This is Griffin, Reporting…

Team jersey, originally uploaded to Flickr by nats.By the time I started working in BigLaw, I’d had about seven jobs before that.  For four of those jobs, my bosses were women; the other jobs (lifeguarding and two fashion magazines) were, well, not exactly testosterone-fueled environments.  Everyone had called me by my first name, and we generally enjoyed a collegial atmosphere.  However, when I started working at the law firm, I began to notice what felt like a very male-friendly environment.  Nothing was sexist, per se, but it still contrasted sharply with the work atmospheres I’d known before, and made me feel out of place.  (Pictured: Team jersey, originally uploaded to Flickr by nats.)

One of those things was being called by my last name. I’d always hated sports growing up (despite having, at various points, been a member of the tennis and swimming teams), and nothing annoyed me more than people saying “Let’s call Vogele” or “Whazzup, Vogele?” (As you may have guessed, my maiden name is Vogele.) What annoyed me even more about the last name thing was that it wasn’t men who were perpetuating it — it was women, who, I assumed, were trying to fit in with the old boys’ club.

At one point, in my first or second year, I was on a team of four female associates, led by another woman or two in charge of us — and yet we still all went by last names. One night, behind closed doors, I ranted to my good friend about it, going on and on about how much I hated it.  Was I supposed to catch a ball sometime soon, or go long?  (Alternately, where was my pipe, whiskey, and manservant?)

And she pointed out that two of the four of us had the same first name. Well…. FINE.

I’ve learned to live with being called by my last name only — but I’m curious what everyone else’s take on it is? Do you get called by your last name in your workplace? Does it seem like a part of the old boys’ club?  Are there other little things that grate on your nerves?

Comments

  1. Associette :

    Law firms are male dominated – so much so that I am starting to contemplate a career change. (Thought I do not mind being called by my last name – I think men use it as a term of endearment to make you feel like part of club.)

    We have chatted about this before, but for thsose who have made the transition from law firm to something else, what are some great non-law jobs for lawyers? Any advice is much appreciated.

    • I’m curious why the male dominated-ness of law firm life is making you consider changing fields. Is it because you don’t feel respected and feel you won’t get ahead or do you just wish you could be around more women? If there is sexual harassment or disrespect you might want to try another job before abandoning the law. I find that I frequently have female opposing counsel. I do suspect that senior opposing counsels staff junior females on their cases more when the suing attorney is female so maybe that is why I deal with females a lot. I’m rambling . . .

      • Associette :

        Blonde Lawyer, my husband, also a lawyer gave me the same recommendation, i.e. try another job before abandoning the law. At the moment, coming from a mid-sized litigation firm, with female partners and about half female associates, I am having a difficult time seeing how it could be better at another litigation firm. Others here who have had children and are pregnant are experiencing a lot of push-back from the male partners (for example, cases being transferred, maternity leave limited, working from home is becoming more difficult because face time is now apparently necessary for career growth).

        My H and I are starting to think about having a family, and it just seems like having a family is at odds with billing time and building a client base of my own. Throw on the relatively conservative pay and high-stress nature of litigation, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I feel like it is a dead end and that I should make a transition before the kids come.

        • I hate to put it this way, but I don’t think the number of female partners and associates has much to do with whether a given firm is family-friendly or not. Which isn’t to say that working at a litigation firm is ever going to be the easiest thing to do while raising a family, just that I do think firm cultures vary a lot. Do you like the kind of work you do or not? If you do, it’s probably worth trying at least one more setting. (For instance, what about a government job?) If you don’t, well, that’s certainly a great reason to change fields.

        • (Not that you have to justify to some stranger on the internet why you want to change fields! Just sort of curious. Didn’t mean to come across as critical at all.)

        • Mousekeeper :

          A lot of lawyers in your position go into government law. Generally, government law offices tend to be a lot more family friendly and more supportive of pregnancy, family leave, working reduced hours, etc., to accomodate families. This is if you can afford the reduction in income. The smartest lawyers I have know in my office have been those who worked in Big Law, didn’t ratchett up their standard of living, socked the money into savings, and then when they had enough for a big downpayment on a house, switched to government. Try to do this BEFORE the babies come – if you are a proven worker, you get a lot more leeway in juggling your family and work life. Also, a single government law office can have different degrees of family friendliness depending on the division or section. If you wait to start a family until after you’ve made the leap, you can scope out where the F/F sections are. All that being said, even in a government law office, juggling litigation AND a family is hard, because your hours and time are so unpredictable. A lot of government attorneys with families end up working for agencies as “in-house” or regulatory counsel, jobs without litigation. Try telling a judge on the first day of trial that you can’t make it because your child has a 104 fever and is throwing up. We’ve made it work because I have a “litigation lite” government job only 20 minutes away while my husband is in private practice. I have never had to feel bad having to take time off for child issues in my office.

