What’s in a Name?

What are the most important words in the world? I’ll give you a hint: it’s two words. Your name.

An individual’s name is the most important collection of words in the world to that person. It is their identity, their connection to the world, and for most people, it’s the only constant in an ever-changing environment. Recently I met a phenomenal group of 52 foreign students as part of a development opportunity I took on. I am the co-program manager for the Intel Vietnam Scholars Program: this is a program where 52 top students across Vietnam were given a scholarship from Intel to complete their junior and senior year of college at Portland State University. In between their junior and senior year, the students return to Intel Vietnam for an internship and upon graduation, they will become full-time Intel Vietnam employees. (I mention all of these details because I’m sure I’ll be sharing my experiences and learning from working with this group in blog posts to come!)

Over the next year and a half, I will be their mentor, their program manager and hopefully, their friend. The biggest challenge I’m facing is learning all of their names; did I mention there are 52 of them? And to add to the challenge, their names are ones that I am unfamiliar with. But I will succeed.

I have a name that people have struggled to pronounce in the past. (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced “say-juhl” but I’ll answer to “sej-ull” too.) See-jull, say-gull, sa-jill, seagull,…I’ve gotten it all, but it’s not about what those who mispronounced my name were saying, but rather how they were saying it. I realize that my name is challenging and unusual, yet some people don’t even try to get it right.

My stance is that as long as you are genuinely trying and ASKING me for help, you’re still in my good graces. It’s when you avoid calling me by name or show no sign of improvement even after countless attempts to help that we’re going to have a problem. Now roles have swapped–so what do I do?

Acknowledge and Ask

First, I acknowledge my intent and ask for help. “I want to learn your names but it’s going to be challenging because there are so many of you. Please help me by correcting my pronunciation and reminding me who you are.” I found myself repeating the same names over and over again, but apparently my pronunciation isn’t half bad! Also, it’s a little unrealistic to expect to learn 52 names after hearing them once each–I find myself asking them to repeat their names to me whenever I talk to them so I become more familiar with it.

Mnemonics and Associations

When I found myself struggling with names and faces, I started digging deeper. I asked about what their name meant or what their hobbies were. I found myself associating the meaning of their name to their face. For example, one of the student’s name means “love” so my partner refers to him as “Dr. Love” to help remember his name. One trick that I’ve used to help people learn my name is to associate it with a word they already know. The trick I use seems a little obscure, but it works! Here’s how the conversation usually goes:

Me: It’s like ‘angel’ with an ‘s’

You: Sangel

Me: Now drop the ‘n’

You: Sagel

Me: There you go! But remember it’s not spelled that way…

You: Sagel, angel. It kind of rhymes!


When all else failed, I made a public challenge. I told the scholars that I would learn all of their names by March (our next week-long training session) or I would bake them all cupcakes. As much as I love cupcakes, baking 52 cupcakes is no easy feat–challenge accepted!

So, why am I telling you all of this? By now you’ve heard all about the power of networking, but in order to build that network and meet people, you have to know their name. One word can make all the difference in the world. Spend the time and effort into learning someone’s name: it may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I guarantee they’ll appreciate it more than you know.


Sejal is a Recruitment Marketing Project Manager at Intel. She is part of the team that is responsible for Intel’s global employment brand. This team helps connect candidates with Intel and Intel with candidates using channels such as the Jobs at Intel web site, the Life at Intel microsite and other Web 2.0 channels. Sejal specifically manages the Jobs at Intel Blog and Intel’s recruitment Facebook page. Follow Intel on Twitter @JobsatIntel or check out the Jobs@Intel blog to hear more about career opportunities at Intel!

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