Psychology department starts faculty name pronunciation initiative

SGPS Equity and Diversity Commissioner speaks to importance of initiative

“Names are often really, really important to someone's identity.”
Photo: 

Uncertainty surrounding the pronunciation of faculty members’ names is being eliminated by multiple departments at Queen’s.

Queen’s Department of Psychology’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee spearheaded the Name Pronunciation Project in April 2022. The initiative encourages professors to add the pronunciation of their names to department websites.

Dr. Sari Van Anders and Dr. Michelle Morningstar of the committee proposed the project and brought it to fruition within the psychology department. This initiative aims to ensure faculty members are respected—fostering a sense of belonging.   

The SGPS Equity and Diversity Commissioner Jane Mao brought the project to a larger scale by introducing the initiative to new departments, starting with the education department.

Names can reflect a lot about someone’s positionality—the social and political context that constructs one’s identity—Mao said in an interview with The Journal.

According to Mao, mispronunciation of names can stem from a place of bias.

The 2021 Student Experience Survey found only 50 per cent of students reported feeling welcome and supported by fellow students, regardless of their background.

“I have no doubt faculty of colour feel out of place when their names are so commonly mispronounced, even if it's not a microaggression,” Mao said.

“The fact that people often won't take a moment to learn our faculty members' name is really unfortunate.”

Including pronunciation guides for faculty members incentivizes students to correctly pronounce their professor’s and TA’s names. This reduces the harm caused when someone’s name is mispronounced, Mao said.

“It is really important that we take a proactive approach to show that people of color deserve to be on this campus, and we can just start with this project.”

Mao said others have even mispronounced their last name, despite it being a “famous” Chinese last name. 

“I can't even imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn't have a really common last name.”

Some professors implemented the change, and others opted not to.

Mao hopes to grow the initiative and bring it to more departments and faculties, starting with philosophy, development studies, gender studies, and sociology—as these departments have existing EDI mandates in place.

“Regardless of people's intentions, the harm that is caused when someone's name is mispronounced is the impact of their actions,” Mao said.

Mao hopes the integration of name pronunciation to faculty websites can become a university-wide undertaking in the future.

“If something like this can be integrated across the university, hopefully, a lot more people can feel that sense of belonging we all yearn to feel.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.