        • NE Attorney :

          Associette – I’m right there with you. I’m just not sure that high-stress, fast-paced litigation is compatible with being the type of parent and partner that I want to be to my son and husband. A great read is “Good Enough is the New Perfect.” There is a whole chapter about balancing life/family/work when the valued commodity is time (i.e. the billable hour).

          FWIW: I’m headed out of my biglaw shop back to a clerkship that I adore. 9-5, great pay, fabulous boss, ALL federal holidays off, freedom to run at lunch, no bb/iphone on the weekends/evenings. It will be glorious.

  2. Initial reaction: That seems like a pretty trivial complaint. You’re being treated the same as everyone else- isn’t that what women have wanted for hundreds of years?

    Admission of bias: I went by a nickname form of my last name throughout grade school because amon people my age, I have a very common first name. Even teachers and friends’ parents used the nickname. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind which of my names is used.

    Serious point to consider: Perhaps women are at a bit of a disadvantage when last names are used. Many women’s last names change over the course of their careers due to marriage. So, are women more disadvantaged by using last names since ours are more likely to change? Or is using last names a good thing since they aren’t indicators of gender the way that first names usually are?

    • I’ve always felt it was the latter.

      Using my gender-neutral last name has always been comforting, since I do feel like people will be less prone to judgement if gender is not a distraction.

      Besides, people do tend to judge you subconsciously based on your first name. Do you really want people to project the characteristics they associated with a Cindy or Candy onto you?

      Whether or not you change your last name is voluntary. Those types of subconscious associations are definitely not!

  3. People call me by my initials more often than by my last name, but I think that’s because I often sign off on emails with my initials. But I like it, and I don’t think it would ever bother me to be called by my last name either. Some of my friends call me by it, and I call people by their last names too. It never occurred to me that I might be perceived as trying to act like a guy!

    In my office we tend to call each other Miss and Mr., in a jokey-formal kind of way. My boss does it and I guess it just became second nature for everyone else. Oddly, though, women are always Miss Firstname like some sort of lawyerly southern belle, and the guys are usually Mr. Lastname.

  4. Ever since I was in JROTC in high school I’ve called my colleagues by their last name. Even if we do become friends later its typically “Butler, do you want to hang out?” To be honest to this day I still ask “Who?” if someone uses a certain person’s first name, even though I’ve known them for years.

  5. Mousekeeper :

    I worked for a daily newspaper as a reporter before going to law school. And in a noisy newsroom, everyone, male or female, was referred to by their last name by editors. Never bothered me and I think it was a more immediate way of getting the reporter’s attention above the noise.

  6. lucy stone :

    I work with law enforcement and fire on a regular basis and have gotten used to this because it’s what they do, but I also grew up playing sports and was a college athlete so I might have been preconditioned to it. I think this is part of the reason I’m not changing my name when I get married, because I identify so strongly with my last name.

  7. Happy for Bunkster's new job :

    This is my new interim Bunkster handle. Can’t wait for the line by line resignation convo. Bunkster (and others who have recently gotten new jobs): I’d love to hear negotiating-after-the-offer stories and strategies. I recently did this myself and wish I’d done somethings differently, but it turned out okay all in all and I wondered how typical my experience was. Congratulations all over agian!

  8. Most people can’t pronounce my last name so it doesn’t really happen here. I’m peeved by my manager who introduced me to a new employee with, “Walnut works on [extremely insignificant almost clerical thing I spend 2 minutes per day on.]”

    Seriously? You do my reviews and approve my work. If THAT is all I’m doing, then why in the hell was I working half the day Sunday?

    • That sucks, Walnut. My boss at my first job was similar – she would constantly introduce me to others as the company’s “Jack of all Trades,” which I thought made it sound like I didn’t even have a real job.

    • Anon for this since I've told this story IRL too many times :

      Yup, the introductions are sometimes painful. My last couple bosses couldn’t pronounce my last name, but thought they could , so they said “This is Anon emPHAsis…”

      And then there was my most recent former boss, who introduced me as “This is anon. Her husband decided not to take a job with the company.”

      No mention of my work, whatsoever.

  9. Equity's Darling :

    People frequently call me by my last name. However, it’s never because it’s the cool thing to do, it’s because I have two first names, and half the people in my office can’t remember that my first name is X and my last name is Y. Probably because there’s a girl that worked there for a long time that was actually named Y.

    Regardless, it’s a big pet peeve of mine, but only because people clearly can’t remember my name. It wouldn’t bug me as much if it was just because people went by last names in the office.

  10. Andrea Mercado :

    I practiced for about 12 years and found it to be quite common for lawyers in the firms I worked at to call me by my last name. I think that it derives from law school where students are called by their surnames. Never bothered me. Thought it was a way for them to allude to shared experience in a positive way

  11. Anon in NC :

    It’s done all the time where I work and doesn’t bother me in the least.

