Names Matter. Do You Care?

Communication Kindness Respect


Key Point: So much about effective leadership involves demonstrating that you sincerely care about others. A simple but important part of caring is how we treat someone’s name. Who doesn’t like when someone knows our name, remembers it, and ideally spells and pronounces it correctly? Our name matters. Little kids are often most clear about emphasizing the importance of getting names right because their verbal filters are (thankfully) not fully developed. I remember when our daughter KEELY was 5 years old. She was so exasperated by people assuming her name was KELLY, that I can still picture her putting her hands on her hips and firmly pointing out to another who mispronounced it… “Excuse me… It’s Keely… K.E.E.L.Y!!” A 4-year-old daughter of another family member was overheard pretending to talk on a toy cell phone, stridently stating to the imaginary receiver…”It’s Millar… That’s ‘a r’ not ‘e r.’”

As I was doing some quick research on the importance of knowing and properly pronouncing people’s names, I found this post from the perspective of people from cultures different than ones we are familiar with:

“I have known how it feels for one’s name to be mispronounced all my life, but I understand. I am African and we use words differently, we are more expressive which can be too much for people with different backgrounds. Some names are popular thus; people have some mastery over how it is pronounced.

I just correct you if you seem interested or spare you if you’re not… I also have found that I want to pronounce peoples names appropriately.”

Posted by:

Sanjo Ogunseye

July 25, 2012 6:16 PM

Consciously knowing, pronouncing and spelling other people’s names is a sign of personal respect, and intentional care. It requires us to be mindful, thoughtful and to develop a “personal name process” that works.

At a recent team meeting involving about 60 people, I introduced a guest and completely messed up her name. I even rehearsed and practiced it in advance… Not enough apparently. When it was “game time,” microphone in hand, I flubbed it completely. Ironically, her topic of discussion was diversity and inclusion… Geez… (Can you see my red cheeks)? She kindly corrected me and was exceptionally savvy and gracious, saving me from even more embarrassment. I was disappointed in my stumble because she and her audience deserved my care and respect by getting it right the first time. Everyone understood my intention was on point, and yet it was a poignant, somewhat painful reminder of the extreme importance of that very first step in establishing a relationship… One’s name.

Character Moves:

  1. Learn to be good at remembering, pronouncing and spelling names correctly because it is important to you and others. It takes ongoing rehearsal and practice. Even after you prepare, you will likely not be perfect. Keep at it. There are numerous techniques for remembering. Mostly it’s a conscious investment and commitment to develop a personal “name process.” Read the following for additional insight. 
  2. Help somebody out if it is obvious they don’t remember your name by telling them. It is often clear that they have forgotten. Be considerate of people who have an obligation to remember many people’s names. Kindly correct them if they mispronounce or misspell. It’s a matter of mutual respect.
  3. Be savvy enough to help colleagues out regarding remembering names. One of the great helplines thrown out to me is… “Lorne, you remember ___.” Phew, I just want to high five that helping hand. I don’t always need the help but I like that they gave me a bridge just in case.
  4. Do not buy into the excuse that “I’m just not good at names.” It may be true but it’s a cop out. Intentionally practice. It matters whether you think so or not!
  5. Forgive yourself if you mess up. People are enormously accepting if they know you care and/or are sincerely trying. For some reason there will be some names you will likely always struggle with. Have the right intent and relentlessly work to get it right. You eventually will, they will notice and care that you care.

Knowing names in The Triangle,