To All the People Who Have Spelled My Name Wrong
11.29.17

My name is hard to spell, or so I assume, given how frequently people spell it wrong. If you can think of a misspelling, I’ve probably heard it. Orthaga. Ategha. Ohtaga. Most frequently the ‘h’ tends to migrate due the proximity of the Nigerian ‘Otegha’ to the Spanish ‘Ortega,’ meaning I’m often subject to an errant ‘r’ creeping in as well.

Over the years, I’ve figured out ways to minimize the room for error. When giving my name over the phone or at cash registers, my name is a practiced, “Otegha Uwagba, that’s O-T-E-G-H-A, last name U-W-A…,” delivered quickly in one breath to save everyone involved time, and mistakes.

Still, the process isn’t always smooth. Once, unexpectedly tasked with phonetically spelling out my middle name (Kikelomo) while on the phone to my student loan provider, my mind went blank as I tried to come up with a word beginning with K. Racking my brains, I eventually blurted out, “K for ‘cat,’ but y’know…with a K,” only to be met with a long silence. I’m surprised my student loan wasn’t denied right then and there.

Or there was the time when I hangrily snapped, “but that’s not my name!,” while placing a phone order with my local Korean takeaway. After asking how to spell Otegha, they lost interest midway and announced, “I’ll just put ‘Ote.’” I felt sheepish after arriving to pick up my dinner and remembering that written English didn’t come easily to the person who’d taken my order, although in truth I also felt a little betrayed. Weren’t we all in it together, us foreigners in the UK with our “weird” sounding names so frequently butchered by European tongues?

As name misdemeanors go, though, my ultimate bête noire is when someone spells my name incorrectly in an email, especially if it’s a cold email and they presumably managed to spell my email address correctly. Searching my inbox for the three most common misspellings of my name (Othega, Otegah and Otega if you’re curious), I found 49 instances from the past 18 months alone, each of which provoked a visceral flicker of irritation at the time of receipt.

Sitting down to write this has forced me to examine what, exactly, I find so frustrating about what may seem like a pretty minor offense, and here’s the rub: Misspellings of my name exist on the lighter end of the spectrum of the numerous name-based transgressions people with discernibly ethnic names like mine frequently have to deal with. It’s a spectrum that ranges from new colleagues ‘helpfully’ assigning you anglicized nicknames, to outright name bias: a statistically proven phenomenon where people with “unusual” (read: ethnic) names are more likely to be discriminated against.

In a ground-breaking 2004 study in which identical CVs were submitted under “black-sounding” and “white-sounding” names, the latter were 50% more likely to be called for interview, a finding that has been corroborated by numerous studies since. Every time I send a cold email or fill out an application, I think about that statistic. A name like Otegha is an instant giveaway about my ethnicity, a subconscious repellent even for left-leaning liberals who likely imagine themselves open of mind and heart, and yet made up the core participants of a more recent 2015 study that came to a similar conclusion.

When I was younger I tried on a variety of nicknames for size, exploring the route many second-generation immigrant children opt for of lopping off confusingly placed silent h’s or n’s in favor of a Westernized version of their name. Omolaras become Mollys, Rashids become Richards. Nothing ever really stuck though — a name like Otegha isn’t sufficiently adjacent to a Western name to allow an inconspicuous rebranding, something I’m intensely glad of now. What a shame it would have been, to let youthful hubris rid me of a name that acts as an instant signifier of a nationality I’m proud to claim.

Fellow sufferers of Frequently Misspelled Name Syndrome will know that the obvious solution to a misspelled name – a simple “actually it’s…” often feels surprisingly pedantic (I know! But there you are) in situations where the spelling of your name isn’t at the crux of an interaction, though you know by right – and by dint of how much it bothers you – that it’s a perfectly reasonable correction to make. I have been known, many moons ago, to respond to an email blunder with a deliberate misspelling of the offender’s name, a passive-aggressive but surprisingly effective strategy that, alas, doesn’t quite align with the persona of professionalism I endeavor to convey these days.

Recently, after receiving yet another email opening with an inventive iteration of my name, I decided to just… not reply, vowing never again to respond to an email in which my name had been incorrectly spelled. That has also proven to be an imperfect solution, and one I’ve been forced to disregard several times in the few weeks since instating it. Some emails are just too important to ignore.

So here I am, 27 years into a predicament I’ll presumably be dealing with my whole life, and still debating the best way of handling it. If you often find yourself dealing with a similar quandary, consider this a plea: What’s your perfect go-to response?

Send your answers on a postcard. Just make sure you spell my name right.

Otegha Uwagba is a writer, brand consultant, and the founder of Women Who, a community for creative working women. She is also the author of Sunday Times bestseller Little Black Book, a modern career guide for working women. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter and follow Women Who here and here.

Collages by Edith Young.

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • Cristina

    My name is not as difficult, but I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. My name is the Spansh spelling, Cristina with n H. For a name so common though, even with an H… I get everything. Christine. Christina. Kristin. Kristina. And my maiden name was also Spanish, Ordonez. Yeah. THE BANE OF MY ENTIRE EXISTENCE. Probably the worst butchering, that was created to make fun of me, was “Moredonuts.” So lame. When I was little, I hated writing my name on my worksheets cause it took up more than the line and I wished soooo hard my name was like, Amy Smith. I cringed any time was roll was called and I thought it would get better in college. They don’t call roll right? EH WRONG. Just as soon as the professor would squint and stumble, I raised my hand to save us all the trouble. When I graduated, I spelled my name with annunciation before handing it over. “or- dough- nyez” because damn it all, that was not the day I walked across the stage to the wrong name. And they got it right.

  • Kristen J

    “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

    My name gets misspelled & mispronounced quite frequently, and it’s KRISTEN. My name is spelled out in all of my email addresses, and people still misspell it about once a week. Keep up the good work sticking to your name! Regardless of Shakespeare, getting someone’s name right is a sign of paying attention to the person.

