To ensure professors and students pronounce each other's names correctly, all University of Minnesota system campuses will implement a name pronunciation software into Canvas next month.
The software, called NameCoach, will be integrated into Canvas across the University starting May 7, according to Julie Selander, director of One Stop Student Services. The software will enable students and faculty to upload voice recordings of their names and allow users to hear other users' name pronunciations. The software was purchased last fall, and Canvas users will be able to enter recordings into Canvas profiles or in class rosters.
“We just really feel that there’s some strong benefits to build up the student-faculty relationships and the student-to-student connections and foster a more inclusive and welcoming environment,” Selander said.
The name pronunciation software will be used to help name readers practice pronunciations in preparation for some upcoming commencement ceremonies.
Praveen Shanbhag, the founder and CEO of NameCoach, said the idea for the company came after his sister’s name was mangled during her college graduation.
“We had friends and family there, and we were all excited to see her big moment of recognition, but it was diminished because of this,” Shanbhag said in an email.
Pronouncing names correctly may seem trivial, but many find that pronunciation impacts their classroom experience.
In middle school, third-year student Shaadiah Swenson said her math teacher called her Ms. Swenson because he could never pronounce her first name. It was frustrating for her that people did not try to learn how to pronounce her name correctly. She said she shortened her name to "Diah" to avoid mispronunciation.
“While it may seem like a simple thing, even to people whose names are often mispronounced, saying them correctly can have a big impact on students' everyday experience," Shanbhag said in the email. “Just as there's a subtle but real sense of alienation that happens when your name is mispronounced, there's a subtle but real sense of belonging and familiarity that comes with someone saying it correctly.”
Prior to the conception of this project at the University, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences had been partnering with International Student and Scholar Services to tackle the issue of name pronunciation for commencement. ISSS connected the CFANS commencement readers with a native Chinese speaker at the University to receive in-person coaching on how to pronounce Chinese names.
Bill Ganzlin, the director of student services at CFANS, said the college’s previous model, which asked students to offer the written phonetic pronunciation of their names, didn’t always work.
“It can be challenging for colleges who have a large contingent of international students. ... Unless you’re a native speaker, it can be difficult to pronounce those names correctly,” Ganzlin said.
Political science professor Jane Sumner was also committed to getting students’ names right. In the past, she has had her students provide the written phonetic pronunciation of their names.
“I think that pronouncing someone’s name properly is the bare minimum of giving them human dignity,” Sumner said.
This spring semester, she provided her students with the option of uploading voice recordings of their names using Google Forms. Having students repeat themselves in class is a tremendous burden to put on the students, Sumner said.
“My name is my identity. It is who I am, so it’s like my identity is invalidated or not important when my name is pronounced wrong,” Swenson said.