‘The name is who they are’: How convocation readers train to pronounce grads’ names

Hearing your name read aloud inside Convocation Hall is a moment of pride and significance for students graduating from the University of Toronto.

That’s why U of T puts special effort into helping readers – the people who read the names of graduating students at convocation ceremonies – prepare for the challenge of trying to pronounce thousands of names correctly.

“Our graduates, especially at a big university like U of T, come from all over the world – and their names come with them,” says Elizabeth Cowper, a professor emerita in the department of linguistics in the Faculty of Arts & Science who is one of U of T’s reader trainers.

“The name is who they are.”

The training includes how to recognize names’ likely places of origin, avoid common errors and detect pronunciation clues.

“We give them pronunciation keys; we give them a booklet where they might be able to recognize some of the common traps,” says Christina Kramer, a reader trainer and a professor emerita in the department of Slavic languages and literatures.

She adds that, while readers might not get every single name right, “What we want to happen is that every student who crosses the stage feels that the person reading the names has given due consideration to the pronunciation of their name.”

In the weeks leading up to the ceremonies, graduating students also have the option of sending information about their name pronunciations – or a recording of how they pronounce their names – to the Office of Convocation (see this FAQ for details). They can also add phonetic advice to the card the reader will use at the ceremony.

“We appreciate the hard work our students have put into their studies and getting to this moment,” says Samantha Smith, acting director of the Office of Convocation. “We want to honour that by ensuring the name they hear as they are called onto the stage is their name, said correctly.”

Watch a video about U of T's training for convocation readers

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