I Don't Need A New Name — I Need People To Learn How To Pronounce It

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For most of my life, I hated my name. Since childhood, it sounded wrong and too big for my mouth. I remember, in elementary school, my hands getting clammy as I anticipated my name being called for attendance. In my life, my name has been mispronounced more often than it’s been pronounced properly, and yet, for the longest time, I didn’t bother correcting anyone.
I come from a family of immigrants, and my name is a reflection of that history. I opted for nicknames — Mila, Millie, Lu, Lulu, or my middle name, Andrea — thinking they would be easier to say and spell for others. But all this did was end up making me feel more ashamed.
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Like many professionals with unique or non-traditional Anglo-Saxon names, my name has presented some career challenges. It is constantly misspelled, butchered, and mispronounced. I answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ pretty much once a week.
Sometimes, I’m referred to by my last name instead of my first — something I’m not sure would ever happen to someone with a more traditional name. Still, though my name can present challenges, it has become part of my personal brand and I now use it unapologetically. It has taken me a long time to develop an honest love for my name, but it’s been worth the effort.
So when a “Dear Abby” response resurfaced on social media earlier this week, I was — like many others — shook. In the column, an Indian father wants to balance his wife's desire to give their future children a traditional Indian name with his own desire for assimilation. “Not only can foreign names be difficult to pronounce and spell, but they can also cause a child to be teased unmercifully,” ‘Abby cautioned. “Why saddle a kid with a name he or she will have to explain or correct with friends, teachers, and fellow employees from childhood into adulthood?”
The suggestion that an ethnic, cultural, racialized, or otherwise 'unusual' name should be avoided to coddle English speakers made me, and many others, angry. And though I am aware that job discrimination is a real problem that causes many people to whitewash their résumés and adopt pseudonyms, the idea that people of color and immigrants 'must' assimilate for others' comfort is infuriating.
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I reached out to 11 professionals with ‘unpronounceable’ names for their insight on how their names have affected their careers. Hopefully, these stories will encourage others to reflect on how they respond when introduced to names that are 'uncommon'.
1 of 11

I find myself wondering, 'Is picking up the phone worth the confusion of introducing myself?

"My first name is virtually unpronounceable by most people I meet for the first time. I’ve considered finding a way to 'Americanize' my name, but something didn’t feel quite right about that and my Indian-American identity, so I’ve compromised by going by 'Chani' to make eliminate some syllables and make things easier.

"My name has posed some challenges in my professional life. From feeling less confident to introduce myself to new clients or partners, to wondering if I’ve ever gotten passed up for a job just because a recruiter didn’t want to put the effort into learning how to pronounce my name. It’s a daily challenge.

"Being in the PR field means I’m interacting with outside stakeholders almost every day. It adds a level of anxiety to my job when I need to hop on the phone or communicate via email. I find myself wondering, 'Is picking up the phone really worth going through the confusion of introducing myself? Are my emails being ignored because my name is unrecognizable?'

"I’ve even struggled with how to answer my phone! 'This is Chandni' or 'Hi, you’ve reached Chandni' is confusing to people, but simply saying 'Hello?' feels unprofessional. Despite the struggles, I do feel proud of my name! It has a beautiful meaning – moonlight – and I was named after one of the most popular Bollywood movies of the late ‘80s, so that always speaks to my pop-culture obsessed heart."

— Chandni Brunamonti, Indian-American, Public Relations
2 of 11

My name is one of the only things my father let me have that links me to Central American culture.

"In my previous job, there was always a conversation to be had about my name when meeting someone new. 'What does it mean?' 'Where does it come from?' 'Are you Greek?' All questions Jessica and Sharon never had to answer. Also all very Google-able. The answers to those questions are the first things I searched on the internet when my family got its first computer. I've had to explain my name ever since I was a child. It's crazy how people want you to elaborate on something you had no control over.

"When most hiring managers/recruiters begin the conversation by apologizing for 'butchering' my name, I can't help but think about the possibility of those who didn't even want to try having that awkward interaction.

"I am empowered by and very proud of my name. I grew up being called 'See ya tomorrow,' but I see my name as a link to a world I grew up disconnected from. Ever since my father immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua and started attending an evangelical Christian church, he has disowned any Nicaraguan culture in favor of American culture. I grew up with no knowledge of my family roots, something I'm trying to explore now as an adult. My name is one of the only things my father let me have that links me to Central American culture."

Xiomara Blanco, Nicaraguan-American, Media
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3 of 11

My name is part of my reminders of where I came from.

"My name is pronounced 'U-A' and 'Je-ang.' People definitely have trouble pronouncing my first name. The most common one I get is 'You.' So I use 'Hazel' as my Starbucks name.

"I didn't pick an English name for work, as some of my friends have done, because that's just not my name. I don't think my name has affected my career in any big way, but it's always awkward meeting new clients or coworkers you don't work with that often. It's just not as easy to connect with someone quickly if your name is not Rachael or something easier to pronounce or remember.

