I recently had an interesting discussion with a friend about the pronunciation of names and how to ensure the correct pronunciation. What started out as an offhand comment snowballed into a full investigation that led to some interesting findings, which I thought I’d share with you…
It’s pronounced Ben
My name is Ben, but every now and then, someone will call me Benjamin. Which is fair enough, as Ben is often the shortened form of Benjamin. Only my name, as specified on my birth certificate, is Ben, as I was named after Big Ben.
However, although the correct form of my name is specified, nowhere is it stated how to pronounce it. Obviously, Ben is pretty difficult to mispronounce, but with other names it can be an issue.
For example, I know a girl called Sascha, and her mother is quite insistent that it should be pronounced ‘sar-sha’ and not ‘sash-a’. But both pronunciations are commonly used and acceptable.
So back to the discussion, my point was: should there be somewhere on the birth certificate to specify the correct pronunciation of a name?
With people’s names, it’s not really that much of an issue - unless you're Elon Musk and Grimes's new baby, X Æ A-12, which is apparently pronounced 'Ex Ash A Twelve'. With most names, you can correct them with the pronunciation and move on. But it got me wondering if companies have to specify the correct pronunciation of their name when registering it?
Trademarking a name
I was surprised to find that there is nowhere in the trademarking process where you specify the correct pronunciation of the company name. The trademark covers the spelling and the logo.
The only time the issue really crops up is if a company in the same industry as you registers a similar sounding name. Even if it is spelled differently, if it sounds similar enough to your name that people could mistake the new company for your company, then you would be able to take legal action against them.
So when it comes to company names, it’s largely open to the interpretation of the public. However, this can often lead to confusion.
I’ve been saying it wrong all this time
A popular one that many people (including myself) regularly pronounce wrong is Nike. Chairman Philip Knight has confirmed the company name, which comes from the Greek goddess of victory, should rhyme with ‘spiky’ and not ‘bike’.
Many foreign brand names have a similar issue, with people lazily guessing the pronunciation from the way it’s written and this wrongly becoming the accepted way of saying the name.
Like most people, I’ve always pronounced Hyundai as 'hi-un-die', but I discovered while researching for this article that it is actually pronounced 'hun-day'. Similarly, Volkswagen is ‘Foaks-vaa-gun’, Givenchy is ‘jhee-von-shee’ and YvesSaintLaurent is ‘eve-san-la-ron’. French high fashion luxury goods manufacturer Hermés is pronounced ‘Air-mez’, but the German delivery company Hermes doesn't have the accent on the E, so they pronounce it 'Her-meez'.
So what’s the solution?
If you’re going for an uncommon name, the only real way to ensure that people pronounce it correctly is to educate them on how to say it. This can be done in a clever and creative way, like this billboard that Allianz created as part of a marketing campaign:
American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd even used their debut album’s title to let people know how to correctly say the band’s name:
Television and radio adverts are also a good way to get the message across, with companies such as Ikea now repeating their name – which is pronounced ‘ih-key-ah’ and not ‘eye-key-ah’ – in their adverts to remind people of the correct pronunciation.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how people pronounce your company name, so long as they remember it. But if it’s really important to you, make sure you let people know.