Mistakes, Tips on Using Names

in Preparation

At the Safeway grocery store I frequent, the check-out personnel are instructed to call customers by name when they hand them their credit or debit card receipts.

Nice intention, bad execution. Maybe once out of 100 trips the person has gotten close to saying mine correctly.

It’s actually quite comical how they struggle, then butcher it. I’m always polite and empathetic when I correct them and pronounce it correctly. Naturally they feel embarrassed. (I’ve finally resorted to beating them to the punch and pronouncing it before they have a chance to mangle it.)

I’ve touched on this topic many many times and it bears repeating because I see mistakes being made so often. Mistakes that can hinder your chance at a sale.

Dale Carnegie said that the sweetest sound a person can hear is his own name.

True, when used appropriately by the right person at the right time.

Conversely, in some cases, a person’s name can be a turn off.

And it still floors me, the ignorance of many people when hearing a difficult or unusual name on phone calls. In talking to sales or service people on calls where I was the customer, after spelling my name, I’ve heard such idiotic comments as,

“Oh, that’s a weird one.”

“That’s a strange name.”

And some people just burst out laughing.

What do these dolts think? That I’m going to say, “Yeah, I know. You’re right. It’s a curse.”

I personally don’t stay up nights fretting over this. Mine IS an unusual name. (It’s pronounced Sob’-check.) I’m used to it. Hey, to top it off, my first name is Art. Think of how many times I heard “Art Fart” while growing up, or, “I bet Art is your favorite Sub-JECT (yuck yuck).”

People can be such morons. Sometimes I stoop to their level of boorishness and congratulate them on how original and creative their attempt at humor is.

But the name issue is a very tender area for some. And it says a lot about the person making the comment.

I don’t mind if, after saying or spelling my name, someone makes a commiserating comment like,

“I’ve got you beat. My name is Wojtkewkowski.”

Otherwise, it’s really out of place to make inappropriate comments.

If someone with an unusual name takes the lead, and pokes fun at it himself after spelling it, it’s certainly OK to react in some way. I make a point to spell my name, SO–BC-ZAK. Then I say, “I used to start out with ‘SOB–‘ but too many people commented on how descriptive that was.”

That breaks the ice and elicits some laughter and small talk.

The safe rule: absent of their self-deprecating comment, say…nothing.

I took a call from a guy, and he very slowly recited his name: “Buddy Bunne.” And he pronounced it BUN-EE. Like a little rabbit (but he didn’t say that). I admit, I bit my lip and paused–you could almost feel him bracing for the anticipated wiseguy response. “And your address, Buddy?”, I continued, not commenting on the name.

Pssst, here’s a secret. Those of us with unusual names already KNOW our name is different. Some of us good natured folks just blow off comments with humor. But others view their name as sensitively as they would if they had a third ear protruding from their head. You wouldn’t comment on that, so why take a chance of offending someone?

Here are a few tips for you:

1. Here’s a website where you can enter names and hear an audio with the pronunciation: http://www.pronouncenames.com/. You can also add pronunciations that you know to be correct, and perhaps variations of others.

2. Best yet, before reaching the prospect, ask someone at the prospect’s company how to pronounce the name. (And please, do NOT say, “What is the correct pronunciation of Bill’s name?” Like you are looking for the incorrect way to say it?). And then put it phonetically in your notes.

3. Also ask the Executive Assistant, or others in the department how the prospect prefers to be addressed. Robert, Bob, Mr. Smith, etc.

4. Do not rename them. Use their name the way it is written, and the way they say it when they greet you. For example, one of my customers, David, said that people will often call him Dave even after he answers the phone with “This is David.”

Why should we obsess over this?

Not getting someone’s name correct, and worse, making fun of it, is a personal sign of disrespect and laziness. It screams out “I am a salesperson who didn’t care enough.” Don’t be that person.

Do you have any of your own experiences, stories, or tips regarding names? Please do share below.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Sawisky August 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Art – Thanks very much for sharing your tips & techniques. I too have a last name that gives people a challenge to pronounce. Yes when my ego is in the way it bothers me, when I am really listening and people struggle with it, I suggest the following.
Just sharing this with you when you come upon a name that you have no clear idea on how to pronounce, simply say would you please let me know how to pronounce your name properly as I want to get it correctly. This causes most people to take a breath as they more often or not have faced this situation before, however on this occasion someone has taken the time to ask and that shows respect without a cheeky reply. Keep up the great work! Your Biggest Fan / Mike

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Art Sobczak August 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Mike, and thank YOU for following!