    • Eva Skewes

      My name is EVA and I’ve lost track of the times it’s been misspelled “Ewa.” Every time it happens I look down at the keyboard to remind myself that the “v” and “w” are quite far from each other and I also check to see if the emailer is Slavic or not (they are usually not). Sometimes the misspelling happens mid-email chain after they’ve gotten it right before!!!

      I always take such care to make sure I spell others names correctly – especially in an email when you have the time – so it’s always a deep disappointment when it happens.

    • Ana

      My name is Ana and 9/10 times people spell it with two n instead of one. I don’t really care, whatever. But when my boss of 4 years sent me emails addressed to “Anna” or when guys on dating apps can’t even copy the spelling of the name that’s literally at the top of the message thread…I mean…….

    • Kristin

      Ditto. I’ll say “Kristin” and they’ll say “is that with an “e” or an “i?” I’ll say “i.” and they write this: Cristin. I’m used to it by now, but I can’t imagine having a name that is actually complicated. My maiden name was even worse, a long Japanese name. I got married and now I don’t have to spell out every letter of my last name, but still got that difficult first name *eye roll* Haha.

      • Kristen J

        Yep! I get Kirsten quite a bit too, so when “How I Met Your Mother” had the Krirsten episode, I about died laughing.

    • rachel

      I have a lot of Rachel/Rachael issues, which is even more perplexing because Rachel is the easier spelling! Whenever people ask I say “original recipe” which doesn’t always get the correct spelling across but is fun for me.

    • Kirsten

      I’m Kirsten (Keer-sten) but constantly called Kristen and seen too many wrong spellings to count

      • Kirsten Jewett

        I’m with you, fellow Kirsten! I am constantly called Kristen, Christine, Christina, Kursten, etc. Even my assistant of two years calls me Christine every.single.time. Okay, fine, she’s Nepali, but I say her name correctly! It gets me most in emails, like Otegha said, particularly replies where you’ve already seen my name.

        • Kattigans

          I can share in the pain bc my name is CAITLIN and it gets f*cked up over and over again. I’m Caitlyn, Catherine, Kayla, Kaylen, Kelly (yes that happened once), Catlin, Cathleen, and so many other names and spellings. And like everyone spells it wrong. I’m shocked when anyone spells it right on the first try without asking me. Even my roommate of a year spelled my name wrong the entire time we lived together (always would put a Y in there). I got tired of correcting him and was just like omg whatever, clearly you don’t care.

          People also just will go ahead and shorten my name for me without even asking. Every boss I’ve ever had has called me Cate and I don’t even bother correcting them bc I don’t really care or mind. Sometimes I use Cate at starbucks bc its just easier. And my entire family calls me Caitie and my BF calls me a Cate too. The name thing isn’t simply for me. My mom’s name is Marlowe and my grandma is Jonnie so they’ve had rough naming lives too. Everyone thinks they’re boys. My mom gets called “Mario” at starbucks all the time.

  • Myfanwy

    Otegha, massively feel this pain. Learnt some of the international phonetic alphabet for exactly this reason, but I think “K for cat, but with a K” is the ultimate response. Tempted to switch up from tradition and go with “M for massively insecure, Y for ‘Y tho?’, F for Father John Misty…” – you know, an acrostic to compensate for a real personality or something.
    On a serious note, the one silver lining I find, is that people rarely forget it once they’ve spent 6 months learning to spell it properly.

  • Dear Otegha (love your name!), I am afraid I have no solution, just anecdotes: while my name is visibly Slavic, it is my husband’s totally German surname that is always misspelled in Germany – no idea why, it would have been easier to fiddle with mine. He gets angry and reprimands people (who sent the invoice), ignores it unhappily (at job) and wonders about the reasons (while I wonder about another correct spelling of my name). Just like you, I have decided to keep my name and bear the consequences – since I sell my mother tongue for a living, they are bearable. Had I taken his name it would have been unbearable, to be honest. I really think people should be able to copy foreign names without mistakes. It is a basic skill everyone should have.

  • Adrianna

    I immigrated to America, where a lot of people just label anything beyond “John Johnson” as “weird” and refuse to regard it as a “real” name. Guys, there’s different ways to pronounce the letter “w,” and those ways are just as valid as American English.

    I’ve gotten the “Why does your middle name have a J in it? Why does your last name have a z in it?” from several teachers and classmates in Pennsylvania. It seems harmless, but it’s annoying to be singled out and labeled an “other.” It wasn’t so harmless when a teacher exaggerated laughter, causing the whole class to burst out laughing.

    As far as immigrant and Polish names go, my name is actually pretty approachable. (Maybe by design since my mom was planning to immigrant. I’ve known a lot of Polish people who immigrated as children or were born here, but not a lot of Władysław’s.) I still can’t decide whether or not to use the American or Polish pronunciation of my last name. I really don’t like the American, but the Polish version tends to stump Americans.

    “Adrianna” has two common pronunciations, and it’s easy enough for most people to ask my preference. Ironically I don’t really care. But I do care if you spell it “Adriana”

    • Aleda Johnson

      I had a friend who had this problem (also from PA, go figure). Her last name was Tuzinkiewicz, and she would get so excited when a teacher actually took the time to learn that it’s not pronounced “tuh-zink-ah-witz” but “Too-zen-kah-veech.” I still may have mispronounced it (because it’s hard for my english mouth to get around all those vowels at first), but I always tried to say it the right way for her.

      • Adrianna

        I was completely unsurprised by the themes of the 2016 election based on my four years’ experience in Pennsylvania. It was the first place I encountered an obsession with heritage, and which character traits you supposedly have based on your nationality. Two different people who made fun of my nationality at two different jobs in NYC were from Pennsylvania. (PS I’ve also met plenty of lovely people from PA..!)

        Pennsylvania is kind of unique because it’s inland enough where a lot of people have lived there for generations, but close enough to NYC/NJ where immigrants will move after getting their bearings in USA. (Like my family.) There was already a paranoia about “Mexicans” in 2004, but I digress….

