility and practice the simple art of learning an individual’s name can have the most incredible and positive impact on the individual and to your mutual relationship. The expression of care, interest and respect can all be summed up in getting someone’s name correct. If in doubt ask. Write it down phonetically. Practice and tweak. Check that you have it right. And … make sure that you correct others when they get it wrong.

Here’s the link to that article, if you want to take a look: 



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