Dear Sir: The Problem with Gender Neutral Names

How to Deal with a New Business Acquaintance With a Gender Neutral Name | CorporetteReader M has a question about gender-neutral names…

I am a new practicing attorney with a gender-neutral name. I’ve been in practice since October (4 months) and have already received at least 10 correspondences addressed to “Mr. Last Name.” Aside from making a phone call to the offending party and changing the footer in my email to all pink, is there a way to politely correct individuals about my gender?

Excellent question! I think you have a few options. (Pictured:  It’s a girl!… originally uploaded to Flickr by duncan.) The obvious one, sadly, is to not care so much — after all, the issue will be resolved if the correspondence continues, and the egg is really on the other party’s face right now. But you can do a few things to improve the odds of getting a properly-addressed correspondence, particularly if the other party cares about these things:

First, make sure you have a picture on your company’s website (if it isn’t already mandatory). Check out some of our previous advice on how to take a good corporate headshot here. If you don’t have a photo, but have a bio, do your best to use feminine pronounces. “Ms. ____ recently wrote these three articles.”

Second, manage your online presence. Sign up for Linked In and attach a picture to the account, and make your profile picture on Facebook visible.  A lot of people might Google your name to see information about you.

Third, leave a message with your own voice. (If you’re currently using the automated voicemail (or having your secretary record your messages), stop that!) This will help the people who secretly call after hours (or call the operator and ask for your voicemail) to ascertain the pronunciation of a name or even the sex.

Fourth, talk with your secretary about the problem — ask him or her to please very clearly state, “Miss ____’s office” when she picks up the phone.

If you’re doing all of this already, here’s one final suggestion:  begin using your middle name. “Shawn Ann” or “Leslie Marie” might seem longish, but it will go a long way towards cluing people in to your gender.  Another twist on this is to have your signature line say “Ms. ____” instead of just your name.

Readers, how do you think reader M should deal with her gender neutral name problem?

Update: There’s an interesting debate going on in the comments about Miss, Mrs., and Ms.  For my $.02:  Even now that I’m married, if this were my situation (where you want to clarify something right off the bat), I might ask my secretary to say “Miss Griffin’s Office” because “Miss” is the crispest and clearest over the phone – particularly if you’re dealing with secretary who may have an accent.  No one will mistake “Miss” for “Mr.,” but not a lot of people will necessarily read “Oooh, single lady” into it either.  That said, I would use “Ms.” in every other instance in the working world. (And hey, maybe I’m weird, but yes, I would take offense if someone called me “Mrs. Griffin” in a business context, unless I were very recently married.)

Comments

  1. I have many funny stories of people assuming I am a man based on my Indian name. Especially Asian clients, who tend to assume that you are a man if you are in a power position. The most elegant solution for this came from a colleague who also has a gender neutral name. Her email signature is – Jane Doe (Ms.). Simple and direct! I’ve adopted it (Mrs.), and nobody has made the mistake since.

    • I like this much better than Ms. ______!
      I am not sure why, but I would find it odd to see something signed, e.g., “Ms. Sam Smith,” whereas “Sam Smith (Ms.)” is just kind of plucky/useful & would probably come across much better to me.

    • I agree, that’s much better. Unless, of course, I’m the one reading it, because all I would be able to think of is that Monty Python sketch about cross-dressing. . . . (it was tacked onto the end of the Lumberjack Song, if I remember correctly).

    • SF Bay Associate :

      This method – Jane Doe (Ms.) – was totally common in the software company I worked before law school. Most of the employees had names from their native languages, but most of the American clients didn’t know whether Sunil, for example, was a he or a she. And the flip side of that was that the foreign, Chinese especially, clients weren’t sure if some of the less common American names (Madison, for example) were a he or a she. So, pretty much everyone used either (Ms.) Jane Doe, or Jane Doe (Ms.) in their email signature block, and problem solved.

    • I have seen this too with people from Asian countries who have names that most Westerners are not familiar with.

    • This is what I do as well. My name is not particularly gender neutral, but I work in a male-dominated field, and most foreign associates assume that I am male.

      I adopted it from Yamakawa, one of the foreign associates, whose signature always included the (Mr.) and (Miss). I go with (Ms.) because my marriage or lack thereof has nothing to do with my work.

      • Honestly, if someone had (Ms) in parentheses after their name, I’d think they were saying they had a master of science degree. It’s a good idea, but just put Ms Jane Doe.