        The best way to wrap your head around Polish is the way that you did, that all these long words and names are actually a series of sounds represented by 2-3 letters. “cz” is super common.

  • My name is spelled Mellisa, commonly spelled (Melissa). I have literally been dropped from classes and questioned on my FASFA because someone in a high chair feels the need to constantly “correct” the spelling of my name when I send necessary documentation correctly. I have had a job spell my name incorrectly and when confronted, I was being called “difficult” because i wanted HR to change my work email smh. The list goes on..all you can do is correct and try your damn BEST not to be obscenely irritated. lol

  • Alissa Albrecht

    I have what I consider a pretty American first name, but it always gets misspelled, mispronounced, or replaced with an entirely different name (Alicia, Melissa, Alice) which is so frustrating. As I get older, it has bothered me more, but I am not sure how to address it when it happens. My German last name gets mispronounced as Albright most of the time too, so I rarely hear a correct pronunciation of my full name. It feels like people can’t even be bothered to read a name all the way and just assume what it is!

  • leilanigl

    PREACH. Thank you, and Otegha, you’re a wonderful writer!!

    There was this one lady: I worked with her for *three years*, why did half her emails add random y’s to my name. Why did the y’s migrate. Why did her clients end up apologizing to me once they noticed while she never did. My email was my name and you had it right in front of you in every single email. There is no y, there has never been a y.

    I really should have started adding y’s to her name. It would’ve been so easy, too. (Think ‘Lacie’ -> ‘Lacy’, where a y would be common.)

    In a related anecdote, what was with substitute teachers or new teachers telling me I got my name wrong as a kid??? It’s my name, thanks, I know what it is. Don’t give me a nickname. I had this conversation with a friend I grew up with a few months back and he just ‘thought it was a normal girls name’. All the other kids had my back on this.

    I just wanted those teachers to take 10 seconds to pay attention to the actual name, because it mattered. If 6-year-olds could figure it out, so could they.

    • Hannah

      OH MY GOSH yes! I know what my name is – why does that surprise you?!

  • Syona

    My name is Syona. I now introduce myself as “Syona… like Fiona, from Shrek, but with an S, like Shrek.”

    More than misspelling, I can count on one hand the number of times someone read my name and pronounced it correctly on the first try.

    • Catie Marie

      amazing

    • Aleda Johnson

      Same! I even get people who call me Alicia, which is just ridiculous!

  • Jolanda

    Coming form a village were everybody knew one another, I am still getting used to spelling my name on a daily basis. In the Netherlands were I live it is an option to take your husband’s name when you marry, and keep your own as well. I thought this would be a nice choice, because if we had children I would share a name with my children, but also I did not have to give up the name my parents gave me.
    In the end, since marrying, I usually only use my husband’s last name because the amount of spelling that goes into ‘van der Wagt van Wingerden’ became unbearable and just ‘van der Wagt’ is a lot shorter….. What makes these mistakes worse in my opinion, is that I am not even an immigrant in this country, nor is my husband. Our names could not be more Dutch and people still get it wrong.
    I personaly think it is disrespectful to mispronounce or mispel someones given name!

    • Zauberwald

      I agree that it is disrespectful! My mother in law uses the voice-to-text feature on her phone, which always misspells my name. It drives me crazy.

  • My parents are both from Central America (Guatemala & Honduras). My name is Kenia and surprisingly it is a pretty common name within the latino community. Growing up in Florida it confused e v e r y o n e that although my name is KENIA it has nothing to do with country, I’m not from the country nor have I ever been, and not even spelled the same way. Truthfully, people actually pronounce my name incorrectly everyday and I am partially to blame because I have given up correcting people. There’s an accent somewhere in my that has disappeared over the course of my lifetime.

    Growing up people would give me nicknames such as Africa ( I guess to help them remember how to correctly pronounce my name??). So, in order to make things easy (for all of us) when meeting new people speaking on the phone, or at Starbucks I just say: “Kenia, like the country.”

    (twice in my lifetime has someone at Starbucks spelled my name correctly. Those two moments were bliss and I kept those cups for awhile..)

  • Catie Marie

    I’m originally from the South, where double-names abound (i.e., Mary Kate, Mary Ann, Sarah Jane, etc.). Since moving New York, I’ve been consistently confronted with people either trying to shorten my name to just Catie, or just guessing at a random combination of two names. It just gets worse from there. My legal name is Catherine, shortened to Catie, which often gets pronounced as Catty – a la Mean Girls “yeah imma call you Catty” – the list goes on and on. I think the thing that frustrates me most about the whole saga is people’s (cough cough *men*) blatant disregard for my preference on what I’d like to be called. It’s such a simple request, and when it goes un-respected, it sends the message that my value is in what I can do, rather than who I am. It discredits identity in an effort to simplify an interaction. Whether that’s buying a cup of coffee – can we just cut to the payment part? – or a business interaction – skip the formalities, what do you have to offer me this morning? – it diminishes individuality and reduces you to just another body in the room.

    My go to has simply become introducing myself twice – or, in your case, insisting on spelling your name in its entirety. For example, if I’m meeting someone for the first time, and I say “I’m Catie Marie,” and they respond with “Hi, Catie,” I hold eye contact for a moment longer, and repeat myself. “Catie Marie.”

    • Olivia Lauren Hawk Moore

      This is so interesting to me… I am also from the south, still live here, but am always so fascinated by the double name thing. My whole life, my mother signed my name to permission slips and official papers as “Olivia Lauren” even though she really only ever intended for me to go by “Olivia”… I now also always sign my name as Olivia Lauren and think it’s so funny when I have to correct people 2 or 3 times… like, you can just call me Olivia. Or I’ll say, “Hi, I’m Olivia Lauren Moore (if the formality calls for it), but you can call me Liv.” I find that immediately giving people my nickname (which is what my husband always introduces me as so it’s basically what all of our friends call me anyways) helps people to remember that its JUST Olivia and NOT Olivia Lauren.

