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I Requested a Company-Wide Name Pronunciation Tool to Help All People Be Seen and Heard—and 2U Listened

Written by Poonam A. Ribadia on Apr 14, 2022

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Life at 2U

Faces and names of individuals from across 2U

For my entire life, my name, Poonam A. Ribadia, has been a crude joke—an offensive punchline, a form of harassment and bullying, a triggering and anxiety-inducing 14-lettered proper noun. And by many people I’ve known or interacted with over the years—classmates, teachers, interviewers, colleagues, customer service representatives, doctors, and so on—my name has been mispronounced, misspelled, or confused for another Brown person far too many times for me to count.

Though I used to feel shame and embarrassment about my name, I’ve worked through some healthy “unlearning” of those feelings and am finally proud and unapologetic of it. I no longer anglicize my name for others' convenience. Instead, I’ve come to appreciate its deep family history and meaning, which in Sanskrit translates to “full moon.” I now embrace it as a vital aspect of my identity.

While I’ve come to peace with my name, you never know who may be struggling with their identity. Pronouncing every person’s name correctly is the first step in connecting, respecting, and appreciating one another. Our names are an extension of who we are and can be intimately connected to our cultural heritage and unique backgrounds. Given my personal experience—and 2U’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives—I knew it was important to find a way to create a more seamless understanding of name pronunciation to help all people feel seen. Bringing a tool like NameCoach to 2U was a no-brainer. And when I presented the opportunity to the company, leadership across 2U approved.

Examples of 2U email signatures (mine and 2U's brand-new Chief People Officer Adam Drudge) featuring the NameCoach icon, which you can click on to hear us pronounce our names.

Strengthening DEI with NameCoach

NameCoach is a simple and straightforward tool that 2U has integrated across our company’s Google Workspace. Created with the goal to promote respect and inclusion in every human interaction, NameCoach lets individuals easily listen to their colleagues' names and also record how their own name should be pronounced for others to hear. Platforms like LinkedIn have similar built-in name pronunciation tools, but a tool like NameCoach that becomes part of your email signature offers immediate context in the midst of where a lot of business interactions still take place.

I first became aware of NameCoach two summers ago, when I had just started a new role on a new team and was reading through an email from one of 2U’s new university partners. I was in the middle of triple-checking everything before my first meeting with them when I noticed a little button in an individual’s email signature that read “hear my name.” Naturally, I clicked it to see what would happen.

To my surprise, the name I thought I already knew how to pronounce—one of my Indian relatives has the same name—wound up sounding different than I expected. (Fun fact: India has hundreds of languages and dialects!) I spent a lot of time afterwards thinking about how I could leverage NameCoach to help change a reality that causes long-lasting pain for so many people.

Initiative and Perseverance Pays Off

That fall, I decided to finally do something: I emailed Chip Paucek, 2U’s co-founder and CEO, letting him know about NameCoach and encouraging him to consider it for use company-wide. The integration with our internal systems took some time, but when Millette Granville, 2U’s VP of DEI, announced the roll-out of NameCoach to all employees last fall, it was one of the proudest moments in my professional career. Many people across the company have since reached out, thanking me for my initiative and perseverance. It even led me to win one of 2U’s “Cherish Each Opportunity” No Back Row Awards last year. But the fact that it’s making a tremendous impact with my colleagues is its own reward.

For all other DEI-minded employers out there, no matter who works with or within your organization, I encourage you to adopt a tool like NameCoach for your employees to use, just like 2U has. It may be one tiny email button that’s quick and easy to set up, but it can make a huge difference in fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace. The tool reduces the burden of constantly having to correct people’s mistakes—and lets others proactively take steps to ensure they’re respecting the people they work with on a daily basis.

And for all other folks who have unique and beautiful identities and names, just Iike I do, please remember this: Be proud of your name. In face-to-face interactions, say it loud. Enunciate it. Take the time to repeat it, if needed, and don’t apologize for doing so. And keep correcting the people who don’t absorb it, for whatever reason—until they do.

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help partners thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.