    • My Mom Didn't Know... :

      … that my name is a boy’s name. I love the (Ms.) solution and will be using this!

  2. My boss has a gender neutral name and uses a clearly female middle name along with her first in her correspondence.

    Someone I used to work with who had a gender neutral (and foreign) name included in her signature, like so: Ms. [Gender neutral first name] Last Name before her title and contact info.

  3. Any suggestions for someone who’s title is “Dr.”? It would hugely detract from my credibility in my role to go by “Ms.”, so that’s not really an option.

    • Boston atty :

      Use LinkedIn with a picture and/or your own website also with a picture. When I’ve had trouble finding out the gender of someone, I googled them. LinkedIn hits come up very high when you type someone’s name, and in particular if you know their employer, and seeing a picture once you’ve identified you have the correct person is all you need.

    • Dr. Jae Doe (Ms.)
      or
      Jae Doe, M.D. (Ms.)

      or

      Jae Doe, PhD, MCCE, MBA, CFA (Ms.)

      • I think I might find that more confusing, because I’d assume it was another degree…

        Too bad we don’t have the German solution here – Herr Doktor for male PhDs, and Frau Doktor for female ones.

  4. I like the idea of the Ms. Firstname Lastname in your signature, and also a pic on the linkedin and firm profile. Also, you can include that sentence in your bio such as “Ms. XYZ was an Articles Editor of the ABC Journal while in law school” or whatever.

    • This is what my career counselor in law school recommended. Particularly because my maiden name (which is now my middle name) is also a masculine first name. So, using my full name, without the Ms. qualifier at the beginning, just ends up sounding even more masculine.

  5. I think the email signature suggestions are good. I also suggest returning emails or letters with a phone call so they can put a voice to the name.

    If it makes Reader M feel any better, I have a fairly common feminine first name (and not something like Kelly or Courtney that used to be male…) and in the past year I have received 3 communications addressed to Mr. First Name Last Name. Sometimes people just aren’t paying attention.

  6. Anonymous :

    For the Dr., I would say a link in an email signature to a personal website that prominently displays a picture of you is a good solution, so it looks like:

    Dr. Alex Smith
    http://www.website.com/asmith

    Often with gender-neutral names, it’s just as awkward for the person trying to address the person to figure out which gender you are. A picture would definitely help!

    • Oh, agreed. When I need to call and set up an interview with someone who has a gender-neutral name, I often secretly hope I’ll wind up with their voicemail so I can hear their voice and figure it out! If I have to send paper or electronic correspondence I typically just address them by their full name, without a title.

      I once had to deal repeatedly with someone who had what seemed to be a reasonably feminine name (can’t recall what it was) and sent all emails addressed to Ms._____, only to get a phone call one day from HIM. Eek. He was quite gracious about it, though.

  7. Boston atty :

    I have a foreign name that is oftentimes taken to be a man’s. My resume header is “Ms. FirstName LastName” but at the firm I just have my full name and a picture on our website to dispel any doubts.

    I agree that over time people find out if you continue to work with them. In any case, I find that it really doesn’t matter what gender people think you are, in *particular* if you’re a woman and they think you’re a man at first. It makes for some interesting situations (talk about gender-based assumptions) but I can’t think of a situation where it would be important. It’s not like people are assigned to share hotel rooms based on gender in a business context or anything like that.

    I disagree with Kat that your secretary should be saying you’re “Miss Lastname.” Maybe I’m being overly sensitive and yes when you pronounce “Miss” and “Ms.” it might sound the same to many people but it is not the same. There is no “I’m an unmarried man” title for men, we should avoid using one for women. Incidentally, I go by “Ms.” even though I am married, though I did not change my last name so I’m not sure I could even be called “Mrs.”

    • Ballerina girl :

      I agree wholeheartedly about the “Miss” v. “Ms” but assumed it was an oversight. I feel like “Miss” is for little girls these days–as in, girls under 10 and with a hint of a joke.

    • I think Mrs. is pretty much on the way out for women.
      The New York Times, e.g., generally refers to all women as Ms. unless they specifically prefer to go by Mrs.
      And I have never heard a woman referred to as Mrs. in court, regardless of her marital status (though this may be regional, I think it still speaks to a larger trend).
      I think in 20-30 years, you will be hard pressed to find many — especially in the next generation — going by Mrs.
      And you’ll also have many more gender neutral names, too . . . What with all the Hunters, Taylors, and Parkers I am seeing on the playgrounds these days. I guess everyone will just have a LinkenIn profile ;)

      • Ballerina girl :

        I agree that it’s on the way out–it sounds so old-fashioned to me now. I’m not even against using it someday for feminist reasons so much as the fact that it just sounds outdated.

