The Inside Agenda Blog

Pronouncing Names: A Sign of Our Times

by Daniel Kitts Wednesday March 7, 2012

We live in an increasingly diverse country. A small price to pay for the benefits of that added diversity is that we are increasingly confronted with the awkward situation of not knowing how to pronounce the names of people we meet who are of a different culture.

This is particularly an issue for radio and/or television. It looks really bad when a host mangles someone's name. That's why Steve Paikin always asks me and the other producers to have guests with non-Joe Sixpack names to give us a pronouncer.

Most people normally write out pronouncers. For example, courtesy of the BBC Pronunciation Unit (yes, that really does exist), here's how to pronounce the name of former Polish Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński: yarr-OSS-waff katch-IN-ski (-arr as in marry; -tch as in church). Rather low-tech. You might have to read it a few times and even then you might not get it exactly. But what else are you going to do, right?

So, thank you, Omar Alghabra. One of our guests on Wednesday's program on Syria, Alghabra uses a very modern technology, YouTube, to tackle the age-old problem of name pronunciations:

I thought this was rather cute. And a pretty good way of getting people to get your name right. As someone in the media, if more guests did this, I would be very happy.

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