In previous social media posts, we have detailed the importance of pronouncing someone’s name correctly. It is a simple, but absolutely a critical move towards advancing inclusion and promoting respect. And honestly, it’s just the right thing to do. When we take the time to listen, practice if needed, and correctly pronounce someone else’s name we are showing that we care, we respect and value individuality, and are acknowledging part of each person’s true identity. For more on this, please check out the amazing LeRon Barton, CWNA for his talks on this topic.
Just as important as name pronunciation is spelling someone’s name correctly, especially since so much of our daily communication is through email, text, or other modes of written messaging. It can be frustrating if your name is “Traci” and everyone around you continues to misspell it as “Tracy”. If someone can’t take the time to spell your name correctly, especially if you’ve been friends or co-workers for some time, the feeling can go beyond simple frustration to disrespect and resentment, and those feeling aren’t good for the health of relationships or organizations.
You may have also noticed some of your friends’ or colleagues’ names use a diacritic (also known as an accent or symbol) to indicate an emphasis on a certain letter or a particular pronunciation. An example is the tilde, an accent (~) placed over the Spanish-based “n” to be pronounced “ny” (as in señor), or the Portuguese “a” or “o” when nasalized (as in São Paulo). In German, an Umlaut (the two dots above a letter) changes the pronunciation of words with the vowels Ä, Ö, and Ü and. As well, the accent “aigu” is used commonly in French over the letter “e” as in the word café.
Guess what? These diacritics are part of the accurate spelling of a person’s name. They are NOT optional and should always be included when you are writing a person’s name, sending them an email, or including their name in a document. However, what’s often easier, and what tends to happen instead, is to write the person’s name leaving the accent or other diacritic out completely. This alteration, in effect, changes the person’s name to better suit the needs of the writer rather than respect the other person’s true name and identity.
Now, some will say that they aren’t doing this out of malice, and that it’s okay to incorrectly write a person’s name because they don’t mean any harm, or that the other person gave them permission to spell their name differently (e.g., it’s okay to use “n” instead of ñ in their name or leave off the accent mark when writing their name). To that, I’d say what a shame to miss an opportunity to get someone’s real name right and, just as an added nudge to the skeptics out there, there are also plenty of names we’ve all figured out over time when we really want to (case in point, the name of any character from Games of Thrones!). In other circumstances, some individuals will change their own given name to a more “Americanized” version (anglicization) or to something easier for others to pronounce and spell (e.g., changing Jorge to George or Joe, or using “G” as a nickname rather than Gustavo) in order to better fit in, minimize their outsider status, or otherwise be more accepted in certain settings. However, saying and spelling someone’s name correctly really does matter. When we don’t get someone’s name right, we’re heading towards exclusion rather than towards a more inclusive culture. When we take the time to get it right, it’s the first step in showing someone that you “see” them and that you value them.
So, next time you are trying to write someone’s name, try these tips:
- Take a moment to double-check the spelling of their name. Check their email signature or other place where it is listed correctly to make sure you use the correct spelling.
- If you notice that their name contains an accent, tilde, or other diacritics, spell it that way. If you don’t know how to find that particular marking on your laptop or other device, you can do a quick Google search for tips.
- For Microsoft Word users as an example, to get the à character, press and hold the Ctrl key, and press the ` key (the tilde key). Then, release both keys and quickly press the A key. Otherwise, under the Insert menu, click Symbol for a list of symbols and special characters.
- AND HERE’S YOUR BEST NAME SPELLING HACK – simply copy and paste their name from their own email signature!
Here’s to all of us taking big and small steps to creating more representative and inclusive spaces! If you have a suggestion or tip for creating inclusive workplaces or other spaces, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. We love sharing ideas!
Tara B. Taylor, MPA