"I'm not sure I'm exactly proud of my name, but I do like it a lot. My grandpa picked it for me and it means an ancient kind of pearl. I love living here in New York and will continue to, but my name is part of my reminders of where I came from."

— Yue Jiang, Chinese, Finance
4 of 11

I don't want to feed into the angry Black woman trope by constantly correcting people.

"Though I have always thought my name to be pretty easy to pronounce, school mates, teachers, employers and clients have always had trouble with it. It's uncomfortable because I don't want to come off as rude or feed into the angry Black woman trope by constantly correcting people but I also don't want anyone to go months or years thinking they're saying it the right way.

"The most uncomfortable experience I had was when I was a marketing intern at a healthcare startup and my white boss would mis-pronounce my name almost every day. I was the only Black person working there, so I definitely didn't want to rock the boat. Gentle correction wasn't working and then one day she called me Tara, which was her Pomeranian's name. It was really awkward so I didn't say anything. A few days after, she told me I had big Pomeranian eyes just like Tara. Did I mention the dog was all Black? I left that internship a few months later and lack of diversity definitely played a part in that decision.

"As a Black woman who studied psychology, I understand that people have biases and it can be hard to push those aside. There are studies showing that you can have the exact same résumé with the same qualifications and experience and the one with the more 'ethnic' name will get thrown out. I'd love to live in a world where people in power could be fair 100% of the time but that's sadly not the case and not likely to change any time soon.

"Though my name has been hard to people to pronounce, I do really love it. I've been told that it means 'moon' in Arabic and it's apparently a very popular last name in a lot of African countries. Never in my life would I change it."

Kamara Ferrell, Black, Publicist
5 of 11

I choose not to use my name as my business brand because I knew it would be a nightmare.

"My last name, Rzadkowolska, has been a handful my entire life. It’s been difficult to pronounce for teachers, professors, and bosses and at times has made me feel singled out. But I'm also very privileged, because even though my last name is incredibly difficult and unique, it doesn't bring me any discrimination that I know of as I'm white, cisgender, and heterosexual.

"While no one can pronounce it, on the first, second, or tenth go, it also brings curiosity and laughs. When I founded my business, I choose not to use my name as the brand because I knew it would be a nightmare for people. But I also choose not to change my name when I got married, to a simple Milligan.

"My last name is my identity, my legacy, and my uniqueness. I feel incredibly empowered by it. Would I want to pass down a unique cultural name to my daughter or son? If it holds a special place in my heart with ties to my family and heritage, absolutely."

— Karolina Rzadkowolska, Polish-American, Entrepreneur
6 of 11

One day my colleague said 'Why don’t you just change it to Jessica? It would be easier for everyone.'

"In my first year at a public relations agency in Chicago, my colleagues would always laugh about how reporters would call me by the wrong name – everything from just misreading it as to 'Jennika' even once 'Jaboe.' Then one day my colleague said 'Why don’t you just change it to Jessica? It would be easier for everyone and honestly more professional.'

"I grew up being ashamed to not have a 'normal' name like my siblings and finally got to a point where I felt confident in my name. My colleague made feel my early insecurities in my name come back. My name is a big part of me and while it hasn’t always been easy to correct others or defend why my parents chose it, I think that it is always a conversation starter. There needs to be less judgment about our names and pause to get to know about the individual.

"I haven’t been passed over for a job, but people have often said 'Oh I didn’t expect you to be a white woman.' The other thing I get is 'Were your parents super religious? Is it the female version of Jericho?'

"My name is such a part of my identity, my personality and even when I say 'Hi, my name is Jerica' I always know someone will ask me further about it. I can’t ever imagine having another name. To change my name would make me feel like I would be a completely different person and strip the confidence I’ve gained of it over the last few years."

Jerica Pitts, Caucasian, Public Relations
7 of 11

'Is there something else I can call you?' No, no there is not.

"My first and middle names, Gaynete’ (Gay-net-tay) Asede’ (Us-add-aye) Maryam (Mi-ree-um) are of Ethiopian descent, and have always been difficult to pronounce. Even years after working with some colleagues, they still had a difficult time getting it right. Often in meetings, and over conference calls, there was that awkward pause in between someone trying to address me. Usually asking, 'Is there something else I can call you?' No, no there is not.

"The way I see it is if someone can formulate their mouths to pronounce names like 'Kardashian,' I too deserve that same respect. It often isn’t a matter of them not being able to say it, many simply do not care enough to try, and for people like that, I make them put in the effort. Although I understand that it is quite unusual and challenging for people who first meet me, I do not think there are any excuses for those who’ve known of me for some time.

"While I do not believe I've been passed up on a job because of it, when I was younger, I often wished I was given another name. Now that I am older and run my own successful business, however, I am proud of my name and wouldn’t ever change it. It has proven to be a blessing in disguise as my URL and social media handles were all readily available. Also, to my knowledge there aren't any other authors with my name either, allowing me to stand out amongst the crowd.

