There are many guides to making a first impression, networking, interviewing, and socializing, but most seem to start with what you are wearing and jump to what to talk about. What happens in between is the most simple yet most tricky aspect of all - how do you want others to pronounce your name?
How can the pronunciation of a name be controversial?
This doesn't just apply to non-English names being used in English speaking countries or vice-versa. People who have an unusual spelling of their name experience this. People who are multi-lingual and have different pronunciations of the same name experience this. People who prefer a nickname to their legal name experience this. There have been many blogs and articles written about this topic and they are generally between these two extremes:
1) This is how I pronounce my name, I will not accept any other pronunciation.
2) You'll never get my name right, I'll use a completely different name that is easy for you.
What name pronunciation choices have in common:
How strong a person's identity is connected to their name
How much time to spend on teaching pronunciation
How important it is for someone to remember the name
Pronunciation of your own name is a personal choice and people should respect individual differences and take the time to listen and make an effort.
As a listener, when you're introduced to someone with a name that confuses you, take the initiative to attempt to pronounce it right away and ask how you did. You can ask, "Was that close?" or "Did I get that right?"
If you're the speaker, appreciate even the wrong attempts and then choose the level of effort you want to put in to teach someone how you prefer to pronounce your name. Everybody has different levels of tolerance for what's "close enough" or "perfect."
Even with English-to-English interactions, these tips will help someone easily hear and remember your name, which is what you want in any situation.
1. Separate the Syllables
A syllable must have only one vowel sound (vowels: a, e, i, o, u, y). That seems simple but it's not always so easy due to the differences in spelling and sound. What it looks like is not important, it's what you hear.
"Jing" = 1 syllable
"Issac" = 2 syllables: I - ssac
"Makato" = 3 syllables: Ma - ka - to
"Abudakar" = 4 syllables: A - bu - da - kar
"Ekaterina" = 5 syllables: E - ka - te - ri - na
"Pilavullakandi" = 6 syllables: Pi - la - vu - lla - kan - di
2. Choose the Stressed Syllable
If you are introducing yourself to an English speaker, one syllable should be pronounced with more stress (it will have a higher pitch and longer vowel duration). This means that even if you don't pronounce your name this way, the English speaker will. If you don't make it easy to hear which syllable you'd prefer to have stressed, they will stress whichever syllable they choose and this could be different among every listener. This is your chance to take control over how you want your name to sound and it will help the listener hear it, say it, and remember it.
Try all your options and pick one that is most acceptable to you. In the stressed syllable, even if you have a single syllable name, like "Jing," you should stretch the vowel longer than the other vowels so you can use a downward fall in pitch as you say it. If you can't hear the vowel, it's too short. Stretch it longer than you think you need to, probably longer than you feel comfortable doing at first.
In Japanese, "Makato" is not pronounced with one syllable higher or longer than another. However, an English speaker will put it somewhere, so three different people could pronounce it three different ways:
MA - ka - to
ma - KA - to
ma - ka - TO
When you make the choice, it helps people hear your name in a consistent way which helps them remember it and then they are more likely to use it.
American English names usually have stress on the first syllable of a two-syllable name, so if you read a name that you haven't heard before and you have to make a guess, that's a good guess. The capital letters in the example names below mean that syllable is pronounced with higher pitch and the vowel is stretched.
3. Speak Slowly
You've said your name your whole life and heard it more times than you can count and more different ways than you can remember. It's old news to you. It's news to someone you are introducing yourself to. Don't rush through it. Make this first impression count as one they'll remember and one that will make them feel comfortable introducing you to someone else. If you've ever been introduced to someone and the person introducing you didn't use your name, there's a good chance they just forgot it, or they're embarrassed that they don't know how to pronounce it well.
Resources for Pronunciation
Although pronunciation of a name is a personal choice, if you see an unfamiliar name that you have read but haven't heard and would like to try to learn it before trying to say it, there are a lot of websites that can help.
This article, "4 Useful Websites to Help You Pronounce Names Correctly" had some good recommendations: Pronounce Names, Inogolo, The Name Engine.
This website, Name Coach, lets you learn from the individuals themselves about how they pronounce their name. The people you add to your list will receive an e-mail from the website with a simple form for them to type and audio record their name.
A great feature that you can use for yourself is a "name badge" that is a recording of you pronouncing your name.
Example of Pratima Ramesh Shanbhag's name badge.
I created one (Christi Barb) and added it to my LinkedIn profile in the Contact Info. I highly recommend it if you have a name you think may be difficult for recruiters or people you've never met to pronounce. In Pratima's and my name badge recordings, I want you to notice how slowly we pronounced our names. It does feel weird, but to unfamiliar listeners, it will be helpful.
Making a good impression may not begin with your name, but if they don't remember your name because they never heard it or learned it, there may not be any impression. Help them remember you, name and all.
Video of this post with spoken examples: