So what is the secret? It is quite simple! The best way to learn how to pronounce a name is to Ask the Person! You can do this tactfully without offence. If the person's name is unusual or difficult, do you think you will be the first person to seek clarification?
If you are unsure, ASK the person for clarification, LISTEN CAREFULLY to hear the pronunciation, then REPEAT it back for clarification. I am amazed to see people ask for confirmation then ignore what they heard.
I recently attended a Toastmasters speech contest. During the speaker briefing, the contest chairman reviewed the list of contestants and confirmed the pronunciation of the names.
I was surprised at the difficulty this person showed in mastering the pronunciation. Why was this?
Take the first name of Megan. The owner of this name likes to pronounce it Meg-an, not Mee-gan. This is a common variation. But the chairman didn't really listen and said it wrong. We chimed in "It's Megan.. not Meegan!".
The second incident was with the surname of Dokulil. When you see it written you may wonder about the pronounciation. But it is quite simple. The owner of the name said "It is pronounced as it is written - Dock - oo - Lill". Quite simple.
The third name was a Greek surname of Sofatzis. Once again, let the owner of the name pronounce - So - far - tsis. Easy! Hear it, then repeat to confirm your understanding.
Confirming the pronunciation of a name shows respect to the person and shows you were listening. There are many ways to ask tactfully. Ladies named Karen sometimes prounce it Kar-ren. Sarah is sometimes pronounced Sar-ra. Make sure you use the name as its owner pronounced it to you.
"Do you pronounce your name Karen or Kar-rin". And if you make a blunder with the name when reading out loud, the person will probably tell you the correct way. So listen carefully.
A final reminder of the technique:
- Ask the person to say their name
- Listen carefully
- Repeat the name for confirmation.