    • patyof

      Mary-Caitlyn here– and I added that hyphen so people would stop cutting off the Caitlyn. Mary is my granny’s name!! Agh!!

    • Kiks

      Would you really add the buying-coffee thing to that list of complaints? Some interactions are meant to be simple. I mean, I guess it’s nice when they ask how to spell my name, but frankly as long as I get my coffee I don’t give a f*ck if the barista thinks my name is Kevin.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    My last name always gets mispronounced and/or misspelled. My maiden name was misspelled all the time.
    I get rather irritated because the “sch” in my last name sounds just like the “sch” in school or schooner.

  • Ciccollina

    My suggestion might be considered somewhat aggressive but I am hoping it works for you. Perhaps, in your email signature, you could add a brief note about pronunciation. For example (and I am taking a guess on the pronunciation here, so please forgive me if I got it wrong!):
    Otegha Uwagba
    (Pronounced Oh-teg-ah)
    Phone number

    I am hoping that this draws attention to the issue of your name whilst appearing to be friendly and helpful. This tactic is also something that can be achieved quickly so you’re not having to repeat yourself every time. I think it’s pretty unforgivable to get someone’s name wrong in an email, but helping your contacts to familiarise with your beautiful name can only be a good thing.

    You should ABSOLUTELY be proud of your name and your cultural heritage. As a white person sometimes almost crippled by white guilt, I would genuinely love to have a history and culture of which I am not constantly ashamed. I am envious of you! So be proud. Announce your name and help people to understand how important it is to you. Allow them to join you in your pride rather than waiting for them to slip up and then feeling sad and misunderstood 🙂

    • Ana

      I work with this woman who signs of with “Gioia (pronounced Joy-a)”and I really like that actually! Yesterday I had a meeting with a guy whose name I could not figure out how to pronounce. Awkward. I wish he’d done that

      • Ciccollina

        I always just ask. In fact, since I’ve moved to Germany, I’ve been known to stop the conversation to ask how someone spells their names because that helps me. Frankly I think that these little moments of vulnerability can do wonders in the world of relationship building!

    • Olivia Lauren Hawk Moore

      This is so great! I work in sales and am predominantly on the phone… I always feel so worried that i’m going to mess up someone’s name after reading It in an email.

    • Niamh

      My name is very Irish, Niamh (Pronounced Neev), and I spend a lot of time explaining that to people, but I don’t mind at all nor does it get old. I actually find it to be a great Ice breaker. If I am emailing someone I do not know, I always follow my name with the pronunciation (pronounced Neev). If I am spelling it over the phone, I explain N as in Nancy, I-A-M as in Mary, H. I think it would be a fun to challenge myself to use different N and M words every time I spell it out, might help expand my dwindling vocabulary… lol

      • This is interesting. I wonder if your relationship with explaining your name has to do with where you’re from and the cultural/social implications of your name’s story. I am Nigerian, like the article’s author, and I feel so often that the complications lie more in the deep-seeded issues surrounding how people view me and my culture rather than the literal name itself… I never really have a problem spelling it out but having to go down the rabbit hole of “What does it mean” and “where were you born” that seems to automatically follow is what gets me.

        • Niamh

          Yes that’s a really great point! When a name hints to your heritage, the conversation can quickly (and because of curiosity, naturally) shift to questions of origin and culture. In the US these conversations tend to be uncomplicated for me as a European-American.

          The implication of Gaelic (Irish) names can hold more weight in Northern Ireland, where there is a historical and ongoing political division between Unionists and Loyalists. In Northern Ireland, my name (first and last) for the most part sells my Catholic heritage, and from that alone someone could assume my political stance. Interesting to think about how where you are can change the implications of a name.

      • Irish names are so beautiful and difficult to pronounce! I saw a video with Saoirse Ronan pronouncing her name the right way and gosh, it’s beautiful, and difficult!
        I think that if somebody doesn’t pronounce your name the right way because it can be actually tricky, it can be a good ice breaker!

  • Justina Kenyon

    I don’t think my name is incredibly difficult to spell and it is pronounced phonetically, however, people misspell and mispronounce (or just change) my name all the time. Like the author, I spell my name for people all the time, because it streamlines the process. I have only recently started correcting people who call me by the wrong name in conversation. I used to be so afraid of being rude, but it’s my name and I want to be called by it.

    I get especially frustrated when people call me Justine instead of Justina, because I cherish the familial and cultural history that comes with my name. So many of my female relatives (the great aunt I was named after included) changed their names in order to better assimilate into American culture. I don’t want to do that or have other people do it to me.

  • SL

    Hehehe. My parents thought it would be nice to name me by removing one letter from an old name from a certain part of the Netherlands. I always have to correct people, because they will always respond with the original name. Then I have to explain that I am not from there and no I am not German either (last name is German). And oh yeah, my first name is actually my middle name. “You really need to know my official first name? Please stop laughing, it is also my grandmother’s and don’t worry, I know it is crazy.” My dad moved my names around. He did not like the order of the initials, they were an abbreviation for people with hearing disabilities. Also I have my mum’s last name, which brought a lot of confusion when I was a kid.
    Good you appreciate your name!! Good you did not change it. I used to hate my name and also considered changing it, but when traveling abroad people often told me they like the sound of it. It’s nice that they do not know the name it is derived from. Gradually I started to appreciate it too and now I am actually happy with it, I feel it suits me. I am happy it is different. My brother has a very common name, which suits him too. I will keep correcting people. It doesn’t annoy me usually, not even when it annoys the offender. Sometimes I even find a little bit of joy in it. Unless I have to repeat myself too many times, offenders can be careless…
    It is terrible that your name affects how people treat you… Quite some political parties here are in favor of removing names from applications for (governmental) institutions, so that at least till the interview you won’t be judged based on your name/background.

