2014 is the Year of the Horse. It is also Cultural Detective‘s 10th anniversary year (our CD project was born in the Year of the Monkey). Characteristics of the horse are unremitting efforts to improve oneself, communication, kindness, perseverance, and a love of travel—which is definitely in keeping with what the CD Method and our community are all about! May this new year bring out these and more positive traits in all of us!
Do you know that 2014 is Cultural Detective‘s 10th anniversary year? It’s also the 25th anniversary of my company—Nipporica Associates, and the 35th anniversary of my work in the intercultural field! Help us celebrate! Show our authors some love! Send us a greeting and win a one-year subscription to Cultural Detective Online.
The Cultural Detective Worksheet was born back in the early 1980s in Japan, emerging out of the need for a real-time multicultural conflict resolution tool. The Values Lenses came shortly thereafter—what are today termed “negative perceptions” were then called “the dark side,” echoing the Star Wars popularity of the day.
I used Cultural Detective tools in my proprietary work for about ten years with enormous success. Then, around 2002, Shell Oil began saying that Cultural Detective gave them the most highly rated global management training they’d ever experienced—from Nigeria to Malaysia, The Hague to Houston. They told us they wanted us to develop packages for every country in which they did business. While I envisioned nothing so ambitious, I did ask ten of my most esteemed colleagues to develop five “test packages”—Cultural Detectives England, Germany, Japan, Sweden and USA. They were so enthused about this Method and material that more and more admired colleagues asked if they could author packages. Today, the Cultural Detective series includes 65 packages (with several more to be released in the next few months) and an online subscription service.
Our vision was to provide theoretically sound, practical development tools, easy for the lay person to use, effective for beginners and experienced interculturalists, at accessible prices. Our goal was to help build respect, understanding, justice, collaboration and sustainability in this world of ours. Bless you for accompanying us on this journey thus far!
Thank you so much, to all our authors, our customers, certified facilitators, users, colleagues and friends! What a grand adventure it has been! Growing faster than we ever imagined possible, and building intercultural competence in areas we never dared dream of: spiritual communities, universities and study abroad programs, professional associations, NGOs, governments, and business. Over the last ten years, the Cultural Detective Method as been refined, deepened, and broadened—thanks to all of you!
A group of Cultural Detective authors will gather this month—February 2014—in Mazatlán, México to celebrate the project’s 10th anniversary. Other authors are planning events in their locations around the world to commemorate this auspicious occasion. We have started to receive greetings, and I thought you would enjoy seeing a few of them. I’ll post a selection below.
Would you like to get in on the action? Share your greetings? Thank our authoring team? Thank the person who first introduced you to CD? How about if we make it fun?!
10th ANNIVERSARY CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT
Share your greeting with us, and the authors of our favorite submissions will receive a complimentary ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to Cultural Detective Online!
As you already know, Cultural Detective Online is a terrific personal development too. But what you may not know is that the user agreement allows you to project the contents for your students, trainees or coaches—as long as you tell them Cultural Detective Online is a publicly available tool to which they can subscribe, too. As a colleague told me yesterday,
“Why would any intercultural trainer NOT pay $150 for a TWO YEAR subscription to this tool? It gives me access to over 60 packages, allowing me to conduct such a breadth of quality training!”
How to enter? Record a video and upload it to YouTube, then send the url to email@example.com. Alternatively, you can send a photo greeting to that same address. Here’s the first photo we’ve received. It’s a good one, don’t you think? Many thanks to our partners at the International Educators Training Program, Queens University, Canada.
Come on, join in the celebration! Your greeting can be as short as you like, funny or serious. We’d love to hear what Cultural Detective means to you, what difference it’s made for you, what impact it’s had on the field. Perhaps you can share a funny story of cross-cultural miscommunication, or share your success—a Cultural Defective or Cultural Effective! We can’t wait! If this series has meant something to you, please take a moment to let us know.
Send your entries by March 15th, 2014. We will contact the winners by email with instructions on how to redeem their prize of a full year’s access to all the content in CD Online, to use on their own or with their students. We can’t wait to receive your message!
