What’s In A Name?

NYU Tandon name display

“My name is my anthem.”
Erikan Obotetukudo


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What’s in a name? As it turns out, quite a lot. Graduation represents a moment of achievement for students, one that comes with personal recognition; from their peers, their professors, their families—from the world.

Getting a graduate’s name right, both visually and verbally, is a priority for ceremony coordinators. Students come from around the world to complete their studies at your institution. They do the work. And on graduation day, they’ve earned their moment.

Making sure that moment rings true for every graduate that crosses the stage can be a stressful commitment for event producers. After all, there are so many challenges that can impact the quality and consistency of name announcement. Finding skilled readers, planning the stage layout, testing your AV equipment, and managing the graduate procession must all be successful before your graduates can have their moment.

Even still, unpredictable elements like wind, weather, and illness can expose the gaps in a thoughtful gameplan. And even after the ceremony starts, a reader’s performance quality can decline due to the grueling pace, limited rehearsal time and the mental strain of sight-reading every name and pronunciation in the split-second that each reader card is presented. These risk factors can cause delays and embarrassing errors that can tarnish a graduate’s triumphant moment.

That’s because names hold power. They represent tradition, struggle, commitment and sacrifice. Investor and entrepreneur Erikan Obotetukudo fights a daily struggle to maintain the power of her name, despite cultural and professional pressures to accept mispronunciation, minimization, assimilation and disrespect. “My name traces me back to [the] beautiful continent of Africa… My name is my anthem… It’s my family tree… and together, it’s my compass. If I ever get lost, my name will lead me back home.”

Mispronunciations may pass quickly but they can be hurtful for the student and their loved ones. As student Bella Garaj (pronounced “Ga-raï) put it, “When you mispronounce my name, you erase me.

Carmen Fariña, the former chancellor of New York City schools, faced this erasure herself as a young student. “Mispronouncing a student’s name essentially renders that student invisible.”

Mistakes happen, some say, and chalk up these mispronunciations to the ongoing cost of staging a complex ceremony. But what if we could do better?

What if we could avoid all of these obstacles and deliver accurate, confident, and efficient name announcements?

NYU Tandon School of Engineering graduation ceremony 2022

MarchingOrder respects the immense power of a graduate’s name. After producing thousands of ceremonies and celebrating millions of graduates, we are as committed as ever to providing our partners with every tool they need to deliver an exceptional experience for their graduates and guests. One such partner is New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

Their mission is to “create a learning and research environment that is reflective of the diversity of our country and our global community.” Ceremony coordinator Olivia O’Leary put herself in the graduates’ shoes. “As you’re going across the stage, and your family is watching… That moment is supposed to be the culmination of years of work. I never want people to have to roll their eyes or laugh or shake it off because someone just ruined the one moment they had to be recognized individually.”

Protecting against mispronunciations is a priority that aligns with their values of inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging. “For someone to butcher your name because they don’t know how to pronounce it – it’s just another instance of feeling othered in that space of higher education, which is something that you can feel often, especially as an international student or a student of color. It was very important that we got that right. If we didn’t have anything else with MarchingOrder, that was the one thing that I wanted to have because we couldn’t let that slide anymore.”

They used MarchingOrder’s Say-It-Right for name pronunciations and ProNounce, our service for professional name recordings. Working with her dedicated Client Success Manager, Olivia invited graduates to submit their own name pronunciations using their phones or computers during registration. Then, MarchingOrder’s professional name readers referred to those recordings as they produced crystal clear name announcements for the more than 2,000 graduates in the class.

As each graduate crossed the stage, their name was emblazoned on the big screen and a crystal clear name announcement echoed through the arena. Finally, the moment of triumph they each had earned.

For Olivia, the payoff was evident before the graduates even entered the arena. “When we were doing the soundcheck and we were trying the ProNounce. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Yes! We got this.’ It looked so good. It sounded so good.”

“It was just a very powerful and joyful moment… Knowing that we take the time to learn how to say their name and that they’ll get their moment in the spotlight. You can just see as they cross… It’s like their Celine Dion moment. They are being recognized in all the fullness of who they are.

With MarchingOrder’s tools and support, Olivia was also able to streamline their production and keep the show running on time. “Because there’s no hesitation in the pronunciation of the name, the show goes much smoother and faster… It’s very helpful to have people who specialize in this to help steer you.

“People were impressed with the quality and the confidence of MarchingOrder’s name announcement. It was a very powerful and joyful moment. I know our students loved it. It was worth it.

See more of Olivia’s story here:

For more information on MarchingOrder’s name pronunciation and professional name-recording services please click here.




NYU Tandon: Office of Inclusive Excellence

Ted Talk: When You Mispronounce My Name, You Erase Me | Bella Garaj

Ted Talk: The power in your name | Erikan Obotetukudo

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