Category Archives: language

What’s behind a name?

I facilitate an English roundtable in Luxembourg every Friday, and we discuss professional, social and personal-interest topics. Last month, it was about names; one of the participants mentioned a girl initially called Nutella, a popular hazelnut chocolate spread. I checked it out and came across a Guardian’s article about a couple from Valenciennes in northern France who registered their daughter Nutella ( https://www.theguardian .com/world/2015/jan/26/french-couple-name-girl-nutella seen on 04/052021). The registrar alerted the local prosecutor, who referred the case to a family court judge. The court ruled that Nutella is a commercial brand and such a name was against the girl’s interests as it would cause “mockery or disobliging remarks”. The couple had to rename her Ella, which means a pleasant young woman.

According to Ms Catharine Smith (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/baby-named-facebook-egypt_n_825934 seen 04/05/21), an Egyptian father, Jamal Ibrahim, named his daughter “Facebook” to honour the social media site’s role in Egypt’s revolution. Ms Smith quoted this from TechCrunch newspaper: “A young man in his twenties wanted to express his gratitude about the victories the youth of 25th of January have achieved and chose to express it in the form of naming his firstborn girl “Facebook”. 

In Marcio’s Italian family, all the children’s names start with the letter M.  According to Marie-Pierre, her name’s male version is Pierre-Marie. The Arabic name Shadi means happiness. Do names reflect an individual’s personality? There are studies that show names make a difference in professional, social and financial standing.

My late uncle was Silverio Carangan, Sr. My cousins’ legal names are Silverio Carangan 1st, Silverio Carangan 2nd, and Silverio Caranagan 3rd; to everyone, they’re Ono, Dos, Tres.  I was already eight months pregnant, and my hubby and I couldn’t agree on a name for our firstborn. We decided to play chess; I won two out of three games and had the privilege of naming him Sidney, which is easy to pronounce in almost all languages.

My late parents, Roberto and Adela, named their first daughter Rodela; from this, they came up with four other names by rearranging the letters, and mine was one of them. If you know of another person with the same name as mine, please notify me. So far, the closest is Rolande and Rolanda, which are both of Latin origin and mean “known in the land”. My French acquaintances call me “Rolad” (/ruːˈlɑːd), as the last vowel is not pronounced in the French language. They also have a dish roulade (/ruːˈlɑːd) de boeuf“, which is a filled rolled meat.

S.J. Velasquez’s 2018 write-up spoke about nominative determinism, a theory that people are drawn to jobs matching their names, e.g. Baker for a pastry chef and Dennis or Denise for dentists (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180404-do-our-names-push-us-toward-certain-jobs). Two weeks ago, I grinned watching the French television station TF1’s interview of a restaurateur Didier Desert (“Desert” is pronounced by English speakers as ‘dɪˈzəːt’ (dessert – a sweet course eaten at the end of the main meal, e.g. cheesecake or chocolate mousse).

If you had a funny, weird or embarrassing name, would you change it? If your family name was Head, would you keep your first name Dick knowing that dickhead means a stupid or ridiculous man? You are probably one of those who would go through all the legal fuss to do so.  Many people, however, never change their names. Are there names that employers find, either subconsciously or sentimentally, attractive or ugly?

Ms Stéphanie Thomson’s article revealed the Canadian Ryerson University and University of Toronto’s finding that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to get job interviews than the fictitious candidates with English-sounding names, even when they had the same qualifications (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/job-applications-resume-cv-name-descrimination/). Ms Thomson also mentioned a French government’s conclusion that employers were less likely to interview candidates with North African-sounding names. Likewise, in the UK, “an all-parliamentary group study from 2012 found that women who ‘whitened’ their names or made them sound more British had to send only half as many applications before being invited to interview as those who sounded foreign”, she wrote. 

Has our society progressed in terms of addressing bias and discrimination associated with names? Have you had a good or bad experience because of your name? What’s behind your name?

Training and Learning at Home

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B. King (1925-2015, American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer).

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented teleworking, including banks that used to disallow this for security reasons. In-person staff development training programme came to a halt for a while, then picked up virtually.

Staff development training is still arguably necessary in today’s world because competitiveness and changes are our society’s norms. Therefore, employers should continue providing this even during a lockdown or when their employees work from home. Governments in developed nations subsidise and consider such expense tax-deductible, which is an additional enticement. Though online training may not be cheaper as companies expect and more manageable as learners or participants like it to be, it is worthwhile.

Online training requires at least as much effort and time, and sometimes even more. Trainers need to buy or update their equipment, adjust their practices and style, and deal with disturbances from students’ family situations and technological hiccups. I have heard stories of participants cooking, texting, and feeding cats while on language training. It’s not the moment to multitask! I must admit that I cut my nails and did aerobics during boring webinars that did not allow participants to ask questions (guilty as charged!).

