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.)


  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.)
      Jae Doe, M.D. (Ms.)


      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.

        • Chiming in years later…

          Frau Doktor used to be said to the the wife of a Doctor. Because of that most people I know wouldn’t use it.

  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

    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 a lot of people confuse Ms. and Miss and assume (incorrectly) that Ms. means unmarried and Miss means generic, default title for women.

        • Anon for this :

          Yes, I have seen this confusion regarding “Ms.”, and as a stickler about this, it drives me up the wall.

        • I just met someone who thought Ms. was an abbreviation of Mrs, as Mr. is an abbreviation of Mister.

    • 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.

        • 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, 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.

      • Younger women? “Ms” was created in the 1970s by feminists who didn’t want to be defined by their marital status. It was a pioneering move in the feminist movement.

    • 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?

        • Anon in DC :

          Well, the OP said this was years ago, so that’s the standard I was going by. I also don’t think it’s all that uncommon now (and certainly not as uncommon as Alexis, Jocelyn, or Vivian for a man), so I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        • Tracy, Dana, Aubrey

        • Lindsay!

      • 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 . . . “

      • Anonymous :

        Er, “Ladies (or Lady, depending on how many women are racing) and Gentlemen . . . .” Not “Gentlement.” Gah!

    • 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.

      • We would get correspondence addressed that way (or “Dear Sirs:”) at my last office, which was probably 80% women! That irked me too.

    • 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.

    • And you said it anonymously, which was very brave of you.

      • Anon in DC :

        I disagree with Anonymous, but aren’t we all saying things anonymously on this site? It’s not as if there are registered users with usernames/profiles (which would still leave a degree of anonymity). I just don’t see the big deal about whether someone comes up with a name or not.

      • anotheranon :

        Come on now, EC. You aren’t any less anonymous than “Anonymous”.

  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:

    • below the last picture it says: Wedding dress: Custom-made by Suzanne Novak at Suzanne’s Bridal Boutique (Gilbert, AZ

      it IS a gorgeous dress!

  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.

  21. "Ms." Bigfoot :

    I just want to say horray for “gender neutral” shoes.

    I bought some slippers from Keen (Howser style). Even though I’m a 10 in most shoes, I tend to wear an 11 in Keen. The 11 didn’t fit. Not. Even. Close. And they didn’t go any higher.


    I swallowed my pride and ordered a 9.5 of the same style in mens. Just tried them on… and they fit like a glove. I can’t stand that my tug boot feet have somehow outgrown my gender. Hubs thought it was hysterical. (He can do that I suppose, he’s got little elf feet.)

    Anyway, hats off to anyone who regularly wears an 11 or higher. It stinks to have to get creative when you have no options.

    • "Ms." Bigfoot :

      tug boat

      • Semi-related, it irritates me that manufacturers charge more for athletic shoes in women’s sizes. With soccer cleats, I can usually find the identical shoe in the boys’ department for $20-30 less. Boys’ shoes go up to the equivalent of a women’s 7.5.

    • I hear you – I only wear a ten, but have been a ten since I was probably in 6th grade. I was really self-conscious about it until just a few years ago because of all the name-calling I endure all through school. I too, have ordered guys shoes before. I have always enjoyed the men’s selection of athletic shoes since most of the women’s shoes are pink or teal. The only problem I tend to run into is that men’s shoes tend to run wider than I need for my foot. I am glad you had success!

      • Same here! Size 11 pride! I haven’t done the men’s shoes thing very much in the last decade because more and more I can get women’s shoes (which I think are a bit more narrow than men’s) online. However, I often find myself ordering and returning several times before settling on flats, boots, whatever it is I’m looking for. Back in the day though (I’ve been a size 11 since 7th grade) I did men’s shoes for athletic shoes and was always very self conscious about it. Although now that I’m an adult I wouldn’t think twice about it if the men’s shoe fit me and looked good! I’m still holding out for more main stream stores to stock 11s on a regular basis!

  22. Ellen/Alan! You are back! As Wilma?

  23. No one has mentioned the use of the title “Miss (first name).” This is used mostly by little kids referring to their female teachers and adults, regardless of marital status. So instead of my daughter calling her friend’s mom Mrs. Lee or Ms. Lee, we bypass the whole “What does she prefer?” question and just call her Miss Ann. Her husband would be Mister Steve. I hear that this is common in the South, but being in California, I was not familiar with this practice until my kids started preschool.

