I am Indian. My first name is hard for many Indians to pronounce and my last name, common as it may be in India, has 14 characters! I know I am one in a million when I say this, but you can destroy my name as badly as you can, I'd not get offended.
I know that my name is hard to pronounce. I am in the US and I know my name is not an English name. It is an Indian/Sanskrit name. I acknowledge that an American person might not be able to say it even nearly close to it sounding right.
So it does not bother me. I've read so many articles about people getting severely offended about their names not being pronounced right. That has always infuriated me, but a huge majority of them are like that and I hate it.
It is wise of you to try not to offend the majority. Let me break down my personal experience with a guy, lets call him John, who tried his absolute best to make sure he didn't offend me at all.
The first minute you meet someone:
This is always the most awkward point. John flew through this like butter on a hot pan. He saw me, walked up to me with a beautiful big smile on his face, and said, "Well hello there, how do you do. I am John, pleased to meet you".
Its been a few minutes and pleasantries have been exchanged:
I know what you are thinking. "Wait a minute, John didn't even try to pronounce his name. He didn't address the person with his name. That is messed up". It bothered me too. I knew why he didn't though, because he was scared he was going to mess it up.
We were in the car together and he started talking about the flight and how was the trip and all that. Then he says: "So don't mind me for asking you this, can you pronounce your name for me please? I had a bit of difficulty getting it out right and I didn't want to offend you. So I stayed on the safer side."
I pronounced my name for him, there were a few "No its ...." "No its....." and then he almost got it. I laughed and said "good enough".
He then proceeded to ask me what it means. He asked me a few questions about where I am from and some more cultural questions about the place I am from.
Points to remember:
- If you are afraid you are going to mess someone's name up, don't try saying it the minute you meet them. Give it a minute. Get comfortable with them and make them feel comfortable with you, then pop the question.
- Try and get them to tell you their name without asking. That is why John told me "I am John, pleased to meet you". My immediate response to that was "I am Crazy Cucumber, pleased to meet you too". This way, you get a tiny little shot of how they say their name.
- Once you've picked them up and they're in your car, ask them to pronounce their name for you. Make an honest attempt. Make as many honest attempts as you can.
- DO NOT just end it saying "Is it OK if I call you [first letter of their name]?". People do that to me all the time and that actually bothers me. Its OK if you cannot pronounce their name, don't tell them you're going to call them by the first letter of their name.
- If it is practically impossible for you to make the noise of their name, ask them if there is a short form to their name. The way you phrase that question is: "Do you have a nickname?" or "How do your friends call you?"
- Do not look at the name and think, "Oh I can shorten it to this and use this. They probably go by that". They probably don't go by that. You ask them the question in point 5 and they'd tell you they go by whatever.