Skip to content

Mispronouncing student names can impact learning motivation and sense of belonging

Consistently mispronouncing a student’s name can impact on their learning motivation and sense of belonging, according to research by Nottingham Trent University (NTU).

Woman holding a blank name badge
Students did not want to appear troublesome by correcting their name pronunciation

The small-scale Say My Name study, funded by the British Academy, sought to explore how pronunciation of names is experienced by students and the staff who interact with them.

It was conducted through a survey of higher education institutions and one-to-one interviews with ten staff and 20 students from a variety of UK universities.

The students revealed that they see pronunciation of names as an issue of respect, equality, and inclusivity, and appreciated any efforts to try to say their name correctly.

But the power imbalance been themselves and staff meant they were often reluctant to correct any mispronunciation – they worried about being seen as troublesome. Some students felt that persistent mispronunciation of their names impacted their motivation to learn and their relationships with staff.

For their part, staff revealed that they would often use their own strategies to improve their pronunciation of students’ names, such as Googling and making notes. It was felt that it shouldn’t be up to students to have the confidence to correct their educators. Some staff felt that students may worry that correcting their lecturer might affect their grades.

It was also suggested that central support for pronouncing names would be useful, resulting in the creation of a Say My Name, Ten Top Tips guide created by the researchers. Advice includes making use of online pronunciation resources and asking students how to say their name, but outside of group settings to save any embarrassment among peers.

Dr Hannah Deakin-Smith, project researcher from NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “It’s important not to avoid saying the student’s name or altering it to make it easier. Ask them privately how to pronounce their name and make an audio recording so you will remember it. We could all normalise preferred pronunciations by including an audio-recording of our own name in our email signatures.”

The survey of 31 higher education institutions revealed that only two had a formal policy or guidance on the pronunciation of students’ names, both related solely to graduation. Thirteen institutions reported some individualised practices by educators and some ad hoc ‘activities’ relating to the pronunciation of students’ names, again mostly related to graduation.

The research therefore also recommends a ‘whole university’ approach to the issue through training for all university staff, induction for all students, the use of software designed to aid the correct pronunciation of names - not just at graduation – and the integration of such software with student records systems.

Dr Jane Pilcher, Associate Professor of Sociology at NTU and lead researcher, said: “This research was carried out with higher education institutions but there are lessons here for all education settings with culturally diverse student populations.

“We see that it’s important for a student’s sense of belonging for staff to correctly pronounce their name. The staff we spoke to were aware of this and wanted to improve their skills but felt they needed more support from their institutions, hence the production of the guide and our recommendations for centralised policies on name pronunciation.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked second best university in the UK in the Uni Compare Top 100 rankings (2021/2022). It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with nearly 39,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked 4th most sustainable university in the world and 1st in the UK for sustainability-themed Education and Research in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Mispronouncing student names can impact learning motivation and sense of belonging

Published on 4 October 2022
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418