  • Jayanna

    Oh! how I can relate to this. My name is Jayanna. Pro-nounced Jay (like the letter J) and then Anna, as in one of the most common girls names in the Western world. I get Jay-aRna. Johanna, Joyanna, Joanna and Diana on occasion. The list is endless. People are particularly confused by the “Y” in my name. Even when I spell it out phonetically. It was during my first term at university, I told a bunch of my drunken fellow students to save themselves the trouble of tripping over their tongues and to just call me Jay. This was much to my parents dismay as my dads name is actually Jason and he is the original Jay.

  • Olivia Lauren Hawk Moore

    Although I feel like my name really isn’t that difficult, I totally feel you. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world to open a professional email and immediately see “Oliva”– I mean, you got the email right, so either you’re too lazy to add the second I or you were not paying enough attention to think of just checking my email or signature. My maiden name is Hawk (like the bird) and I spent my whole life spelling O-L-I-V-I-A H-A-W-K over the phone that even now with a last name as common as Moore I still always spell it out.
    Side note: constantly shocked by the number of people that don’t know how to spell hawk (its a really common animal) and that try to add an -e or -ck or some other strange iteration of the word to make it more human. It’s just HAWK, like the bird. NOT Hawke or Hawck, just HAWK.

  • Kezia

    My name is Kezia (pronounced ke-zee-ah) and my all-time favourite mistake was hearing my coffee order called out with the name Kevin. I took the coffee. Gave no correction.

    • Kiks

      KEVIN

    • Zauberwald

      LOL! Mine is Carra (CAR-uh), and someone once said, “Shakira.”

  • Patrizia Chiarenza

    Hi Otegha! You have a beautiful name! Thank you so much for writing this.
    I am an Italian immigrant and deal with this issue almost daily. Thankfully I do not have a middle name, but my first and last name are not only unpronounceable for most Americans, they are even harder to spell.
    I dread having to give someone my work email over the phone and I often just offer to email them first, that way they have the correct spelling of mine. My full name is Patrizia Chiarenza but I go by Patry as a nickname. You’d be surprised how many people have a hard time even with that, often turning it into “party”.
    Many have asked why I don’t simply go by Patty or Patricia and – no offense to the English version of my name – it just does not feel right. I am Patry. Patrizia when in trouble or in business correspondence. Pat for a very special few. I don’t want to change the essence of who I am on top of having changed my language and my culture.
    All this to say that I don’t have a suggestion. I actually never thought of a solution for those emails where my name is misspelled. It bothers me to no end and i find it very rude and slightly stupid (come on. My name is right there in my signature and you cant even copy it correctly?) but it is just one of the things I’ve learned to live with.
    The people who matter, know how to say my name and spell it, and – as someone said below – they are likely to never forget it.

  • Martha Pietruszewski

    “I’m not even going to try and spell your last name” No sh*t Sherlock, I’ll spell it out for you myself.

  • Gabrielle Fiedor

    People in the U.S. often confuse my name- Gabrielle- with the masculine variant “Gabriel” and it really bothers me.

    I lived in Buenos Aires for a while, and since “Gabrielle” (a French name) does not lend itself well to Spanish phonological interpretation, most called me “Gabriella”. It was never done maliciously, but it always upset me. Because it’s not my name. It’s almost a mild assault on my identity, especially when people would insist on calling me that simply because it was more expedient for them. That’s why I was both protective and hurt at various points.

    So, I empathize. It’s really fascinating, the psychology of it.

  • Autumn

    I can so relate! I always tell people my name is “Autumn, like the season” and it still gets spelled wrong. I had a middle school teacher who spelled my name Autom …in my yearbook. It amazes me how many people can’t spell it. I’ve seen everything from Atum to Autum to Adam.

  • Abigail Pyke

    No where near your level, since most people are still getting my name right, but an alternate spelling. Abigail is the most common spelling of my name (which people still spell in fantastically odd ways that aren’t actual versions of the name), which is what I have, but I spell my nickname “Abi,” which seems to be the most uncommon spelling of it. Go figure.

    When I was a teenager working at Subway, my name tag said Abi, and I can’t tell you the amount of times people called me “Abie” or asked if Abi was my real name.

    • Abi Newhouse Vaughn

      That’s how I spell my name too! Now that I know it’s not THAT uncommon, maybe I’ll expect more of people. 😉

  • Charlsey

    The worst and most insane to me is when people spell it incorrectly while reaching out to Facebook/e-mail/LinkedIn. It’s like….if it reached me you spelled it correctly in the e-mail field or are literally looking in the server where it is spelled correctly. Is it really that hard just to read?

    When I give my name to people/places I have to say “Charlsey, like a boy” because otherwise people cannot wrap their heads around it.

  • Kimberley Boehm

    Otegha, I understand and thank you for this post. I suspect you’ll be coping with these issues forever. The spelling of my first name (that pesky extra ‘e’) and the pronunciation and spelling of my last name befuddle people all the time. I have dealt with this problem for 57 years. Evidently, the spelling on my first birth certificate was all wrong. I spell out both names and I’ve given up on helping people pronounce my last name. I do correct the spelling on any important/legal documents, otherwise, I have given up trying. What bothers me, though, is that people will reply to emails where they see my names and misspell them anyway. One of my former employers once misspelled my names. Someone, please explain such carelessness to me. Please.

    • Mon Valdés

      I will never understand how can people reply to emails mispelling my name… my email adress is my f*cking name, they could at lest try…

  • Kat

    I have sort of the opposite problem where no-one pronounces my surname correctly if they see it written down and don’t hear it. One person – once – has pronounced it right from reading and I was so shocked the poor woman must’ve thought I was mad! Also she was checking me in to a flight so probably just wanted me done and onto the next…

  • Patricia Kuntz

    The number of times my last name has been pronounced as “C*nt” with a z instead of “Koontz” would astound you. It is really fun to see people’s apprehension in their face before they say it though

  • eva

    changed the spelling and pronunciation of my name at age 12 because after yet another move i was too exhausted to go through another round of mostly fruitless corrections. two decades later though i kept my clunky foreign last name instead of taking my husband’s easy anglo one because i spent a lot of time regretting that earlier decision.

