Names Across Cultures (First in a Series of Video Interviews with Authors!)

Name ChangesThere are many reasons people change their names: some people have a stage name, pen name, nickname, religious name, or an earned title or name. All too frequently, however, a name is involuntarily changed when someone immigrates, or when a teacher or teammates have trouble pronouncing the person’s birth name.

Many of us work with individuals who have been “renamed” by other colleagues, or who have changed their names to make them more palatable and pronounceable in a new location. Other times people adopt a different name due to a change in circumstance, profession, or age. For example, as a kid growing up in a small town, my father was called “Charlie:’ however, as a middle-aged adult living in a different town, he became known as “Chuck.”

Many people’s names have special meaning or significance. An interesting way to learn about a new acquaintance can be to ask the meaning and origin of the person’s name. And, if we wish to build trust with our friends and colleagues, in addition to understanding the meaning of their names, we can learn to pronounce their names correctly. You may recall that in January 2012 we shared a link for a handy-dandy little software that allows YOU to record the pronunciation of your name, and add it to your email signature, website, LinkedIn account, etc. What a great way for those unfamiliar with your name to hear it prior to meeting you!

Perhaps you, like me, are known by several different names bestowed on us by friends and colleagues. Dianne is the name given to me by my parents at birth, while my name in Japan is Dai-an (大安 or “great peace”, also a very auspicious day of the month). My Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues call me Diana María, and close friends and family call me Di. In my case, I’d rather be known as “Diana” or “Dai-an” than have my birth name “Dianne” mispronounced.

In many cultures, such as Mexico where I live, it is a sign of cariño or affection to bestow a nickname on others (click here for a list of some unusual terms of endearment in various languages). However, many people worldwide love their birth names, believe they are imbued with power, and would honestly prefer we not change their names for them.

Yet some people do want to change their name for various reasons, and have done so. Here’s a special little drag-and-drop game for you, to see if you can match some famous people’s birth names with the names they are more commonly known by now.

I recently spoke with Dr. Emmanuel Ngomsi, a diversity consultant originally from Cameroon, about the topic of naming. Emmanuel has a wealth of experience, is very passionate, and a consummate storyteller, as you’ll see in the interview below.

Do you have a story related to naming that you’d be kind enough to share with us? Have you changed your name, or has it been changed for you? How do you feel about that? Do you have any advice for others about names and naming?

See Part 2 of this interview.