An end to graduation name reading misery?

As graduation season approaches at universities around the country, deans and other name-readers will be eagerly anticipating learning and then announcing many interesting and varied names as students process across the stage for their moment in the spotlight.

As anyone who has been involved in graduations knows though name reading is one of the more challenging elements of the ceremony and can cause some distress for graduates and their families if it goes horribly wrong (as it occasionally does). But now, for heads of school, deans, pro-vice-chancellors and other name readers, who have to work so hard to prepare for graduation (and to whom I remain eternally grateful) an end to pronunciation misery is at hand. ‘NameCoach’, which was developed by Stanford University graduates, provides a means of collecting correct pronunciations for name readers so they are sure to get it right first time. As the promo says:

Name Pronunciation Made Simple

Student audio name recordings collected on the web and delivered to your fingertips for easy learning and flawless ceremonies. Don’t let mangled names ruin their commencement. And don’t let figuring them out ruin yours.

And here is one happy customer:

You know my name…

Princeton is just one of over 100 universities, including Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Virginia, which has adopted the technology:

“The University community wishes to pronounce your name correctly,” University Registrar Polly Griffin wrote in an email to graduate and undergraduate students. In her email, Griffin explained that advisors and administrative staff will be able to listen to the voice recording and view the phonetic spelling provided by students. This information can also be linked to class rosters along with other PeopleSoft Student Records pages.

Griffin said that NameCoach will help build stronger relationships between students and faculty.

“Our hope is that NameCoach will facilitate a respectful and appropriate use of one another’s — correctly pronounced — names,” she said.

Look up a number

This broader benefit of proper pronunciation were articulated by one senior academic at Princeton:

Dean of Forbes Residential College Patrick Caddeau also noted that the service will help the University community recognize the diversity of its student population.
“We are fortunate to have so many different nationalities, languages, and perspectives represented on campus and it will be very helpful for anyone to get immediate assistance in correctly pronouncing a name with which they might be unfamiliar,” he said.
The service will benefit students whose names are often mispronounced. Since advisors and professors will know the correct pronunciation of students’ names beforehand, students will not have to awkwardly correct, or worse, hear their names mispronounced repeatedly.

So, it looks like there is a way to ensure that every name will be pronounced correctly at graduation. And in its wider application the tool also enables anyone who comes into contact with a student understand the correct pronunciation of their name throughout their time at university, not just at graduation. Will it catch on in the UK?

2 responses to “An end to graduation name reading misery?

  1. Been using it at Birkbeck, University of London for some years. Not all difficult names to pronounce make a recording and you still have to remember the pronunciation on stage! Nevertheless it is a useful tool.

  2. kudos for getting this story into mainstream media:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44601199

    A solution would be to introduce some Latin into degree ceremonies, thereby Latinising the graduate names. Pronouncing everyone’s name wrong (ie differently) takes away all the stress and illustrates the utility of what appear to be arcane methods.

    Hail Paulus autem Greatrix Registrarium ad University de Notingham, auctor Registrarism

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