If you were asked how important your name is, what would you say? I mean, besides, “Huh? What the heck do you mean?”
I mean: how important is your name? How important is it others get it right, pronounce it correctly? It’s more than a sound. More than a way to catch your attention or to endorse a check. It’s an identity, yes? How do you feel when others get it wrong?
Recently, on a flight, I watched a man completely disrespect the name of a flight attendant, making absolutely no effort to say her name properly. I was saddened by humanity, and wondered how many times I had showed disrespect for an unfamiliar name more sophisticated than my tongue.
In the above clip from The Ellen Show, Hásan Mińhaj explains to her how to pronounce his name correctly, and her first reaction is to say “no,” as if he has it wrong. The interchange is brilliant, if not a little sad. When a name is unfamiliar or foreign we can easily feel justified in mispronouncing it. If we consider ourselves leaders in any context whatsoever, however, it is imperative we value one’s name with the upmost respect, and care about pronouncing it correctly.
Some of you might roll your eyes at this. “It’s not that big of a deal!” you’ll say, or “Why are people so sensitive?”
But those same people are most likely going to mock a foreigner with a thick accent for how they pronounce their name. So forget the insensitive ones for the moment, I’m talking to the rest of you. I’m talking to me. We can’t control — and shouldn’t judge — how a person responds to us. But we can control what we do, and if we want to be leaders, let us care about pronouncing our fellow humans’ names correctly.
Why? Because Dale Carnegie once said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” A person’s name is how they are connected to the communication of the world; pronouncing it correctly is the simplest, easiest way to honor someone. Mispronouncing it is one of the fastest ways to communicate, they don’t matter to you. See?.
When a leader — and we’re all leaders — pronounces someone’s name incorrectly, or worse, we don’t even take the time to try and learn — what are we doing to our team? Our culture? Our relationships? Our credibility?
In the song Alabama Pine, Jason Isbell writes the line: “Hardly even know my name anymore. When no one calls it out, it kind of vanishes away.” As humans we need to be seen, and more importantly we want to be known, not for what we are, but who we are. One’s name matters. And if you are unfamiliar with the name, ask them how to pronounce it. Don’t be embarrassed if you mess up — but make the effort to get it right. That should be the bare minimum for human decency — and is absolutely essential if we expect to effectively lead.