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?

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. Anon in NC :

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

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

  9. 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?”

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    • Then tell them, or start using the term you prefer and try to get it to catch on. Best thing to do is be honest.

  13. 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.”

  14. 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!

  15. 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…

  16. To everyone complaining that Kat’s being overly sensative here: I know that when I had my baby, he was all I wanted to talk about, and not really anything else. Still, I didn’t want to emphasize my mama-ness at work or bore other people, so I made myself find other topics. Sometimes they were on the mark, sometimes they weren’t. Sort of like picking out lipstick when you’re color blind. I bet other new parents do the same thing; there is a lot to learn and a lot to be excited about durin pregnancy and those first few years. Let’s cut her some slack.

    • It amazes me that anyone here would think that Kat is being “overly sensitive” about this. Calling people by last names only is not normal for many of us. In the South, it is generally done by men on sports teams. Women are typically not on these same sports teams. I also feel is is somewhat of a male macho thing, particularly because, as I stated earlier, they rarely refer to women by last names, so you get a situation where all the men are “Smith” and “Jones” and women are Jessica or Jennifer. Very disrespectful and demeaning in my opinion.

  17. I often went by my last name in high school, so it doesn’t bother me at all. I think everyone has their own little pet peeves. I was in a meeting where an SVP kept calling someone who worked for him by a diminutive that made her sound like she was 5 years old – e.g. let’s say her name was Beth and he kept calling her Bethie. Maybe he didn’t mean it that way, and she could have been fine with it, but it bugged me the entire time.

  18. I work on a case in BigLaw right now where there are five associates, three of whom are women. All three women have the same first name.

    It makes introductions odd, to say the least. First names have been replaced with last names or, sometimes in writing, with initials. It sounds fratty, especially as last names are not common in my office. People with whom we work can’t figure out what the plural is, or how to address emails to the three of us.

    On the other hand, this is the last nail in my coffin of my prejudice against other people who share my (common) first name. Maybe it’s because — unlike the fourth grade — none of us have punched each other. Or because I really rather like both of the other women.


    [last name]

  19. Seattle Lawyer Mom :

    Not common in my firm, but when it does happen — usually in something like an internal wrap-up of who’s working on what new cases, or something like that — it doesn’t bother me at all. After all, my last name is in fact part of my name, and generally using last names is considered at least somewhat a form of respect. The only thing that would bug me is if all the guys were referred to by last name and the women alone were first names.

  20. Texas Attorney :

    Since I was in highschool, I had certain friends that called me by my last name. That has carried over to working life, even when I changed my name when I got married. I don’t know why. And it is only female attorneys that call me by my last name. Does not bother me.

  21. mommyinlaw :

    I have a JD but work primarily with PhDs. One of them calls me “Miss Firstname” but calls a guy with the exact same job title and responsibilities as me “Dr. Lastname.” What does he think I am, a preschool teacher? Everybody else uses first names exclusively.

    The thing I find really weird is when judges and attorneys from certain states address me as “Attorney Lastname.” That is not a phraseology I ever encountered in law school.

  22. I hate my surname. Hate it with a passion. It belonged to my dad’s abuser, who never even formally adopted him. I suppose once I change it to something more palatable, I wouldn’t mind the surname-only stuff that happens in some offices, but really? Just call me by name or come up with something clever. I can be “Ms. Cass” if there’s another Cass/Cassie in the organisation. Really. Just leave my surname where it belongs: in my personnel file!

  23. I find it interesting – I don’t associate using last names like that with sports, but instead with military. It’s a easy way to refer to someone who has a common first name without causing complications, and helps to avoid the “Mrs./Ms./Miss” issue, as well. I don’t mind it unless people say it simply because they don’t bother to learn my name, but that’s not typically the case.

    If it bugs you, ask people to refer to you by a first name or a more easily distinguished nickname. I specifically asked bosses and other employees this year to start referring to me as “Brie” instead of my full first name because I prefer the informal nature of it (even customers use that name now) and it’s less difficult to get the pronunciation correct.

  24. My surname has become a popular first name. Most people who call me by my surname do so unintentionally, & I hate people who miss my first name completely.

  25. Christina :

    I’m a software engineer, and I’ve literally never run into that kind of thing. I think it has to do with personalities AND internal culture.. Or maybe I’m just generalizing that males who go into engineering were never the sort to play sports… ah stereotypes.

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