Style Matters #19: What’s in a name? Quite a lot, really

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Everybody deserves to have their name spelled or spoken correctly.

To see or hear your name, even your nickname, misspelled in writing, or mispronounced on air, is a personal affront and erodes your confidence in the writer/reporter who committed this basic social transgression.

Yet busy reporters and writers do this far more often than they realise.

Sometimes a reporter will misspell a name throughout a feature story or news report. In a busy news production environment, other eyes may not pick up such a consistent error and it may slip through to publication.

On seeing the published error, the subject is immediately offended: “If this reporter couldn’t bother to get my name right, what else is wrong in their story?”

Furthermore, that person’s colleagues, friends and relatives will make similar judgments about the care factor demonstrated. Should the journalist’s bosses catch wind of it, their confidence, too, will be eroded.

Sadly, in busy newsrooms, it’s not that uncommon to see the name of a person spelled more than one way in the same story. The challenge for someone else proof-reading that copy is to know which of the versions is correct. Resolving that uncertainty takes precious time and, rightfully, leaves a distinct impression about the reporter’s care factor.

Yet misspelling names is easily avoided at the outset if the reporter:

  • asks each interviewee to say and spell out their name in full
  • records this carefully
    • if the name is particularly unusual, or the interviewee’s accent particularly heavy, the reporter may even get a face-to-face interviewee to print their name in the reporter’s notebook
  • repeats back to the interviewee the full name and its spelling
  • circles the name on the notebook for referencing when they are putting their story together later

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If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters

 

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2 responses to “Style Matters #19: What’s in a name? Quite a lot, really

  1. Indeed. As someone who often has both my names spelled wrongly by people….I am fanatical about getting others’ names right!

    • With a name like mine, I’ve often had this issue too. But, worryingly as a sub-editor I’ve seen many reporters submit copy with even well-known names misspelled or the same name spelt two or three different ways. What happened to proof-reading your copy before submitting it?

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