  12. I’ve never worked anywhere I’ve been called by just my last name. I used to teach, so I got used to being called Prof. [lastname], but that’s the closest. Of course, I’ve never played sports, so I’ve never encountered last-name-ism in that context (plus, my last name scares people because they’re always afraid of getting it wrong, so I have a hard time seeing this happen!).

    I kinda wonder if it’s just that the last-name thing happened to you in old-boy types of contexts, not that using last names is itself old-boy-ish. In law school, I had profs who called students by their last names (although it was usually Mr. or Ms., not the last name alone), and that never bothered me at all. The one thing that has bothered me is I knew some professors who called students “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jones” (which, okay, fine), and they themselves also went by “Mr. Brown” rather than “Professor Brown.” I always found that incredibly pretentious, as well as only something older white men could get away with – it’s only when your authority is taken completely for granted that you can go the faux-humble route of giving some of it up and being “Mr.” instead of “Professor.” The thing is, though, the only people I know who did that *were* incredibly old-boy-ish, and that particular detail was just one of many that demonstrated their irritating old-boy-ness.

    I have no visceral reaction to the idea of being called by my last name and can’t foresee it would bother me. I think it would bother me more to be called by my first name and have men be called by their last name (or vice versa – anything that treated me differently from the men at work). But if everyone goes by last names, no big deal. (It’s like one school I worked at, where all the profs and admin went by first names to everyone, meaning students as well as colleagues. Initially it bugged me not to get to be called “Professor,” but since virtually no one was called Professor, I got over it quickly. What’s infuriating is when students call their male instructors “Professor” and female ones “Ms.” (or, worse, “Mrs.”), and that happens a LOT.)

  13. I’ve never worked in a lastname environment. But this discussion has me thinking of “The Sting.” They refer to the hit-person by last name and it’s not until she is offed that you realize that it’s the waitress. Not exactly a role model – but she was in a non-traditional job and was admired by her co-workers.

  14. karenpadi :

    I am in an almost all-male office and no one goes by their last names. It is a firm culture thing though. In the first firm I worked at, everyone went by their initials sounded out for a weird nickname. My initials kind of sound like “cluck” so not great but not bad.

    One of my co-workers at that firm also works at this firm. I get weird looks when I slip and call her by her initials now (and vice versa). But it is funny when my current co-workers meet the old co-workers and are asked “How are Cluck and Sly doing?”

  15. Ruta Skadi :

    I think it’s a just a male expression of camaraderie. I can see why it might grate on somebody’s nerves (as with any other harmless verbal tic or habit), but I think signs of trust and friendship should be taken as they were meant (without offense).

    That said, I may occasionally refer to male partners or male associates by their last names (never to their face in the former case and only to ones I’m familiar with in the latter — and only when I’m speaking to male colleagues in both cases), but never, ever, ever do I ever refer to my fellow female colleagues by their last names in any of the scenarios described above. *That* might annoy me, as it just seems very contrived, whether it actually is or not.

  16. Eloise Spaghetti :

    I like being called by my last name. It makes me feel like one of the guys. Not this stupid last name though.

  17. I don’t have a problem being called by my last name. I do, however, hate that one of my partners insists on calling everyone on our team “fellas.” In fact, I was instructed not to take offense to this because it is the partner’s term of endearment for his teams. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it really, really does. I feel it perpetuates the gender gap to tell a female that she should be glad to be included with the “fellas.” I’d much prefer he refer to us by something neutral and endearing, if he wishes–warriors, geniuses, pros, team, comrades, etc.

  18. Accountress :

    I don’t get called by my last name (which is currently picking up popularity as a boy’s name, and I find it terribly odd), but can we talk about people trying to give you nicknames?

    My former (thank gods) manager wasn’t satisfied with my given, 1-syllable name, and tried out a 2-syllable diminutive (like jane –> janey). I had to just say to her, “I’ve never gone by a nickname or diminutive. I’m happy with the name my parents gave me, it’s descriptive of my personality, please continue to use it.”

  19. Huckleberry :

    My situation is a little bit different…my last name sounds like a woman’s first name, and there is some unfortunate aliteration, so people think part of my last name is actually my first name. For example, Jenny Jessies – and people frequently call me Jessie. I used to only introduce myself by my first name, but then decided that was unprofessional as a lawyer, so now I use my full name but try to correct people right away if (when) they get confused.

    • Oh, I’ve so done this – I taught in the south for a few years, and the naming patterns totally threw me off. I had a bunch of students whose first names looked like last names (for instance, Anderson as a first name) or whose last names looked like first names (for instance, Jesse as a last name), and I was *always* getting them mixed up. In my defense, class lists are always last name, first name, so someone named, say, Paul Jesse, would show up as Jesse, Paul, and it would take me forever to get it right. I always felt bad, though!

  20. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I call some of my girlfriends by their last names just for fun–I would never address someone I didn’t know very well that way, so I see it as a sign of affection. Plus, law professors tend to call on students using their last names. In the context of a law firm, I really believe it’s a carryover from law school rather than high school sports…

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