Following are a few of the video greetings that we’ve already received, with a bit of background about each:
Microsoft uses Cultural Detective to coach their international support engineers. The first year they used it, they attributed a 30% increase in customer satisfaction directly to Cultural Detective. The Culture and Communication Program staff is truly inspiring. In the clip below, Shalini Thomas shares her greetings with the Cultural Detective community.
AFS, the international exchange organization with operations in more than 50 countries, has long used Cultural Detective with staff, volunteers, students, and host families. Nearly everywhere I travel, anywhere on our planet, there is almost always someone from AFS in the audience. We are thrilled to know that our leaders of tomorrow are developing intercultural competence through our partnership with AFS! I first met Hazar Yildirim in Istanbul, where he and the AFS contingent there gave me a very warm welcome. Now he’s based in New York. Here is what Hazar has to say:
The Intercultural Development Research Institute (IDRI) is committed to longer-term, sustained development of intercultural competence. Their motto is “coherent theory generates powerful practice.” Thus, it means a lot to me when the co-founder of that Institute, Milton Bennett, says Cultural Detective is a tool that truly translates theory into practice and carries on the heritage of the founders of the intercultural field. I met Milton back in 1982, at the Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC).
The last greeting I’ll share with you here comes from another customer, Atieh International, specialists in emerging and risky markets. “The world of today comes filled with new opportunities hidden in a sea of uncertainty and risk. It is our job to assist our clients to understand and be prepared for the tides and waves, the ebbs and flows in each market, to appreciate the beauty and depth of cultures and diversity and to build sustainable strategies founded on reliable intelligence and trust.” We are privileged to be associated with them. Managing Partner Pari Namazie shares her remarks, below.
Please block some time now to make or record your greeting and send it to us! We are looking forward to hearing from you, and we would especially love to share a gift subscription with you! Our authors work hard, not to pursue monetary wealth, but impassioned by a commitment to the vision of everybody having a voice, sharing their gifts, and realizing their potential. Let them know they have made a difference!
We will post the video greetings we receive to the playlist below. Take a look at those we have so far, including greetings from CIEE, Korn Ferry, and EDS. They are very heartening to watch! We look forward to hearing from you!
- Are you tired of the cold, the ice, and the snow? Is it all getting to be too much, and you’d like a break? Are you longing for some warmth, sunshine, the beach, and vibrant Latin music?
- Have you promised yourself that in 2014 you will spend more time on yourself, invest in your professional development, network with like-minded professionals, or expand your training/facilitation/coaching repertoire?
- Do you realize that global and multicultural competence are requisites in today’s world, and you want to improve these vital skills and learn to help develop them in others?
You can accomplish all these things by joining us in Mazatlán Mexico in February, or in Atlanta Georgia in March for our Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop! Early bird registration rates are available, so now is a good time to secure your seat in one of these workshops.
The Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop receives high accolades from the most experienced interculturalists as well as from those with significant life experience but who are new to the intercultural field. Clients rave about the Cultural Detective Method and use it worldwide. Facilitators love having Cultural Detective in their toolkit. It helps them truly make a difference and secure repeat business from clients—ongoing coaching, training and consulting revenue—as clients commit to the continuing practice that developing true intercultural competence requires.
Many people do not realize that Cultural Detective is flexible enough to integrate nicely with existing training programs—adding depth and practical skills that learners can use immediately and build upon in the future. Participants easily remember the Cultural Detective Method, and can put it into practice when encountering a challenging situation—solving misunderstandings before they become problems!
“It is difficult to exaggerate how fundamentally important Cultural Detective has become for us. The difference between courses we conduct with and without CD is astounding.”
- Chief Academic Officer
“We have achieved, for the first time in my five years working on the Learning and Development team, a 100% satisfaction rating from our learners. Thank you, Cultural Detective!“
- Chief Learning and Development Officer
“Our customer satisfaction rates have increased 30% thanks to Cultural Detective.”
