What's in a name? Introducing yourself in academia

Having an unusual, foreign or difficult-to-say name can present challenges in UK academia, says Marta Natalia Wróblewska

July 19, 2016
name unusal
Source: istock
Certain names can prove tricky in academia where the lingua franca is English, says PhD student Marta Natalia Wroblewska

So, what’s your name?

It’s Marta.
Oh, Magda! I have a friend…
No, that would be another popular Polish name. But mine is Marta.
Manga? Well that sounds Japanese!
No, actually it’s Marta. M-A-R-T-A
Oh! Ma-ta!
You know what? Just call me Martha.

…and that’s even before we get to my last name: Wróblewska (oh God, how to pronounce the "w"? what’s that weird slash above "o" – maybe it’s an accent?).

Despite these small phonetical complications, I still consider myself lucky name-wise.

Think of Jakub Błaszczykowski – when he scored in Euro 2016 people were tweeting: “He will never trend on Twitter as only 7 people know how to spell his name.” And the man is a football player, so just imagine what the chances for an academic would be. I would guess…nil.

In today’s globalised academia, with English as the lingua franca, the simple act of introducing yourself might be the first big challenge. I thought my European five-letter name would be entirely unproblematic, but it proved to be a bit trickier than that.

All this "onomastic trouble" got me thinking (hey, after all, I am training to be a discourse analyst).

In conclusion, I came up with strategies of coping. The first one would be to “translate” your name to a local equivalent. This works with most European names, which used to be the names of saints. For instance, Marta translates to Martha, Jerzy to George, the uber-popular Polish Wojciech would be Adalbert, and the Russian Ivan is actually John. Easy-peasy, right?

As a second option, you can take on an additional name of your own choice – so for instance 王勇 (Wang Yong) can decide to call himself Robert or something more extravagant such as Ronaldo. Some people opt to use their last names as first names, shorten their name to a more pronounceable form and remove problematic diacritical signs which are not to be easily found on most keyboards (such as German umlauts).

Finally, the last option is to stick to your own name and enjoy explaining its pronunciation over and over again. This strategy leads to awkward conversations like the one quoted above. Quite often people end up being called something that is not their name, or any name, for that matter.

That notwithstanding, I think it’s still the best choice for “political” reasons. As it was pointed out in a blog on a similar topic, Brits and Americans rarely change their names to local ones when they go overseas. A name is a very personal thing, so it’s nice to keep your own.

Any way you decide to go, if you want to stay in academia, you should make your choice wisely and hang on to it. As the Polish saying goes: “Half your life you work for your name, and the other half…your name works for you”.

Marta Natalia Wróblewska is a second-year PhD  student at the University of Warwick's Centre for Applied Linguistics. This piece first appeared on Warwick's PhD Life blog.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Lecturer in Business and Management DE MONTFORT UNIVERSITY
Director of the Roslin Institute THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
Lecturer in Economics DE MONTFORT UNIVERSITY

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (8 September 2016)

Some lecturers will rightly encourage forms of student interaction that are impossible for those covering their faces, Eric Heinze argues

Handwritten essay on table

Universities must pay more attention to the difficulties faced by students, says Daniel Dennehy

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Theresa May entering 10 Downing Street, London

The prospect of new grammar schools on the horizon raises big questions for HE, writes Nick Hillman

Nosey man outside window

Head of UK admissions service Mary Curnock Cook addresses concerns that universities might ‘not hear a word’ from applicants