It’s ROBerson!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Hey, Robes!”

Two senior boys popped through my classroom door along with the sophomores making their way into class after lunch.  Their laughing exclamation was not referring to articles of clothing, but a mispronounced abbreviation of my last name.  These two boys stopped in my room with the sole purpose of calling me “Robes.”  And in that moment, a dreaded vision of my future at this school flashed before my eyes.

During the lunch announcements, another teacher had referred to me as “Mrs. Rōberson” with a long “O” sound, like the word “row”.  It’s supposed to be pronounced “Rŏberson,” as in the word “rock.”   My name is like “Robertson” without the “T”.  The senior boys were amused because last week we’d had multiple conversations in just one period with their class about how to say my name.  “It’s ROBerson,” they’d heard me say, only to correct someone else again several minutes later.  And then whole class collectively corrected one oblivious student who’d missed all the previous conversations and called me Mrs. Row-berson.  The poor kid was answered with a chorus of “It’s ROBerson!” from the whole room.  So when my coworker announced my name wrong to the whole school, the senior boys found it pretty funny.

The mispronunciation of my last name is common, and I have to combat it every time I take a new job.  I had one boss who never got it right for a whole year.  Since I’m hoping to work here long-term, I have been pretty proactive about trying to get people to say my name right, but apparently the teacher giving the announcements didn’t know.

To make things more interesting, this school has a unique tendency to nickname their teachers.  Two-syllable last names are abbreviated down to one syllable, while one-syllable last names are joined with the teacher’s first initial (like JLo).  These nicknames have become ingrained in the school, and while not all the teachers have them, the nicknames that do exist are used commonly even among the staff.

My students tried to nickname me in my first few days of my employment, but nothing stuck.  “C-Rob” didn’t roll off the tongue well (thank goodness), and I put a stop to “Robbie” before it could gain any momentum.  The students got bored with the attempt after a few days and I’ve been simply Mrs. Roberson for the past month.  So imagine my mental cringe when two charismatic, enthusiastic seniors came into a room filled with impressionable sophomores and called out my name abbreviated and with the wrong vowel sound.


They were being satirical, making a joke of the mispronunciation from lunch, but in a flash, I saw a potential nickname being formed.  I wasn’t wrong.  The same boys immediately followed up their joke with the semi-sincere comment, “Hey, can we call you that?”

“No!  No, you can’t!”  I was laughing, but insistent nonetheless.  “Then everyone will think my name is Row-berson!  No one will ever get it right!”

To which they responded,  “Can we call you Robs?”

Facepalm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think I’ve escaped this time, but only time will tell for sure…


31 thoughts on “It’s ROBerson!

  1. In my class there was a boy named Buddy, which is what we called him…until his father came and corrected us, the kid’s name was Buddy, but pronounced boody, the o as in boot. For the first months of school we unknowingly called him the wrong name-he never corrected us.


  2. I know exactly how you feel. My first name is spelled Leanna and pronounced LEE-an-AH, but for the longest time nobody ever pronounced the third syllable. It wasn’t until a substitute teacher in grade 3 that a person pronounced my name correctly on the first attempt. 😛


  3. My name is Sitara Srinivas and my last name hads quite a few variations. stuff like sreenivas right to srivastav. life has been funny especially when i have to go its srinivas not whatever you just said.


  4. Think you have it bad. My last name is Wax. I was teaching during the Karate Kid movies. Wax on, Wax off was the catchphrase. The students hit me with it everyday. I went to the Principal and as I entered his office he said,”Wax on, Wax off” so I just sucked it up for the year.


  5. No offense to your students, but me being a student myself, I don’t think your name is so hard to pronounce. I’m not pretending to be cocky, I just can’t seem to figure out the problem in pronouncing your name.


    • It’s not difficult once you know it. People usually just get it wrong because they aren’t paying attention. They go with the “row” sound because it’s more natural phonetically with the spelling of my name, and they aren’t paying attention or forget when I correct them – or they just haven’t heard it said correctly yet, as in the case of the teacher making announcements.


  6. Haha! I grew up with a basic name. I’ve never had to deal with it. My mom however has the name Ann-Marie! So people spell it anne and ane. She’s so used to it now she doesn’t even notice it. LOL. Great article by the way!


  7. I hate to tell you that some people will probably NEVER catch on! The eighth grade teacher at our grade school still called Dan Row-berson, even after having me in class for an entire year only 2 years before AND with the entire class correcting him on a regular basis… 🙂


  8. My surname is Naish, but pronounced Nash. I understand people mispronouncing it, but what really gets me is when people will argue with me saying that I say it wrong! No, my friend, I know how to say my own name!
    I often find that people struggle with Madelaine too (my boyfriend couldn’t spell it and had to write it out in his phone!)


