The Importance of … Not Being Called the Wrong Name

wrong nameIt stinks to be called the wrong name — but what if it’s your colleague or boss who’s doing it?  How do you correct them?  Obviously, we had to wait to answer this reader mail until we started using our name with the blog…

I’m wondering how to handle correcting people on my name. My name is Diana, and I am constantly called Diane. This seems to happen most often in email of all places, where my name is automatically generated by Outlook in the To line, and where often my signature block is in the thread. Both coworkers, including HR of all places, and opposing counsel get it wrong with some frequency. Apparently this also happens a lot to my friend Julia, who is often called Julie. Diane and Julie are lovely names, but they aren’t ours.

When and how do I correct HR/partners/opposing counsel? This is really starting to drive me up the wall.

As a “Katherine” whose only nickname has ever been “Kat” — never Kathy or Kate — this author feels your pain. For our $.02, the trick is figuring out when to care if someone has your name wrong. For example, that random guy who responded to my e-mail last week “Thanks Kathy” — not a big enough deal to correct him on my name. However, when I started at my old firm, the partner assigned to be my liaison (and help me round up work) mistakenly thought my name was Kathy. (Or perhaps that all Katherines like to go by Kathy? It was never clear to me.) He immediately began promoting me to other partners as “Kathy” — which made me cringe every time, and required correction.  In your situation, we would say that HR is a big deal because they are likely to introduce you to other people — but opposing counsel isn’t such a big deal, because if s/he uses the name in court, the names sound similar enough (Diane, Diana) that no one will notice.  (Or just think he or she is being a jerk.)

Now, when it does matter that you correct the person on your name, it’s difficult to do it in a way that doesn’t come off as conceited, self-important, passive aggressive, or petty.  (At least, it always feels that way.)  Some suggestions for you:

– With a friend or colleague:  Tell a story about yourself, and refer to yourself in the third person.  As in, “My friends were all like, DIANA, stop it, you’re killing us!”

– With an introduction:  “Hi, Diane, it’s great to see you.  Meet my colleague ____.”  Then you turn to shake the colleague’s hand and say, “Hi, Diana __.”  Repeat your full name, even if the person before just said it.

– Through voicemails.  Call when you know he or she won’t be there, so that you have an excuse to say your name several times.  “Hi __, it’s DIANA __.  I just thought I’d call to respond to __.  Again, this is DIANA ___, please give me a call back at ___.”

– Direct.   Sometimes the only way to do this is to be direct, where you have to have a conversation with the person.  We would advise doing it in person, so your tone will not be misunderstood (and your tone should be light).  Such as, “Hi, HR person.”  “Hi, Diane!”  “Oh, ha, my mother would have a heart attack if she heard that — she fought tooth and nail against every grade school teacher who tried to call me that, which is why I staunchly insist on  ‘Diana’ today.  Anyway, I came by to drop off this file…”

Readers, any other tips?

Comments

  1. Alexandra. Constantly called Alexandria and sometimes Alexander. I have no tips in response to the inquiry because I usually don’t correct much of anything these days.
    I also use a nickname that is not Alex, which can get confusing and the nickname constantly is spelled wrong (it has two n’s, mostly people use one). I will tell those unfamiliar with me that I use both names so that they understand they may get a call or email from one or the other and they are both me!
    Email mistakes like this are ridiculous (as noted) because you only have to *look* at the name.
    To top it off: My last name also is difficult.

    • I can relate: my first and last names are both difficult. I get sooo tired of spelling them out 3 times for people who don’t appear to be listening. It’s gotten so that when it’s appropriate, I just lay my business card down in front of them and show them, with my fingernail right above the name. Tapping, sometimes. ‘Look, here, like this. Got that? Good.’

  2. My issue is a spelling one – I’m “Katharine” with an “a.” I don’t get mad at people for assuming it’s “Katherine,” as most people do, but it does get grating to constantly see one’s name spelled wrong, particularly on official documents that should have been double-checked. Also, since my e-mail address is katharine.lastname I had to get katherine.lastname routed to my account as well since so much stuff was getting bounced back.

