Hello, My Name is

The Phantom Menace

This project is awesome because we are all part of the same community and are all working on the same thing together. This project is important because it’s free and open, and it is reaching out to all kinds of people. This project is revolutionary because it is taking risks, redefining concepts, and developing more than just a product.

This project has a name: Ubuntu. And, therein lies the problem.

I’m by no means suggesting that this name changes; it’s the right name. However, I suggest that we make the effort to truly understand it properly, and at the very least, pronounce it properly.


Before you stop reading, please consider what your own explanation of the project name, and how you would present the project to someone new. How do you want that person to perceive the project, and how do you want that person to perceive you–the representative?

Think about the misinterpretation that already exists within daily conversation, so we need to make sure that we’re all on the same page.

I believe that one key to the success of Ubuntu is in its name. There is so much meaning loaded into that one word that it would be a shame to not present it properly.

So, I registered a blueprint: https://blueprints.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+spec/ubuntu-pronunciation.

That Which We Call A Cliché

roseWe speak different languages, so it would be ideal that we can have at least one word that is common across the board, especially when it is the matter at hand.

There are lots of words in various languages that are pronounced differently depending on accents or certain history. However, “Ubuntu” is not just a word; it’s a name.

I have a surname that is commonly mispronounced (even by people from the same origin), so I’m used to mispronunciations and shrug them off. Do I stop being who I am based on that? No. But, I’m not going to respond if I don’t recognize the sound of my name.

This discussion is getting kind of old, but it might be necessary. How do you start a war? You create fear of imminent war. How do you create that fear? You give someone a reason to be afraid. I’m terrified that this old issue is a non-issue.

Small Potatoes

louisWhen it comes to Ubuntu, we are talking about a name for something that is quite abstract. We can’t exactly pick up an “Ubuntu” and show it to someone. For those of us who don’t care about pronunciation, it is possible that we think Ubuntu is only a piece of software.

Allow me to shed some light on the 6Cs of Severity around inconsistent pronunciation:

  1. Confusion – If we are all saying “Ubuntu” differently, then how can we be sure we’re all working on the same thing? Aside from contributors, those who have yet to discover ubuntu will be confused out in the wild.
  2. Consensus – If we cannot agree on the name (a very basic element) of the project, then will we really agree on anything else?
  3. Constructs – Consciously or subconsciously division may occur.
  4. Claims/Control – Taking false ownership of a word/name and changing it for your benefit can be a form of racism. This may be unintentional. Nevertheless, if we force a name to be pronounced according to our own way instead of its origin, then we are putting ourselves higher on the imaginary (albeit evident) hierarchy of cultures.
  5. Convention – The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to change if necessary.
  6. Craziness – This is clearly making at least one person crazy.

Many of us (me…frequently) mispronounce things with no malicious intent. But, it is definitely and awkward situation to have to deal with so frequently.

Bad Breath 

mintSo, I was at one of our Ubuntu meetup events. I met someone new, and we started talking. By some coincidence we started talking about Ubuntu. However, as the word “Ubuntu” left my mouth, the other guy’s face went blank as if I had spoken some strange word from a strange language. My first thought was, why are you part of the Ubuntu meetup group if you don’t know what Ubuntu is? Then, I realized that he didn’t pronounce the word the same way that I did.

This put me in a very socially awkward situation (more than usual). From my point of view, it was as if the guy had really bad breath. I didn’t want *it* to come out of his mouth. Yet, I was too shy/embarrassed to mention to say anything. What’s the protocol? Do I say something? Do I casually offer him a Mint as a superficial fix? Do I just ignore it and hope that it will go away?

At this point I’m wasting time even thinking about this, and having to re-explain ourselves hindered any further conversation. Neither of us were willing to change our pronunciations, no matter how many repetitions occurred. Moreover, was the other guy thinking the same thing? The people at the table next to us probably thought we were two fools talking about two different things.

“Now I see, it is I that had been the biggest [fool] of all!” And, I pity the fool. I don’t want to be tormented by this, and yet I cannot let it slide. Perhaps it’s because it hits so close to home.

Grievous Goats

turtlesI introduced Ubuntu to my family. I made the mistake of not properly educating them on origins and pronunciation. Now every time that a computer question arises, my irritation is amplified by a pronunciation discrepancy. Ubuntu has become a household word, but not in the way that I had intended. It’s clear that those in my family who pronounce one way, and those another, also differ on the opinion of the source of computer problems.

I have noticed a very high correlation between certain pronunciations of “Ubuntu” and dissatisfaction with Ubuntu. Will saying “Ubuntu” a certain way improve your experience? Probably not. Then again, maybe it will. I also sense a high correlation between those who care to find out the “hows” and the “whys” and those who have positive experiences with Ubuntu.

Of Moles and Men 

fujiI understand that my discomfort comes from the possibility that I might believe that there is one right way to pronounce “Ubuntu.” But, I’m not even saying that I’m right. I’m pointing out the problematic pachyderm. There’s one in the chamber, and it’s growing extremely obvious that people are aware, but we need to pull the trigger on the decision before we start pointing things in the wrong direction.

I support a project, and I don’t even know how to say its name? Let’s minimize this distraction.

So, I move that we standardize the pronunciation of the name of our horse, so that when we cheer for it, we’re all cheering for the same winner. This will bring us together. This will make us sound professional. This, I believe, will be cornerstone that will launch Ubuntu success to Mars!

But Don’t Take My Word For It


I registered a blueprint: https://blueprints.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+spec/ubuntu-pronunciation.

Now what we know why…

Here are some ideas for pronunciation:

Here are some ideas for implementation:

  • Add pronunciation in the installation slide show
  • Add pronunciation on www.ubuntu.com
  • Add pronunciation in a “getting started” document/application post-install
  • Add pronunciation in Ubuntu Advocacy Kit. DONE!

To be continued… on the blueprint.

One thought on “Hello, My Name is

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.