Spell and pronounce their names correctly

July 17, 2013

Spell their names correctly.  A “cardinal” rule of public relations.  To which I add “pronounce their name correctly”.

There is no mystery why some salespeople insist on mentioning your name again and again when they are trying to “make the sale”.  Few things sound so sweet to someone than the sound of their own name.

There are few “personal” public relations mistakes worse than sending correspondence with mis-spelling.  It shows you don’t care enough to check.  Or you made a mistake and did not notice.  You don’t really know them well enough.  In all of these cases, it’s a “turn off”.  It shows you simply do not care.

I speak from experience.  While my first name is easy, my last name is not.  One result is that I usually make restaurant bookings with my “official” first name, “Donald”.  Have done so for many years now.  And I am endlessly fascinated by the mis-spellings of my surname (last name), with “P-e-r-i-g-u-t” and “P-e-r-g-l-u-t” being the two most common, or adding an extra “a” (you guess where), or changing the “gut” to a “man”.  Of all of them, it’s the transposition of the “g” and the “l” that bothers me the most, mostly because it’s simply not a pretty name that way.  And I have one correspondent in an academic institution who continues to use this mis-spelling, many years after I first pointed out the mistake.

Recently, the importance of names was reinforced by a story told on Australian radio by American cellist Alisa Weilerstein:  there’s a reasonably difficult last name.  And that was the point of it all.  In an extended interview on ABC’s Radio National’s “Breakfast” program on 12 June 2013, she told the story of how she played at the White House in 2009 with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and their family in the audience.  As Weilerstein tells the story, the President introduced them all at the beginning, but stumbled over her name.  Oh well, she thought, it’s a hard name, many people do.  But at the end of the concert, the President was determined.  Obama specifically thanked the musicians by name at the end, and carefully pronounced Weilerstein’s last name correctly – and looked right at her as he did so.

That’s what the President of the United States of America does.  He pays attention to names, because he knows that they are important.  We should recognise that too.

Here is a clip (11’13”) of Weilerstein playing at the White House:

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