  3. AnneCatherine :

    I find the email thing perplexing, too. When I email someone, my name (“Ann with an E” (Anne)) is in the email twice: the from line and the signature block. And still half the people (even people I work with) respond with “Ann, hi, blah blah.” What is that? Then, I get called Annie a lot. That’s a great name, just not mine. I used to resent it but now I just pretend people are calling me a pet name/nickname, instead of just misreading my name. That makes me feel better.

    So my answer is, I don’t know how to correct people, because I seldom have. I think it’s unintentional, and in my case, at least, not that big a deal since it doesn’t change the name drastically. My sister is named “just Beth” and people have called her Elizabeth over the years, but she says, “it’s just Beth, actually.” I’ve noticed, though, that people want to either shorten or lengthen names. In my case and my sister’s, they can’t shorten the names, so they ask her, “Is your name Bethany, or Bethanne, or Elizabeth?” With me, they say, “Is Anne your middle name? Because ‘Anne’ is a middle name.” Or, “Is your name Annabelle? Or Annemarie? Or Annabeth?” I guess it’s small talk, is what it boils down to.

    One day, though, I did have this (rather obnoxious, but nice) co-counsel who kept responding to all my emails “Ann, I’d like to do [blah blah]” She did it about twelve times in a row before I responded, “Julia, that’s a great idea.” (Her name was Julie.) Funnily enough, the next email came addressed to “Anne.” I suppose it WAS rather passive aggressive of me, but it worked.

  4. Responding to the post about nicknames, I have no problem with Jenny, Katie, Becky, etc., but I have a hard time referring to an older attorney, co-counsel that I’ve never met before, by a nickname such as Mo (for Maureen). I find this nickname to be way to casual for an attorney and usually refer to these types of people as Ms. [last name], but sometimes that can seem too formal, and I certainly don’t want to address this person as Maureen because they obviously do not go by that name. Maybe I only feel this way because I’m relatively young (29), and much younger than the co-counsel or clients that I’m corresponding with, so it seems odd to call them by their first names anyway. Or maybe I’m just thinking about this WAY too much!

    • Call the older attorneys by whatever name they introduce themselves with. Don’t call them Ms. or Mr. unless they call you Ms. or Mr. – that’s the equivalent of being called ma’am when you still think of yourself as a miss.

  5. I think it’s curious that people are so particular with nicknames. I certainly understand preferences, but in many countries & cultures people with any given name (e.g., Alexandra) will be addressed by many different nicknames (e.g., Alex, Lexie, Sandy, etc.). So, especially with something like Kate/Katie or Jess/Jessie, I would not be so bothered with someone using a pet name form of a formal name (though, this may be inappropriate for other reasons like “hey, I dont know you!”).

    I think a more interesting dilemna comes up with “difficult” or unusual last names. Many commenters mentioned this & it seems to be much harder to address.

  6. Ana (with one N) :

    Clearly I don’t care about appearing conceited, self-important, passive aggressive, or petty… I correct everyone! Instantly! Even telemarketers.

  7. I’m a Barbara. I have a nickname that’s not based off my firstname, but I don’t use it at work. Still, people call me Barb all the time. I also, weirdly, sometimes get called Deb or Deborah. I guess the second syllable is similar…

  8. Unfortunately, no amount of correction will make a bit of difference if the person speaking or writing to you doesn’t care enough to pay attention and adjust accordingly.

    I don’t have too many problems with my own name, but my longtime boyfriend has a very distinctive name (first and last). Every time a friend gets engaged/married/has a baby, they ask me how to spell his name for the invitation. Every time, I happily oblige. We’ve yet to receive an invitation where his name is spelled correctly. Either the friend(s) or their calligrapher(s) can’t be bothered to pay attention. I could get really pissed off, but I prefer to just let it go and vow not to do the same to others.

  9. My first name is Miriam, so I’m always getting Marion, Mariam, Mary Ann, Merriam (like the dictionary), etc. One time in Istanbul, a bus station clerk once wrote “Mertem” on my ticket. After I spelled it out for him.

    I thought the Sarahs, Julias, and Kates of the world had it easier– I guess I was wrong!