      • surrounded by lawyers :

        Agree with all of this…yet I am surprised and disappointed at how extremely often, if not most of the time, we hear “Mrs. Clinton” and “Mrs. Palin.” Sure, these are their husbands’ family names. But–huh?

        • Anonymous :

          I’ve always assumed Hillary Clinton prefers to be addressed as “Mrs” because that’s what the NY Times uses and, as someone above posted, my understanding is that they use “Ms” unless the subject of the article specifies another preference.

        • Hillary has been pretty adamant about wanting to be addressed as Mrs., actually. I dunno about Palin – I think she prefers Governor Palin.

          • don’t think she gets to be called “governor” since she quit the position.

      • Anon for this :

        Whoa, I wish. Not in the South, it isn’t on the way out. Yes, I’m talking about the Bible Belt.
        “Reclaim ‘Mrs.’! Show the world you aren’t ashamed to be married!”

        Despite having not taken my husband’s last name, I am commonly called “Mrs. Mylastname” in writing. There is some disagreement over whether that is correct or not, but I believe it is incorrect. It leads one to look for a “Mr. Mylastname”, and I most certainly did not marry my father. (!)

        Using “Ms.” is a way to be incorrect less often in correspondence: It may not be the recipient’s preferred form of address, but as it is marital-status agnostic, at least you won’t be mistaken about that (though perhaps you will be about the recipient’s sex). And yes, a woman’s marital status is relevant only if one is interested in her in a romantic sort of way.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/magazine/25FOB-onlanguage-t.html

        • I agree with you in theory re: Ms. — but I actually would advise my secretary to say “Miss” because it’s crisper than “Mzzzz.” Particularly in an area like NYC where you may be dealing with regional accents, I would prefer to have a crisp, clarity-inducing phone answer. I’ll see if I can clarify the text to make my original intention clearer…

          • Kat, the problem with this — at least out here in California — is that if my assistant did this, it’s far more likely that a caller who doesn’t know me would assume that I am 23 years old. Exactly the opposite of what I want to convey! (Per NGDGTCO, etc.)

        • I am married but not a Mrs. because I didn’t take my husband’s last name. I thought this was correct. I didn’t realize there was any debate about this, so thanks for pointing this out.

          My children’s friends often address me as Mrs. {Husband’sLastName}, which is OK with me because I am glad they are being respectful rather than calling me my first name. (I’m also good with them calling me Miss FirstName, which I think is a southern thing.) And we certainly get social correspondence addressed to Mr. and Mrs. But I draw the line at business. If someone kept calling me Mrs. I would eventually correct them.

      • I’m a young associate and personally know one of our firm’s law clerks from another organization. He always refers to me as “Mrs. Lastname” — How do I get him to stop??? Something about it just triggers a visceral reaction in me — probably because I do not want to be seen by the other lawyers at my firm as “someone’s wife” — I’d like to be seen as me. He truly means nothing by it. Can’t figure out how to achieve my goals of getting him to stop and doing it kindly enough.

        • Is it common for people at your firm to refer to each other as Mr./Ms. rather than by their first names? If not, I would just ask him to call you by his first name. If so, maybe you could say something along the lines of “Oh, please call me Ms. Soandso. ‘Mrs. Soandso’ makes me think someone is talking to my mother/mother-in-law [depending on whether you kept your own name or not].”

          The above would probably be the least akward/least confrontational options, but you could be more up front about it and just flat out tell him you prefer Ms. If he asks why, I would just explain that Mrs./Miss are outdated and that women should be referred to as Ms. unless you know they have a different preference.

    • This drives me nuts too, and I can’t believe the number of younger people who don’t understand that there is a difference between Ms. and Miss.

      • I understand the difference, but I’m not sure people will hear a difference when I say the two–with even the slight southern accent I have, they sound pretty similar. This might be the case with some spoken, at least.

        (Other fun things I can’t say differently–jim, gem, gym. I had a friend in middle school whose second language was English and it mystified her that I, with english as my first language, cannot for the life of me say those with any distinction.)

      • I’m 26 and I didn’t know there was a difference until very recently. Of all places, I learned it from my dad. I thought Ms. was an abbreviation for Miss. Honestly, no one ever told me there was a difference.

