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  • Writer's pictureLynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH

Get it right! Name pronunciation and bias

Many parents of multiracial kids have selected cultural and ethnic names for our children. This choice was intentional and thoughtful. But wow! - names that are even slightly seen as different are periodically mispronounced.

Let’s unpack what mispronunciation could mean for our kids, and help you to correct others to get it right.

This research article called “The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun” shares results from five studies that look at the name-pronunciation effect which suggests that easy-to-pronounce names (and the people with these names) are judged more positively than difficult-to-pronounce names.

Each of the studies examined something different. The first study explored if people like names they feel they can easily pronounce (the answer was yes). The second study examined if people were more likely to vote for candidates that had names that were easy to pronounce (yes, again.) The third study looked at if people thought candidates in a mock newspaper were good candidates for an open position based on ease in name pronunciation (yes, again). The fourth study wanted to see if people have more favorable impressions of others with easily pronounced names when they were, or were not, a part of a group of the other person (yup). The last study looked at US law firms to see if lawyers with easier-to-pronounce names held higher-ranking positions (yes, yet again).

While there are many limitations to each of these studies (sample sizes, each took place in Australia with undergraduate students [except study 5], the difference in what is considered easily pronounced, etc.), we may have personally experienced when someone doesn’t pronounce our child’s name correctly. Regardless of the limitations of these studies, we certainly want to be sure that people correctly pronounce our kids' names and have a favorable bias toward their strengths, character, and abilities.

Why does this matter to me?

A great article from the University of Washington School of Medicine called “Say my name: The importance of name pronunciation” cites that when people have their name mispronounced it can lead to feeling disrespected, feeling upset, and feeling like they do not belong. We never want our children to experience these feelings, so let's be proactive to model corrective actions for mispronunciations and to coach our children on a few tips when introducing themselves:

  • Be willing to go back and forth during introductions so that others get their name right

  • Give people tips on pronunciation - rhymes with ____ or sounds like ____.

  • Spell out names phonetically to help with pronunciation when communicating in written form (think job applications and college entrance essays)

  • Normalize getting others' names right, especially when it sounds challenging to your ear! If you get the ‘I usually go by ___’ giving you a pass to not get it right, push back- “I would like to use the name you like and pronounce it correctly”

After all, our names are a part of our identity. We want our children to be seen for all of the beauty that they are - including their name.


Citation: Laham, S. M., Koval, P., & Alter, A. L. (2012). The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(3), 752-756.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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