Consider adding a guide to pronouncing your name to your online profile pages—especially if you have reason to believe that people likely to say it aloud, including those from other linguistic cultures, might have trouble with it.

I recognize that personal-profile real estate is scarce and sacred, so just as I feel about advertising your preferred pronouns, I don’t consider this extra work obligatory for all. I merely point out its availability as a tool to help people address or refer to you in the ways you prefer.

In my day job, I have the good fortune to interact every day with colleagues from all around the world. This doesn’t merely expose me to the brilliant diversity of human naming conventions; it challenges me to participate as an accurate and respectful invoker of all those names, in an act of fundamental office politesse. And in a related bit of good fortune, my workplace lets employees attach a recording of themselves pronouncing their own names to their company-intranet home pages. If set, this recording appears as an orange “Play” button by the employee’s name. I always appreciate seeing it there, especially before a meeting, or a presentation where I plan to offer a shout-out to a colleague.

I have used this feature with my own name. Experience teaches me that pretty much everyone gets “Jason” right on the first try*, but “McIntosh” often leaves people guessing as to the hidden vowel, and where the stress goes. Years ago, in fact, I added a pronunciation guide to my personal homepage, linking to a recording behind my name’s transliteration into IPA. While that link’s text might be a bit too obscure, I felt right about the link itself then, and I still do today.

And yet, despite what seems like obvious utility to me, online platforms that increasingly concern themselves with pronoun display give surprisingly short shrift to basic pronunciation. My employer’s profile-management webpage offers its pronunciation-upload tool underneath a set of pronoun-display options that take up far more vertical space, including explanations for their existence and links to more information. One can see a similar effect in tools like Slack, where administrators can set up pronoun display with a top-level toggle, but name-pronunciation is available only as a custom field—and thus, I expect, very rarely set up.

I suppose this is at least in fact an effect of novelty, what with the entire notion of pronoun display being only a few years old, and the conversation around it still feeling fresh. But its high relative importance versus name-pronunciation still seems strange to me, because pronunciation help seems so much more generally applicable for my day-to-day interactions!

Perhaps this won’t always be the case, but as of today, I can use various social cues and conventions to almost always correctly guess at a non-correction-worthy third-person pronoun for someone I have just met. When I do get it wrong, I apologize, course-correct, and move on. Those old-fashioned proper nouns, however, prove a slipperier challenge: one very easy for me to get wrong, even when they’re printed right there in front of me, and with the person’s appearance or other cues offering little if any help.

You certainly don’t need to use a fancy tool or upload a recording someplace to make this work! Any profile offering a free-text field makes this possible. My inspiration for today’s post, in fact, came from Quinta Jurecic’s Twitter profile, which (as of autumn 2021) contains a text-friendly phonetic guide to “Quinta Jurecic”. (The partial use of an emoji-based rebus, while non-standard, makes it especially memorable!) This sort of phonetic spelling is what I use when I email people to confirm my planned pronunciation prior to a name-dropping them in a public presentation, if I can’t find a recording or guide elsewhere.

You could make the argument that it is not a person’s responsibility to constantly—or even passively—teach other people to pronounce their name correctly, and that this is especially true when the name belongs to a marginalized or “foreign” person operating within a hegemonic culture. You would not be wrong! I would never insist that anyone do extra work to save me a little research. I merely wish to bring attention to the option for personal consideration, and state a further wish that more online platforms that center the display of names also provide tools that encourage mindfulness and confidence regarding the respectful pronunciation of those names.

* More frequently than you might guess, people tag me with entirely different names. “Justin” is far and away my most popular sincere misnomer. But this does not strike me as a pronunciation problem—and as I’ve noted elsewhere in this blog, I feel too amused to issue a correction when it happens, most times.

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