The Expert Guide on how to Pronounce Names
We show you the Best Techniques, and Best Resources including Best Apps.
In a nutshell, these 4 steps can be followed to dramatically improve your ability to Pronounce Names
1/ Research the name and its derivation
2/Capture and Record the exact pronunciation for future reference
3/ Use Memory Techniques to enhance your ability
4/ Pronounce the name with Confidence
While this article is written for Masters of Ceremony who have to introduce people onstage, the techniques and resources we outline will be useful for anyone.
Pronouncing names correctly is such an important thing!
And not just when you introduce people on stage as a Master of Ceremony. Think of all the other times when getting name pronunciation correct is important.
What about when you have to ask for someone on the phone or at a reception desk. Perhaps you have to introduce them to a colleague at a networking event or read out a list of names at a school or church event.
And how about remembering peoples names!
Are you one of those people who instantly forget someone’s name 5 seconds after they’ve been introduced to you?
Or do you just forget how they actually pronounced that name?
We will cover both Pronouncing Names and Remembering Names in this artcle and give you plenty of resources to do both.
How can you get the correct pronunciation of someone’s name?
Here are a number of different techniques.
# Ask your colleagues
Social Networking allows us to quiz our friends and colleagues very quickly. The “hive mind” of Facebook Friends or Twitter connections can often produce a quick answer to our question.
# Ask Your Client
For MC’s, this is often a good way to get the correct pronunciation. Your client, the person who is bringing you into the event has also probably already talked to this person in a briefing session, so ask them.
# Their Website / Social Media or on the Bio / Introduction
Quite often people with slightly unusual names, who are often getting introduced at Functions and Events, will be proactive in getting their name pronounced correctly.
I find quite a few will have a note on their webpage biography. Other people will have it on their printed Introduction if they find MC’s often get it wrong.
# Their PA
Often a quick call or email to a persons Personal Assistant is appropriate.
If the person you need to introduce has any sort of high public profile, there may well be video clips of them on You Tube. Typical people are – Politicians, Sports People , Performers etc getting interviewed or getting introduced.
The higher the profile of the program they are appearing on the more likely that they spent the time getting the pronunciation correct. This is not a full proof method, I always try and double check .
# Pronunciation Websites & Apps
Later in the article we will outline some of the best resource websites & apps for getting a name pronounciation.
# Name Pronounceation Strategy
A strategy for MC’s who are introducing lots of people is to get the conference or meeting organiser aware of the importance of pronouncing names correctly. Ask them to listen out for the name when the speaker first arrives and they can then often then introduce you to the speaker using the correct phrasing. Sometimes they will have spoken to the speaker or VIP previously and may already know it.
The main trick here is to get them on your team!
# Ask Them!
Don’t be afraid to double check with the person themselves if there is any doubt about how to pronounce the name. People like the fact that you care.
In fact, asking about a name is a great way of establishing rapport with someone, so it may be worthwhile doing it anyway.
It’s great when they say “Ahh … just like my Nanna would have said it!”
# Research the Name
Often the first question you should ask yourself is does the name give you any clues? Where is it from.
Often a word is obviously from a certain country or region.
For example “ski” at the end of a name, means it is probably Slavic, probably Polish, Russian or Czech, (but they are more likely to be -sky or -ska.)
But it’s a great clue and this obviously gives us a great starting point.
# Capture the Name Pronunciation
Having a voice recorder or your phone ready to record it is also handy if you have a really tricky one.
You could just use the camera in your smartphone in video mode (Slide Up from the Lock Screen, select Camera/Video and then Record.)
Apple have just rolled out a new version of their own app called Voice Memo which seems to be perfect for the task. Two popular apps on Android are Call Recorder and Easy Voice Recorder.
If you have Evernote or a similar app, they also have a Record Function.
The Best Websites and Apps for getting Correct Pronunciations!
In many ways the internet has made finding out the correct pronunciation of peoples names a whole lot easier.
However there are a few pitfalls as well and many different national and regional differences in pronunciations.
Here are some of the best websites for Pronouncing Names
This is a new service since we did our first round up of resources several years ago and it looks good.
This is actually a paid service, however there is a free level where you can search 10 names a month, which is probably enough for most people. There is also an app.
This is one of the original big sites started up in 2006. It’s a fairly basic site in appearance, but does have a vast number of entries and audio files. There is also a YouTube channel so depending how you search it, the result may come up as a short YouTube video clip. The channel is actually very good as you can browse via country playlists and get placenames etc.
I like this site as it approaches the task a bit differently. You can search as normal but there are also different category lists. Explore a list of Oscar Nominees, current US Congressmen, Beer & Wine names, Tex Mex food or the names of characters in Lord of the Rings!
As with other free sites this is also supported by advertising and these guys really pack them in.
Between them, these 4 sites should have you covered.
If you are serious about being a Master MC, I think it’s a great idea to attempt to learn a couple of languages, at least to a basic level. This will help get your tongue around some new sounds and give you more confidence.
