Thursday, February 11, 2010

WHY saying our own name is so difficult

Ever wondered WHY saying your name is one of the most difficult things for us?

In the bad, ugly past, when psychological and psycho-analytical explanations for stuttering were in vogue, the so-called experts tried to sell the idea that we could not say our name because, on a subconscious level, we did not WANT to say it, perhaps because of deep-seated, underlying conflicts.

Today we know more about how stress works. It is difficult to say our name because we know, consciously or subconsciously, that we can't word-substitute our name, and this lack of choice increases stress tenfold.

There have been PWS who have changed their name because of the difficulty of saying it - and then later started to stutter on their new name; once again because they HAD to say it. They did not have space, freedom and alternative options for saying their name. That's how stress works - a lack of options is an important source of stress.

Fact is, saying your name remains difficult, not only because of the lack of options, but also because you have stuttered countless times on it. If you stutter lots of times on a particular word or sound, a "stutter pathway" is created in your brain. This happens by means of the process known by psychologists as "conditioning" or "learning". When you want to say that particular word, like your name, a "reminder warning" pops out from your brain, "warning" you that you stuttered on that word in the past. This warning will tend to stress you so that you actually stutter on that word.

A possible solution

 If you have learned to use a fluency technique, there may be a solution to the name problem. Dr Martin F Schwartz recommends the following procedure, which worked very well for me. I quote from my book Coping with Stuttering:

"If you have problems with saying your name (or any other particular sound or word which you need to say frequently and makes your life a misery), you should devote four focused days to eliminate this problem once and for all. Use the Passive Airflow Technique (or any other effective technique) to say your name as much as possible every day for four days. Vary the exercise with full sentences, eg ‘My name is (name)’. Four thousand applications – one thousand per day for four days – should remove much or all of the word stress associated with your name.

"This procedure is based on the reconditioning principle in psychology. By saying your name fluently so many times, you "overwrite" your previous "programming" lodged in your brain. Because of your stuttering in the past, your brain contains "stutter pathways". But when you say your name fluently so many times, you overwhelm and overwrite those stutter pathways and replace them with fluent pathways. Psychologists call it "extinguishing" the old conditioning.

"I personally found this procedure to work very well. I actually took some days off from work just to practise saying my name for hours at a time. It was one of the best investments I ever made in my life. One’s name is a symbol of yourself; if you can’t say it, it really damages your self-esteem, so it pays to work on this. I know it's a boring procedure, and demanding - but the effort should be well worth it."


  1. Words that start with «H», «S» and «T» were giving me a hard time to pronounce.

  2. I remember how i stuttered in those school days when teacher asked my name and I began to stutter on "D" Actually I blocked on letter D at that moment my vocal chords become locked. By using Passive Air Flow technique I can now easily say my name. It's fun to stutter.

  3. Randomly found this page while I was bored so I figured I'd thrown in my two cents.
    I have issues saying words that begin with a hard consonant, like words that begin with C or G. I seem to have more issues with the words either at the start of a sentence or when I get nervous which is quite frequently due to being an introvert, however the "choking" on the words still happen when I'm by myself. I'm 26 years old and still have this issue.
    There are special cases where I have no problems like when imitating a voice or singing, but I can't do that in the professional world.

  4. Corey, have a look at my latest posts on this blog. These days I believe that we need to think completely different about stuttering. I now believe that stuttering is a "mindbody" (psycho-physical) issue. It is a type of TMS (tension myositis syndrome). You can google it. TMS is treatable. Introverts and Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are highly susceptible to TMS, because they tend to repress their emotions. Do join my Facebook group titled "Stuttering as a mindbody disorder". I hope to see you there!

  5. My name is Cory too and my name is one of the only few words that are hard to say. It's only when people ask what my name is but I can stay my name perfectly when I'm by my self. I just get this instant pressure of saying my name and it's really embarrassing. Please help

    1. Cory, have you tried the 4-day procedure mentioned in the article? You have to practise saying your name fluently many, many times - about 4000 times within a period of a few days - until it becomes automatic. Learn and use a fluency technique for this. I know that's not easy to arrange, but you just have to make arrangements. It will be an investment in your future, because in your life you will have to say your name quite a lot.