Want to make your students comfortable? Pronounce their names right.

Angélica López

When Shawntal Brown, a graduate student in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, first heard her name mispronounced, the experience made a lasting impression.

“I remember I had a teacher in fourth grade (who) would say my name like Shawn-tell. In that moment, I kind of left it as it was, but I knew it bothered me,” Brown said.

This experience is common. Gabriella Olivares-Alvarado, a sociology junior, said introducing herself is almost always coupled with someone complaining about her name and assigning her a nickname. 

“It’s definitely been a conversation that I’ve had almost every single time that I’ve introduced myself,”said Olivares-Alvarado.

Only six weeks into the semester, the issue is fresh on many students’ minds. When professors refuse to learn student names it isolates them, said Dr. Belem López, a cognitive psychologist and director of the LLAMA psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic laboratory. López said students begin to doubt their connection to their class and institution when professors consistently pronounce their names incorrectly. “You get these questions of do I belong here? They don’t even know my name,” López said.

Olivares-Alvarado said learning how to say someone’s name correctly is a matter of respect. “If I have to learn your name, and call you by what you want to be called, you have to do the same,” Olivares-Alvarado said. “The basic respect you can give me is to call me by my name.”

By establishing respect with students early on, professors build welcoming environments that allow students to focus their energy on assignments and build strong academic relationships. “It’s something that other people don’t have to think about. I think (worrying about your professor learning your name) takes away resources,” López said.

Brown’s experiences with teachers and professors mispronouncing her name have shaped the way she interacts with her own students. As an instructor in the Department of English, Brown said, “I have my students introduce themselves, then I hear how they pronounce their name. I know how it makes me feel when someone thinks they know how to say my name rather than me pronouncing it for them.”

This is one of many strategies used by educators to make the classroom a more welcoming environment for students of every background. But some professors still fail to employ these strategies.

Olivares-Alvarado said changing the way professors learn names doesn’t have to be difficult, and asking a student how to pronounce their name is simple. 

López shares the same sentiment. She said language barriers should not prevent people from trying to learn a student’s name.

“Linguistically, there might be some constructions that aren’t present in your language, but you can still try.” 

The seemingly minor interaction of learning a student’s name can clearly make a significant difference in this or herexperience at UT. If we want to make our campus accepting and welcoming we must first learn each other’s names.

López is a rhetoric and writing junior from McAllen.