What’s In a Name

She had three names.

Recently while tweeting with a friend I noticed her Twitter name had changed slightly. Sometimes people have three or four names and it can be a little confusing what to call them. In a medium with a 140 character limit the name Enya or Miley can come in pretty handy.

Sometime after my friend started on line she dropped one of her names to shorten her label but I was using the name she'd started when I wrote her.

Realizing it was now different I asked her what she wanted to be called. She said, the truth is the name I used initially is really only for my family, so I'm trying to get back some clarity. She said I could keep using the old moniker – the one no longer visible online – but that made no sense to me.

I'm not family.


We want to believe that our new order is so casual – perhaps a function of Social Media – we're able to drop a lot of the formalities, yet there's a difference between being informal and being insensitive. Being on-line isn't a license to be a boor.

And boorish behavior online has a way of drifting into real life.

Don Miguel Ruiz's advice notwithstanding people take it personally when you don't say or spell their name right.

What does it say about our sensitivity if we can't even bother to get appellations correct? I've worked with some who seem preternaturally unable to understand, spell or pronounce others' names: its not cute. Its a lack of respect.

And yes, people will remember.

We have boundaries both on-line and in the office.

HR needs Sensitivity Training

It wasn't that long ago that we used Mr and Ms regularly and while those days may be gone its certainly possible to check names – spelling & pronunciations – when we meet others for the first time. Especially when headhunting over the phone.

And certainly for new co-workers.

Respect in the office is a funny thing. We spend a great deal of energy talking about inappropriate behavior, the dos and don'ts of internet usage and the right and wrong topics for office place conversation. Yet few of us remind each other how we want to be addressed.

In the end though, the way we address each other says a lot about how sensitive we are to the basic niceties of working together.

John Prine wrote a song once that included a reference to the neighbors thinking his name was “where in the hell you been?” based on the way his wife greeted him when he came home every night (I'm sure it was fiction). You want that in your workplace?

You see, it really doesn't take a lot of effort to check I with each other and find out how candidates and coworkers want to be addressed.

But it does take some effort.

It takes enough effort to show that at a core level we respect each other. Its one reason (out of many) I so love Spanish/Mexican culture: where I live we often use the address señor and señorita. It is a usual and customary way to show respect.

Little things matter. Words matter. Names matter.

A lot.


6 thoughts on “What’s In a Name

  1. This makes so much sense to me and I really appreciate this post.

    Being Danish, my name is spelled RebeKKa – instead of the standard English version, RebeCCa. People misspell it all the time – although it only bothers me when they do it in reply to an email where my name is clearly spelled correctly.

    However, I don’t even try to get people to pronounce my name correctly. I don’t mind the English pronunciation of my name, and working in an English-speaking country it just saves me a lot of trouble – and most English-speaking people have a very very hard time doing it correctly anyway.

    • Good perspective Rebekka! I’ve always looked forward to your tweets since it meant I had to spell your name correctly – I like it! Yes, pronunciation can be hard, but I believe you should at least try!

  2. Good advice! I am always pleasantly surprised when people ask me whether I’m a Kat-ie or Kat-y and always unpleasantly surprised when people decide that I must have left out the ‘H’ and write to me as “Kathy”. It is the little things that matter in our big and busy world. It’s not to say I would never speak to someone who spelled my name wrong, but it does always let me know whether they are really paying attention or not.

    • Agree: it is the little things that make a difference. And you’re right – spelling our name correctly (without trying to correct same!) seems a little thing, but is actually a big deal…

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