Virtual Appointments – How to Use the Phonetic Alphabet

Applied History: Agents and the Phonetic Alphabet

The phonetic alphabet has seen many changes since its inception during the first World War. The phonetic alphabet was originally used by aircrews to clearly communicate letters and to identify themselves. Without it, someone could say “C” over their broadcast system and someone on the receiving end could hear “Z” instead. The English alphabet is rife with letter names that sound similar. For instance, M and N blur together, B and P, D and G, etc.

Without some kind of phonetic alphabet, I could say my last name, “Bronson,” and try to spell it. The other party could hear “Pronsom” or “Pronson” or “Bromson,” or any number of other variations.

The British Royal Navy used a phonetic alphabet that began with Apples, Butter, and Charlie. It seems Champagne would have gone better with Apples and Butter, but hey, why not let Charlie have some?

British infantry had their own version starting with Ack, Beer, and Charlie. This time, Charlie got ahold of some bad beer. In 1941, the Combined Communications Board (CCB) developed a general military alphabet involving both the British and American militaries. The CCB version started with Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog… There was some confusion with some of the words and it became clear it should be standardized. In 1951, Jean-Paul Vinay, a professor of linguistics from the University of Montreal, began developing a new universal phonetic alphabet that every English speaker could use. Of course, pilots had already adapted to using the one that had been established previously, so there was a fair amount of pushback. Nevertheless, the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is now the same one Jean-Paul developed and released in 1956, with only one change. The changes involved the phonetic words for the letters N– Nectar became November.

If the makers would have had a sense of humor, we could be hearing some funny phonetic spellings like

  • Queen Juliet Love Whiskey Nectar
  • How Roger Jig Tango Foxtrot
  • Mike Zebra Golf Uniform

But, alas, we ended up with an internationally recognizable phonetic alphabet that the military and Ham radio operators use daily. As an insurance agent, you may find that you struggle to spell out proper names letter-by-letter for your online or telephone-accessible clients, and so always having a copy of NATO’s Phonetic Alphabet handy may prove helpful! Additionally, this will make it easier for the elderly or hard-of-hearing to understand your correspondence the first time, which will help your AEP proceed without hiccups.

Is it easy to use? You be the judge! Download our Phonetic Alphabet sheet here and try it for yourself.

The marketing team at Empower sure had fun with it. Check out our videos here and here.


We hope that this information on the phonetic alphabet is useful to you.

Empower Brokerage is dedicated to helping you make informed decisions about your health and finances. Whether it’s through webinar training, one-on-one calls, seminars, or marketing plans, we want you to be successful!

Give us a call at 888-539-1633 or leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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