  10. Stephanie :

    I am one who loathes having my name shortened to ‘Stephie’ but you’d be surprised how often that happens.

    Every time, I’ve made it work by laughingly telling the person, something along the lines of I don’t normally answer to that name and I’d hate to miss something …. which puts the blame back on me, thus saving face for them.

    Sadly I’ve had to put up with the diminutive of Steph because it’s just so commonplace.

  11. Another Katie here. I changed my name on the firm stationery etc to read “Katie” because otherwise I got “Kathy” and “Kate” as well as “Katherine” all the time. I like having the more formal name as my “real” name but don’t feel the need to use it at work.

    To all the Kates – why is it that when you go by “Kate” people call you “Katie” and vice versa? Drives me crazy.

    • Amen. I don’t know why it’s so hard, but it gets really confusing because I frequently have friends with similar names. In college, there were a group of three of us that hung out named Kate, Katie, and Kathryn. Needless to say, that could get confusing if people didn’t get it right.

    • I have about 12 friends whose names are Katherine or Kathleen, or a nickname thereof. Sometimes just in conversation the wrong nickname slips out. I know which one is Kate and which one is Katie, but sometimes my tongue moves faster than my brain.

  12. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I’m completely blunt about it and I correct it the first time every time. I have a name that people seem to like to shorten. I always say “It’s [full name], actually.”

    I guess I could feel bad for the awkwardness it creates, but no one has ever done it twice. Plus, the person doing it is usually trying to create some sort of false sense of camaraderie or familiarity, which is annoying.

    Or maybe I’m just a jerk.

    • Not a jerk – immediate honesty is the best policy – no repeats, no hard feelings, and they’re more likely to remember the right name than they were to remember the wrong one now that they’ve had to think about it

    • I actually think this is the best way to handle it. I am a little surprised (and mildly saddened) that all the suggestions above are very passive, indirect ways of handling this problem.

      Speak up, ladies — being direct is always best. You’re professionals, after all. Don’t act like you are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings when they are clearly not being too particular with yours.

    • There are guys here?

  13. I inwardly grimace every time someone calls me Meghan… but usually I laugh and say, “Actually I’m a Margaret, one of many in my family… so they had to give us nicknames to tell us apart.” That way, they just think I’m a crazy red-neck instead of conceited or petty. Of course, in retrospect, that may not always be a good thing…

  14. Seventh Sister :

    This is only sort of related, but I *try* not to get bent out of shape when people assume that I changed my last name. Of my law school friends, most kept their “maiden” names, some changed their names, and at least one hyphenated her name.

    I’ve noticed that of my friends who changed their name, most did it before or just after graduation from college and/or law school.

    As an “old married,” now (has it been 5 years?) , I have had very few issues about keeping my name. Not at preschool, not at the pediatrician’s office, not even with most utilities. I do live in Southern California, so perhaps it’s more common here than in other areas. The only guff I seem to get (weirdly) is from small business owners. My husband got me a gift certificate for a yoga class, and the teacher could.not.work.it.out that husband David Jones got his wife Sally Smith a gift certificate. And occasionally, I will get called “Mrs. Jones” at church, but I usually start looking around for my step-mother-in-law.

    • Legally Blonde :

      I’m with you on that one. I didn’t change my name. Not a problem at work or in other settings, but I have friends and family who just do.not.get.it. I’ve even told people that I am fine if they use both mine and DH’s name (i.e., Jane Doe Smith), even though I am actually just Jane Doe, but you would not believe the number of people who will STILL send mail addressed to Jane Smith.

      Bottom line: Everyone should be careful to call people what they want to be called. Your name is Princess Consuela Bananahammock? Then that is what I shall call you.

      • I’d love to see a whole post topic on this issue. I am the rare person who is very opposed to a woman taking her husband’s last name, a tradition rooted in appalling sexism. I wish I didn’t feel so passionately about this. I know I should just let it go, but it seems so unfair that only women should have to make this sacrifice (or deal with a lifetime of assumption that she has made this sacrifice).

        • In NY, couples who apply for a marriage license have the option of taking any last name they want, including a husband taking the wife’s name or the two of them taking an entirely different name altogether.

