Not so in North America.
Here, I already know that people will not understand my name the first time I say it. It’s just not something that they expect to hear. It’s not long or particularly hard to pronounce, once you understand what I am saying, but something about it seems not to compute. So, I always have to say it at least twice. I don’t mind, really. I actually appreciate it when others make an effort to say my name correctly.
I do my best to help people remember my name and how to pronounce it. At conferences I always hold up my name tag as I say my name, and that usually helps. I put my name on every page of my handouts and slides, so students and talk attendees don’t have to to work hard to remember. On my website, part of my “personal” page is devoted to the etymology of my name, and there is even an audio of me saying it.
Another characteristic of my name is that it doesn’t end with an “-a” or “-ie” sound. In fact, it has basically all of the characteristics of a male name that are discussed in this article about boys’ and girls’ names that you should all go and read. So maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that most people who have only seen my name in print assume that I am a man. That is depressingly common.
I can’t decide if I think that it helps me or not. I often think that being mistaken for a man is good for me—that people take my scholarship more seriously and judge it purely on merit. But then, more often than you might think, I meet someone for the first time, and they blurt out “oh, I thought you were a man,” and I can almost see them mentally readjusting their expectations. On the few occasions when I’ve asked why, the answer was either “it’s something about your name,” or “because you write like a man” (whatever that means). This kind of exchange always catches me off guard.
I am going to go ahead and assume that if you are a Tenure She Wrote reader, you might not say such a thing to a person. But biases are hard to get rid of, and I think many of us form opinions about someone’s gender and origin based on their name. They are important to acknowledge, as a first step to fighting the bias. Some things are easy to change. If you are introducing someone at a conference talk or at a campus visit, for the love of god, google them ahead of time so you’re not visibly surprised that they are a man/woman, and ask them how to pronounce their name instead of mangling it up in front of a large audience.
If you are a teacher and have students with unusual names, learn (or ask them to teach you) how to pronounce their names when you first meet them. Recognize that we are all likelier to pay more attention to people whose names we know. As a student, I would sometimes have the feeling that teachers were not calling on me because they didn’t remember my name. These days, I get that feeling when I raise my hand at conferences, but the moderator instead calls on “John” or “Jane.”
I wonder if perhaps all female scholars have a “weird sounding name” problem, to some degree. It seems to be a phenomenon, at least among my acquaintances, that male scholars’ names come to mind more easily than female scholars’ names. I have sat on organizing committees for conferences and colloquia where potential invitees’ names were thrown around, and the first 5-10 were invariably male. Women’s names eventually came up, but much later and sometimes only after pressure from some of the organizers that the gender balance was not quite there. This undoubtedly contributes to the all-male panel problem: we go with our first instinct, where really we should slow down and give it a bit more thought. And there is an easy way to start fighting this problem: learn to pronounce those less common names! Keep in mind that they may take a moment longer to be retrieved from memory. And give yourself that extra minute that your brain needs to do its job.