How to Teach Siri to Understand Names it Keeps Getting Wrong

Dave Greenbaum

Siri is Apple’s intelligent assistant, but occasionally it pronounces or understands names wrong. That misunderstanding leads to frustration and sometimes foul language. It doesn’t need to come to that. Siri can learn, but you need to send it to school.

Photo by Yogesh Mhatre - http://flic.kr/p/bhDdti
Siri understands dog, but not your name? Yogesh Mhatre

That’s Not How You Say It

When you hear Siri mispronounce a name, try to correct it immediately. Tell it “That’s not how you say it.

Howtosay

Siri will then ask “How do you pronounce the name?

howdoyousay

Then it will listen for your pronunciation. After it hears the name, it will thank you for the correction. It then offers three samples based on what it heard. Listen to all three and select the correct pronunciation.

pronounce

If Siri still gets it wrong, pick Tell Siri Again. After a few times it’s likely to get it right.

This is How You Say It

When you train Siri on the iPhone, it still may not get it right. That’s true if your accent is a bit hard to understand. You can help Siri by giving it the phonetic pronunciation of the name. For example, I have a friend named Peony, but her name is pronounced “penny”.

peonycard

Siri always messes this up. You can add a phonetic name on any device. On the iPhone, select the contact and pick Edit. Then scroll down to the bottom and tap add field. From there you can pick a phonetic first name or last name, depending on which name Siri has trouble pronouncing.

addfield

phoneticfirstname

phoneticpenny

Siri understands the word penny pretty well, but I could also put in “pen e”.

Not sure how to pronounce it? Check out our guide to websites to pronounce names correctly (including phonetic spellings).

Use a Nickname or Title

Siri is stubborn and eventually you might have to give in on pronunciation. That’s where a nickname comes in. Just like adding a phonetic name, edit the contact and select add field. Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see Nickname. That’s where you can give the person a slightly different name without changing the original contact info.

nickname

Along with a nickname, a job title might help Siri find the name you want. That field is also available in the add field section. This doesn’t have to be the title on their business card. Use the field for how you might call the contact. I have my accountant, housekeeper and barber in that field.

title

Have some fun! I use nicknames sometimes to express my opinion about some contacts. I’m a Doctor Who fan, so I name my spouse the companion. It sounds better to say ‘Please call the companion.’

Get Relative

One of the fields in every contact is related name. This is the section where you specify how contacts are related. This lets you ask Siri to “call Mom” when you tell Siri who your Mom is. To set this up, select a contact and tap Edit. Scroll down and select add related name.

add related name

On the left side, tap the relation description (in this example mother). iOS will give you a list of potential relations like mother or partner. If none of those fit, you can add a custom label.

relation

Once you select the relation, tap the circled i and find the person who fits that description. In this case I’ll pick my Mom. If it all looks correct, tap done. From then on you can refer to that person by the primary contact’s relation to that person, like “call my spouse” or “call my brother.”

findname

With a few workarounds and training, you can teach Siri to understand and sometimes even pronounce a name.

Also See
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Dave Greenbaum

Written By

Dave Greenbaum

I have a passion for helping people make technology work.

For my day job, I own a computer repair business in Lawrence, Kansas. Drawing on my support background, I focus on practical technology from the user perspective. I enjoy it all: Android, Chrome OS, iOS, MacOS, Windows and everything in between.