At any rate, I’ve gotten over the fact that many people can’t say my name. I’ve also learned to appreciate the efforts of those who have bothered to learn how to say it, and I’ve developed a habit of learning how to spell and pronounce the names of others, even if they’re difficult.
I think it is particularly shameful that many IT professionals have a difficult time remembering and pronouncing the names of their colleagues from India. It’s going to become more important in the next decade that IT workers become skilled at collaborating with professionals from India, and this of necessity begins with names.
If you can’t pronounce Indian names with ease, it’s going to be very difficult to remember them. I am going to offer a few simple rules about pronouncing these often long and unusual names that I have gleaned over the years.
First Rule: Indian names are generally broken up in consonant/vowel pairs, which are ALWAYS pronounced the same.
For example, Srinivas is three sounds: Sri ni vas. Mallavarapu is five sounds: Ma lla va ra pu. It’s easier to remember names if you think of them in terms of the sounds and not the letters. This is particularly true of the really long names, like Venkataramana.
Second Rule Vowel sounds are pretty much always pronounced the same. Ma is always pronounced mah (like mama). Va is always pronounced vah. In fact, the vowel “A” is always pronounced “ah”, the soft a. I’ve never seen an Indian name where “A” was pronounced like “Hay” or “Pal”. It’s always “ahh”, like the sound you make at the doctor’s office. Here are the pronounciations of all the vowels:
o: oh (rhymes with NO)
oo: long ooh
u: short ooh
This should get you through 90% of the difficult names you’ll encounter.
Third Rule When you meet an Indian colleague for the first time, repeat their name and ask them if you pronounced it right. Keep saying it until they approve.
Fourth Rule If you can figure out how to pronounce “th” right, post it here! I can not get that right!
Fifth Rule Not so much a rule as it is an observation. A lot of Indian names are really re-usable components (I wonder if this contributes to their growing prevalence in IT???). Here are some examples:
Don’t ask me what all these mean, because I don’t know. The thing is, if your observant about the components that Indian names are made of, you will discover that even really long names become easier to pronounce because they are just combinations of components you are already familiar with.
Having once lived in a foreign land for an extended period of time, I quickly learned to appreciate the efforts that others made to learn to pronounce my name. Even though I never met a Japanese person who could say Christiansen, I knew several who came pretty close. And I liked them very much.
Our Indian colleagues are no different. I have observed that my efforts to learn the spellings and pronounciation of the Indians in my office have contributed to a more collegial relationship that makes it easier to work together effectively.
Note: These “rules” are based entirely on my own observations. I’ve NEVER studied the Indian language, formally or otherwise. If you have, and I’ve got it wrong PLEASE post a correction. If no one else does, I will definitely appreciate it. Additionally, dialects vary widely by region in India, and my particular observations may not cover all regions. As far as I can tell, most of my Indian buddies are from the southern regions of India.