I’m not sure how to pronounce my own name. Even my parents disagree with each other about it. Is it Mag-duh-lay-nuh? Or is it Mag-duh-lynn? I was given this name because it begins with an M, like my siblings’ names, and because my mom watched Jesus Christ Superstar while on bedrest during her pregnancy with me. You’d think the fact that my name is Biblical would make pronunciation plain and simple, but my father is convinced that he’s the one who named me, and in his mind, the “e” at the end is pronounced the German way, like Porsche. I’m not even German.
In any case, I’ll accept either pronunciation. I’m happy to be called Magda, if that’s easier. What I won’t accept, though, is “Magdaleen,” “Madeline” or “Maggot,” as one librarian called me as he began to attempt to say my name and gave up halfway through.
It’s tempting to just accept it and walk away when people mangle the pronunciation. In some situations, though, I have no choice but to correct them — and I feel guilty somehow, like I’m rude for reminding them of their mistake. You don’t want to seem like an asshole and embarrass someone for getting it wrong… but it’s your name, ya know?
There is, I learned, an etiquette to it. Correcting someone who mispronounces your name requires a balance of confidence and tact.
According to Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, the best way to correct someone who mispronounces your name is to pull a Nike and just do it. “You simply tell them,” she says. “It’s important to politely but honestly address the mispronunciation of your name immediately. It will save embarrassment in the future when someone else starts to call you the wrong name.” In other words, you’re going to look like more of a jerk if you let them go on calling you Kyle when you’re not a guy who pounds Monster Energy.
I’m lucky to have something of a name-etiquette expert in my life: my boyfriend, Zane Plattor, a front-desk agent at L.A.’s Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. Getting customers’ names right is part of his job, even though not everyone bothers to remember his. “One coworker has been calling me ‘Xan’ for the last eight months,” he shrugs. “Someone else had to correct him.” Zane doesn’t like to make people feel bad about forgetting or mispronouncing his name, so he often lets it slide. When he meets someone new, though, he makes a point of telling them not to be afraid to ask his name more than once.
For many people, having their name mispronounced isn’t just a simple mistake, it’s a racial microaggression. Recently, a woman on Reddit shared a story about moving from Georgia to the Pacific Northwest for a job, where she was the only person of color in the office. Despite having a simple name, Tina, her coworkers were constantly getting it wrong, often calling her names that are more “black-sounding,” like Tiana or Tiara. Tina says she has tried to correct them dozens of times, politely but firmly, both in person and via email. Still, the problem persists.
To make a point of the issue, she asked redditors on the forum Am I the Asshole whether it would be wrong of her to intentionally call her white coworkers by other white names. Most agreed that it would be a funny way to get the point across. It might not be very professional –– but neither is consistently getting someone’s name wrong despite being corrected multiple times.
In the end, Gottman says, the best method is to be straightforward but kind. “Watch your facial expression and tone,” says Gottman. But if all else fails, fuck it — just start calling everyone else by the wrong name, too.