  • jiggahava

    My first name is Hava, but even after re-pronouncing it to people over the phone they still respond with “Heather” or “Hannah”. It’s a fairly simple name! My conclusion is that people hear what they want to hear, so they pick what sounds easiest to their (usually white) ears.

  • Ashley not Ashely

    That is super frustrating. I will say that I get this ALL the time too, even from coworkers that I’ve worked with for 3+ years, and my name is Ashley (they somehow always misspell it as Ashely – I get at least 4-5 emails a week with that).

    Certainly not saying this to minimize your experience in any way, just mentioning it because given how incredibly common my name is in North America it is shocking how often it is misspelled – I assume that it must also partly be a laziness thing (disrespectful for sure though).

  • Mon Valdés

    Montserrat here, I work with a lot of American people so I decided to shorten it to MON, but it’s even difficult for Spanish speaking people…. so I get you my friend.

  • Hannah

    My last name is Naeger – neigh like a horse, grrr like a tiger. And that whole sentence is usually how I save us all from a lot of anguish and gaffs.

    But I’m like you, Otegha – I’m so glad I have my name because it is truly mine!

    And, 27 years into my own predicament, I earned my DDS. My coworkers are now using my helpful hints for my last name. It always makes me laugh when I hear the “Last name Naeger” IMMEDIATELY followed by “yes, that’s N A E…”

  • Eva

    My name is Eva (The E pronounced like an A) coming from a Finnish mother, where in Finnish is spelled Eeva, which isn’t confusing at all. I have the most difficulty when ordering drinks at Starbucks, the one time I tried to spell out my name, the barista heard “B” instead of “V”, I then gave up on getting mad at people.

    My other name problem is with my middle name “Emilia”, which on a class list appears as : Rizk, Eva Emilia, thus haven’t all the teachers calling me by my second name the first week of school

  • Aliin

    Oh i really like the name Kikelomo-it’s so pretty. Otegha Kikelomo is a really nice combo.

  • Daniela Silva

    I’m saddened by the fact that I spent most of the time I lived in the States introducing myself as Dani / Danny and not Daniela. I was too young and too annoyed with people calling me Danielle or even Danielle Silver (My last name ends in an A! ). It’s still an obstacle, but I have made the choice to have infinite patience and to take the time to correct. Knowing that I have the right to correct gives me peace of mind. If they react, it’s their problem. I’m reclaiming what is mine, what was given to me and it will not be taken away, edited out, miss spelled or miss pronounced. I speak, think and write in your language, therefore you can learn my name.

  • Leslie Bonzella

    My last name basically changed ethnicities during the census of 1910 because someone didn’t stop to make sure it was spelled correctly! There’s so much value in a name in regards to your heritage; be proud and continue to “drill” your name to people who just don’t get it 🙂

    • Zauberwald

      I read that the reason there are so many off-the-wall spellings of surnames in this country is because workers at Ellis Island had to essentially guess when immigrants pronounced their names, as many of them did not know enough English to actually spell them out.

  • Eric Bymel

    What a great article! I commend you on your candor.
    I was reminded of a radio skit where someone speaks to an operator who tries to phonetically spell his name. She utters “P as in pneumonia”

  • Nadja Tiktinsky

    THIS!! The head of my school’s English department recently called me “Natasha” in an email. This guy basically reads for a living, but my name looked complicated, so he just skimmed and guessed.

    I also literally changed the pronunciation of my name in 6th grade, because the phonetic difference between “Nad-yuh” (correct) and “Nad-juh” (incorrect) was small enough that nobody bothered. “Nad-juh” was waaaaay too close to “nausea” for my 11-year-old-self, so I started telling people to say the J as if it were an I. People can deal with that, but then of course they always scalp the tail off the J and spell it “Nadia.”

    Respect people’s names, even if they’re tricky to get right!! A person’s identity is more important than your convenience!!

  • I can relate to this so much! I wen through uni with tutors and lecturers literally making funny noise instead of pronouncing my surname – straight up murmuring something quick under their noses and continuing without actually bothering to attempt more than 3 letters of my surname. In front of the whole year!!

    My first name – Yvette – people mostly get. The spelling is a bit hard for some, but thankfully a lot of people have done a bit of French at school so it’s usually better than I expect.
    My surname, however – Gencheva. Pronounced Gen(G as in gold) – che (as in Che Gevara) -va.
    I have learned the spelling by heart but the amount of letters and having to go through this big thing every time I need to register or order anything is always so unpleasant.

    I completely feel you. And I can’t spell my middle name as well! I’ve only learned the two essential ones and whenever I need to spell the middle one I properly embarrass myself.

    I love my name as it’s so unique (the combination of both especially) but on a daily basis it’s such a hassle!

  • shiaaan

    I had to move to the states for college and had the toughest time ‘explaining’ my name. I don’t exactly mind people misspelling it or mispronouncing it, but it always frustrates me when I sign off an email with Shian and they reply with Dear Yin…(my full name is Ng Yin Shian but I go by shian).

    The absolute WORST experience I had was buying concert tickets through an automated phone system that required me to speak my name into the phone (there was no other option to leave my name and their website was down). Needless to say, I turned up at the concert venue and they did not have my tickets for me. I was forced to buy another pair of tickets on the spot only to realize a few days later through my bank statement that they did reserve tickets for me under some untraceable name. I did not get the refund I requested.

    I also found it incredibly insulting when my sister, who is also chinese, got her first job at a recruitment company and was asked to give herself a ‘christian’ name to make things easier for everyone. This was in Singapore mind you, where 80% of the population is Chinese. Has anyone else ever experienced this?

    • Adrianna

      I’m in USA. I’ve known Korean and Japanese kids of immigrants who had American names for their school/work life and Korean/Japanese names for their private life. I feel like I myself was named by a random person in a New Jersey school rather than my mother. “Adrianna” is pronounced pretty differently in English and Polish, but I was too young to enforce the Polish version. I specifically remember being told “that’s her American name,” and my mother was the kind of immigrant who equated assimilation with success.