    Is this common in other places?

    • Anonymous :

      I am in Florida, and my son addresses adults by Miss Jane and Mr. John. For one thing, a child doesn’t have to figure out if mom is married to dad, and if she took his name or not. As far as pet peeves, I hate when the 22-year-old receptionist in the doctor’s office calls out “Mary” and the patient is an elderly woman. Call us by our last names in a professional situation, whether you use Ms. Mrs. or Miss!

      • Ann Onamouse :

        That’s for privacy reasons…the receptionist probably isn’t being purposely disrespectful.

      • I’m a physician and I always call my patients by their title and surname “Ms. X” or “Mr. Y.” Sometimes it feels a little awkward when I’m talking to an 18 year old, but I stick with it.

        I also expect to be called Dr. Z, and feel like if I expect my title to be used, I should call others by theirs.

        Quick note: as a young female surgeon, there are some weird dynamics that go on, especially with older male patients who are feeling vulnerable and trying to exert control in a scary situation. I have a lot of them who try to call me by my first name to lessen my power in the situation. I don’t like it but usually don’t call them on it.

        • I think that’s awesome of you. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes to call my doctors “Dr. X”, while they call me “Cbackson.” It depends a bit on the vibe of the situation, but I had an (older, male) gynecologist who always called me “Mrs. Backson,” and it made me more comfortable (being addressed as “Mrs.” outside of my professional life didn’t bother me) than if he’d used my name.

      • I totally agree! Maybe this is a cultural thing (I’m not American), but it irritates me when strangers (such as store clerks or telemarketers) use my first name when they don’t know me. Imo, a little formality goes a long way.

        • I hate store clerks using my name at all. I’m usually feeling scrubby, and am not in the mood for socializing. Also, my last name is tough to pronounce. I wish I could put a tag on my safeway card that printed a “Please don’t greet” on my receipt.

          I represent a lot of men in court that are much older than me. I always call them “Mr. XYZ,” but am totally fine with them calling me by my first name.

          I wouldn’t dream of calling a doctor by her first name. I’m paying her for that M.D. :)

      • I’m from Tennessee, and 24 years old, and still call adults older than me(outside of a professional context) Miss/Ms. (which with my accent are pronounced the same) or Mr. FirstName. I did this with friends’ parents growing up, as well as teachers prior to college. It takes a lot for me to not call my older colleagues Ms. Boss. I still can’t shake the yes ma’am/sir. And I don’t intend to, because I think manners are seriously lacking in this world.

        Also, I HATE when the doctor’s office calls me Mrs. LastName. Because I am unmarried, my parents are divorced, and my mother is remarried, they are essentially calling me my grandmother. Or my (deceased) stepmother.

        • Jenn – Tennessee here, too. I’m in my late forties and still ma’am/sir people and will refer to people older than me or who hold a work or other position of authority as Miss firstname or Mr. firstname. My coworkers and I will refer to each other this way to third parties who would find Ms/Mr Lastname uncomfortable or weird (even if they shouldn’t), as in: ” I don’t know, why don’t you go ask Miss Susan.”
          Personally, I don’t like being addressed by my first name only by someone who doesn’t know me very well at all, but it seems to be the norm these days, even in the South.

      • Not "Miss" :

        I have lived all throughout the south and still consider myself “young”, though definitely over 24 and have children of my own. I believe the “miss firstname” only applies with children. As stated before it is simpler for children. Also, many people (such as physicians) will refer to a CHILD as “Miss Jane” to show respect. It offends me to be called by “Miss Firstname” in business – if it is by someone older, it is degrading (unless by a VERY old person); if it is by someone younger, then it denotes old age on my part and that they are being childlike and not professional.

    • I’m in the lower Midwest and found this practice very common when my kids were little. They still call our closest friends by these names, but now that they are teens, I’ve noticed they and their friends have transitioned to “Mrs. Lastname” to refer to moms.

      I don’t mind being referred to as Mrs. in non-work settings, and I did take my husband’s name. At work, though, I see no reason to distinguish women by marital status. I work in the education field where “Mrs.” still seems to be commonly used, especially for teachers. My district, though, makes a point to use “Ms.” whenever we refer to female employees in print or other publications.

    • I would still ask them what they prefer because I know some people who really hate being called “Miss (first name)”.

    • As an aside to this, when my parents moved into my great-aunt’s house, they started adressing the neighbours the way my great-aunt had done it – ie. Mrs. Olsen, Mrs. Smith and so on. At one point Mrs. Olsen told my mom that she really didn’t care for being called Mrs. as it made her feel like she was 80, and would prefer it if they just used her first name.

      I can count on one hand the people I’ve used Mr., Mrs. or Miss as a prefix for – and most of them are my grandmother’s friends. Prefixes like that have simply disappeared out of use in Scandinavia – except by the royal families when introducing the fiancés of the younger generation.

      But I had this discussion with an American on a forum once, and she claimed that she had her husband’s children (her stepchildren) address her as Mrs. Hislastname, so they could learn proper respect, so clearly things differ.

      • My Fellow Americans, feel free to chime in – but, really? Her own step-kids had to call her Mrs. Theirlastname. She kind of sounds like a stick in the mud to me, and overly concerned with formalities.

        So – I wouldn’t judge all Americans by this standard.

    • @Azure,

      I commented above about this, just now. I prefer that my kids’ friends call me by some title, not just my first name, because that is how I was raised. A title conveys respect.

      My own children call other adults “Miss Ann” and “Mr. Alex”, etc. They would feel uncomfortable calling them anything else! When my daughter was very young and didn’t know the adult’s first name, she would often improvise with “Miss Heather’s Mommy” or “Mr. Hunter’s Daddy,” which I thought was adorable.

      And to answer your question, I am a native Californian. But I have been told this is a southern thing.

  24. I appreciate signature in an email, but I think answering the phone with Mr. or Ms is very outdated.

    • I once worked in an office where a person answering the phone had a first name that was very stripper-esqe (think Misty or Sunshine or something). Normally, she would say, “Good Morning, XYZ office, this is Dipsy speaking.” Our boss instructed her to say, “Good Morning, XYZ office, this is Ms. Smith speaking.” She got so offended. But I was kind of on the boss’s side – her first name just wasn’t very professional.

      • AnonAnonAnon :

        Just out of curiousity, was Misty, etc. a shortened version of her full name?

        And, FWIW, I can kind of see both sides on this. I mean, you have to pick your battles and answering the phone with “This is Ms. Smith, ” instead of, “This is Dipsy,” is not really a big deal. But, I can see why she would be offended. Unless it was some sort of nickname, it’s not as if she chose her name. I’m not sure why others think they have the right to judge whether a name is professional or not. (Particularly because this happens much more often with women than with men.)

        • No, it was her given name from birth.

          But in a sense, she chose it. She had changed most of the rest of her name at a different time in her life. She just picked another name randomly and changed it, not related to marriage. But she kept this first name.

          (And, sorry if I wasn’t clear – the boss didn’t make her say Ms. Smith, she made her say Ms. HerLastName, which was a fairly common one.)

          • AnonAnonAnon :

            Oh yeah, that was clear (to me at least), but thanks for specifying in case I didn’t get it!

            And, I still understand why she would be upset. I think it’s rude to make someone answer the phone in a certain way basically because you happen not to like their name (or not to find their name professional enough, etc.).

  25. Anonymous (for this post) :

    I am probably old fashioned, but with all of my education and training, I am looking forward to getting married and changing my name. I haven’t even met Mr. Right yet, and don’t have a last name I can’t wait to get rid of, but I have to admit that it will be great to be Mrs XXXX rather than Miss YYY or worse yet, Ms YYY.

    Marriage is a venerable institution, and when I find the right guy, I will be thrilled to take his name.

    So I said it, and I mean it. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone but I think a lot of us feel this way, even if we are “liberated”.

    Am I right? Ladies?

    • anotheranon :

      That all depends on what life throws at you. I got married for the first time last year at the ripe old age of 46 (believe me, he was worth the wait). My professional reputation has been built on my family name, so professionally, I still use it, with prefix Ms.. In my personal life, my last name is hyphenated with his and then I use Mrs.

    • I was happy to ditch my maiden name. It was terribly wrong And hard to pronounce. I constantly had to spell it and got tired of people trying to unsuccessfully learn how to pronounce it.

    • lawstudent :

      I agree. I have a wonderful last name. It’s a heritage. Even still, I am happy being Miss Doe today and would proudly become Mrs. Smith for the right man!

    • I fully support your right to make this choice, but having watched the difficulties my mom went through having to transition from her married name back to her original name in a professional setting when my parents got divorced, I was convinced from an early age to never, ever, let myself be put in that situation.

      • This. I was really happy to change my name – it felt like an important marker of my transition to married life. Having to change back to my maiden name (as a result of my divorce) is challenging, logistically – and emotionally. I wouldn’t advise another young woman to change her name, at least professionally. I know women who use their spouse’s name socially, and I might consider that in the future. But I’m going to be Myfirst Mylast for life, professionally.

        • I didn’t change my name, either, and my own mother was very critical of my decision at the time. However, now both of my sisters are divorced and remarried and have had to change their names (and email addresses and other things you might not think of) THREE TIMES – think about it: Maiden name, first husband’s name, back to maiden name, second husband’s name.

          My mom actually commented, “well, maybe you got this thing right,” to me. I was shocked. (But I agree with her.)

    • I informed my (very long term) boyfriend I’d be perfectly happy if he wanted to take my last name when we got married (I was only kind of joking).

      I don’t think not wanting to change my name has anything to do with feeling “liberated” for me (though I know it does for many). All my degrees, professional licenses, publications, passport, social security card, etc, are in my name, and it just seems like such a pain to change it. It’s my name. It’s been my name my entire life. The concept of changing my name just seems so odd that it’s not something I’ve ever even really considered. Plus, changing it to “Mrs.BFslastname” would just make me think of his mother. no thanks.

      • pjbhawaii :

        I agree with this completely. I got married (the first time) very young, and at that time one just took the husband’s name. When I got my new checkbooks and paychecks, etc. in my husband’s name, I became depressed. And cranky. I felt I’d lost some of my essence. I had not anticipated feeling anything other than delight. For me it was a real paradigm shift, and an unpleasant one.

        Think it through before you decide.

      • I think I would keep my last name on all actual documents, but might call myself mrs. husbands last name in social situations, especially if it was his circle

        • I know several people who have done this and completely understand and agree. I personally got married young and took my husband’s name, so post-grad degrees are in his name as well as my professional history. However, if I had gotten married later, I would probably have kept my maiden name for professional purposes.

    • I don’t live in New York – nor have I ever lived there – but every Sunday I read the NYT’s Weddings online. I am always very interested to see if the bride is taking the groom’s last name. Occasionally, it will say “The bride will continue to use her name professionally,” which to me means that she will use her maiden name at work but have mail, credit cards etc in the married name…which seems messy to me. Other announcements say something like this: “Mrs. HisLastName graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, where she also obtained her law degree.”

      Sometimes the couple will choose a new name (from where? Sometimes it’s known, sometimes not) or both hypenate. Same-sex couples often adopt one surname or another or hyphenate.

      I find this fascinating!

      • I have a set of friends who married, and they made their own new last name out of a combination of their individual old last names. Kind of a neat idea, but confuses quite a few people.

        • Boston atty :

          I loved this idea, I saw it done once and I really wanted to do it. My husband, however, has a “dying” last name. Very very few people have it in the world and he didn’t want to change it, which made sense to me.

    • Why is the MS. dreaded? It doesn’t have a connotation does it? I just call everyone Ms.

    • For me, the difficulty comes not so much because I’m “liberated.” It’s more that my heritage and the family I was born into are very important. I have a last name that is uncommon in the U.S., but is very common in the country where my grandparents are from. Of course, I wouldn’t lose my heritage or connection to my family if I were to change my name, but having the name is important to me nonetheless. I’ll be getting married soon and I’ve decided to use both names, with my maiden name as a new middle name. It’s important to me to maintain the connection I had to my family growing up, but it’s also important for me to forge a new connection with my fiancee and our (future) children.

    • Boston atty :

      You’re not old fashioned I don’t think, 99% of my friends have taken their husband’s last names. In fact, it’s weird to NOT take your husband’s name now apparently (my friends are in their early 30s professional women). I think everyone should be able to do whatever they want, but I get a little sad thinking about how many women take their husband’s last name because of wanting to have a connection (understandably) to their future children. If we just had 2 last names like people do in Spain and other countries, this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s still mostly patriarchal, but in Spain/Puerto Rico and other countries, each individual is: Firstname Middlename FathersLastname MothersLastname. That way you have a connection to both parents.

      I’ve kept my name and our children will be named I listed above. People tell me this might be an issue in school for some teachers but I really don’t see the problem, they will learn to figure it out.

    • I was married once before and took ex’s last name. I have a very difficult last name to spell and pronounce, and it was kind of nice to have something simpler. But now that I have gone through having to change it back, and have my law degree, etc. in my maiden name, I won’t be taking my fiance’s last name when we get married. I like my last name, even if other people have trouble with it. Besides, if I took his last name, my new name would be the title of a semi-popular horror film character that many people would recognize and that bothers me a little.

    • anonymous :

      while i certainly respect ladies who change their names when they get married, i’ve never considered doing the same for myself – my first name and last name are both ethnic and my partner’s last name is not, and for some reason the notion of changing my name to something like “qing yuan smith” is not very appealing to me.

    • Keep in mind that you’re still Mrs. William Jones, even if your legal name is Jane Smith.

      • lawyerette :

        That’s preposterous. That’s like saying you’re whatever name people choose to call you rather than your actual name. People can call you whatever they want, that doesn’t mean “you are” that name.

      • I just called my husband and said, did you know I’m not “myname” but rather “Mrs. HisFirst HisLast?”

        He laughted his a#$ off!

        • I wouldn’t personally go by Mrs. William Smith, but it seems the poster above is excited to change her name to some future man’s. I just meant to suggest that she could still be a “Mrs.” without changing her name.

          Personally, I’m not into changing names at all.

  26. My name (spelled above) is pronounced exactly like “Michael.” I know this blog tends to focus on law and business, but I’m an engineer and I work in the defense industry, which is just one big boyzone on top of another. Most people assume the person on the other end of the phone/email/whatever is a man, and my name just makes them feel that much better about the assumption. (And don’t get me started on the people who just take the liberty of shortening it to “Mike”!)

    Why does this bother me? Because it means I start out nearly every. single. professional interaction with awkwardness, having to correct someone. Almost every single one. It’s draining. It’s hard enough to be the only woman in the room, but to literally have someone tell you “Oh, I assumed you were a man” just drives it home that I’m an anomaly. (I am proud to be an anomaly, but still!)

    To mitigate it I sign my emails “Ms. Mikell Lastname”, though many people don’t look down that far and don’t catch it and still refer to me as “him” or respond with “Mr. Mikell” (a lot of my clients in Asia do this). I’ve trained my coworkers on how to introduce me over email, mostly by remembering to throw in a “… SHE will be doing X on this program…” sort of sentence. (Side note, this is also a helpful tip for men I date. More than once, someone’s grandmother has been convinced her grandson is gay until she meets me)

    Depending on the audience, I also find it helpful to whip out Trinity’s line from The Matrix:
    Neo: I thought you were a guy.
    Trinity: Most guys do.

    • I think your name is very pretty. But I don’t think you can take it personally that people assume someone with a name that looks like it is pronounced (and is pronounced) identically to a male name is male. If your name were Tiffany and people assumed you were male just because your field is predominantly male that would be one thing, but given the look and pronunciation of your name, I don’t blame anyone for thinking it’s male.

      This thread has convinced me of the evils of the gender neutral or gender ambiguous name!

    • The Trinity line is awesome!

    • LexCaritas :

      Great idea re: Matrix line!

  27. I have a problem with gender neutral telephone voices. I will call the home of a client and the person who answers could be the man or the woman – I often can’t tell. I hate to get it wrong. I don’t want to say, hi is this Jack or Jill?

  28. Unrelated threadjack

    I’m revising my resume since being admitted to practice law. As such, my formal title is First M. Last, Esq.

    Does that full title go at the top of the resume, or should I leave it as First M. Last?

    I’m only asking because it looks odd, and I can’t figure out if it looks odd because I’m not used to it, or if it looks dumb.

    • Don’t use Esq. It’s generally considered kind of douchey. Very few people use it. The only situation where I’d use it is in an email signature or business card if your job title doesn’t make it clear you’re a lawyer, but it’s important that people know you’re licensed to practice law.

      • That’s kind of what I thought, thanks! I was like, hmm, is this new or just d-bag of me? D-bag for the win.

    • I think there is an appropriate time or place to use the “Esq.” at the end of your name (though technically it is your title). I think using it in a client-facing/public situation is best, so as to identify yourself as a lawyer. Like on your business card that you would give to a potential client or a small firm’s front office door.
      If you’re sending your resume out to firms and applying for lawyer jobs, the Esq. isn’t necessary – in that case it’s already assumed that you’re a lawyer.

      • I agree. While I don’t sign “Esq.” on anything, I do administrative hearings that do not require attorneys. It’s very helpful to me (and likely the other side) to know if/when we’re going to be against opposing counsel. On resumes, it is not needed since one shouldn’t be applying for attorney positions without already being an attorney.

    • i'm nobody :

      never use it for yourself. reserve it for other counsel.

  29. Anonymous :

    My problem isn’t that my name is gender neutral, so much as that it’s gender neutral when spoken but obviously gendered when written (think Teri or Erin). Half the time, even when I initiate email contact, I receive an email back to the masculine spelling of my name. Some people just don’t know there’s a gender difference between the two spellings but know I’m a woman, but many people think I’m a guy. Drives me bonkers. Is it that hard to read how your colleague’s name is spelled and get it right? There are people I’ve worked with for 3 years who still spell it wrong every time.

    I only correct people when it matters, like for official documents, but it’s happened that they still get it wrong even after I’ve corrected them.

  30. I got married before I went to law school, so my professional accredidations are in my married name…I always thought that if – heaven forbid – we did get divorced, I would just keep his – and our son’s – last name.

    Having written that out, it sounds pretty silly. Do divorced women ever keep their married names?

    • AnonAnonAnon :

      I would, for exactly your reasons. And I specifically considered this when changing my name. I mentioned it to classmates and they were appalled.

      But seriously, my law school has 2 professors who were married, had a very scandalous divorce (affairs with other professors and students) and now still work there with the same last name. They constantly have to explain. If my H and I worked in the same industry, I absolutely would not have the same last name.

    • I think this is very common, especially when you have children. I wouldn’t ever want to have a different last name from my kids.

    • AnonymousFRA :

      Not silly. My boss and one colleague both divorced and kept their ex-husband’s surnames because they’d established themselves professionally using these names.

      As a side note, my boss has recently remarried and took her new husband’s surname (she is “of a certain age” and very, very high up in our company) – doesn’t seem to be causing professional angst or widespread confusion, FWIW :)

    • I don’t think it’s unusual at all for women to keep their married names after a divorce. Interestingly, my mother-in-law kept her married name after her divorce and then hyphenated that name with her new married name later. Both her professional reputation and her doctorate were based on her first married name, and she didn’t want to create confusion. I think she wouldn’t have hyphenated after her second marriage if it hadn’t been so important to her new husband. At that time, it just wasn’t as common for women not to take their husbands’ names.

    • all the time! my mother did after her divorce, and not because of any professional degrees or to share a last name with me but for the simple fact that she had been known under her married name even longer than she had been known by her maiden name. She got married young and didn’t divorce until after 20 years of marriage. It was just easier than going through the hassle of changing it on all bank accounts/legal documents/etc.

    • My mother did the same after her annullment, partly at mine and my brothers’ request (we were fairly young and didn’t want to endure all the questions regarding why we she had a different last name) and also, she had established herself in her 20+ year career as Firstname Dad’slastname. This wasn’t really a problem anymore, as dad moved to another country, but his new wife seems to be bitter about my mother never going back to her maiden name :-)

    • Yes, and for exactly your reasoning. I know a fair amount of people who’ve done so (I’m a divorce attorney). Which is why I’ve always thought it’s a better idea not to change your name in the first place.

      • Actually my boyfriend’s mother still uses her first married name (the one that all her kids have) even though she’s been married to her second husband for much longer than the first marriage lasted.

  31. What a great question and answer. I just wrote a cover letter/submitted a resume to someone I was almost certain was female, but not 100% sure about based on their name. I definately googled them, looked on the company website, and everything to try to figure out which pronoun to use. Sadly, no help. I didn’t think of calling their voicemail at night! I think everyone will understand if you routinely put Ms. in front of your name or in other ways make it clear you’re female. I know it would help someone like me a lot!

    • I definitely would not call someone in the middle of the night trying to get voicemail. Our office phones are set up so that when we get a call, it automatically rings on our cell too. So if you call my office at 2AM, there is a good chance that I am actually going to pick up the phone.

  32. Coming a little late to this thread but I just wanted to share this little story that still cracks me up. So, I am a member of a women’s group that has a (for the most part true) reputation of being a club for wealthy housewives – a “ladies who lunch” type crowd. I joined it because my grandmother wanted me to, and I found that I kind of enjoyed the one hour a month with people so completely different than me who I never saw outside of that context. Kind of a break from my regular life.

    Anyways, one of my grandmother’s friends is pretty high up in the national organization and she once gave me her business card when I applied for a scholarship from the group for law school. I was shocked to see that is said Mrs. Herfirstname Hislastname (Hisfirstname Hismiddleinitial). So, her business card said something like: Mrs. Jane Doe (John A.). It just cracked me up, especially because her card was for her position in a group in which only women are members! Who cares who her husband is? I’ve never even met him and he certainly has no role in the organization.

    I can’t imagine meeting anybody who would do that today, even the younger members in this group. But I suppose since she’s in her late 80’s she can do whatever makes her happy (as can the rest of us)!

    • It probably seems progressive to her to be addressed as Mrs. Jane Smith instead of Mrs. John Smith. Until 30 years or so ago, it was the norm to address women in public by their husband’s first and last names.

      • I remember by sister and I talking my mother into changing the name on her checking account–yes, the one she controlled and deposited her salary into–from Mrs.HisFirstNameHisLastName to Her Firstname His LastName. This was in the 80s.

        • In the 80s my mom would always sign checks and such as Mrs. John Doe. Maybe it was a culture thing since the money was also his. Since i make my own money and my checking account is in my name I would never think of signing my name as Mrs. Husband’s first and last. I don’t she she used it in any other context, just checks.

          • Technically, this was (and still is) the correct way to address a married lady according to social etiquette. However, in business, I have to agree that I would NEVER go by Mrs. John Doe – or even by “Mrs” Jane Doe.

    • I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Something to Talk About’ with Julia Roberts – it’s a little old – but she’s in the same type of club you are describing – and there’s a scene where she’s on the cookbook committee and suggests that to be more modern the group’s cookbook should have every contributor as Mrs. hername husband’s last name rather than Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname. One woman stood up and said, “but how will anybody know who I am?!” – this might give you some insight. Totally true that for many many centuries, women weren’t given credit under their own name.

  33. “changing the footer in my email to all pink”

    Don’t do this. Signing an e-mail in this way risks coming across as unprofessional.

  34. Not sure if this has already been suggested (I didn’t read thru all of the posts), but a shareholder in my firm has a “male” name, and she does this:

    FirstName LastName (Ms.)

    It catches most of the mistakes, though she still has to correct people occasionally.

  35. Sometimes I’ve thought that it would be great to have a gender neutral first name in a male dominated profession. There’s probably some study out there finding that male colleagues/adversaries perceive women as being more intelligent if they have a “masculine” name. Who’s more sexist: men or me? (:

  36. Definitely on the side that prefers Ms. to Miss or Mrs. for professional settings.

    Side question about work situations: I work in a non-profit law office and for some reason the support staff call the men Mr. LastName but the women by their first names. None of the women, even very senior ones, are referred to as Ms. LastName. It sounds really old-fashioned to me and sexist to only address men formally. As far as I can tell, this is a naturally-occuring situation and not some kind of policy (which would be weird, no?).

    Does anyone experience this? Thoughts?

    • This one is so hard. Are you junior or fairly senior? If you are junior I don’t think there is anything you can do that won’t risk damage to your reputation/perseption. If you are very friendly with a particular secretary or staff person you could maybe point it out in a “did you notice?” “is it my imagination?” “how interesting” half jocky way? And maybe also do that with another attorney? Just to potentially trigger some awareness?

      This would drive me up the wall if it was me.

      If you are senior I might think about saying something. Not sure what… because clearly a person insisting on a title for themselves 99.999% of the time comes off very badly but on the other hand it’s pretty blatant disrespect by contrast.

