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Pronouncing ELs’ Names Correctly

by Judie Haynes |

I once expressed to a Korean parent my dismay that so many of my students from Korea came to school with an Anglicized name. Since I taught in an elementary school, it was usually the parents who picked a new name for their children. The parent told me that students change their names to accommodate English speakers; the perception is that Americans can’t pronounce unusual names. I was dismayed by this because it’s not that we can’t do it, but that the importance of pronouncing names correctly is not recognized. A student of mine, Yeon Jae, tried to correct teachers and classmates when they mispronounced his name, but most of his teachers and all of his classmates called him “Young.” Yeon Jae finally gave up.

Last year I wrote a blog entitled “7 Naming Customs From Around the World” in which I discussed the importance of names. I believe that a person’s name is part of their cultural identity. Students who have immigrated to the United States have already suffered the trauma of leaving behind school friends, neighbors, grandparents, and other family members. We should not take their name away. Teachers and school personnel can have the correct pronunciation on their cell phones so that they can practice it. They can also write the name phonetically. It’s up to schools to get it right.

The My Name, My Identity Campaign

The My Name, My Identity campaign that supports pronouncing students’ names correctly and valuing diversity is important. This campaign is backed by the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, and the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE).

According to Yee Wan, President of NABE, mispronouncing a student’s name truly negates his or her identity, which, in turn, can hinder academic progress. I agree with this. Communication with people from other cultures is a 21st-century skill. Respecting a person’s name and identity is key to effective communication. Read this excellent EdWeek blog entitled “Mispronouncing Students’ Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep.”

I think this campaign is an excellent undertaking for a school. Students pledge to pronounce people’s names correctly. We can help children develop pride in their heritage by spreading the word about this campaign: Pass this article on to your school administrators and colleagues. Students’ name stories can be made into a videos. Here is NABE President Yee Wan’s story.


Here are a few great resources for your learning and enjoyment:

About the author

Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.

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