- Customer Support Manager
Click here for details on dates, locations and pricing, and click here for a detailed agenda of the workshop. Sound tempting? Get out of the cold AND spend time developing your effectiveness and employability! We’d be delighted to have you join us! Of course, if you are living somewhere warm, we’d gladly welcome you, too!
Happy New Year! May 2014 bring you health, joy, love, and much success in your endeavors to build respect, understanding, and collaboration across cultures! We so appreciate you being part of the Cultural Detective community!
As we enter into the third year of this blog, I am quite proud of the quality—and the quantity—of what we have been able to provide. Are you curious about which posts were the most viewed in 2013?
- Our top post of 2013 was Research Findings: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace. A very powerful study of 367 employers in nine countries, commissioned by The British Council and conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and IPSOS Public Affairs, found that employers want to hire people with intercultural skills. The most frequently cited intercultural skills these employers desired were the ability to demonstrate respect for others, the ability to build trust across cultures, and the ability to work effectively in diverse teams. This was my first time creating an animated-drawing video, and I am pleased that it was republished widely. The British Council put narration to it and published it on their YouTube channel to help promote the original study, and we published a Spanish language version of the video as well. If you didn’t get a chance to read this important study or view the video summary, don’t miss it.
- Many of you work in virtual teams and across distances, so not surprisingly, our second most popular post of 2013 was 5 Top (Free & Easy) Virtual Collaboration Tools that You May Not (Yet) Be Using. These five virtual collaboration tools attracted broad readership, and in addition so did the summaries of important research on virtual, multicultural team development. I am hoping that by sharing such information we can heighten awareness of the need for cross-cultural skills, and promote understanding that development of these skills requires discipline and practice.
- Our third most popular post of the year was rather surprising to me: 10 Surefire Ways to Divide into Groups. This post gained traction and spread throughout the training and education communities, rather than staying purely within the intercultural space. Perhaps the popularity of this post shows that teachers and trainers are always looking for new-to-them creative techniques. Frankly, I have consulted the list a couple of times myself when designing workshops! It’s so easy to reinforce cross-cultural awareness—even in the ways we divide our learners into small groups.
- I am proud that the post on the Benchmark Statement on Intercultural Competence: AEA was among our top five for 2013. It is a terrific example of an organization committing itself to intercultural competence, developing a strategic plan, and investing in competence development over an extended period of time. If you have not read through the American Evaluation Association’s statement, I urge you to do so. As I said in the original post, some of their definitions are better than some of those provided by interculturalists!
- Rounding out our top-five blog posts of 2013 was a guest post by Joe Lurie, entitled Catalysts For Intercultural Conversations and Insights: Advertisements. Joe authored several of our most popular blog posts last year, all focused on food and eating. In 2013 his top post focused on print- and video-advertising and how to use them in a classroom environment to compare and contrast cultures. As always, Joe, thank you for your contributions to this community, and to building intercultural competence!
A big and very sincere THANK YOU to all our guest bloggers in 2013, and to those whose work we re-posted. And many thanks, also, to those who contributed comments and additional resources, either directly here on the blog, or via our pages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Our community now numbers about 14,000 people, including 130 authors, 420 certified facilitators, a solid group of experienced customers, and an ever-growing group of users and collaborators. Together we can achieve our goals to develop intercultural respect, understanding and collaboration!
We welcome posts by those of you who wish to reach out to our community and aid us in developing intercultural competence in this world of ours. Please contact me about requirements and benefits.
If you are curious what the Cultural Detective project is all about, join us for one of our twice-monthly complimentary webinars. Subscribing to Cultural Detective Online or licensing our print materials does not require certification, but even the most experienced coaches, teachers and trainers rave about our Facilitator Certification Workshops. Sign up for one near you today!
