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Name calling, naming rights: Dental patients want to be respected when you say their name

Dec. 13, 2016
Anne Guignon, RDH, points out that dental patients, like everyone else, want to be respected when you say their name.

By Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH, CSP

I live in two professional worlds-dental hygiene and professional speaking. I joined the ADHA 35 years ago and have been a member ever since. In 2004, I became a professional member of the National Speakers' Association.

Like all other professional organizations, both associations have big meetings, Facebook sites and a variety of other connection points. Essentially, most dental hygienists don't care if I'm an NSA member, and most NSA members really don't care if I'm a dental hygienist.

But what distinguishes me in both arenas is my name and my credentials-Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, CSP. Enough about my credentials and on with the name. My name spells out my identity. Anne Nugent Guignon. It's a designer name that I acquired when I did not have a dime to spare.

My interim last name was Bankhead. Folks misspelled it right and left. When people asked me how to spell it, I'm sure a certain amount of annoyance crept into my voice as I broke the name down into two words, bank and head. Internally, I thought: How hard is this? It is just "bank" and then "head." Simple enough. My other pet peeve is people leaving off the "e" on my first name.

A person's name is a reflection of their identity. No one wants to hear their name mispronounced or misspelled.

If you studied phonics in school, then you've got an edge, since phonics is based on the science of sounding out words. When people ask me how I pronounce Guignon, here is my response: "Incorrectly. (Insert a few giggles). Guignon rhymes with neon." Sure it is a joke, and my apologies to those who speak fluent French, since I just mispronounced my own last name. But people will remember it now and that is the point.

As this country gets more diverse, most of us are challenged on a regular day to pronounce or spell a name that may seem different. Are we making an effort to learn people's names? Houston, Texas, is a cultural melting pot. When I first started practicing in 1971, I made a point to learn how to pronounce a patient's name correctly. This practice has come in handy as I travel around the country. It makes people feel special when you make that kind of effort.

Deciphering difficult names

One of my favorite NSA groups is called Power Women. We chat about everything. Pegine Echevarria is known all over the world by her first name. Even though it is simple, people struggle with the pronunciation. Her solution is clever and simple (see photo).

  • Patti Pokorchak uses the phonetic spelling, POKER - CHUCK.
  • Sierra Modro reminds people of the Sierra Madres mountain range, pronouncing Modro phonetically as Mah-d-row, a subtle shift from how Madres is pronounced.
  • Mel DePaoli's company Omicle, rhymes with comical.
  • Angla Lussier combines visual clues with auditory. She says loose, and then points to her ear.
  • Marilyn uses "Suttle Shifts" or "Suttle Reminders" in programs. An audience member once commented on her misspelled slides.
  • Ivy Meadors chimed in "My name is Ivy, like poison", a phrase that makes her unforgettable.
  • Lauren Schieffer pokes fun at her name as depicted in the photo.

As I was reflecting on names, my friend Mimie came to mind. Her birth name is Thu Suong Nguyen. I had always assumed that she took the name Mimie to make it easy for people in business to remember her name. In reality, her parents called her Mimie as she was growing up in Vietnam, so it was very natural for her to use her nickname at work. But she said many of her Vietnamese friends were assigned a name by a business owner to make it easier for customers to remember.

There was a recent chat on the internet about what to call a patient: first name, first and last name, or use an honorific such as Mr./Ms./Mrs./Miss and the person's last name. The comments were all over the map. Some asked the patient to pick their preferred name; others always used a more formal approach. Many used first names, and some used the very southern approach such as Miss Anne or Mr. John to convey respect.

In the health-care world, there are very specific guidelines regarding the use of a patient's name on computer screens or printed documents. Amy Wood wrote a wonderful article for DentistryIQ.com in August 2016 called "Do your dental patients witness you violating HIPAA?" It is well worth the read. In a phone conversation, Wood cleared up any misconceptions about how to call a patient back to the treatment room. It is perfectly okay to use their name, but that is where it stops. Any chat about treatment, insurance information, financial arrangements, or medical issues must be private.

Names are powerful and important. People want to be respected and taken seriously. So the next time you are faced with a challenging name, ask the person to help you pronounce it correctly. And if they stumble over your name, smile, and help them get comfortable. What a wonderful gift we can give to people throughout the year, not just during the holidays. RDH

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be contacted at [email protected].