What's in a name?

30 September 2022

Jainna Bhalla, Leonardo Project Management Degree Apprentice at our Basildon site, and Comms Lead & Secretary of our Ethnicity Inclusion network group, explains the importance of getting people’s names right, and the consequences of name discrimination, during National Inclusion Week.

Q: What belongs to you but others use it more than you do?
A: Your name.

Our names have significance, they have power and they define who we are. However, despite these factors, name discrimination often arises. It is a form of prejudice where an individual is negatively discriminated against because of their name. This can arise from improper pronunciation, misspelling or stereotyping individuals based on their name, and can undermine a person’s value and your integrity towards them.

I was inspired by the recent #OurNamesBelong media campaign, which aims to acknowledge and tackle the name discrimination that many people experience. Sometimes, name-related micro-aggressions are unintentional, but that does not lessen their impact. Such behaviours can make an individual feel more segregated and isolated, or less valued in their team. It consequently creates an unhappy workplace for them where they feel like they cannot be themselves or be open about their culture.

Unfortunately, I have experienced micro-aggressions towards my name multiple times, and after a while it does begin to have a negative impact. I understand my name may appear to be challenging for some people to pronounce, and some people may make an honest mistake - which is okay! However, when it is constant and there is no effort or care, it does begin to feel intentional and discriminatory. It may seem small, but by constantly getting someone’s name wrong, does make it feel like they aren’t valued as much.

Some tips for avoiding name discrimination

At Leonardo, we are committed to inclusion for everyone, and strive to create a safe workplace environment where all our people feel respected and appreciated – something that can be undermined by name discrimination.

Through my role with the company’s Ethnicity Inclusion network group, we are working to make our colleagues more aware of this. We advise that when meeting someone for the first time – either face-to-face or virtually – you introduce yourself and then allow the other person to introduce themselves, listening carefully to how they pronounce their name. If you are struggling with the pronunciation or spelling, there is no harm in asking them to repeat it so you can ensure you are giving them the respect they and their name deserve. Making a note of the phonetic spelling can often help you to remember, too.

It is not just names that workplace micro-aggressions can stem from. Sam Bone, Leonardo L&D Business Partner and Chair of our Pride network group, has previously spoken about the importance of getting colleagues’ pronouns right.

“There’s something irritating about being called the wrong pronoun every single day, and you end up thinking ‘how many times do I correct them?’. I’d had to deal with this all my life, but when I entered the workplace, I decided I’d no longer roll over for it. Ultimately, if you don’t understand that I use ‘they/them’ pronouns, and you don’t understand that I’m non-binary, then you don’t understand me! It’s a fundamental part of who I am,” explained Sam.

During 2020, in order to help all our colleagues, Leonardo rolled-out email signatures featuring pronouns. Sam added: “I’ve seen how this approach has directly benefited other employees too, including one of my now best friends, who is also non-binary. They’d previously been very reluctant to come out as non-binary and use alternative pronouns, simply because they didn’t know how the company would react.”

During National Inclusion Week 2022, Jainna and Sam hosted a webinar for Leonardo colleagues on the importance of names and pronouns. Learn more about the work of all our network groups.

Inclusion & Diversity

National Inclusion Week 2022

As part of Leonardo’s commitment to making inclusion an everyday reality, we're marking National Inclusion Week (NIW) from 26 September to 2 October 2022 with an exciting line-up of activities across our UK sites to continue to raise awareness of our Inclusion and Diversity programme.