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2016 Update: We still stand by this discussion of the importance of not being called the wrong name — but you may want to check out our more recent discussion on how to handle being called the wrong name at work.
It stinks to be called the wrong name — but what if it’s your colleague or boss who’s doing it? How do you correct them? Obviously, we had to wait to answer this reader mail until we started using our name with the blog…
I’m wondering how to handle correcting people on my name. My name is Diana, and I am constantly called Diane. This seems to happen most often in email of all places, where my name is automatically generated by Outlook in the To line, and where often my signature block is in the thread. Both coworkers, including HR of all places, and opposing counsel get it wrong with some frequency. Apparently this also happens a lot to my friend Julia, who is often called Julie. Diane and Julie are lovely names, but they aren’t ours.
When and how do I correct HR/partners/opposing counsel? This is really starting to drive me up the wall.
As a “Katherine” whose only nickname has ever been “Kat” — never Kathy or Kate — this author feels your pain. For our $.02, the trick is figuring out when to care if someone has your name wrong. For example, that random guy who responded to my e-mail last week “Thanks Kathy” — not a big enough deal to correct him on my name. However, when I started at my old firm, the partner assigned to be my liaison (and help me round up work) mistakenly thought my name was Kathy. (Or perhaps that all Katherines like to go by Kathy? It was never clear to me.) He immediately began promoting me to other partners as “Kathy” — which made me cringe every time, and required correction. In your situation, we would say that HR is a big deal because they are likely to introduce you to other people — but opposing counsel isn’t such a big deal, because if s/he uses the name in court, the names sound similar enough (Diane, Diana) that no one will notice. (Or just think he or she is being a jerk.)
Now, when it does matter that you correct the person on your name, it’s difficult to do it in a way that doesn’t come off as conceited, self-important, passive aggressive, or petty. (At least, it always feels that way.) Some suggestions for you:
– With a friend or colleague: Tell a story about yourself, and refer to yourself in the third person. As in, “My friends were all like, DIANA, stop it, you’re killing us!”
– With an introduction: “Hi, Diane, it’s great to see you. Meet my colleague ____.” Then you turn to shake the colleague’s hand and say, “Hi, Diana __.” Repeat your full name, even if the person before just said it.
– Through voicemails. Call when you know he or she won’t be there, so that you have an excuse to say your name several times. “Hi __, it’s DIANA __. I just thought I’d call to respond to __. Again, this is DIANA ___, please give me a call back at ___.”
– Direct. Sometimes the only way to do this is to be direct, where you have to have a conversation with the person. We would advise doing it in person, so your tone will not be misunderstood (and your tone should be light). Such as, “Hi, HR person.” “Hi, Diane!” “Oh, ha, my mother would have a heart attack if she heard that — she fought tooth and nail against every grade school teacher who tried to call me that, which is why I staunchly insist on ‘Diana’ today. Anyway, I came by to drop off this file…”
Readers, any other tips?