        • anonymous :

          All this Ms. v. Miss. stuff is ridiculous. Anyone who is offended by someone’s pronunciation of the term Ms. needs to get a new hobby. I guarantee you that NO ONE means any disrespect by it, it’s just a regional/accent thing.

          • Uh, I think you are really missing the point. It is NOT a pronunciation issue. Miss and Ms. mean different things. Miss refers to an unmarried woman, and Mrs. to a married woman. Ms. was introduced to give women an option that did not immediately identify them as being married vs. unmarried, which is really not relevant in most situations, and is definitely not relevant in a professional setting.

          • Oops, I hit submit too soon. I meant to add:

            It was not so long ago that it was routine for employers to ask women during interviews whether they were married or not, and discriminate against them in the hiring process on that basis. (This still goes on, it’s just not as blatant any more). It bothers me that younger people seem to not understand the difference between Ms/Miss/Mrs because t0 me it is evidence of a lack of understanding of how much sexism there used to be (and still is) in the workplace.

          • my point was that it’s a pronunciation thing if I’m saying it out loud. I know the difference perfectly well, and if writing, I’ll use the correct one. But if I say “Ms. Anon,” you very well might hear “Miss Anon” because of my accent, even though I mean “generic term for woman” rather than “unmarried woman.”

            Interestingly, I just looked it up on dictionary.com, and it had this note: “—Pronunciation note: Ms. is pronounced (miz), a pronunciation that is identical with one standard South Midland and Southern U.S. pronunciation of Mrs. ” So apparently I’m odd among southerners for getting Mrs. right and pronouncing Ms. and Miss about the same. Though now that I think about it, that is what a lot of older generation people back home do.

          • In court where I practice, the judges often pronounce “Ms.” as “miss.” When you’re saying it quickly, all the “Ms.”s turn to “miss.” It’s true for the more senior women in court, too. The court clerks transcribe it as “Ms.”

    • I very much hope so, I hate being referred to as “Miss”. Unfotunately, I have met two people in their 20s who thought that “Ms.” was only used for divorced women. That’s even worse! If my marital status is no one else’s business, my former marital status is really not their business.

  8. Anonymous :

    On the flip side, male paralegal in my law firm has a name that is typically a feminine name. His signature block says “Firstname Lastname (Mr.).”

    The comment asking what you do if you’re entitled to use “Dr.” reminded me of a story from a friend of mine. She has a PhD. Her husband has a PhD. They have different last names. They are professors in the same department (chemistry) at a large state university in Oklahoma. She mentioned to me one day that her students refer to Husband as Dr. Hislastname and to her as Mrs. Herlastname, and she couldn’t figure out why.

    • Anonymous :

      She “couldn’t figure out why”? I wish I was as cynicism-free as your friend is. (Also a doctor, here, also have to deal with this problem.)

      • Anonymous :

        I’ve known her for almost 20 years and I really don’t think she was joking when she said “I don’t know why” when referring to this phenomenon. It was like it had never occurred to her that her students viewed her as a married woman rather than a fully-degreed professor.

        • Ah yes. I had a female college freshman as a summer student last year. She referee to my colleague as Dr. HisFirstName and me as Miss MyFirstName. He was more concerned about it than I was. I’ve stopped getting so worried about much of this stuff. I call myself Mrs. HisLastName when I call my husbands workplace, and he gets called Mr MyLastName when he comes to my workplace. We both just chuckle.

    • Funny, I had two PhD chemistry teachers in high school who were married to each other (same last name) and we used to call them (no joke):

      Mr. Dr. LastName (sometimes dropped the Mr. for him, but not often)
      Mrs. Dr. LastName

      • lawstudent :

        One of my schools had married professors with doctorate degrees as well. We sometimes called them – with a smile – “Dr. Mr. Smith” or “Dr. Mrs. Smith.”

      • I know this is an older post, but I just had to say that when I was in the Army, we had a married couple in my company who were the same rank (staff sergeant) and had the same name.. It was pretty common to (half-jokingly) refer to them as SSG Mr. LastName and SSG Mrs. LastName.

    • I had husband-and-wife professors in law school and we called them Mr. Professor Jones and Mrs. Professor Jones. It is incredibly disrespectful of her students to drop her title like that.

      • Also, I love that Jill Biden is always referred to as Dr. Biden. Good on the media for getting this straight.

