What’s in a name?

This is a guest post from Zanne Gaynor and Kathryn Alevizos, co-founders of Acrobat Global,
on the importance of correctly pronouncing and spelling a person’s name for creating inclusive environments.

While the card pictured below might bring a wry smile to your face, there’s a serious message going on here.

If you don’t take the time to learn and process a person’s name, you may not have the
same level of interaction and understanding that you would have with someone whose name
you recognise and pronounce correctly.

In our International Communication workshops with the NHS we often talk about the importance of taking time to learn a person’s name. It might sound like basic advice but using a person’s name is a key starting point to creating an inclusive environment in the workplace.

Asking how to pronounce a patient or colleague’s name can feel awkward. But not knowing how to say it properly may mean that you avoid talking to that person or asking them direct questions. If your name is unusual, you might well have experienced this.

In a recent BBC article[1] by Dhruti Shah different professionals share their experience of people getting their name wrong at work. Dhruti herself says her name can autocorrect to Dorito. Colleagues might mispronounce her name as ‘Dirty’ or they misspell it as ‘Druhti’. In a similar vein, Sorrel Shalet, Head of people at Smart Energy GB, often has to explain how to pronounce her name. When she introduces herself, people think she’s saying ‘Sorry’ so she usually tells them how to pronounce it correctly by saying that it rhymes with ‘coral.’ Our name forms an integral part of our identity. Investing time in learning how to pronounce and spell a person’s name breaks down communication barriers and opens up social interactions

An inclusive and collaborative working community enables everyone to use the name they prefer and have their name respected. It creates a sense of belonging and well-being.

In summer 2021, the Community Values Education Programme at the University of Warwick researched the connection between names and feelings of inclusion and interviewed more than 800 staff and students[1]. It concluded that often people don’t intentionally get names wrong but they could actively do more to get them right.

So, how can you make sure your workplace is inclusive and welcoming when it comes to names?

Here are our top tips.

  • Allow time for introductions.
  • If you’re unsure how to say a person’s name, ask.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask again. Tell the person that it’s important to you to get their name right.
  • Don’t change or shorten a name just because it’s easier to say (unless you’ve been given permission to do so).
  • If you’re given two names, check which is the first name and which is the surname.
  • Double-check the spelling especially if texting or emailing and the autocorrect is on.
  • When online check your name is visible
  • Advise others in your team on how to pronounce someone’s name.

The Personalised Care Institute offers a range of e-learning courses, webinars and podcasts which explain more about personalised care approaches. Many of our resources are designed to help health and care staff to develop skills such as active listening and engaging in quality conversations. These resources provide valuable CPD for qualified health and care professionals, and we also encourage educators to incorporate them into pre-registration curricular for all health and care professionals too, embedding personalised care as ‘business as usual’.

Zanne Gaynor and Kathryn Alevizos are co-founders of Acrobat Global. They deliver workplace training that promotes inclusive and effective communication skills in culturally diverse workplaces. Their first book, Is that clear? Effective communication in a multilingual world was a finalist in the Business Book Awards 2020.  

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