Agreed, like I mentioned below. It actually raises my impression of peoples’ thoughtfulness when they take the time to ask.
-Art

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Rachel Tremain August 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Hi Art,

I’ve been a fan of your helpful cold calling tip emails for almost 8 years. I find each one inspiring and helpful for my sales career which includes cold calling everyday.

My maiden name is Balhorn (English name) so you can imagine how many people would poke fun of my name when I was younger. My Father, used to just come right out and say, it’s pronounced, “Ball-horn”, you know like a ball and a horn.

One thing I’ve run into during my thousands of cold-calling throughout the years is people that have gender-specific names, but are the opposite gender. For example, I’ve run into male CEO’s with the name, “Stacy” or “Kim” or vice versa, women who have opposite gender names like, “Mikell”. I learned from then on to NEVER assume someone’s name reflects a particular gender. I found that out when asking if “she” had voicemail and the gatekeeper said “she” is a “he”. I was so embarrassed.

Thanks for sharing your insight again Art!
Your fellow Omaha, Nebraskan and Huskers Fan,
Rachel Tremain

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Art Sobczak August 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Rachel,

Thanks for the note and being a longtime reader.

With so many variations of names it’s more difficult than ever to make gender assumptions, so it’s best to not, and simply ask instead.

I don’t live in Nebraska any longer, but a lifetime Husker football fan… GBR!

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Mary Jo Bergs August 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Art,
Sometimes it’s not even hard names that cause problems. In the area I live, the name Berg is very prevalent. As a matter of fact our ‘Bergs’ was the only one in the major phone book, so often the ‘s’ is left off. This is/was a huge problem for my ex, so much so I got in the habit of correcting people before he blew up at that person. It did make me very aware of how names can be a source of pride and prejudice (so to speak).

Having relatives with sometimes difficult to pronounce names, I am fortunate to have had practice at pronouncing names. And normally, will say “ok your last name looks like a challenge, if I butcher it please don’t be offended and please help me get it right” as a means of saying I’m going to try. Another technique I will use is to ask them to say it “so I don’t mess it up and offend you.” These options have worked for me.

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Art Sobczak August 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Mary Jo,

Good suggestions… I do something similar: “Please help me pronounce your last name….”
-Art

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Janet Huey August 14, 2013 at 12:51 am

I was born Clara Janet Huey so was stuck with “Clarabelle” and” Baby Huey”. As a result I am very careful with clients names. As part of our identity, it is more important than people may realize. Thank you for addressing an issue not perceived correctly.

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Art Sobczak August 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thanks Janet, yes, it is a very personal part of our identity.
-Art

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Johnny Bravo August 16, 2013 at 8:34 am

My wife and I run into this all the time. Her name is Loriane (pronounced Lori-ann) but people always say Lor-ain. She gets so annoyed when it’s a doctors office or somewhere she’s been and corrected them on already and just gives up. Myself, well with a name like Johnny Bravo I get a lot of comments. Literally every day. I actually think its a good thing to have a unique name if it’s easy to pronounce or catchy. Especially for someone in sales like myself.

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Art Sobczak August 20, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Johnny, that IS a great name! Yes, the upside is that we can have fun with it and use it to build rapport.
-Art

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Christopher McKinney August 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I enjoyed reading this updated tip. With it in mind from a previous mention, I once just flat out asked a guy at my club to teach me how to pronounce his name — Wojtowicz. Obviously having had it butchered all of his long life, he was pleased that I cared enough to pronounce it properly as he explained W’s were pronounced as a V; J’s as a Y, etc. [Voy to vich]. Your tip and made that a positive experience for both of us.

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Art Sobczak August 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Christopher,

It does set people apart when they take time to ask. If anyone reading this does not do it now, try it… you will be pleasantly surprised at the reaction and the way people open up. Thanks for sharing.
-Art

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Frank Krueger October 21, 2013 at 6:53 am

Art, I NEVER make fun of people’s names; if I had $1 for every time I’ve heard “Are you Freddie Krueger’s brother?” I’d have bought my own island and retired years ago. I tend to agree that most salespeople lack a certain common sense or grace when approaching a difficult name, and I alway cringe when a colleague makes a stupid comment, because in my mind I hear what I say when I get the usual – “Wow, how original; just the 1,534,897th time I heard that; if this is the best you can do we’re done already”. I don’t EVER want to be “that” guy/gal.

By the way, been reading you for YEARS, and simply put you have some of the best practical information out there.

Frank Krueger

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giuseppe November 8, 2013 at 6:01 am

Hi Art, I’d like to suggest something more about your amazing article. When you have the opportunity of calling a prospect by his/her first name you shouldn’t hesitate and do it.

But you should never exagerate using it too much or you’ll sound too confidential.
First names have to be considered as the basis for trust and a good relationship.

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