  9. I am definitely happy that I always pronounced your name correctly in my head since the very beginning, not even knowing that others might think of it with a different pronunciation. Being a native French speaker may help, as we don’t have other ways of pronouncing the “o”. Actually, for a while, I would hear “Hello Mrs. Roberson” in my head, as pronounced by 30 students at once, like they do in movies, when the principal is introducing a new teacher to the class.

    My name is extremely easy to pronounce by any French speaking person, but as I found friends around the world through the Internet, I found how people abroad had a hard time with it. Even my first name may be somewhat funny, because there is a subtle different between how a French and English speaker would pronounce it.

    (This comment made me realize something — thanks to the automatic spell checker — why isn’t there an ‘o’ in “pronunciation” as there is in “pronounce”?)


  10. My sister Eleanor and I were once in the same class and the teacher was horrible with names. Always getting us mixed up. Apparently Evelyn + Eleanor = Elephant! I was called Elephant for the whole semester.


  11. Regarding students who had hoped to tag you with a disrespectful nickname:
    In my brief stint as a part-time high school teacher, my way of stressing class rule #1 (Respect) was to address all my students in same manner I expected them to address me — by their last names preceded a Mr. or Miss. Some students complained that this made them uncomfortable. But I stuck with it and it seemed to have a salutary effect.


    • I agree with you. I never let my students nickname me. I don’t nick name them. And I make sure (yes even in my over 100 nationalities environment) to get their names correct. I insist on it. Don’t yell “Raaaaaaalf” when you come in the door. Don’t scream “Missus! Missus!” Just call me Mrs. Ralf.

      Toughest student name ever…Xochitl=So-she
      It was mayan. I couldn’t look at it and say it. The Korean names are my new nemesis. But I’m getting better.


      • I agree with the Korean names! I have a few, and yes, I always make an effort to pronounce the names correctly. If it frustrates me when people say my name wrong, I definitely need to extend the same courtesy to them of learning how to say their name right.


    • I don’t want to call the nicknaming disrespectful because it is so common among the other teachers here. I don’t want to accuse students of being disrespectful to them, or the staff of being disrespectful of each other, when they’re following a precedent that was set a long time ago. The nicknaming actually began several years ago as a way to differentiate between a few teachers who shared the same last name, including the principal at the time. People started tagging the first initial onto the last name to clarify who they meant, and it stuck. I do like using Mr. or Miss for the students, though.


  12. Interesting. At my school, we have a Ms. Roberson, but she pronounces it with a long O.
    My last name is Koch, which rhymes with book. It gets mispronounced and misspelled all the time. The kids can mostly pronounce it correctly (except for those few who just never pay attention; I have one student who still just wants to call me “Teacher” even after seven months of school, and when I ask him my name, he says, “Um.. Kotch? Coach?”) Another student wrote my name today, but spelled it Khook. That was totally new.


  13. Oh I feel you there. I haven’t taught much in my life, but I’ve had lifelong issues with people having no clue how to pronounce my name. What’s funny is that my name looks easy, and most English-speaking people can pronounce it fairly well (which is pretty amusing to me because my name is Arabic).

    It’s the Arabic-speaking people that seem to have issues with it. “Hala”, in Arabic, can be spelled in at least three ways, all with different pronunciations and meanings. My name has a slightly stretchy A, like “Haa-la” but people almost always end up calling me “Hella”. It’s a tiny variation but the spelling and meaning of both names are very different. Quite literally, it’s the difference between “Halo” and “Hello”, which is my name and “Hella” respectively.

    In their defense “Hella” is a far more common name than mine. And no matter how many times I correct it, it always takes ages for people to get it right.


  14. My last name is also Roberson, pronounced Rob-er-son. I live in North Carolina and have found 3 groups of Roberson’s in North Carolina that I am not related to. All pronounce their name Rob-er-son. Yes, even the ones from Rob-er-son-ville. I have traveled a lot in my life and have found that everyone in Florida pronounces the name Ro-ber-son. While in Florida, not a single day went by that someone didn’t tell me I was mispronouncing my name. The reason they gave, was because it did not have a “t” in it. When I ask them, “how it would be pronounce if it did have a t”, they would always say, Rob-ert-son. At that point I would say, “There you go”. That really confused them.


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