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What’s In a Name? – Why It Is Important to Pronounce People’s Names Properly

Photo by Daniel Thomas for Unsplash

After an Irish actor had his name butchered by a presenter during the Oscar nominations show, it should be examined why it is important to understand the proper pronunciation of one’s name.

It’s almost that time of the year. The time of year when Hollywood celebrates the best movies that came out over the last twelve months. The 94th Academy Awards are almost here.

There has been great excitement in the nominations this year – Irish film Belfast has secured seven nominations and has a high possibility of walking away with at least one or two awards. But when the nominations were announced on 8th February, there was one moment that really stood out.

When it came time to announce the nominations for Best Supporting Actor, presenter Tracee Ellis Ross revealed that Ciarán Hinds had been nominated for his work in Belfast – or as she pronounced it ‘Kareen Hinds had been nominated.’

The official video of the Academy Awards nominations for 2022. The nominations for Best Supporting Actor start at 10.00.

Let that sink in for a moment. How on Earth did ‘Kareen’ come out of the name Ciarán?

And Tracee Ellis Ross isn’t the only person to do this. At the Golden Globe nominations, rapper Snoop Dogg stumbled through Hinds’ name three times, before he settled for ‘Karen.’ Seriously.

I understand that at first glance, the name looks difficult to pronounce but once you hear it, you’re fine. It was claimed that the actor laughed off the mispronunciation, but still, it must have been embarrassing.

There are many names that are hard to pronounce. Take my name for example.


When you read my name, two questions immediately pop into your mind:

1. What sort of name is that?

2. How do you pronounce it?

The name Éidhne, is one of the more obscure Irish names. The most popular Irish names for girls are Aoife, Sarah, Ciara, and Niamh. I’ve never known any other Eidhne. I’m still not completely sure why this name was chosen for me. Maybe it was because of my mother’s insane love for the Irish language? Probably.

My name is pronounced as ‘Ain-ya’ but I know, at first glance, it doesn’t look that way. Many think it’s ‘Eithne’ or ‘Edna’ or (the worst offender), Enya!

As a teenager, I thought that I had a ridiculous name. I remember starting in secondary school when every teacher would call registration. They would come to my name, pause, and struggle with the pronunciation until eventually, I had to speak up and say it correctly. I still remember the burning feeling I would get in my cheeks whenever that happened. I really began to hate my name – and I also hated my parents for lumbering me with it. Sometimes I couldn’t help but wonder why they couldn’t have given me a normal name?

But then again, in today’s society, is there really such a thing as a normal name?

When you see the names that Kim Kardashian naming her first child North West and Gwyneth Paltrow almost naming her daughter Apple Martin, after an alcoholic drink, you can’t help but question if there’s any real ‘normal’ name.

To come back to names like mine, I realized a couple of things. It’s not my fault that I have a name that has a strange pronunciation. Having a name like mine is not something to be ashamed of. It’s up to the people around you to learn your name and pronounce it correctly. It’s frustrating but it’s also common respect for everybody.

On the bright side, having an unusually pronounced name can be a real icebreaker. When I attended a friend’s wedding a few years ago, I didn’t know anybody except the bride. I arrived at the reception, and soon people were being shown where we would sit for dinner. Every place setting had a little name card. I was sitting down at my place when the man sitting beside me took one look at my name card and said ‘Right, how do you pronounce that?’. And from there, I was chatting away to everyone at my table, laughing and joking. Honestly, if it had not been for my name, I would have just sat like a sour lemon for the whole reception!

Besides, my name is far easier to pronounce than the poor son of Elon Musk who broke the internet with the revelation that his baby boy was called ‘X Æ A-Xii’. How can you pronounce a name like that?

While growing up, I hated having to live with such a strange name, I now feel proud to know that I do stand out from the crowd. I think it’s good that I have a name that doesn’t appear on the figurines and labels that are sold in the shops. It shows that my name is different. One of a kind. People just need to take that little bit of extra time and effort to learn how to pronounce it.

It won’t be until the end of the month that we hear the winners of the Academy Awards this year. But hopefully, when Ciarán Hinds’ name is called out among the nominees, they’ll make an effort to pronounce his name properly.

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