Finally, we would also like to extend our sincere thanks and bring your attention to those who have most frequently referred new readers to this blog in 2013. These, of course, include social media, search engines (Google, Yahoo…), and content curation sites (Scoop.it, Paper.li, Clipboard) that I have not included in the list below. However, this top-15 list shows the broad diversity of contexts and applications for the Cultural Detective Method and materials:
- feel like you belong: sharing the life stories of immigrants, expatriates, and refugees to the United States
- Expat Everyday Support Center: we help expats connect to their worlds
- Zest n Zen/Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach: Global Leadership, International Career, Expat Life, Intercultural Communication
- Jenny Ebermann: coach, trainer, speaker, consultant
- Slovensko drustvo evalvatorjev
- Worldwise: intercultural training and services
- KQED: public media for Northern California
- InCulture Parent: for parents raising little global citizens
- Vekantiebabbels.nl: voor het uitwisselen van je vakantieverhalen
- Southeast Schnitzel: interpreting German-American differences in the Tennessee Valley and beyond
- Intercultural Humanities Manchester
- The Intercultural Communication Center: its all about communication
- Global Minds: consultoría en Colombia
- Blogos: news and views on languages and technology
- ESL: language studies abroad
Thank you all for joining us in this grand endeavor! We hope to see you, dear readers, on this list next year. Let us know what is on your mind, and how this blog can you help further intercultural competence in your corner of the world! Happy New Year!
Many thanks to Cultural Detective author George Simons and his colleague Wiebke Döscher, who have put together a small diversophy game about holiday food habits across cultures and traditions, and offered it free to their colleagues to play as we slip into the New Year.
- If you are in a place where A4 is the standard size paper, download from this link:
- If you use US letter size paper, download from this link:
The clip below is both very funny and a reminder for some of what it feels like to be on the other end of having a “funny name.” It comes from a hugely popular British TV comedy sketch series of the late 1990s —“Goodness Gracious Me”—in which almost the entire cast were British Asians (or “Hounslow Punjabis, to be precise,” as one of the cast members once said). The running gags were about the Asian migrant experience. Many thanks to David Patterson for bringing this clip to our attention.
I share it with you today, Christmas Eve for those of us who celebrate it, in the hopes that it might add some humor to your day, as well as serve as an enjoyable (yet insightful) clip to share with those uncles, cousins or other family members who, despite our love and affection for them, drive us crazy with their stereotypical (racist?) comments during family get-togethers.
This clip is a terrific complement to the video interview I conducted with Dr. Emmanuel Ngomsi on names. Below are the links to those two posts:
“At any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using half of his. Men are more likely to be right-brained (more intuitive) or left-brained (more logical) than women.”
—Ruben Gur, neuropsychologist and one of the study authors
A just-published study of the brain functionality of 949 young people shows striking differences in brain wiring between men and women. The authors of the study suggest that male brains are biologically structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action (motor and spatial abilities), whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes (memory, social adeptness, multi-tasking).
The study of 428 males and 521 females aged 8-22 was conducted by ten colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They used a technique called “diffusion tensor imaging” (DTI), which scans the paths travelled by water molecules around the brain.
“The maps show us a stark difference in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks and women at others.”
—Ragini Verma, researcher
The story is making a big splash in the press and in social media. It is a notable study, however, the main interpretation the researchers and the media seem to be taking from the study is that gender differences are biologically determined. I found such a conclusion very puzzling, because the study results themselves show that differences in brain wiring are not congenital!
The study showed that boys and girls are born with similar connectivity, and that differences in brain pathways between the genders begin to manifest at about 13 years of age, and diverge even further at 17. The study authors attribute this to the time sex begins to become important in a person’s life. I suppose that means the time hormones begin to kick in? But, of course I wondered if the differences emerge during the teenage years because that is about the age that gender socialization really begins to manifest.
Then Kathryn Stillings, our editor, found this article by science writer of the year Robin McKie. Robin explains that the study’s findings actually disprove the authors’ interpretations and reinforce the view that gender differences are the result of acculturation.
