#My Name Is
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
The quote from Romeo & Juliet, where Juliet ponders whether it really matters what something or someone is called, is well known. The campaign #My Name Is, launched by the group Race Equality Matters, not only stresses that it does matter but, crucially, that we should all make the effort to pronounce someone’s name correctly.
Names can be tricky. Of course, pronouncing anything new or unfamiliar can be tricky, especially if you’ve only seen the word written down and not heard it spoken aloud. But whilst mispronouncing the latest exercise fad, baked good creation, or, dare I say, the word ‘ombudsman’, probably won’t cause too much offence, pronouncing someone’s name incorrectly (a name given by loved ones that now encapsulates all the complex and unique things about them as an individual) can have a deeper impact.
The #My Name Is campaign is trying to encourage people to spell their name phonetically in their email signatures, following the results of a poll in which 73% of respondents said that they’d had their names mispronounced at work, and that it had made them feel 'not valued or important', 'disrespected' and 'that they didn't belong'.
An article in The Times reporting the launch of the campaign noted that issues around pronunciation aren’t new to these shores, highlighting “names such as Cholmondeley, Featherstonehaugh and Beauchamp - pronounced Chumley, Fanshaw and Beecham respectively”. However, in terms of race equality, the guide to employers published alongside the campaign underscores that pronouncing someone’s name correctly makes them feel "accepted and comfortable, included and that they belong”.
The article and the campaign certainly resonated with me. My name is Donal, an Irish name that can also be written as Dónal, Domhnall, or Dónall (the English translation would be Daniel). And like many non-English names it seems to generate a mixture of confusion, disbelief, and sometimes even anger amongst colleagues and acquaintances.
It is pronounced ‘Dough-nal’.
The most common mistake on this side of the Irish Sea is to assume it’s the Scottish ‘Donald’ without the last ‘d’, and so to pronounce it ‘DON-all’. Attempts to politely explain otherwise over the years has had interesting results.
Repeating that it is pronounced ‘Dough-nal’ has very little impact. As a teenager, adding “like dough-nut” sometimes got results, but at the expense of then being called Doughnut instead. Explaining at University that it was "like Dough-nald without the d” got me the nickname Onald (interchangeably pronounced ‘On-ald’ and ‘Oh-nald’).
On one memorable occasion when working at the Department of Trade & Industry, after a work colleague repeated ‘DON-all’ back to me three times each time I said ‘no, Dough-nal’, I then said “there’s an accent over the ó, which is why its ‘dough’”, resulting in them instantly pronouncing it perfectly. Their rapid conversion seemed to suggest that they thought I was mispronouncing my own name before I confirmed the existence of the fada (as the accent over the vowel is called).
But that wasn’t quite as bad as the reaction from the customer in Sainsbury’s when I was 18 who was outraged (on my behalf) that someone had spelt my name ‘incorrectly’ on my name badge, despite me trying to explain calmly that my name really was ‘Donal’ and that Sainsbury’s hadn’t deliberately missed a ‘d’ off the end. That I apparently ‘wasn’t standing up for myself’ outraged them further and they demanded to speak to my line manager. To complete the bizarre experience, at the end of my shift my line manager then asked if they could call me ‘Dean’ instead to avoid any future confusion.
Whilst I can’t claim to speak on behalf of everyone with a supposedly ‘unusual’ name, I suspect, like me, that many others simply put up with the mispronunciations and have long stopped trying to correct people. You hope that, when you introduce yourself to someone new, the colleague standing next to you who has mispronounced it for years will suddenly have an epiphany. I can confirm that they don’t. My family found it particularly funny when a BBC Radio presenter pronounced my name three different ways in the less than 15 minutes that I was on their show. And whenever I book anything over the phone I always use my wife’s name for fear of trying to explain later that I am in fact the ‘David / Duncan / Daniel / Darren / Dana’ they were expecting.
But as this campaign highlights, constantly mispronouncing your colleague’s name is wearying at best, and at worst can make them feel like they don’t belong. At a time when we are all trying to do more to ensure that people feel valued and included, making the effort to say someone’s name correctly isn’t asking much.
And at the risk again of claiming to speak on behalf of more than just myself, if you’re not sure just ask, and don’t be too embarrassed if you get it wrong first time, but for the love of God, please listen to and believe them when they tell you how it really is pronounced.