        • Actually, not to nitpick, but according to AP rules, the only people who should be referred to as Dr. so-and-so (at least in print media) are medical doctors. They refer to Dr. Biden as Dr. Because she specifically requested it.

  9. I have a common (in the uk) female name, however when working internationally I’ve found it’s often assumed I’m male until a telecon or face to face meeting takes place. I have to say I normally don’t worry about this too much. No harm, no foul. Incidently my American collegues find my name difficult to pronounce from the spelling alone and often express how unusual it is.

    On a separate note I was taught Ms is the correct title for divorced women or single mothers and if you are unsure one should use sir rather then the now more common sir/madam.

    • Boston atty :

      What about married women who kept their names? I would not say I’m Mrs. Mylastname because I think that sounds weird. Even so if I book hotel reservations, the front desk always assumes I took my husband’s name and calls him Mr. Mylastname, which he is sometimes annoyed by. I tell him he shouldn’t be annoyed, they’re assuming I took HIS name.

      • I find it hilarious when this happens. One time I was down in DisneyWorld with my BF, and the resort handed him his park pass with HisFirstName MyLastName printed on it. Hehe.

      • Ms. should be used for married women who keep their own name (and all other women, depending on how you feel about this).

        I went on a quick business trip this past spring and used my hubby’s carry on suitcase. When I checked in at the hotel with the male partner, one of the bell boys called him Mr. My(new)lastname, after reading it on the suitcase. Omg, did he blush! It was hilarious.

    • Anonymous :

      While Ms. may once have been limited to divorced women or single mothers, the majority of women under 40 where I live (midwestern US) use Ms. even if married (and even if they took their husband’s last name).

      Perhaps there is a difference between the US and UK? I did a two-week law course in Scotland and noticed the barristers’ boxes in some courthouse were labeled Mr, Mrs, or Miss. I asked our lecturer about the lack of “Ms” and she said people chose the title for their box and that she could not imagine going as “Ms” because “she loved being married.” For the record, I love being married (and my husband!), but I hate with a passion being addressed as Mrs.

      • Boston atty :

        “For the record, I love being married (and my husband!), but I hate with a passion being addressed as Mrs.”

        THIS. And ditton on “Miss” (before married).

        • Yes! I did take his name but I use my maiden name as my middle name and I go by all three. (I do have a typically female first name.) I abhor Mrs. HisLastName and don’t think “Mrs.” is really very appropriate in a professional setting–and neither is Miss. Ms. all the way!

          • Anonymous No. 19 :

            That is exactly what I did, and I go by Firstname Mylastname Hislastname. Friends and family refer to us as “the Herlastname Hislastnames “and we get quite a bit of mail addressed to Her and Him Mylastname Hislastname, which I find quite amusing and doesn’t bother him a bit!

    • Ms. is very common in the US for younger women. I just don’t think women here seem to be as eager to point out their marital status within the professional realm.

    • I would also add that using Ms as opposed to Mrs. or Miss takes marital status and/or age out of the equation – another guessing game!

      I am single and I get extremely irritated when callers ask for Mrs. Mylastname – just a pet peeve of mine I guess. I went to a particularly conservative law school (where singles were a definite minority) and it never fails that I am called Mrs. when students call requesting money in alumni drives. I usually give them an admittedly obnoxious speech about not assuming I’m anyone’s wife.

      • Anonymous :

        I don’t think it’s a “pet peeve.” They shouldn’t assume that you are married. If it were me, I would refuse to donate if called Mrs. Mylastname and explain why.

      • I tend to be pretty obnoxious with this too. My proper title is Dr (I have a PhD), but I never make anyone call me that unless they call me Mrs. or Miss first. Then I will correct them. It is especially irritating when people refer to my husband as Dr. and me as Mrs.

        • I am married with a PhD. I did not take my husbands name.

          Prior to marriage I hated that people addressed me as Mrs.

          After getting married, I started getting mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName. When I reply to these people (often friends and family), I reply with Mr. and Dr. Mylastname. I think it is funny and mostly tongue and cheek. But they never address me as Mrs HisName again.

      • Haha, my mother used to go into fits about something similar to that. Every now and then she would get mail or calls addressed to “Mrs. DadsFirstName DadsLastName” (and my dad’s first name is decidedly not female). I guess it ties into referring to couples as “Mr. and Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName”, just without the “Mr. and”. She used to say, “When I married my husband I took his last name, not his first name too.”

