Name pronunciation – cultural competency goes both ways

At a recent staff meeting, I was presenting a new website/tool/project called Mivoko. It’s basically a site where you can record your name, so that others can hear how to properly pronounce it. It’s a great idea, especially in workplaces, but elsewhere as well. Name mispronunciation can become a barrier to communication, to the point of avoiding the other person does occur.

And, it might seem like a little thing, but it has many nuances.

I see it in many spaces, personal and professional:

  • my own wife’s life long quest to have people pronounce her name correctly (to the point that she over pronounces it on voice mail, etc.)
  • others I work with in the immigrant-services sector actually advocating that a person come up with a “Canadian” name for themselves – blerg…
  • someone leaving a voice mail message with their name unintelligibly pronounced (what do I call them/who do I ask for when I call back?!?)

In my case, I’ve always had an interesting personal experience. My name typically gets mispronounced by Spanish speaking folks at times, and I even get asked where the little tilde over the n in Campana is. In terms of cultural competency, some folks have immediately assumed I’m of some sort of Spanish-speaking origin, even speak to me in Spanish right off the bat.

Which suggests a definite pronunciation assumption/issue to me. But, also an identity issue. Sure, I’m some white guy in Canada. But, guess what? I have a culture and identity too.

The assumption that if your name is vaguely “ethnic” surely you must pronounce it in that way. Which, I don’t. Not that I don’t mind hearing my name pronounced that way, I’ve heard it all my life. But there tends to be a lot more cultural baggage and assumptions that come along with the pronunciation by others. Which continues to make the point that Mivoko is addressing – name pronunciation matters, deeply.

For the record I’m a mutt – Italian and Swiss-German. Born here, pronounce my name with a “Canadian” accent. So, while at first I wasn’t sure if I was a fit, I found Mivoko useful for me too. I recommend you check it out. It’s free to sign up and create your voko. And, you can search for others who might be in their database.

Here, check out my voko (if you can’t play it, there’s a voko in the sidebar, or visit the Mivoko site to hear it):

 

Oh, and regarding Spanish pronunciation, you might find this little gem entertaining (there may be an ad first, sorry, but it’s worth it):

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marco

Communications in social services/social change, immigration, diversity & inclusion in Toronto. Wannabe librarian, interested in nonprofit tech innovation.

Communications in social services/social change, immigration, diversity & inclusion in Toronto. Wannabe librarian, interested in nonprofit tech innovation.

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