Life Lessons

Let the unfamiliar become the familiar…

Words & Pics by Mandy Antzoylatos

Hi lovely people,

Welcome to my first newsletter for 2021!  It’s way overdue, but I’m so excited to finally share it with you.

 I’ve been wanting to write, for a while now, about some of the organisational work I do, how I work, and some of the methodologies and tools that I work with.

One of the premises of my work is the understanding that our personal and professional lives are inter-linked, and often the patterns of behaviour in my coaching client’s professional lives play out in their personal lives too.

We are not truly able to separate these parts of ourselves into two divided sections, and I think for years society has wanted us to.

If anything, lockdown has shown us that it’s not really possible to sustain the ‘great divide’, and more than ever, we are seeing leaders within organisations and corporate’s recognizing this.

I feel that when we leave a part of ourselves behind, there is a high possibility that the organisation is losing out on a part of the richness of our life and experiences.

So, over the next few newsletters and blogs I want to explore this a bit more, and the different lessons we learn between our personal and professional lives. This one may be a little longer than usual, but hopefully worth the time xx

What I’m going to look at today, I suppose is front of mind, with children having just returned to school, and many of us heading back into offices again as lockdown eases. 

The topic was highlighted by a friend of mine when she posted on her Facebook page with a plea for her child’s name to be pronounced correctly.  In fact, she had even developed a little card to help her child’s new teachers pronounce her name correctly and understand the meaning.

She did this because in the lead up to school starting, her child had been expressing anxiety about what the teachers may do to her name.  In the past, she had experiences of her name being mispronounced in ways that changed its meaning.  This young child was also asked by her teachers and peers if a different or shortened name could be used, and in general, experienced struggles with the mis-using her name.

I am deeply struck by this and in all the years I have been practicing as a DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) practitioner, the issue of names as a sign of respect has been the very first step in our workshops.  I have been doing these sessions for nearly 20 years now, and it is still needed.  I am saddened and struck by this, as it is not only an issue in schools, but very much so in the workplace too.

An article written by Tinyiko (pronounced Ta-nee-ko) which highlights this exact issue as one of the reasons for her choosing to move cities.

In reality, we have many different languages in our world, but somehow, there seems to be more priority regarding the pronunciation of some vs others. In the South African context, we are often able to pronounce European or foreign names like Schwarzenegger, but do not always make the effort with names from our local indigenous languages.

What we are speaking about here is hundreds of years of oppression where groups of people, predominantly people of colour, were given a “Christian” or easy-to-pronounce name.   This would often happen on the first day of school or in order to access economic opportunities like jobs.

A perfect example of where a dominant culture had the ability to change people’s names for their convenience is:

  • Rolihlahla Mandela was given the name Nelson Mandela which was the custom at the time where all school children were given “Christian” names.
Rolihlahla Mandela 
Also known as Madiba which means Father in isiXhosa…a term of endearment used by millions of South Africans for this remarkable man.
Photo credit:  Mail & Guardian

So, if this resonates with you, or even has you feeling a little uncomfortable (perhaps there is a gift for you on the other side of that discomfort 😉), here are some tips that might help us all on this journey of greeting each other with respect:

  • When you first meet a person whose name is unfamiliar to you, write the person’s name down, making sure you are spelling it correctly. Ask if need be.

  •  Next, write their name in a way that you would say it… sound it out phonetically. If I’m going to be seeing the person a lot, I may even write it on my hand so I can glance at it easily, or on the top of a page I have in front of me. For example, my friend’s son’s name is Yasien which I would automatically pronounce Ya-seeen, but actually is pronounced Yaa-sien;

  •  Sometimes, a person’s name is not necessarily difficult to say, but unfamiliar, and so we avoid using it. In South Africa we are privileged to live in a very diverse society and even globally we have access to so much information.  So apart from practicing different names, I invite you to widen your circle of reading, listening and your social circles.

  •  Remember, in many cultures and languages, the same looking name may be pronounced differently.

  •  Language and pronunciation can change the meaning of a person’s name.  For example, the Xhosa name Nosipho (pronounced Noh-see-poh) means gift, but if pronounced with the English ‘f’ sound for ‘ph’, it would be said Nosifo which means poison.

So, my plea to us as adults, first of all, is to consciously make an effort when using a person’s preferred name, and then secondly, pronounce it correctly.  When we ourselves are doing it, and our children witness this, they themselves will make the same effort and the positive shifts will start to happen.

There is something quite precious when we do the ‘unexpected’ and connect with a person with respect. Even if it is a stretch outside of our comfort zone, it is profoundly powerful, and one day, I hope it becomes ‘the norm’ (whatever normal is).

Names are such a core part of our identity, in both our personal and professional lives. You may literally see a person’s eyes light up when they hear their preferred name pronounced correctly and with respect.

I invite you to start today.

Let the unfamiliar become familiar…

Wishing you a wonderfully connecting day, week, month and year.


P.S. I would so love to hear from you, perhaps about your own experiences with your name, or how it goes with the tips we’ve offered above. 😊

P.P.S.  If you’d like to have some individual or group coaching around this topic or any other diversity related matters, please give me a call or email me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *