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Being called the wrong name at work can be embarrassing, frustrating, and — eventually — infuriating. We haven’t talked about the wrong name problem in quite a while, so let’s have a discussion today. (By the way, we’ve also addressed changing your name (or not) when you get married (and divorced), gender-neutral name problems, and hyphenated names in email addresses.)
First of all, as someone with the name Katina (often misread as “Katrina”) and the nickname Kate (sometimes mistaken for “Katie”), as well as an “ethnic” last name: I can certainly relate (and so can Kat, as she pointed out in the original post).
I’m guessing that for most of you who’ve dealt with this problem, being called the wrong name is simply due to coworkers’ innocent mistakes, and not passive-aggressive behavior from, perhaps, a difficult boss — although we’ll address that too. We’ve gathered some advice from Corporette readers, and here are seven tips:
Be direct and polite. A straightforward but friendly correction is appropriate in most situations, and it was recommended again and again by readers the last time we talked about this. It gets the job done simply and quickly.
For example, if someone calls you “Jennifer” and your name is Jessie, just say pleasantly, “It’s Jessie, actually,” or “Sorry, it’s Jessie.” (Yes, you don’t need to apologize for wanting to be called by your actual name, but correcting people can feel awkward, and including a “sorry” can make you feel less so. Also, read this essay, especially the third-to-last paragraph.)
Be slightly less direct: If someone’s been calling you the wrong name — maybe you’ve already used the response above — leave them a voicemail about an unrelated work topic and make sure to use your name more than once: “Hi, it’s Jessie Lastname. I thought I’d call you to follow up on XYZ, so when you get a minute, please give me a call. Again, it’s Jessie Lastname at [phone number].” If you have caller ID at work, make sure to always say your name clearly when you answer a call from that person.
Keep it light. One reader, a Julie who gets called “Julia” a lot, sometimes corrects people with the phrase, “I go by Julie” because it seems like she’s pointing out her preference rather than telling someone they’re wrong (even though they are, of course).
Note that this really only works in situations where someone has called you the wrong name but isn’t completely off-base; if your name is Julie and someone addresses you as Sarah, saying, “I go by Julie, actually” will sound a bit odd.
Make it memorable. Another commenter has the opposite problem — she’s a Julia who gets called “Julie.” In social, non-work situations, she tells people, “It’s Julia, like Julia Gulia” — and the extra association tends to make people remember. A reader named Janet likes to correct others by saying, “It’s Janet, like Jackson.” (Again, she doesn’t use this trick at work — but if you know your workplace is casual enough, go for it.)
Let it go (once in a while). Note that this strategy only works in certain limited situations. Some Corporette readers who always get called the wrong name have kept their sanity by not saying anything — only if it’s not a huge mistake (perhaps it’s along the lines of Jan/Janet, above) and the person is someone they don’t expect to interact with again. One gave a couple of examples of people she doesn’t bother to correct: baristas and … elderly judges.
Enlist IT. Say your name is Elizabeth and you strongly prefer Liz, but coworkers keep calling you Elizabeth anyway. Check with IT — maybe they can change your display name to Liz in the office email system.
Or, if your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, ask if they can create the address email@example.com and have it forward messages to elizabeth.smith so that you can give people the new email address, and maybe use start using it on your business card.
Fight fire with fire. Use this kind of response very carefully, only after you’ve thoroughly exhausted other, more polite techniques to stop being called the wrong name, or if you can tell you’re being called the wrong name on purpose. Here are a couple of proven techniques to use at your own risk: 1. Purposely get the other person’s name wrong, in an email or otherwise — that’s been known to do the trick. 2. Refuse to respond to emails or requests in which you’re addressed by the wrong name, and when you’re asked about it later, say that you thought they were talking to someone else. (Hopefully, the problem won’t escalate to this point.)
Have you had problems with being called the wrong name at work, or in your personal life? How did you deal with it? Did your strategy work? Have you belatedly realized that you had been calling someone the wrong name?