"Everyone and their circumstances are so unique, therefore I do not believe there are standard naming rules anyone should feel obligated to follow. Rather than us asking if we should refrain from naming our child culturally unusual names, we should instead work to progressively eliminate the pigeon-holing that they create to begin with. There was a president of the United States with the name Barack Obama. That should be enough to begin mending people’s views."

Gayneté (Edwards) Jones, Black Bermudian, Author & Millennial Mentor
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8 of 11

I endured the typical teasing for having an odd name, and at one point wanted to change it.

"I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 6 from China, and my name has gone through a number of iterations. My Chinese name is Leixin Zhao (赵垒鑫 - Zhao Lei Xin), but I was given a legal middle name upon immigration, Ray. Ray sounded like 'Lei' in Chinese. I went by Ray until middle school, at which point I took more pride in my ethnicity and went by Leixin, but pronounced 'Lex-in.'

"Throughout my early adult life, getting my name pronounced correctly was always a struggle, but I stuck with it. When I entered the workforce, I did feel that my name held me back. It's hard to picture who a 'Leixin' is and not have biases and stereotypes. I grew up in Louisiana and spoke perfect English. Still, I stuck with it.

"Because of my name, naturally, 'Lex' became a nickname. It rolled off people's tongues easily. It wasn't until I saw more of the hiring side, learning more about signaling effects and human biases that I finally bit the bullet and went by 'Lex' full time. Over time, I do hope there will be more acceptance of non-Anglicized names."

— Leixin 'Lex' Zhao, Chinese-American, Venture Capital for Immigrants
9 of 11

As a child, I wished for a last name like 'Smith,' but now, I feel empowered by and proud of my name.

"My last name is very special to me because I’m an only child and am the last in the 'Castrillon' line. As a child, I wished for a simple last name like 'Smith,' but now, I feel empowered by and proud of my name because it’s so unique and representative of what my parents sacrificed to come to the U.S. from Cuba.

"At work, my name has always caused me to stand out. Mostly because people would mispronounce it in meetings. At that point, all eyes would turn to me and then I would feel like one of those exotic zoo animals that people stare at and wonder, 'Where is that from?'

"Being a female and Latinx, it’s difficult to say whether I’ve been passed over for a job just because of my name but given that one study indicates that the easier your name is to pronounce, the more trustworthy people will assume you are, it’s definitely possible.

"I vehemently disagree that parents should avoid unusual names for their children. What we should be doing is embracing multicultural values and names are a way of passing on our culture from one generation to the next. I’ll admit, the thought has crossed my mind to change my name because it would be easier to promote myself as a keynote speaker or book author, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It would be like permanently changing my eye color — it’s just such an integral part of who I am."

Caroline Castrillon, Cuban-American, Business and Life coach
10 of 11

My first name describes cultural identity, my roots, my connection to something larger.

"A code of conduct among Sikhs essentially dismisses caste and gender, which is why we have a large number of gender-neutral names. Like mine. A quick Google search shows my first name is largely a male-oriented one. Add to this an Italian-sounding last name, and I often get confused for being a ‘half-breed’ or ‘mixed race’, which startles folks in both my professional and personal worlds.

"I remember once being encouraged to apply for a job at Louis Vuitton in France after meeting with one of their marketing executives. While I was rejected, what struck me was how their hand signed letter addressed me as Monsieur! And while I’ll never know for certain if I was passed over with my name, I certainly won’t patronize a brand whose HR team can’t take two seconds to get it right.

"Sadly, it demonstrated just how ignorant so many executives are when it comes to pronounceable foreign names. It signals a lazy, close-minded person who shows little to no respect for me as a person first, women second. My first name is not just nouns: It describes cultural identity, my roots, my connection to something larger than some one person’s limited perception.

"While I would never think to change up my name, and I can appreciate having some fun with it. At work, I have earned nicknames like ‘Navi-baby’, ‘Feliz Navidad,’ and ‘Navalicious.’ If this exercise helps people learn and remember the actual pronunciation (and the meaning: new light), I’m all for it."

— Navdeep Mundi, Indian-Canadian, Professor, Business Communications
11 of 11

I get anxiety when I know someone is about to read my name out loud.

"I've had issues with my name my whole life. Growing up kids would pick on me and call me 'Charmin,' like the toilet paper. Since childhood, I've carried this anxiety and trauma about my name so I get anxiety when I know someone is about to read it out loud, especially if its to a group of people or in a professional setting.

"My name comes from the Kurdish language and means 'Shy.' I hated it growing up because of the bullying, but in the last few years I've grown to love it. It's beautifully versatile, rare, and I would never change it. My dad is Kurdish and he chose the name which makes it very special. I now have it tattooed in Kurdish on my wrist in my dad's handwriting."

Sharmin Aziz, Peruvian-Kurdish-American, Marketing & Podcasting
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