“Yes, men and women probably do have differently wired brains, but there is little convincing evidence to suggest these variations are caused by anything other than cultural factors. Verma’s results showed that the neuronal connectivity differences between the sexes increased with the age of her subjects. Such a finding is entirely consistent with the idea that cultural factors are driving changes in the brain’s wiring. The longer we live, the more our intellectual biases are exaggerated and intensified by our culture, with cumulative effects on our neurons. In other words, the intellectual differences we observe between the sexes are not the result of different genetic birthrights but are a consequence of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.”
—Robin McKie, The Observer
I trust you’ll read the study and the various interpretations, and draw your own conclusions. Either way, via biological determinism, acculturation/socialization, or a mix of the two, Cultural Detective Women and Men is a terrific package that delves into gender differences in a practical, dynamic way. It combines beautifully with national, religious tradition or generational packages. We trust you will try it out in your work, to help ensure that the broadest spectrum of cognitive skills are accessed for innovation and effectiveness in our organizations and societies.
More on the New Brain Study
The study’s findings show that the dominant connections in the male cerebrum (top left image above) are within either the left or right hemisphere (blue lines), and the dominant connections for females are between hemispheres (bottom left image/orange lines).
In the cerebellum (right-hand images, lower part of brain) it is just the opposite: the average male brain shows connections between hemispheres while the average female brain has dominant connections within hemispheres.
“Forget right-brain or left-brain thinking. What may be more important from a gender standpoint is back-to-front or side-to-side thinking.”
—Stacey Burling, Philly.com
“The strong link with the cerebellum might make men more action oriented, better at tasks that require quick response time or an ‘I-see-and-then-I-do’ attitude. The side-to-side thinking likely boosts women’s memory and social skills and seems designed, the authors said, to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Communication within the hemisphere facilitates connection between perception and coordinated action,” writes Stacey Burling in her online review of the study in philly.com. Women’s brains “more easily integrate the rational, logical, verbal mode of thinking and the more intuitive, spatial, holistic mode of thinking,” she quotes Gur as saying. “Women’s thinking is likely to be more contextual. Their brains are better connected between their decisions and their memories. For men, memories are memories. Decisions are decisions.”
It is noteworthy that DTI or diffusion tensor imaging provides only indirect measures of structural connectivity and is, therefore, different from the well validated microscopic techniques that show the real anatomy of axonal connections,” says Marco Catani, of London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “Images of the brain derived from diffusion tensor MRI should extreme caution.”
I am curious about the results we’d see of a similar brain study of people older than 22, as I feel we change significantly as we age. This point is echoed by Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg of Oxford University, who attacked the idea that brain connections should be considered as hard-wired. “Connections can change throughout life, in response to experience and learning.” Hopefully the next step of this work will include such a study.
Care to learn more? Click the link above to the abstract of the original study, or read this terrific article from The Atlantic.
A guest post by Joe Lurie
” Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
Like the frog who could not understand the sea because it had never left its pond, so we often cannot see, hear or understand the meaning of behaviors beyond our experience.
So what do you think happened when the following game was once proposed to children in an African community? A basket full of luscious fruit was placed near a tree in the distance, and the children were told that whoever got there first would win the sweet fruits. When they were told to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When asked why they had run like that, as one of them could have had all the fruits for himself or herself, they said: ”UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”
“UBUNTU” in the South African language Xhosa means, “I am because we are.”
Perhaps it was this story that helped me understand the reaction of some Korean journalists on their first field study experience in the United States:
Perhaps, in the spirit of the Nietzsche quote, the Koreans did not hear our music. But then again, perhaps we often do not hear the music of ”Ubuntu.”
I just read a blog post that I found really interesting. It explains a bit about me from a perspective I hadn’t really thought about before. And, I feel it speaks to many Blended Culture people of the world. What is “Blended Culture”?
“The term ‘Blended Culture’ is used to describe individuals who, by birth, upbringing, and/or adult experience hold multiple frames of cultural reference within themselves. These individuals may include those who have extensive international life experience or those whose exposure to different cultures took place within a single national context.”
