So you finally land a promising lead, and there it is, lurking at the bottom of an e-mail invitation to meet the prospective client: a name you can’t possibly pronounce.

It happens all the time and ever more often as business goes global and people move around. It’s not only embarrassing to the mangler, but potentially insulting to the manglee (to coin a term).

Vigen Nazarian knows all about it. One day in August of 2009, when he was still a business consultant in health sciences, he had a fatiguingly familiar experience.

“Somebody called and essentially said, ‘Can I speak to…’ and then just butchered my name,” Nazarian said. “He really apologized and said, ‘I wish I had a way to know your name before I called.’”

Nazarian was used to this after 30 years in Canada, having emigrated from Iran. For the first several years, he had used ‘Vic’ as his first name in a bid to make things easier, but had reverted to his real name to reclaim his dignity.

And so, after he put the phone down that day, he had an idea.

Using his VOIP phone, which automatically forwarded voice messages as e-mail attachments, he called himself and left a message: “Vigen Nazarian.” When the message arrived as an e-mail, he clicked on the attachment and heard his own name, impeccably pronounced.

Thus began Nazarian’s new life as a startup entrepreneur at Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, where his company, ANTVibes, is housed.

His invention, ANT, stands for Audible Name Tag, a small orange icon that looks like an ant and sits next to your e-mail signature, on your LinkedIn page, or wherever else you want to put it.

When you click on the ant, it plays your name in your voice – just as Nazarian’s self-produced VOIP message did for him two years ago. When you send it to someone, they can keep clicking on it and practising the pronunciation until they get it right.

“We picked the ant as a social insect, because the ant really symbolizes communities that are built based on diversity, and diversity is the strength of those communities,” Nazarian said in an interview with Communitech. “You have different ants doing different things, and they have defined roles, but at the end of the day, they all belong to that community.”

Just a year old, ANTVibes is already drawing interest from people who want to join that community. This month, after successful beta testing, it made its first large-scale launch by offering tags to 5,000 University of Waterloo alumni.

It also caught the attention of CBC Radio host Matt Galloway, who interviewed Nazarian about his invention on Toronto’s Metro Morning program on Oct. 27.

For $4.95 per year, the company will securely store your ANT tag in the cloud, for distribution as you see fit. Bulk discounts are available for companies and other organizations.

The appeal of the service is obvious in a diverse, world-facing country like Canada, Nazarian said.

“Having this ahead of a conference, ahead of a meeting, gives you a leg up,” he said. “You remove that barrier, and you’re just talking business now.”

More fundamentally, the ANT offers a benefit that’s hard to measure, but nonetheless precious: dignity.

“Every person has a voice and every name should be heard,” Nazarian said. “This is something that reflects our core values, and we’re hoping it becomes a mainstream tool, and a simple tool that people can use.”

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.