          I have actually heard of young couples now merging their names to create a new name or taking a new last name (e.g., Mr. & Mrs. Universe, although admitedly that’s a particularly terrible example).

          I am sort of on the fence as far as whether I would want to take a husband’s name when I get married (prob. depends on what it is, in all honesty), but I do think the idea of a husband & wife sharing a name –whatever it may be– is kind of nice, and probably good for kids.

          • I have friends who did this. His name was already hypenated, and she wasn’t keen on giving up her name entirely. Rather than double hypenate or create a strange situation for future children, the just “combined” their names into one. Sort of like “Smith” and “Brown” turned into “Brith” only the real example worked out to sound lovely.

        • This is something I thought about a lot last May, when I got married — kept seeing posts about it on my favorite wedding blog (weddingbee.com) and wondered what the Corporette readers would think of it. Ultimately, it seems to me that whether you do or don’t take his name is a deeply personal question for the bride, with a lot of deeply personal factors going into it — and it isn’t fair to throw it up there as if it’s a subject for debate. I wouldn’t even be 100% comfortable with posting all my reasons for my decision on such a public forum. (I took my husband’s last name, and it was absolutely the right choice for me.)

          • Kat: good for you in your choice You have to go with your gut in decisions like this. Your reasons are your own, and probably often difficult to articulate. No reason you should feel obliged to do so, to anyone. ‘Oh I dunno, I just felt like it’ is all you need to say.

        • R, I 100% agree with you. When I see women my age (29) taking their husband’s names, I cringe for the internalized sexism. When I married, I told my husband that the only way I would change my name was if we both changed our name to a different, chosen name. He was uninterested in that compromise, so I kept my so-called maiden name. It’s unfortunate, really, because even my maiden name is a product of the sexism and misogyny of times past.

          I’d like to see a post on this subject myself. But I can only imagine the type of responses we’d see. I’m sure some people will find my position offensive to their beliefs, just as I find the decision to take a husband’s name sexist and offensive to mine.

          • I don’t find it offensive at all! For me, though, it comes down to convenience – make a feminist statement and keep my constantly misspelled and mispronounced maiden name, or take fiance’s short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce name. If my maiden name were less problematic, I’d feel differently.

          • I don’t think that it’s “internalized sexism” if I choose to take my future husband’s name. That’s the beauty of CHOICE, no? If I felt forced, that would be a different story.

            I promise that I can be feminist and take my future husband’s name. Please don’t cringe for me, I assure you it’s unnecessary!

      • I am totally changing my name to “Princess Consuela Bananahammock.” That’s awesome.

        Seriously though, I don’t understand why it is so difficult for some people to comprehend that my last name is not the same as my husband’s. I have relatives that consistently call me by the wrong last name when they mail me something. The most infuriating is when they use “Dr. & Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname,” when they know darn well that Dr. is my correct title as well. And I don’t appreciate having BOTH of my names entirely disregarded.

        • Seventh Sister :

          I tend to just blow the relatives off as I suspect I’m not going to change the minds of my mostly elderly extended family – we are generally an extremely stubborn lot. (I might try and correct them if they were sending me large checks with the wrong name on them.)

          Usually, I just say, “Oh, I’m sorry, my last name is actually ‘blank,'” and end it at that point. And I don’t bother correcting people if it isn’t important (e.g., a wedding placecard). People have *very* strong opinions on the topic – both ways.

          • Well, unfortunately it is not just elderly relatives…if it were I think it would bother me less, because I could at least write it off as them just being a product of their time. But really it doesn’t happen all that often…it is just extremely irritating when it does happen.

        • I don’t think it’s a big deal to be informally referred to as Mrs. Whatever, especially if the person is a friend/relative of your husband and not you, but it’s infuriating to have them disregard your correct title but give him his.

        • My mother did take my father’s last name when they got married. However, if she EVER got mail addressed only to “Mrs. (My dad’s first and last name)”, she threw it out without reading. Her logic – “When I married your father I took his last name, not his first name too.”