      • Anon for this :

        Anon-NY, that would make me mad too.

        A few years back I gave money to a PAC that my employer wanted all the executives to support. I wrote a check and signed it, and as it happens my name is on the first line of the check.

        I got a “thank you” letter addressed to my husband! I was the employee! At least they could have addressed the thank you to both of us. I was irate and called the PAC coordinator and asked for a new thank you letter, and explained that not all men control the family money. Some things are slow to die.

        • Good on you for calling. They won’t make that mistake again thanks to you.

        • I recently read an article about what Kate Middleton’s royal name will be. Since William is not yet the Prince of Wales, she won’t be Princess of Wales. Apparently the normal thing to do in this situation is to name her Princess William.

          But some of the people in the article suspect that the Queen may make William a Duke when they get married so she can be Dutchess of something.

        • I work in nonprofit fundraising, and am the one who sends out thank you letters to our donors. What I have been taught (and what our database sets as the default) would be to have the envelope read “Mr. and Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName” and the salutation on the letter to read “Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName,” assuming you both have the same last names. Even though you signed the check, since both of your names are on it would make me assume it was a donation from both of you. I always make sure to look at the check or the return address for clues about how he/she/they prefer to be addressed.

          • A-A-A-A-Anonymous :

            Nonprofit fundraising is different from political fundraising, though. It’s actually a Federal Election Commission rule that contributions be attributed to the party that signed the check, even if two names are on the check. And, if husband and wife are making a dual contribution, both parties must sign the check. This is PAC fundraising 101, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that whomever processed the check and sent out the letter knows this. (Even though it would be unreasonable, of course, to assume that your average person who doesn’t deal in election law would know this.)

            Of course, it can get a little tricky when it’s difficult to tell who exactly signed the check.

  10. No matter what method you use to say “hey, I’m not a man!,” do it with humor and grace, don’t show irritation (even if that’s how you really feel). How you handle other people’s mistakes is part of the first-impressions package.

    I remember setting up an appointment years ago, sight unseen (pre-Internet), with a gynecologist first-named Leslie… who turned out to be a man! D’oh! I bet he got a lot of flack for that.

    • Anon in DC :

      Why would he get flack for that? Leslie is a pretty common first name for men.

      • It used to be, but I don’t think its as common anymore. I would have assumed Leslie as a girl (but am aware that Leslie Nielson is a man).

        Other now-female, formerly male names – Alexis, Ashley, Beverly, Evelyn, Hilary, Jocelyn, Kelly, Meredith, Shirley, Shannon, Sharon, Vivian, Whitney, Kim, Lyn, Lorre.

        Anyone got any others?

      • Many women prefer a female gynecologist, and would be shocked/surprised to find a male?

        • Anon in DC :

          Um, obviously, I’m not stupid! I just think it would be ridiculous to give someone flack because you assumed something that was untrue. It’s not his fault that his parents named him Leslie! I guess I forgot that a lot of people misdirect their anger these days.

          • Eh, I think in this context the guy ought to make an effort to share this info in advance. E.g., have the receptionist say, “yes, Dr. X is taking new patients. He has availability on Monday at 3:00.”

          • Anon in DC :

            I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, then. I certainly understand why a woman would be unhappy to have a male gynecologist when she was expecting a female, but I think it’s silly to put the onus of responsibility solely on the doctor and his staff.

          • Defensive much? :

            “Um, obviously, I’m not stupid!” <– Geesh!

          • Problem dealing with sarcasm much? :

            “‘Um, obviously, I’m not stupid!’ <– Geesh!" <- Geesh!

          • Seriously – can someone invent a sarcasm font? It would be very helpful in the online writing world. :)

  11. On a related note, how about when you have addresses to a group, and only one is female? I was just complaining yesterday, in fact, about a correspondance my office received, addressed to several people including me, as Dear Gentlemen and Ms. (my last name).

    I guess it’s correct, but it just screams “check out the weird lady lawyer!” to me.

    • Anonymous :

      In the legal setting, I use “Dear Counsel:”

      For your situation, they should do what is now done at the Indy 500–“Ladies (or Lady, depending on how many women are racing) and Gentlement . . . “

    • How else would they address that though?

    • Dear Colleagues:
      Dear Counsel:
      ??
      Is there a noun that can be used to describe the group’s relationship?

      • Yeah, I definitely think using a generic like “Dear Colleagues” is the best way to handle this. For some reason “ladies” and “gentlemen” always sound weird to me in a professional context.