—Cultural Detective Blended Culture
The blog post I so enjoyed was written by Matthew Schuler and is entitled, Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense. In it Matthew summarizes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People.
I remember reading Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, but I don’t remember him talking about the nine points Matthew summarizes. Perhaps it’s just that I read the book too long ago.
You perhaps admire Csikszentmihalyi, as I do. He is a seminal professor of Psychology and Management, and the Founding Co-Director of the Quality of Life Research Center at the Claremont Graduate University. His work focuses on happiness and creativity, and he is the architect of the concept of flow.
In his blog post Matthew quotes Csikszentmihalyi:
“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”
Matthew shares with us nine contradictory traits frequently present in creative people. I am of the opinion that they are traits frequently present in Blended Culture people as well. To amplify that definition:
“Blended Culture: people who have had the experience of a culturally varied life, and who have integrated their multicultural experiences into a Blended Culture value set, and who are relatively high-functioning (constructive) despite the complex influence their Blended Culture values exert on their decisions and behaviors.”
—Cultural Detective Blended Culture
- Energetic yet quiet/concentrating
- Smart and naïve
- Playful and productive, responsible and irresponsible
- Fluently alternate between fantasy and reality
- Humble yet proud
- Passionate yet objective about their work
- Have experienced suffering and pain, and found joy and life within it
Please let me know what you think in reading Matthew’s post, about the correlation between Blended Culture and Creative People behaviors. Perhaps the mere reality of having to, on a daily basis, reconcile oft-competing realities provides BC people ongoing practice with the creative experience? What do you think? At a minimum, it motivates me to want to read this other book! Those who have read it: please, tell us what you think.
Our first blog post on Names Across Cultures hit powerfully and emotionally for so many of you! A few typical comments include:
“Names are part of a person’s identity. If people ‘get it’ across cultures we often feel they ‘get’ us, too.”
“We can’t know all languages or accents or tones, now could we? Having said this I would consider it wrong to be forced to change a name because someone can’t pronounce it—are you kidding? Why should the weakness or inability of one (the name changer) be even acceptable?!”
“My name is a point of pride for me. Even though nearly nothing about me screams ‘I’m a Korean immigrant,’ my name tells a very interesting story about who I am. I suppose my life would be marginally easier and I’ve probably gotten looked over for a handful of jobs because of the ‘foreignness’ of my name, but I like it. It’s unique and it’s me.”
“Changing people’s names was another turn of the screw in the arsenal of tricks that the colonial powers used to subjugate people under their dominion.”
- Feel they are avoided at parties and gatherings because others find their names hard to pronounce. “People are embarrassed to mispronounce my name, so they sometimes avoid me altogether.” Talk about insidious discrimination!
- Have had others correct their pronunciation of their own name! “Such arrogance! How dare they! Do they even look at signatures on emails? They invariably correct me!” Sadly, this wasn’t just one person sharing this experience with us.
- Have been told their name is “wrong,” because it’s a man’s name not a lady’s, or because its origins are in a certain language and this is how it SHOULD be pronounced.
- Express the opposite opinion: “Many of us actually mispronounce our own name without knowing it. People who live in countries with a long history of immigrants and their intermarriage, will in due time pronounce a name according to what their ‘new’ language has taught them. Is this now wrong? Well, maybe to some degree yes, but since the new pronunciation is not something done out of maliciousness but rather due to having been told of it wrong.”
- Proclaim, “Those of us with unusual names need to stand our ground!”
- “I am waiting for the day I can go back to my roots and not cringe every time someone speaks to me!”
- “I prefer to have people change my name than butcher (by mispronouncing) my name!”
- Advise, “Forget my last name; use my first!” (or vice-versa) for ease in pronunciation.
- Are happy to have a different name for the varied contexts in which they live and work.
- “If someone calls me Karinka, or makes up another name that is easier for them, or pronounces my name incorrectly, I do not mind at all. I myself am certainly not in a position to pronounce everybody’s names properly, and I know how difficult it can be.”