    • (the other) Dasha :

      I also did not change my last name, in part because my last name comes with an awesome backstory, and my husband’s doesn’t and is constantly mispronounced. Everyone personally and professionally knows me by my own (maiden?) name and on those rare occasions when someone uses my husband’s name, I don’t really care. In New York, at least, I can legally use Dasha [DH's last name].

      The weirdness is when I call my bank, etc and they ask me my name, then my mother’s maiden name – which is the same as mine. THAT results in more double takes, awkward pauses, etc, than anything else.

    • Haha. I have a coworker who is from Eastern Europe, and she did change her name, but to the feminine version of her husband’s (of the same ethnicity, but born in the US) last name – think that his last name is Sharapov so she’s Sharapova. Her in-laws cannot comprehend that she took his last name – they think she accidentally spelled it wrong. To compound things, their boy children are all Sharapovs, but if they have girls they’ll be Sharapovas.

  15. Oh I’m so glad to see this post, this has been the bane of my life for so long! Good tips, all, but my problem isn’t easily fixed by these hints.

    My name is Susan. Susie is fine. NEVER Sue. Sue is just all kinds of wrong and actually makes me feel a little nauseous.

    However, this problem is compounded by the fact that a couple of partners (one in particular) will say hi to me walking past them in the corridor and say ‘Hi, Sue’ – how can I, during that fleeting moment go ‘actually, it’s Susan’.

    Yet if I don’t, they will persist in the name-butchering until it is too late for them to change it, even if I point it out, because in their heads I am ‘Sue’.

    Ick.

    • Ugh, I have this same issue. I have a common first name with many, many common nicknames. But I go by the full name. One of the partners at my firm calls me by one of the nicknames, and it happens to be one that I particularly dislike. But I don’t work with him, and I don’t see him very often and when I do it is often in passing. I have been hoping that he would just pick up on the fact that everyone else refers to me by the full version of my name, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. And now it is getting to the point where if I don’t say something soon, it is just going to get more and more awkward.

    • Yes. Correct early, correct often, until they get it right.

    • I have the same issue, and I just stop and say, “Hi, John! By the way, it’s Jenny, not Jen! Thanks!”

  16. Don’t make it a big deal. Just correct people immediately, unapologetically. They didn’t do anything wrong, so no need to get upset. They just unintentionally misheard, mispronounced or misremembered your name. So correct them. I’d want to know if I was calling someone the wrong name, so I could start calling them by the right name.

    I’m Gina, and I get called Jean, Jeannie, Jenny and Tina. Right away, I respond with “Gina” or “It’s ‘Gina’.” Usually just that, nothing else. And move on.

  17. Confession: I am the person who gets your name wrong.

    Seriously. I am as careful as can be on email, but I mishear names ALL THE TIME. Melissa for Marisa, Caroline for Carolyn, Katie for Kate– you name it, I’ve done it, and then introduced you to others by the same (wrong) name. And because there is no justice in the world, no one has ever misspelled or misheard “Emily,” so I don’t even understand your pain.

    The only thing I can say in my defense is that I’ve long ago stopped being embarrassed by it; just correct me, as firmly and clearly as possible. Don’t let it go– remember, I’m infecting others with my misunderstanding, raving about my new friend “Alex,” while poor Alice gets none of the credit. Listen to me when I repeat your name back to you when we’re introduced. Be prepared to spell it out if I still don’t catch on. There’s no need to make a joke about it; just pretend I’ve misheard the directions you just gave me (“No, it’s LEFT at Main”).

    Sadly, there are many things you might be judged for being particular about. Your name isn’t one of them. It matters.

    • My mind goes completely blank when I have to introduce people. Can’t remember anyone’s name, even my own.

