Why Can’t My Neighbor Pronounce My Name?

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Dear Miriam, 

My neighbor doesn’t know how to pronounce my name. I am not friends with him, and essentially our only interaction is that he says hi to me by name (incorrectly) each morning. Not only do I not know how to correct for this, but, in a funny twist, I also don’t know how to pronounce his name, so I always just respond with “Have a good day.” What’s the best way either to fix this or resign myself to an awkward interaction forever?


Neighborly Names 


Dear Names, 

Sometimes there are problems that don’t need fixing. This might be an exercise in relinquishing control, or embracing imperfection, or feeling empathy for someone else’s shortcomings. Your morning greeting could serve as a daily reminder that you are lucky to have kind neighbors and that you aspire to be a good neighbor, or it could be a daily reminder that no matter how much you know, you’re never done learning. 

But since “let it go,” doesn’t make for a very satisfying advice column, there are, of course, other options as well. Bringing someone with you at the time of day you normally see your neighbor could work well. Introduce your spouse/friend/co-worker and hope your neighbor reciprocates by saying his own name. To really make this work, your co-conspirator will also need to be prompted to say your name at least a couple of times in the neighbor’s presence.

Another much more elaborate option could be something like a neighborhood get-together or block party, complete with nametags and introductions. This probably would be a longer-term project that wouldn’t resolve your name issue immediately, but I’m sure there are other neighbors who don’t all know each other, and beyond your immediate issue, community-building is itself a positive outcome. 

Finally, on the opposite side of the spectrum, you could just be extremely upfront and honest and clear the air. Next time he says hi and mispronounces your name, just say, “Actually, it’s not Mary, it’s Miriam. And can you please remind me of your name, too?” It might be awkward in the moment and, realistically, for a few days or weeks. But being confident enough to speak up is also good neighborly behavior. If he doesn’t agree and stops saying hi, well, that’s another way to resolve the issue. But I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that speaking up really can be the solution. 

Be well,