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I work with a woman who pronounces her name oddly. It's a tomato-tomahto kind of thing.

I always seem to end up referring to her as Tomato. Today I introduced her to a new hire, for example. Whenever this happens, she always finds a way to gracefully work her own pronunciation into the conversation

"Hi, I'm Tomaahhto" or some such thing.

It's not that she's at all rude about it; she isn't. However, her pronunciation is just plain wrong to me, and I have difficulty pronouncing it her way.

What makes it more difficult is that I never remember how she pronounces it. People pronounce my last name wrong all the time and I don't see why it matters quite so much to her.

I usually make what seems to me to be a reasonable effort to conceal my irritation when she corrects me, but I do feel a bit awkward.

How can I resolve this?


Sadly, even though this is clearly regarded as an extremely low-quality question, I'm unable to delete it.

  • @Ed, if you want it deleted, flag for moderator attention... Explain to them in the message why you want to do so. Only a moderator can delete questions that have upvoted answers. But you might want to wait a while and see how the edit works out. See this, including the comments – Tinkeringbell Nov 14 '17 at 14:37
  • Personally I think it's a good question. I think you should say her name the way she wants (see my answer). I honestly don't understand the downvotes or rather I think they are downvoting your behavior, not the question which is sad. The question is valid and perfect for this site it see to me. A great way to learn POVs. – gman Nov 20 '17 at 9:21
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What it really comes down to - if you want to get along with this person - is that you have to start pronouncing her name the way she wants it pronounced.

My name really is "Andrei", and some people try to be clever and pronounce it in a French manner (I live in Canada, so most people simply think I'm Quebecois). Trouble is, I'm not French, I'm Romanian, and the French pronunciation is completely wrong.

I gently correct people, and I move on. If people I interract with on a regular basis are not getting it, I will actually bring it up, and make sure they understand that my name is not "Andre", it's "Like Andrew, but with an 'i'!"

Does it bug me when random people whom I barely know, or speak with (like the nurse at the doctor's office), call me Andrew, or Andre? Not really, and I won't bother correcting them. But if I'm meeting a new coworker, you better believe that I'll correct your pronunciation, because I don't want the wrong version propagating.

The takeaway here is that although you may have some notion of how you think her name should be pronounced, you don't know her background, and should comply with her wishes for something as minor to you, but important to her, as the pronunciation of her name. (if she were changing her mind about it every other week, I'd be with you on just using the most intuitive pronunciation, but this is not the case).

You should walk up to this person, apologize for always getting her name wrong, and clear the air between you two, because I can guarantee you that she is 100% aware that you're always saying it wrong.

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    Well put. I'd say it's also kind of a sign of disrespect to, when you know the correct pronunciation, use an incorrect pronunciation. It either shows that you have some kind of power (and therefore she can't correct you) or that you know and just don't care. – baldPrussian Nov 13 '17 at 22:11
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    I agree that OP should start using her way of pronouncing her name. But OP also says he has difficulty pronouncing it her way. Maybe - after apologising - he could ask her if she has a nickname that is easier to pronounce, or if she would be okay if he continued using his own pronounciation. – Kaspar Scherrer Nov 14 '17 at 15:21
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A person's own name is the sweetest sound in any language. Mispronounced, there is no greater dissonance.

The key to dealing with any person is to take note of how they pronounce their name. Few things get a person more keyed up than the repeated mispronunciation of their name. To do so is giving into one's most base nature.

If you don't want to push it to the point where this person has a score to settle with you, and this becomes a staff issue, remember this person's name on your own and don't make them drum it into you.

So, forgive me for chiming in here, but your coworker is going to continue to harp on you until you show some pluck and start pronouncing her name correctly. This will create a far more harmonious workplace for you both.

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    Even mis-spelling a name drives people (me) crazy. My name is "Gregg" but one friend always spells it "Greg". I've known her for several years. We were roommates. I don't really understand why she can't get it right. If she writes me in email or messenger or hangouts my name is right there spelled correctly for her to see but she'll still refer to me by someone else's name. I tried to get her to notice by purposely mis-spelling her name but it hasn't worked. – gman Nov 20 '17 at 8:12
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Hmm...

I suppose you can stick to your pronunciation of the lady's name, but mightn't it be easier to consider that she has a similar-but-different name and use that? I mean, it's her name, it's what she calls herself, there ought to be some consideration to using it as such.

Update: Just to muddy the waters a bit... ;D

There is a point of diminishing returns here. If your colleague is, say, Spanish and her name is Maria, you aren't expected to use the tongue-flap 'r' which sounds more like a 'd'. Nor are you expected to hit the tone values in Chinese or Lithuanian names. There's a pretty intuitive mapping of foreign phonemes into the ones your language uses.

But there's nothing wrong with hitting the basic consonants, vowels and stress of someone's name. If someone introduces himself as Tomás, what's the point in calling him Tómas?

Anyway, the basic advice still stands. Do your best to use the name she prefers, you can try to consider it a whole 'nother name to the one you're used to.

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If the name is truly hard to pronounce correcly consider asking her if there is another name she wouldn't mind going by. I have a friend named "Shiaw Jia" (first name). It's a Chinese name and I feel like I can never say it correctly so I'd just avoided ever using it. Then at a party I heard lots of of friends calling her S.J. so now I call her S.J.

On the other hand, I have a friend Diana pronounced "Dee aw naw" not the more common (at least in the USA) "Die ann nah". Her name is not "Die ann nah" period. Sure she lets new people off the hook but a friend referring to her as "Die ann ah" would be no better than calling her "Jim". "Die ann nah" is not her name, period, full stop. It's seriously disrespectful to call her by the wrong name if you know her real name.

To the OP, maybe this lady should start introducing you as "Uud Plunkt". See how you like being called and or introduced incorrectly. "Hello, I'd like to introduce you to my colleague, Mr. Uud Plunkt. He's got a special talent for not being able to remember people's real names".

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If you find yourself truly struggling to remember the pronunciation, you can always ask to use a nickname.

I have one of those crazy names people can either say or spell correctly, but never both. I've given my no-headaches middle name for coffee orders and dinner reservations and I've also had friends just use the first syllable of my name.

Something simple can do the trick, such as:

"Sorry, I'm terrible with names. Is it okay if I call you ___ instead?"

Your coworker has almost definitely run into this issue before. Whatever her response, be kind, courteous, and accept it, even if she insists on the proper name.

Then go back to your office and write down whatever phonetic spelling will help you remember how to say it. Kudos if you add birth dates and kids names, too. There's likely a whole host of information that's trivial to you, but will make your coworkers' day if you remember it and ask in awkward hallway conversations now and again.

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    This is good advice if the two people are on very friendly terms, but If the OP follows this advice, he should be prepared to hear "No, please don't" and accept "no" as an answer gracefully. I would be offended if someone who was not a close friend proposed a nickname for me -- and the OP is not, and probably never will be, a close friend of this lady. – user1760 Nov 14 '17 at 2:04

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