        • Anonymous :

          I agree, although I am the Anon who made the Indy 500 joke. While “Gentlemen” seems somewhat professional, “Ladies” does not. “Colleagues” should cover it (or maybe “Dear CompanyXYZ Colleagues or Dear CompanyXYW Team”).

    • A colleague and I were discussing something similar the other day. I mentioned to him that I noticed he’d send emails addressing the group as “Gentlemen:”, which just rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it’s true that all of the addressees were men; but why point that out? Can’t we remove the gender? Seems so boys’ club. Doesn’t help that this particular client is peopled by fairly skeezy men. That could be coloring my perception, I guess.

    • Dear Colleagues.

    • In my group, my boss addresses group emails to “Gentlemen and Lady,” which always struck me as weird, especially since most engineers are decidedly not that formal. I always feel like he could just not address the email, or call us “staff” or “abc group” or something. Meh, whatever.

  12. Yes, I think neutral names are silly. After all, you cannot tell if it is a man or a woman. There should be sexy names for females, and masculine names for men.

    Even the name Kit is questionable. Men are named Kit, and so are women. But Kit is not feminine. It is also a neutral name. Many guys named Kit I know are gay.

    You can be androgenus, or asexual with a neutral name. But you should NOT be homosexual.

    My name is very feminine, and I look like Gwynneth Paltrow on a good day. I am the only Wilma I know, and I am a NY attorney.

  13. Oh, I could go on and on for this post. I’ve been practicing law for 10 years with an androgynous name that is more commonly male. I find people err on the side of assuming I’m male because it’s more taboo somehow to assume someone who is male is female. I’ve just learned to ignore it, and find humor in the eventual revelations.

    Once I had corresponded by letters with an opposing counsel for six months and when we showed up to the deposition, he asked if I was the court reporter because he was sure he’d requested Theresa. I just smiled and introduced myself and shook his hand. He was totally taken aback and from then on was overly friendly, despite that I made mincemeat of his client in her deposition. :)

    I like the idea of adding (Ms.) afterward in a responsive email when someone has made a mistaken assumption. Thanks for that recommendation.

  14. Anonymous :

    Get over it! So what, when they speak to you on the phone they should realize you’re a lady. Other than that, just deal with the Mr. ___.

    Geesh, is this really what gets your panties in a bunch? Cause if so, you are really lucky nothing else bothers you and/or complain about everything and need to get a life.

    There, I said it.

  15. You all need to get a life if this is what bothers you.

    Sheesh. Grow up, let it slip by, those who matter or work with you will know, otherwise, who cares.

    • Anonymous :

      It’s less of a bother, and more of a concern about the other person’s embarrassment. I can’t tell you how many times I meet the person I have been e-mailing back and forth with and they walk up to me, red-faced, saying, “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry! I thought you were a man from your name!”

      What am I supposed to respond with – “Don’t worry, it happens all the time.” ??? That’s almost worse!

      • Anonymous :

        If I referred to someone by the wrong gender title, I would want to know about it as much as if I had referred to a man as “Bob” if his name was “Steve.” It’s not unreasonable to expect to be called by the correct title and it avoids confusion down the road.

  16. Does anyone know who makes this dress? The designer isn’t posted on this website… I have no good reason to buy it, but I might have to have it because it’s lovely:
    http://ruffledblog.com/fashionable-modern-lds-elopement/#comment-23588

  17. What about Kat? That is one weird dude.

  18. Once I had to deal with a client who had a gender-neutral name, and even after talking to the person over the telephone I couldn’t be sure whether it was a man or woman. Googling didn’t help either. Fortunately we were on a first-name basis, and so I could just use the person’s name and didn’t have to choose a pronoun. I would have appreciated some indication in the email signature.

  19. Miss Priss :

    I have a foreign first name and my last name is a man’s first name (like Edward) and I commonly receive email from people addressed to “Ed” and “Edward” even when people know I am a woman!

    • This happens all the time to a friend of mine who has a first name that could also be a last name and a last name that sounds like a man’s first name (like Bailey Thomas – she gets addressed as Mr. Bailey or as Thomas all the time).

  20. I really like the ‘using your middle’ name solution. I use my middle (maiden name) on all business correspondence, including email signature, since I got married well after I had established my career. I feel like it would also make sense in this situation. It does make my name long, but no one seems to mind.

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