    • I’m an Emily. When I was looking at and eventually getting my first car, the salesman wrote “Imily” on the file, on the little card they gave me for my wallet (picture of me with my new car on the front, numbers for the dealership, roadside assistance, etc.), and in the dealership’s records. They mailed me a calendar with the picture of me and my car and “Imily Lastname” in big letters. Strangely enough, I have an uncommon Italian last name that is almost always mispronounced, misunderstood and misspelled, and he got that right. But Emily was just too much for him. Whenever someone asks my last name (when I’m making appointments, getting take-out, filling prescriptions, requesting school records, etc.) I just automatically default to spelling my name, and since even the letters are misheard (think d=t=b=v or s=f) I always go one step further and say (just for example – I am not actually related to Vito and Michael) “C-like-cat O-like-orange R-like-run L-like-love E-like-egg O-like-orange N-like-no E-like egg.” Works most of the time. The junk mail my family gets is hysterical, though – one time my dad (Brian) got something addressed to “Brain” and the last name was spelled like a type of fruit/veg that apart from starting with the same letter, sounds nothing like our actual last name.

      For this reason, when my longtime bf and I get married, I plan to take his simple Irish last name. I’m proud of my Italian heritage but it’s not worth the headaches, especially once I’ve graduated and enter the legal world. I plan to give my kids Italian first names to keep my heritage in the mix (Giovanna/Francesca/Chiara/etc. or Antonio/Luca/etc.). I think it’s very feminist that we as women can make this choice and not default to what we’re “supposed” to do. It’s hard to feel oppressed by a patriarchal society when you consider both options carefully and decide that one is preferable to the other. I don’t judge other women for their choice of last name because hey, it’s their choice. My best friend and her husband picked a name combining letters from their own last names and I thought that was both cool and perfect for them.

      • Sometimes I wish I had taken my husband’s last name, Brown, since mine is a perfectly ordinary noun but no one ever seems able to spell it, and I get tired of spelling it out for people. But I love your decision to go for a simple last name, and Italian first names.

  18. frustrated academic :

    I have a name that is French, but without the accent it is the English version. Although I always use the accent, most people read the name as the English version and call me that when we meet in person. I always respond with, “It’s French name actually, English name is my mom. ” Depending on the setting, I tell the story of how I got the name to get the point across that it is French name.

    Of course some people still call me English name or want to come up with a nickname–“oh French name is hard to pronounce, can I call you random nickname?” With the first group, I correct them until they get it, or depending on the relationship (elderly judges, barista, etc.) just let it go. With the second group, I say that French name is my name, I understand that it is different in pronounciation, and you will eventually get it. 99% of people do learn how to say my name, if not how to spell it–thank goodness for automatic fill-ins with email (I did break up with my personal trainer because she was either unwilling or unable to learn how to pronounce my name–even emails began with “hey you”).

    I think that those of us with unusual names are more outgoing and assertive as we learned to promote\speak up for ourselves in grade school!

    As for those of you who work with people who either refuse to learn your name or make up a nickname for you (gak!)–they’re tools and here’s a big hug!

    • When I’m speaking or working in Spanish I actually use a different spelling of my name so that it gets pronounced right. This doesn’t seem to bother anyone, so you might consider doing that. Spanish is phonetic and Spanish native speakers are really bad at pronouncing anything spelled using foreign phonetics. So if you’re Hélène, you could spell it Aylen or something (ok – bad example, but you get the point).

      I also am very careful about always putting accents in my French and Spanish-speaking friends’ names, but most English speakers aren’t going to do this, because they don’t understand how accents work and why they’re important.

    • Not everyone has studied French or a language with similar use of accents. I think it’s somewhat unreasonable to expect people who come across your name to read the accents correctly and then insert them when they type your name.

  19. constructlawgirl :

    I’m a Jessica. I don’t mind nicknames (Jessi, Jess, etc.) however, what I find completely odd is that so many people call me Jennifer. It’s crazy….they do not even sound similar!

    • I’m the opposite. I’m a Jennifer and everyone always hears Jessica.

      I agree, it’s very strange!

      • Another Jessica here. I also get called Jennifer a lot. And Jessi. Neither is my name. I correct people I will see again. If it’s a random encounter, such as the guy at Starbucks, I let it slide. I think I said “actually, it’s Jessica” every day for two weeks to a partner at my old firm. He finally stopped calling me Jennifer.

  20. I definitely understand your frustration, this happens to me too.

    Whatever you do though, don’t be like this person:

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/anneschroeder/0609/No_namecalling.html

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