- “It is all relative. When people ask me ‘What is your name?’ I say ‘Marianne.” The spelling stays the same but I pronounce it differently: Marianne (pronounced the German way), Mary Ann (the English way) or Ma Li An (pronounced the Chinese way). Personally I like to make people comfortable in my presence and have no preference how people pronounce my name.”
- “My name is Robert. I call myself Rob. In Egypt I’m Mr. Rob, in Finland I am Roope, in China I’m Lobert’t, and in Japan I’m Lobba. I answer to them all, and I’m comfortable with them all. But, then again, I am an intercultural trainer.”
- “I had a friend in China and was trying really hard to pronounce his name in Chinese, except he got mad at me. He wanted to be called by his self-assigned English name, and considered it rude that I was even trying to pronounce his name in Chinese.”
- Find the whole thing amusing, and leverage the pronunciation difficulties as a method to build relationship and understanding: “I really don’t mind you butchering my name. I understand: Höferle is hard to say if you are unfamiliar with the German language. Changing my last name’s spelling to the English keyboard-friendly Hoeferle also hasn’t helped. It made for funny moments, though. Something sounding awfully close to ‘hopefully’ or ‘hofferly’ has been the usual outcome in recent years. No matter how often I tell people to just forget about saying my last name and instead stick with Christian, they still try to get it right. Which is a really nice gesture, I think.” Bravo! Christian even, most kindly, sent us a link to his blog post on names and a link to learn more about pronouncing names with umlauts.
- Comment, “My last name has been spelled, Simons, Simmons, Simms, Symonds, Simonis, Simon, Simone—sometimes two or more versions in the same document. I find this more annoying than mispronunciation, which I am used to and expect, given that I am widely traveled and have lived in a number of countries, and realize that different language speakers use their own preferences for how the vowels sound. Misspelling can make authentication of documents difficult. Sometimes my family name is taken as a first name in documents and George(s) becomes my last name.”
- Share with us, “US immigration officers in the 19th and early 20th centuries were not beyond renaming immigrants on the spot, crossing out ‘Walentinowicz’ and writing in ‘Walters.’ Catholic Baptisms were conducted in Latin years ago, and it was required that a Saint’s name be given a child. There is no St. Nancy, so my cousin was named Venantia Fortunata (which I never let her forget).”
- “Dutch speakers use their digraph ij pronunciation which is the wrong pronunciation for my surname, as the languages are not even remotely related. Ironically, English language has roots in Anglo Frisian, yet native English speakers seem to have more difficulty with pronouncing my surname than just about any other heritage speaker. I can understand difficulties arising from having no equivalent sounds in other languages, but can not fathom where anyone gets the additional consonants…”
- And the humorous, “I once dated a guy who couldn’t pronounce my name properly, even though his former girlfriend of seven years was also called Kaisa. No need to say it didn’t last long…”
Readers very much enjoyed the quiz we put together, and shared with us another name to add to it: by what far more famous name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle known? (answer at the bottom *)
There was obviously a broad range of responses from one imaginable end of a continuum to another—just begging for someone to conduct research into naming and our responses to name changes, spelling and pronunciation across cultures.
- A lot of resentment around computer systems not having non-”standard” letters, because it means that people’s names often show up with strange characters in them, rather than being spelled correctly (“BrÃ¼nnemann” not “Brünnemann”). “I do wonder when big, supposedly ‘international’ organisations or institutes do not even have their software in a position to spell international names,” said one of our community members. We know first-hand. It seems every other week one of our web pages has spontaneously changed to show strange rather than correct characters in one of our author’s names!
- “Dear marketers and copywriters: Inserting umlauts into your American brand names, logos or slogans may help you create some awareness. But it will also let you look really ignorant of other languages and cultures.”
- “I do have a problem when, for example, I read in a Peruvian paper, ‘Principe Carlos,’ where both the word ‘Prince’ and ‘Charles’ were translated into Spanish. It would have been OK if it were only Principe Charles. Why did they not stop there? Why not call Michael Jackson ‘Miguel HijoDeJacobo’? I know the reason behind it, btw, nevertheless I find it amusing.”