      Similarly, Eastern European names cause problems for things like immigration. There are male and female endings – those Polish “ski” last names are actually male. Polish female last names end with “ska.” My Moldavian manager’s family had trouble proving they were all related because they have the gendered surnames.

      I don’t know what my advice would be. My sister Americanized her name when she became an American citizen. Polish “w” is pronounced “v,” but no one would know how to pronounce her otherwise simple name. My mother also wants to change her name because she’s tired of all the mispronunciations and misspellings.

  • I can’t stand when people spell my name incorrectly at work, ESPECIALLY because it’s spelled correctly within my actual email, my email signatures, my Skype icon, etc. To me, it shows a lack of respect because it’s clearly spelled out in many accessible ways.

    • I always found the email one to be the most irritating. Like the author said, you typed it correctly in the address bar, why not in the message??

  • Selena Delgado

    This brings back so many memories. I hated my name, forever and ever when I was younger. I would pray to a God I didn’t know to change me to a Stacy, Lisa or a Christine. Everyone commented on my name, not to mention I received a TON of criticism from my fellow Latinos due to the fact that my name was not pronounced the way it was written (pero tu nombre es Celina, no es Selena) Long story short, I was named after a character from the 70’s TV show The Walton’s. One could only imagine my internalization of these strange comments that were never understood by me. Now, I love my name, mainly due to the fact that people spell it correctly 7 times out of 10…

  • Elspeth Suber

    My name is Elspeth. It’s pronounced exactly like it’s spelled. No. It isn’t Elizabeth. My favorite is when people say it right and then they say wait did you mean Elizabeth? ………no. I would’ve said Elizabeth if that is what I meant….
    I just go by Audrey at restaurants or to-go orders. It makes life so much easier.
    This article was fantastic.

  • Hansika Vijayaraghavan

    I got into the habit of swiftly spelling my name in a single breath for starbucks orders…until I came to Europe and proceeded to learn how to spell my name in French, Dutch, and German (although I think I spelled my own name wrong in german)

  • Meghan H

    Ha! I’m glad I’m not the only one who has passive-aggressively misspelled other peoples’ names in emails (“Thanks for your note, Mattew!”) – though I’ve only done this with constant/repeat offenders. In kindergarten, I was determined to change my name to Emily; maybe I knew then that I’d be dealing with a lifetime of misspellings if I stuck with Meghan. My favorite misspelling so far has been “Mega” on a Starbucks cup.

  • I love this article. As someone with both a first and last name that have to be spelled (and are frequently mispronounced despite being phonetically obvious) this has been the story of my life. I was mortified when my name was mispronounced on the first day of kindergarten and my mother told me that I’d just have to correct the teacher. But she’s the teacher! And I was super shy. And that was the beginning of my lifelong journey of correcting people. My name is Kaelen (KAY-LIN) Van Cura (VAN CURE-UH). I’m usually Kaitlin, Katie, Karen, Karlen, Kara, you name it. The last name is Ventura, Vannnnnnn, or just Cura (like the first part is optional?) I have gone through phases of correcting people every time with pronunciation and spelling and phases where I would just ignore it. Now, I guess it just depends on the day and if I’m in the mood for correcting or not (though if I ignore a name-mangling in front of a friend, I’ve noticed they’ll usually jump in to correct the person, which is sweet.) I do consider myself lucky though, since as a white person, with a white-sounding name, I never had to deal with the unconscious racism part of the equation that Otegha and many others have to deal with.

  • I am guilty of westernizing my name :/ I’m mixed race and my Nepalese father gave me an ethnic name, Monisha, but my Russian mother baptized me as Maria. I got sick of people mispronouncing my name/spelling it wrong/making fun of it/it coming up as a spelling error when I typed it, and I also had some personal issues with my father so my mom allowed me to change it. I kind of regret it now, but then when I think to those statistics of people with white sounding names getting better jobs it makes me wonder if it would have been harder for me to get jobs as Monisha. I know I can always change it back but it would be like creating a whole new identity and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.
    Still, even with a more ‘western’ name I deal with some of the same problems, especially with my last name. It was simplified from Russian – Polyanskih to Polansky, and it’s SO annoying when people spell it with an i at the end even though I clearly say y when I spell it out. And people calling me Mariah instead of Maria >.<

  • rolaroid

    OUF. So close to home! I spell out my Armenian last name (which starts with a K!) letter by letter, with a matching word so there is no mistake. Medical and administrative documents get lost, I have to figure out HOW they may have incorrectly spelled my name (both first and last names) in order to find it… It’s exhausting. Never mind that it’s not necessarily a difficult name to pronounce, if you look at it properly, which is often the case. People just see a bunch of consonants together and decide they can’t manage.

    I am currently in the process of having my mother’s, also Armenian, surname added to mine because it’s super simple and it will save me a lot of hassle, but I cannot lie, it breaks my heart a bit, although I’ll keep my father’s name, because I am so proud of my heritage, and I carry the surname of my grandpa who lived through the genocide.

  • rolaroid

    I really need to point out, that although I understand the frustration, people with European, “white-sounding” names may have missed the point. The difference between Kristen and Kirsten, etc. — none of this will mean someone will overlook your CV. You have the luxury and privilege of having this just be a pet peeve for you, not a potential case of racial profiling and discrimination. Try Shogher, try Ayshegul, try Taharima.

  • Aydan

    as someone who recently started a new job this has been such a pain recently. I usually don’t mind and give people the phonetics (eye-dawn tends to work best with Americans), but its a daily struggle and the worst part is I always feel like there’s a point at which I can no longer correct people…

  • bb222

    “I have been known, many moons ago, to respond to an email blunder with a deliberate misspelling of the offender’s name” – I know you are right that this is unprofessional, but I hope you still get to use it sometimes because it’s brilliant.

