Potential Impact of Mispronouncing Student Names


Ashley Perry, Junior

An up-and-coming issue in schools across America has recently come to light: the impact of pronouncing students’ names incorrectly. Many campaigns and leaders in education are working to emphasize the importance of educators making an effort to use the correct names for students. As of 2019, immigrants make up an estimated 13.7% of the U.S. population, and that number is likely to have risen since. Therefore, it’s nothing new when teachers encounter ‘hard to pronounce’ names, or simply those that are unfamiliar. Nonetheless, many students continue to experience their names being butchered in classrooms with little to no effort to correct the issue. As a result, it is a common practice for U.S. immigrants or students with unique names to go by nicknames, or a different name entirely, around their teachers and peers. However, this can cause many bigger issues to come to fruition.

For many, names provide identity, recognition, and a sense of self. Therefore, when this sense of identity is compromised, it’s not to be ignored. Mispronunciation of names has been proven to create low self-esteem as a result of students feeling like they are excluded from their peers or don’t belong in a classroom. This, of course, spurs a domino effect. Classroom anxiety, a lack of attention, and students potentially being singled out because of their unique name can end in low academic performance and create even bigger problems down the line for many individuals. Additionally, this can cause a disconnect between students and educators, as there is not a trusting relationship. Not asking questions about class materials and letting problems and confusion go unresolved can further these issues.

However, it doesn’t end there. While some students may simply have unfamiliar or uniquely spelled names, many are related to an ethnic or cultural identity. Ignorance or a lack of effort to try and say these names correctly can encourage racial discrimination in the classroom, including making fun of the name itself or the culture it represents for that student. This encourages the affected person to hide their culture or ethnicity and be ashamed about it. Names can also have familial connection through relatives or ancestors, or even significant figures in parents’ lives, and ignoring these links can have a similar effect.

There are also many situations in which pronouncing names improperly can lead to immediate disaster. In one instance, a Portland student with a traditional Chinese name had her name butchered at an awards ceremony by her principal, who laughed about it rather than correct the mistake. As a result, she was too embarrassed to get up and receive her award, and later opted out of attending graduation to avoid the chance of a repeat experience.

Similar events continue to occur in schools daily during announcements, attendance, and, as previously mentioned, awards ceremonies and graduations. In some cases, relatives can drive hours to attend special events such as these, and not even knowing when their family is being called can be devastating. Occasionally, even the student themselves may not be aware that it’s their own name. For example,Carmen Fariña, who was in kindergarten in the ‘50s, was counted absent for weeks because she never heard her name being called in attendance. It was finally realized that the teacher had simply been reading the name so different that it was unrecognizable.

However, no matter how badly the name is announced, there is never really a ‘point of no return’. Occasionally mispronouncing a name is inevitable, but as long as there is effort on the part of the educator to correct the problem, the long-lasting effects can be reversed. In short; making a mistake is okay, but ignoring the issue entirely is decidedly not.