- “It’s so unfortunate when people and institutions feel they need to change the spelling of my name. Went to vote today in the NYC primaries and somehow my name got automatically changed to Bo Y. Kang. I have never written my name like that and I’m super duper conscious of getting the whole Bo Young part right under the section that says First Name so that they realize that’s my first name. I always leave the Middle initial section completely blank. Other ways my name gets written even after I’ve spelled it correctly:
- The magical hyphen: Bo-Young Kang
- The other magical hyphen: Bo Young-Kang
- The switcharoo: Bo Kang Young (and all its variations Kang Bo Young, Young Bo Kang, Kang Young Bo, Young Kang Bo)
- The disappearing game: Bo Kang
- The other disappearing game: Bo Young (this one I don’t mind so much because it’s technically correct, just missing a part)
- The condenser: Boyoung Kang
- The other condenser: Bo Youngkang
- And those are just the ones that include all the right letters. You don’t even want to get me started on the Bow, Boo, Booh, Yung, Ying, Yong, Kan, Li, Rhee variations I get all the time.
- My name isn’t that hard. It’s spelled exactly like it sounds.”
- Rhymes and mnemonics you’ve made up to help people learn to pronounce your name: “ Over the decades I’ve created stories to help people pronounce my name—’Think of going to the MALL. After a long day of shopping, you need a cup UH TEA. One year ago, someone blithely said, ‘Oh, your name rhymes with ‘Quality.’ Now when I meet someone, I introduce myself cheerfully: ‘Hi, my name is Malati. It rhymes with ‘Quality.’ This immediately releases the tension. ’Rhymes with Quality’ is on my email signature, business cards, nearly anywhere my name appears!”
- “An interesting way to learn about a new acquaintance can be to ask the meaning and origin of the person’s name. Every nation has a trend of calling up by some peculiar name which helps a lot for better communication and understanding.”
- “Years back while in Nigeria the head of the Media Department there was Igbo. One time I listened carefully and repeated his family name again and again and could never get it right—though it did sound the same to my year (and herein lies an importance to note) I could not do so. Time passed, making myself more familiar to the language so I tried again, and once more I could not achieve it. More time passed with the same negative results. He would smile at me every time I pronounced his last name, knowing I had it wrong but was at least genuinely trying. He was also nice enough to let me know I was the one who came closest to it and that no one before or after me ever tried so hard. Just so you know, the Igbo language is one of the few languages that actually has sounds going in (like inhaling) when speaking.”
- “I actually take great pains myself to repeat until I have someone’s name correct if it is ‘foreign’ to me … surely this is a minimum sign of respect!!!”
- “Your link to audioname.com is a terrific resource, and I recommend all in this community adopt its use. If your name is not hard to pronounce, you can use your 30-second audio-byte to talk about the origins of your name. It will encourage others to use this and help make our world more pronounceable and accommodating.”
The common theme, however, is BE CAREFUL WITH NAMES. Ask! Show respect. Discuss and don’t assume. And definitely avoid changing someone’s name without their permission; it’s a rare person who loves a nickname or name change that has been “assigned” or “imposed.”
I have one more video clip to share with you, from my interview with Dr. Emmanuel Ngomsi. In this short clip, he tells us how names are traditionally given in his home, Cameroon.
A common characteristic of many cultures around the world is the importance placed on naming a child. Factors that may be considered might include gender, birth order, astrological factors, family tradition, naming the child after a parent or beloved relative, date of birth, or characteristics valued in the birth culture or family and with which those naming the child want to imbue the newborn, among a wide variety of others. In some traditions family members do not share a family name. Do the parents choose a child’s name? Do the grandparents? Is there some ceremony in which the child chooses his/her own name? Does the state dictate selection from an official list of acceptable names, as has been the case in Iceland?
Here’s the video:
* Answer: Mata Hari
Please do share with us your further reactions, experiences, stories and advice. It is obviously a topic that merits some study as well as some training.