I like the resources on this site here! Here’s a link to one of their articles, this one on pronouncing Italian words.
People often say “I can never remember people’s names.”
Guess what? The most common reason for forgetting peoples names is that they didn’t learn the name in the first place! There was nothing to remember!
If you make a conscious effort to remember peoples names and use a few simple tricks your retention will be so much better.
You’ll also remember the correct pronunciation which is of course the core focus of this article.
Tips for Remembering Names
If someone is introduced to you, repeat their name out loud.
“Nice to meet you Mr Huntly.”
Use their name again in the conversation and then again at the end of the conversation.
If you don’t quite hear it, ask them to repeat it!
Comment on the name. Especially if its a little bit unusual
“Oh, is that German?”
“Is that Steven with a V or a PH?”
The derivation or ancestry of a name is a great way to build rapport with someone and also get clues to correct pronunciation. You will find people are always proud of their cultural heritage and we be pleased you showed an interest in it. I’ll go into detail on this in a moment.
Look at the name if you can! This might be on their Name Badge at a business function or on their business card. Everyone has slightly different modes of learning and remembering. Visualisation is an important element in both memory and learning.
Association is the other pillar of having a good memory.
For example if I was to mention the name of the brilliant singer David Bowie, I could have two different ways to pronounce “Bowie.”
There’s Bowie with the Bow said as in Bow -Wow, the noise a yappy dog makes.
Or the Bow said as in Bow Tie or a Bowie Knife.
David’s preferred pronunciation was Bow as in Bow Tie, so in the split second before I ever mention his name I always recall a picture of him wearing a Bow Tie and holding a Bowie knife.
Remembering Names and Faces
Once you have a name locked in it’s time to link it to the person so that you remember both them and the name.
Some people find that simply imaging the NAME printed in large letters on the persons forehead is all they need.
Another more powerful strategy is, does the name remind you of Something, Someone or Somewhere?
If the answer is yes, create a picture of it.
Are they a Hunter, a Paris or a Huston? Some are very easy and you can do it right there on the spot.
Perhaps you have a friend with the same name. Link them together somehow.
If nothing comes to mind, play with the word a little to make it stronger.
Katherine could become a Cat,
Rowena a Rowing Boat,
Patterson the sound of your childrens feet running down the hallway.
Next we want to focus on the look of the person. Choose one element about them that is distinctive!
Are they big, tall, short or round?
Are they bald, hairy, a big nose or a scar?
What was their colouring and how were their ears?
A prominent feature can possibly be linked to their name in a memorable picture.
For example if their name was River and they were a bit rugged, you might imagine a river running down their slightly crinkled face causing rapids.
A Scott might be imagined wearing a kilt.
Note – These are just some basic concepts. We have a very popular full Memory Technique Training Course that you may want to check out!
You can find that https://expertmc.com/memory-improvement/
Being able to quickly write down the name spelt phonetically is a very useful skill.
Most MC’s will develop their own system. For example, where the syllables are and which one has the emphasis.
I will also often write down a rhyming word that it sounds like, either a syllable or a whole word.
You can also use the memory technique of association to something or someone you know well.
Here’s a link to the Wiki page where you can have an explore of some of the major systems of phonetic spelling ranging from the mindboggling International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) through to the more useful Initial Teaching Alphabet and various Re-spelling systems. This is probably overkill for most MC’s needs, most just develop a simple crib system of their own, but it’s interesting to see what could be used if needed.
Derivation of Name Technique
This is a technique that I’ve been using for sometime. It combines a couple of Dale Carnegie techniques.
If the name is at all unusual, do a quick Google search for it’s derivation. Then when you meet the speaker you can check the pronunciation with them and casually say something like
” I don’t think I’ve ever introduced a XXXXX before, is that of XXXXX origin?”
I’ll give you an example. The speaker I introduced last week was named Shegog and my quick Google search turned up that it was an old French/German name with possibly Huguenot origin.
I casually mention to him,
“now that sounds like a really old European name, is it French?”
His face positively beamed as he explained yes, Huguenot and then went on to tell me of a couple of famous Shegogs.
What a connection we had made! He was impressed that I had taken the time to check the correct name pronunciation and that I was a student of names.
Because of this, he’s now more willing to help me out, by following directions, keeping to time etc.
Name as Acronym Technique
An excellent MC bit that uses people names can be found in our in our book The ExpertMC Resource Book & Toolkit with several examples.
Very easy way to use the name to tie in with conference themes and slogans. I use it all the time in my own assignments.
Speak with Confidence.
Lastly, I think if you have done a bit of research as outlined previously, captured the pronounceation and practiced the word till you are comfortable the big secret is to say it with confidence.
If you say a name tentatively, or pause before you say it, people are more likely to focus exactly on how you say it. If you say it with confidence, they are more likely to accept that that is how it is said and if you are the person being introduced they are probably less worried about it.
As in a lot of things in life, do your due diligence and then act with confidence!