Teachers - Pronounce Names Correctly in the Classroom

Why Pronouncing Students’ Names Correctly is Important

In Teaching by Punita Rice

There are a million names from as many backgrounds, so it can feel overwhelming to expect teachers to get every single name right. But pronouncing students’ names correctly does matter. Here, I’m sharing YouTube video I recorded on why pronouncing names correctly is important, and I’m also sharing my list of practice ideals for how teachers can get names right. Read on for the why and how of getting students’ names right.

Why pronouncing students’ names right matters

Click here to visit YouTube and watch my video on pronouncing names correctly and why pronouncing names correctly matters in the classroom (there, you can subscribe to my channel to get more videos in the future). The video offers an explanation for why teachers pronouncing names properly (and not mispronouncing students’ names) is important, why name pronunciation matters, and how mispronouncing students names hurts.

(BTW — in the video, I’m actually wearing my younger son in a Baby K’Tan while filming! I’ve talked about babywearing while I work at home before — see this post about how I balance working at home with kids.)

Edit on 10/13: Matt Zalaznik, a writer at District Administration (a monthly magazine aimed at education leaders/admins in public K-12 schools/districts) wrote a piece for their magazine about the importance of making name pronunciation a priority in K12 education (you can read that article here.) We had an interview for the article, so if you’re interested, you can click through to read what I shared with him on why pronouncing students’ names correctly is so important. I also recently shared something on Instagram about it (also embedded below) if you want to see that there.

So… how do you get names right?

Also, last year, I wrote an article for Education Week about name pronunciation, and offered specific ideas for how teachers could get better about pronouncing students’ names correctly. (You can read the article at the Ed Week Teacher site here). Below, I’m sharing some quick tips.

“Working in staffing, I speak to hundreds of people. I always ask how to pronounce their name before I attempt to slaughter it, and then I make notes in my CRM on how to pronounce it correctly the next time we connect.”

My sister-in-law Kelli of Auptimist (if you’re interested, she’s also written about the challenges of staying home with kids here)

Regardless of what field you work in, but certainly for classroom teachers, making notes for yourself on name pronunciation (i.e. writing down the phonetic spelling, even if the written out pronunciation only makes sense to you) is an easy trick for getting names right all year. Moreover, it’s easy to implement from day one; once you get a student’s name right, write out the phonetic spelling on your roster. ??

And you can also leave that roster, with the phonetic spellings, for your subs; an old friend and classroom teacher shared this:

“I always tell my kids, ‘don’t allow me to say your name wrong, keep correcting me until I get it. I want to respect the correct way to say your name.’ They’ll get assertive to let me know I’m saying it wrong and I’m okay with that. I usually write down phonetically how it’s pronounced so I memorize it faster. I also leave the phonetic pronounciations with the sub.”

Erinn Wright, teacher

In that example, of course, I love the bit about leaving phonetic pronunciations for substitutes. But I ESPECIALLY that by telling students “I want to respect the correct way to say your name,” this teacher is explicitly telling her students that by pronouncing their names right, she would be showing them respect (thereby teaching them it matters in the first place). Further, by saying “don’t allow me to say your name wrong, keep correcting me,” she is empowering her students to feel comfortable correcting her along the way.

Another teacher I used to work closely with shared,

“I do a lot of ‘please, tell me right away if I’m saying your name wrong. I want to say it correctly.’ If I’m not sure, I make eye contact and practice saying it with the student a few times if their name is unfamiliar to me, even days or weeks later, to make sure they know I care, even if I’m still struggling.”

Laura Sabelhaus, teacher

I loved that this teacher makes it a point to make eye contact while practicing a name bit — it serves to make the “I respect you” so clear. (I know it’s not the same but this reminds me of when we remind teachers, parents, etc. to crouch down to a younger child’s height when talking with them.)

My dear friend Tedi Kahn, an AP Psychology teacher based in Chicago (who I studied in Charlottesville with) shared a tip that serves a reminder that many students aren’t even used to having teachers communicate that their names do matter. She makes it clear that it does:

“The most heartbreaking is when I tell them I know I’m saying it incorrectly and I ask them for the correct way and they say, ‘doesn’t matter.’ I always tell them it matters to me!

Tedi Kahn, AP Psychology teacher

When you mispronounce a name

Even with the very best intentions and strategies for getting names right, there will still be names you can’t get, or you might slip up. That’s fine — I think the key thing to focus on is making your students feel valued, and show that you are trying. The intent, and the ongoing effort, indirectly communicates more to a student than if you’re able to get their name right on day one.

Teachers, what are your best tips for getting names right? (If you have an idea for how to get a name right share it in the comments section below).

PS –  Segments of the original Education Week piece on pronouncing names correctly were first published in a blog post for ISAASE, which you can read more about here.

About the Author
Punita Rice

Punita Rice

Punita Rice is the founder of the ISAASE.org resource-hub, and author of the research book "South Asian American Experiences in Schools: Brown Voices from the Classroom" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), the children's book series "The Adventures of Hunny & Sunny," and "Toddler Weaning." She holds a Doctorate in Education from Johns Hopkins University, and is a former classroom teacher, academic adviser, and researcher. She lives in Maryland.