      • it’s not surprising – we do it in casual conversation about famous people all the time. Ever notice how we’ll talk about “Secretary Gates” or “Vice President Biden,” but we’re quick to call the Secretary of State “Hillary.” How to change that, I don’t know…

        • To be fair, I suspect a lot of Secretary Clinton’s problem is her famous husband. I don’t hear people say “Secretary Gates” or “Vice President Biden” half as often as I hear “Gates” and “Biden.” I think Secretary Clinton got dubbed Hillary during her presidential campaign in part because referring to “Clinton,” even in a purely political context, could be confusing. See also the amusingly titled “Mr. Dr. Smith” and “Mrs. Dr. Smith” elsewhere in this thread. Their students are struggling to balance clarity and respect, and are running smack into the limitations of English language conventions.

          Yes, the situation mcg describes is infuriating and definitely sexist (albeit likely unintentional on the part of the staff). I’m just not sure if it’s that prevalent in public life.

          • I agree that Hillary Clinton chose to use her first name. But Condoleeza Rice, for example, didn’t brand herself as “Condi.” The media did that.

    • Emily Murdock :

      Yes! This drives me crazy. It’s usually clients who address me by my first name without asking and ALWAYS assume I’m a secretary and not an attorney. This is not the case with the men in the office. I understand that I am quite young and the most junior person in the office, but it still irks me. Nonetheless, there’s nothing I can do because I’m not going to embarrass our clients especially since this is my first law job, and I’m so new.

  37. On the Update, I think Ms. is the only appropriate term to use in the business contact. I was recently the contact person for a job posting at my firm, and I was shocked (yes, shocked! is actually the right word) by the number of cover letters that were addressed to Mrs. [me]. Mrs.! Not Ms.

    On the name front, I think all the suggestions are good. A picture, using your own voice on voicemail, others using the feminine pronoun, and just taking it in stride, without being too concerned about it. People who assume male when they have a choice are giving away their prejudices. By others having a choice, I mean that your name really is traditionally gender-neutral, like Chris or Robin or Pat. If you have a name that’s traditionally male (Matthew, Robert) then the confusion is more understandable (and the blame belongs with your parents?). If you have a nickname or a fuller name or a middle name that’s obviously feminine, consider using that instead, if the assumption of male gender bothers you.

    • I teach at the university and graduate level and am always shocked when students address me as “Mrs.” I feel pretentious, somewhat, calling myself “Professor” but I tell students to call me Laura, Professor or Ms., anything but “Mrs.”

  38. Anonymouse :

    I was very surprised on joining my firm with very big international private client/wealth planning reputation to see about half of women’s email footers read either Mrs. Jane MaidenName or Mrs. Jane MarriedName.

    The rest do not use Ms or Miss, just the standard name, title address etc.

    Very strange.

  39. Great advice in this post. All great points.

    I also would be offended if somebody called me “Mrs” even though I’ve been married for 14 years and took my spouse’s name when we got married.

    • I did that too — took my husband’s name and stayed Ms. I just feel like to do otherwise would wreck the whole point of Ms., which is to be marriage-neutral. I feel like people often assume that Ms. is just for unmarried women who are embarrassed to be called Miss. Which is an even bigger problem because it assumes that it’s embarrassing for some reason to be unmarried. I wonder sometimes how Michelle Obama feels about being called Mrs. Obama. I feel like she’s young enough and accomplished enough to have been Ms. Obama (and Ms. Robinson before that). But maybe I’m just making assumptions. It just always sounds strange to me when people refer to her as Mrs. Obama.

      • I think that Mrs. Obama or Ms. Obama would be correct depending on the reference and the setting. If being mentioned primarily as President Obama’s wife or as the First Lady, then Mrs. is not intended to be any less than what it connotes: “Married to”. However, if she were being recognized for her own accomplishments (such as giving a speech at commencement, etc) then I would assume Ms. to be correct. I would not want to be referred to anything other than Ms. in a business setting, but don’t mind being called Mrs. when in social setting that both my husband and I interact in. Of course, it is a much more complex issue with the Obamas….

  40. Emily Murdock :

    Although there is very little way to distinguish genders in some names, I’ve never understood why people don’t just look it up in the case of most names. If I am ever not 100% certain of the gender of a particular name, I google “the name” plus “baby names.” Not only does this tell you the gender of foreign names, but also for gender neutral names it tells you the percentage of boys and girls with a particular name.

  41. honestly the best way to deal with it is “why the frell is it such a big problem”
    nobody means any insult, its an honest mistake(and the most logical course playing the odds) get over it. people are generally too sensitive about this sort of thing for absolutely no reason

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