The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project
From the 13th Annual Shorty Awards

Why mispronouncing a name can undermine a student’s identity – and how to help

Entered in Social Activism


How does the way a teacher pronounces a student's name impact their education – and why does it matter? In 2020, Qatar Foundation and Vox Creative's Explainer Studio partnered on an Explainer Video to find out. The in-depth Explainer Video that was the result of our explorations and featured remote interviews with students and educators across the world sharing vulnerable, personal, and humorous stories, cutting-edge research, and evocative animations that brought the stories to life. From conception to distribution, this short documentary was thought-provoking for all involved, and audiences, too. Through the Explainer, the paramount importance of respecting someone's identity by respecting their name was unpacked with editorial rigor and emotional impact. Ultimately, the Explainer leaves viewers with clear takeaways of how to be better citizens to one another.

The secret to pronouncing someone's name if you don't know how? Just ask.

As many students shared, the act of inquiring is meaningful in itself. After viewing, several teachers have shared that seeing this Explainer will fundamentally impact the way they interact with their students' names. This project ultimately created a meaningful resource for educators and students alike that transcends the traditional idea of what branded content can achieve.

The core goal was to position Qatar Foundation as a leading voice in education for the 21st century. We pushed for an editorial mindset in this branded content piece to align with Vox’s curious audience. This resulted in hundreds of people also publicly sharing their personal stories from classrooms on YouTube. 

Strategy and Execution

In 2020, Qatar Foundation partnered with Vox on a series of Explainer videos. We came to Vox as fans of the format, having seen it work so well on Netflix's 'Explained,' Vox’s YouTube channel, and with the branded content wing known as The Explainer Studio. The plan was to make three videos of varying lengths (from sixty seconds to seven minutes) that provided thought leadership on the future of education. Why education? Our flagship initiative, Education City, is designed to create opportunities for everyone, ranging from six-month-olds, to PhDs, scientists, and innovators tackling some of our biggest collective challenges. Our campus has K-12 schools and nine universities (including branches of Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern), all standing alongside a science and technology park, global innovation forums, a modern art museum, start-up incubators, and so much more. The innovative, collaborative approach of Education City was something we wanted to bring to our branded content as well. 

With the freedom to think editorially, The Explainer Studio started to focus on topics. However, when COVID-19 hit, it was time to pivot – stories about, for instance, the physical design of campus suddenly felt off-key. We completely revamped our approach in a matter of weeks, and worked together to produce scripts on topics that were more relevant than ever before. In light of all the sociopolitical questions that were also being asked at the time, we noticed one particular experience of being in the classroom, whether in person or on Zoom, needed to still be examined and questioned.

The experience of hearing your name read during roll call and belonging to a community that's not always a majority in the classroom was still deeply relevant. There were several people of color involved in the conception of this video and our own personal experiences having teachers mispronounce, deliberately or not, were foundational in helping us understand how to produce an episode that does this important topic justice. We not only reached out to students experiencing this in classrooms, we also reached out to experts and teachers who themselves had struggled pronouncing names foreign to them, but actively chose to learn from and engage the diversity in their classrooms. The results spoke for themselves. 


The Explainer series saw tremendous results across the board, with the Explainer video series resonating with Vox’s audience with exceptional on-page video performance. 

The Names video was a powerful video at getting and keeping users attention while on Vox’s platform. The video had an average time spent of 5:34 minutes, an impressive feat for a video over 7-minutes long. The content’s focus on personal identity and powerful message was effective in connecting with Vox Media’s audience as well as the topic’s strong fit with’s editorial articles. The topic also melded two of the most talked about issues during this moment: identity and education, which dominated the conversation among our users. The video was also posted organically on Vox’s Youtube channel, gathering 175,000 views with an average completion rate of 45.9%. In addition, the video also saw 800+ comments, confirming how strongly the audience resonated with the content’s message.


Video for Why mispronouncing a name can undermine a student’s identity – and how to help

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Qatar Foundation


Entry Credits