    My name is often swapped for a more familiar version (think Lara vs Laura) – not deeply offensive but more just annoying. I just wait until the person knows me better, they usually figure it out. Otherwise it’s a waste of time correcting people because some are just bad spellers, some are bad hearers/listeners, and some have that other name so firmly stuck in their memories that it seems never to go away.

    • Lara Clinton

      I do feel uncomfortable correcting people more than 2 times.

  • Emily Crittenden

    For over the phone, maybe have a little sentence memorized to help people out? (I have the same problem coming up with words to illustrate a letter on the spot – I can totally see myself saying Cat but with a K ). Here I made you one: “Oh The Epic Goddess Has Arrived”

  • Corinne Ketchum

    I love this article and all of the comments. My email is also my name spelled out and yet it is spelled wrong in the body at least 50% of the time. It’s really not that hard! I know there are multiple versions of my name but sometimes it wears on me. Pronouncing my name has been a struggle too (pronounced Core-in, not core-een). My maiden name didn’t help, Tuozzoli, pronounced two-zoli. I’m so used to spelling out my name that even though my new married last name is easier, I can’t help but spell it out too!

  • Helena Kate Tattersall

    My name is Helena and I have experienced an unprecedented number of mispellings and mispronunciations (sometimes deliberate!) over the years, which I do find odd, it’s not that hard. I find ‘Helen with an ‘a’ on the end’ is generally effective, but I have started a collection of pictures of the Starbucks cups I have been given where I have seen at least three brand new symbols that have never before graced the Latin alphabet!

  • I feel you! My first and last name are ‘difficult’, and to add to the confusion I have an Arabic first name and a Scandanavian last name. I’m Dutch.
    My name is Zaida, and I’ve gotten used to the primary interactions with new people always being
    ‘Hi, I’m Zaida’
    ‘You’re WHO?’
    ‘Zaida, z-a-i-d-a’
    ‘Oh where is that from?’
    ‘It’s Arabic’
    The best part is not explaining any further and watching people wrestle with asking me if I’m Arabic(probably not, as I’m pale as a ghost with blonde hair) or why my parents named me that.
    Good times.

  • Hannah

    I get “Hi Hanna,” when my work email is hannah@blahblah.com so I have to think this is done deliberately in order to what, irritate the shit out of me? Because it does. So I feel you. Has anyone brought up how as women, misspelling our names could be used as a tool to demean us? Especially via email, where they’re safe behind a screen delivering some sort of trite demand.

    I also don’t want to take away from the real issue, that most people don’t take the time or consideration to respect someone’s name and its true form and I think that’s bullshit.

  • Isha Walawalkar

    YES!! Being of Indian descent, with brown skin and overtly Indian features (big eyes, prominent eyebrows, and tendency to laugh at some jokes more than others), I was once in a workplace sporting a ID card on my collar. A colleague I was meeting for the first time didn’t even bother to be nice: she winced at my card and dismissed my relatively simple and phonetically straightforward name as being too complicated to even try to pronounce. “You guys have complicated names!” she exclaimed. I was too naive of a high schooler to respond in any satisfying way, so I kept quiet.
    Yes. The “difficulty” in our names stems from the beauty and rich cultural histories they carry, AND from the fact that some people apparently just weren’t quite able to master the good old “sounding out letters” that we teach kids learning to read.
    Sure, the seemingly endless “As”, “Ls” and “Ws” in my 10-letter last name may seem intimidating (Walawalkar). But my spelling my first name (Isha) warrants only four letters of attention. Yet, I’ve seen Ihsa, Ahsi, Ashi, Isla, Iha, Issa *tear*…

  • My name’s Noemi and people often spell my name wrong. When I was a child some people also asked what kind of name it was… Many people misspelled it and called me Naomi, saying it’s the same. When it happened, I used to call them the wrong way, as well, saying it was the same, after all. Then, they learnt my name.

  • Chloe

    Even though Chloe is becoming a more popular name, I get lots of Cloe/Kloe and Chole even when I spell it out. I also get more annoyed than I should when people ask me if it is spelled with a K, when only 1 person in the world spells it like that.

  • mollie blackwood

    I would provide a “pronounced like” line in the first correspondence.

    I’m a middle school teacher and I teach children of all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities. I do my best to get their names right the very first day. Sometimes kids are so used to people messing up their name that they are defensive…. even to me who truly wants to get it right for them.

    I had a student this year who had the best response when I was asking the pronunciation of her name. Her name is Bre’ara and when she told me how to correctly pronounce it she did a little hand movement indicating “air.” I didn’t forget!

    But, I have a common name with a slightly different spelling. People will still misspell my name even on a happy birthday message on my facebook. You just have to give people grace.

  • Cinita Nestiti

    It took me 11 years to wholly accepted my first name and extra 6/7 years for the last (it’s not a family name). And now here I am smiling widely saying “It’s Cinita” slowly every time someone tried to pronounce it Cynthia or anything similar.
    Btw it’s pronounced “Chee-Neat-Uh”. It’s even foreign for people in my country.

  • Kattigans

    I so feel you on this. My name is Caitlin which you’d think people would be able to handle both in pronunciation and spelling but nope. I’m Caitlyn, Kayla, Kaylen, Catherine, Catlin, and so many other things that make me cringe. No one spells it right either even if they understand the phonetics. I had a TA in college who held our weekly discussion and every week for 8 weeks she would fuck up my name every single time she took roll. I stopped correcting her after the 3rd or 4th time because it was so embarrassing but come week 8 she was just looking stupid so after once again butchering my name, a guy in the class yelled out “IT’S CAITLIN!” for me. I was so relieved because she instantly snapped out of it (which why does a guy say it for me and its understood but when I do it its not? hmm..) Worse thing ever. I even had a recruiter for a job spell my name wrong on email over and over again. I eventually corrected her and instantly felt so much better after I did.

    My mom’s name is Marlowe and my grandma is Jonnie so they’ve had rough naming lives too. Everyone thinks they’re boys. My mom gets called “Mario” at starbucks all the time.