When Pinky Thakkar, an engineer, first moved from Mumbai to San Jose in the Bay area, she pronounced the place San J-ose instead of San H-ose. Not being able to pronounce names and places correctly was a cause for embarrassment and a big challenge for her and her friends from abroad.

For people in foreign lands, it is often difficult to learn the nuances of a new language, place, its cuisine, and culture. Learning the pronunciation of new names, places and words is however a necessity, as a relationship often begins with a name. You could find the correct pronunciation in a dictionary perhaps. But short of asking others, there are few resources to find the correct pronunciation of a person's name in particular.

That's what led Pinky to create a free website that would be a "dictionary of name pronunciation" and would be dedicated to help people pronounce names correctly. She called this website Pronounce Names and launched it in 2006. It provides a platform where people can submit the pronunciation of a name, look them up and pronounce them correctly. They can even request for the pronunciation of names not listed in the site.

Pronounce Names is like Wikipedia. You submit the pronunciation of a name and it is live instantly. It aims to offer extra useful information about a name as well, such as its origin, meaning, alternate spellings, etc.

Pronounce Names currently has over one million visitors a month and its Alexa ranking in the US is under 10,000. They penetrated the market through SEO and word-of-mouth publicity. And its not just people in foreign lands who find the site useful.

The Many Uses Available

People working in many varied industries find the site useful:

  • call centers
  • sales and marketing
  • hospitality
  • recruiters
  • interviewees
  • professors

It gives them the confidence to call out a new name and lay the foundation for a new relationship. Its users also include eBay, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, etc.

It currently includes phonetic spellings and audio recordings of more than 100,000 names. Pronounce Names is available as an Android application as well. They also have plans to launch an iPhone app and to add functionalities like reverse look up.

When the website was first launched, there was no competition. But now its competitors include inogolo, Hear Names, and Google. The company was entirely bootstrapped through personal savings and income from another business, 360 Biometrics. Pronounce Names is currently able to generate enough income to cover its expenses. Their monetization is through Google AdSense, and according to Thakkar, they get two to three emails per week from advertisers asking for advertising space on their website.

Pronounce Names has one full-time employee and four part-time employees. Two of them are over 65 years of age and Thakkar says she thoroughly enjoys working with them. What was most gratifying, however, was when a principal of a deaf school wrote to her telling how his students were able to learn the correct pronunciation of a name and to address people with confidence.

It is such testimonials from visitors that make her journey most worthwhile.

The world is increasingly becoming a smaller place with more and more people migrating for better opportunities, experiences, and education. It is therefore becoming quite commonplace to come across a new name of a person, place, or even a dish and you can rely on Pronounce Names to get it right the first time.

Language Photo via Shutterstock

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