Improving The UX Of Names With Vocalizer.js

We have all encountered names that are difficult to pronounce. Having a challenging name myself, I get different pronunciations of my first name, Atif, all the time. In order to solve my own naming problem, I built a Javascript plugin called Vocalizer. In this article, I will introduce what Vocalizer is and a few different ways to use it.

How It Started Link

Earlier this year, I redesigned my portfolio website. During this process, I decided to add a feature that educated visitors on how to say my name. One day, I opened the “Voice Memos” app on my iPhone, tapped “Record”, and asked my wife to say my first name. Then, I embedded a small button onto the landing page after my first name. Clicking on that button would play the audio file of my name.

The audio pronunciation button that I added to my website.1

The audio pronunciation button that I added to my website (Large preview2)

After launching the website, I received a few emails and tweets calling out the audio feature. I even attended a few conferences and meetups where people pronounced my name the right way. A few people expressed interest in implementing the pronunciation feature on their own websites.

Over the next few weeks, I spent time converting my singular implementation into a reusable plugin. Before publicly releasing it, I stumbled upon a company called NameShouts, which is an audio-based pronunciation tool with a repository of over 70,000 name pronunciations. I reached out to them for access to their API, implemented it into my plugin, and open-sourced it.

How To Use Vocalizer Link

Vocalizer is a simple, lightweight JavaScript plugin that facilitates the accessibility of difficult to pronounce names. If you’re someone who is unsure of how to say a certain name, Vocalizer shows you how. Or, if you’re someone with an unfamiliar name, Vocalizer shows others how to pronounce it.

A closer view of what an implementation of Vocalizer looks like.3

A close-up view of what an implementation of Vocalizer looks like (Large preview4)

The benefit of using NameShouts’ API is that it makes the implementation as quick as possible. In its simplest usage, there are only two steps required to add it to a website.

First, you must include the Javascript library before the closing tag within the code of your website:


An example of how Vocalizer could be used by news publications, such as (Image credit8) (Large preview9)

Imagine you are browsing news stories on Vox.com10 and you see the name of a political figure or a region of the world with a name in which you are unfamiliar. In that situation, Vocalizer could educate you on its pronunciation. In theory, this would better equip you to discuss these current events and issues. No one wants to sound uninformed.

Example: Social Media Platforms Link

Another hypothetical use case could be on social media websites. LinkedIn comes to mind for its role in facilitating professional connections.

Potential usage on social media websites, such as LinkedIn.11

Potential usage on social media websites, such as LinkedIn (Image credit: LinkedIn12) (Large preview13)

In an age when people often connect with each other via social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, prior to meeting -- a tool like Vocalizer could prove useful.

Unbeknownst to me, Facebook recently rolled out a similar feature that automatically generates audio to enunciate names.

Facebook's feature that displays the pronunciation of names14

Facebook's feature that displays the pronunciation of names (Image credit15) (Large preview16)

It's nice to see mainstream platforms focus on these types of accessibility features. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that autogenerated playback will be correct. Facebook's pronunciation tool mangles my last name.

Challenges Link

With every potential solution, there are problems. Vocalizer faces issues of its own. The main issue is that two people with the same name do not always pronounce their name in the same way.

Often, a person's origin language dictates the pronunciation of their name. For example, the name Jose in Spanish is pronounced HOH-SEH. In French, the same name is pronounced JOO-ZE. Vocalizer's current implementation does not cater to these circumstances unless you opt to use a custom recording.

Pushing Accessibility Further Link

In the last few years, web evangelists have emphasized the importance of web accessibility. Most accessibility functions cater to people with physical and cognitive disabilities. I believe there is a lack of attention in regards to inclusion and cross-cultural accessibility.

Though unintentional, in a way, Vocalizer seeks to enable cultural accessibility. Technology companies continually strive to diversify their workforces. We're seeing heightened mobility in our professional lives. As a result, multiculturalism is becoming more and more prevalent.

For what it is -- I hope Vocalizer helps familiarize people with names from other cultures or ethnicities.

The Future Of Vocalizer Link

There are a few features and improvements I would like to make on future versions of Vocalizer.js:

  • Language support for names with alternate pronunciations
  • More graceful handling of implementation errors
  • Adding a fallback for the situations when a name is not in NameShouts' API
  • Ability to easily customize audio buttons styles

To further expand on the idea, I launched a free, web-based version of Vocalizer at

The web tool allows you to record your name in the browser. Then, it generates the code snippet required to add Vocalizer to your website.

Conclusion Link

A 2014 study18 found that people with easier-to-pronounce names are deemed "more trustworthy". I built Vocalizer to solve a problem that has persisted all my life. Now, I hope this will prove useful to others, helping them solve the same problem.

Thanks so much for reading! Please don't hesitate to tweet to me19 if you have any questions, comments or feedback.

(vf, aa, il)

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  1. Alex December 30, 2016
  2. Atif December 30, 2016
  3. Timothy Purdy December 30, 2016
  4. Laura Kajpust January 1, 2017
  5. Atif January 1, 2017
  6. Miguel January 2, 2017
  7. ShockiTV January 2, 2017
  8. person January 4, 2017
  9. Robert January 5, 2017

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