Virtual training can mirror only some face-to-face interactions (i.e. trainers going around the classroom and having water cooler conversation during breaks are impossible to reproduce).

How can teleworkers make the most of their online staff development training? My answer is WALPAH:

W –     Working technology – A (hu) “man is only as good as his tools” is especially true when you are training online: high-speed internet connection, a computer or modern laptop, camera, microphone headset, mouse, etc. (Do you say “I’ve two mouses or two mice? I.T. specialists seem to prefer the former, but the latter is correct, even if this sounds like you’ve pets instead of handheld devices on a flat surface in front of your computer).

A –      Avoid absences and late attendance (However, better late than never).

L –      Learning space should be quiet and tidy.

P –      Participate – ask questions and make comments to the trainer and other participants.

A –      Adapt your learning style – take notes, listen to everyone, read shared messages, and discuss personal views.

H –     Have fun – smile, share appropriate jokes and anecdotes.

How about trainers’ best practice? (I couldn’t come up with an acronym; perhaps you can help me with this).

1. Know and prepare your technology – Ensure a stable Internet connection, clean monitor, working camera and microphone, and mobile and laptop ready on the side in case the main computer fails.

2. Conduct the training in a quiet, disturbance-free and professional-looking environment.

3. Choose a platform that allows for interactivity – Use whiteboard annotations, chat and breakout groups (dividing learners into small groups of two or three).

4. Start the training by welcoming the participants, then providing them with a clear understanding of the session’s scope and content.

5. Meaningful experience – Call participants by their names. When the training is finished, encourage them to share contact information and continue improving their knowledge and skills.

Involve everyone throughout the training by prompting them to ask questions and share anecdotes and knowledge related to the activity.

6. Stick to the schedule – Your participants are professionals who have work and family commitments; therefore, start and end the session on time.

“For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790, stateman – helped draft the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution)

Meanings are in people, not in words?

With globalisation and digitalisation, employees of one organisation often come from many places and cultures. They can have the same mentality driven by their company’s goals and values; however, not all of them automatically think, communicate and behave in the same manner due to such diversity.

Culture is knowledge and characteristics of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, arts, music, cuisine, and social habits. Although language is often the least difficult issue to confront, it can be a source of misunderstanding and unpleasantness at work.

What and how we speak are developed through cultural values and norms we learn directly and indirectly, which is called socialisation. In my recent English language class, a Polish student mentioned that for them “collaboration” is a negative word, i.e. siding with the Nazis – “the collaborators”. So, I suggested the use of “cooperation” or “working with” to avoid offending them.

An acquaintance gets upset every time she hears her colleagues use the word “execute”. These are the online dictionaries’ explanations of execute: a) to carry out fully or do what is required, b) to put to death in compliance with a legal sentence, c) to perform what is required giving validity to it, and d) to make or produce something – such as a work of art –  by carrying out a plan or design.

Why do they dislike the words “collaborate” and “execute”? They grew up in eastern and central Europe where their relatives and compatriots had been victims of collaboration and execution during the Second World War. Exposure to cultural cues and group narratives have contributed to their communication sensitivity.

We all associate words with various things related to our experience and environment. Unintentionally, we bring these moulds to our meeting rooms, offices and social functions that can make communication challenging or awkward.

How should we deal with misunderstanding due to elements of culture and socialisation? What about adapting our words and actions to these differences? Shall we stick to our patterns of behaviour without conflicting with those different from us? We can avoid miscommunication and ambiguity if we understand our history and culture and those of others.

During our first lesson that included a personal introduction, my student said, “I’m what others call a gipsy, but I prefer to be called a Romany”. (This is also spelt “Romani”).  We should ask questions, listen and respect others.

When I was young, my mother used the word “mulatto” to describe those whose one parent is black and the other is white. It was only when I was at university that I realised “mulatto” is offensive to some people.  Similarly, it is politically incorrect to use “half-breed” and “half-caste” to describe those whose parents have different skin colours and national origins. An acceptable phrase is “person of mixed cultures”.

Ethnicity (Cambridge Dictionary’s definition – “a particular race of people, or the fact of being from a particular race of people”), or its adjective “ethnic”, is quite all right for many people; however, it is often considered derogatory in the UK.  Ask the person which term they prefer (some people disapprove the phrase “person of colour”).

I use “foreign” to describe policies, something that comes from another country, or idea that I am not familiar with (strictly for non-human). I frown when a European calls me a “foreigner” because I am not an alien and do not feel and behave as an outsider (have lived longer in France than in my country of origin and been married to a local for nearly four decades).

We have to be open-minded and sensitive in our choice of words. Otherwise, consciously or unconsciously, we make our workplace and global village less desirable.