- Students with names that can be difficult to pronounce may end up with a nickname — and not of their own choosing, which leaves them feeling not just misidentified but disrespected, District Administration reports.
- Educators trying to pronounce names correctly can take their practice to a private space with the student rather than struggling to figure it out during attendance in front of the class, and some schools are also addressing this by giving students the opportunity to call and record how their names are said correctly.
- Teachers should consider selecting books written by authors from around the globe to help students grow more familiar with names they may not typically hear or read, and math teachers can also work different names into word problems, familiarizing students with a wider variety of first and last names.
For some people, their name can be a minefield for mispronunciation — spellings may be unfamiliar to speakers, or spellings that look like they should be said one way are consistently said another. When teachers and peers mispronounce a student or classmate’s name, they can be doing more than stumbling — they can show a lack of respect for someone’s identity. That can have a negative impact on learning, how students feel about themselves, and potentially their future career.
Five joint studies from New York University, the University of Leuven, Belgium, and the University of Melbourne, Australia, looked at what researchers called the “name-pronunciation effect.” They studied people with names that are easier to pronounce, finding they are “judged more positively than [people with] difficult-to-pronounce names,” authors wrote in the study. “The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun,” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011.
One result researchers found is people with last names that are simpler to pronounce have higher positions in law firms than those with names that are more complicated. That result is likely not surprising to the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which has challenged districts and educators around North America to sign up for A Declaration of Self. The site asks people to “pledge to pronounce students’ names correctly,” and it has been adopted by 958 school districts, 2,219 cities and 637 communities.
For other steps educators can take, Indiana University’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning offers ideas on how teachers can learn to say students’ names correctly. Suggestions include taking photographs and attaching names to these images as a reference tool, and also using name tags with pronunciations written out, as well.
The effort is crucial — when teachers take the time to learn how to speak a student’s name correctly, they model that behavior for the entire class. The respect students show each other when speaking someone’s name as they want it to be said builds social and emotional learning skills of compassion, empathy and communication within a group — strengthening a classroom and the way it interacts.
“Knowing one's classmates' names fosters the feeling that there are peers in the class with whom the student can interact,” wrote Joan Middendorf and Elizabeth Osborn on Indiana University’s online resource page. “A sense of community among the students begins to grow, fostering learning both inside and outside the classroom.”