Business, Communication, Culture

Names: Getting Them Right

Dean is one of those employees who annoys his colleagues on a regular basis. He interrupts them during meetings, and he never fails to leave a mess every time he fixes himself a cup of coffee. Worst of all, he is always calling people by the wrong name!

One of Dean’s colleagues is named Maxine. Dean usually addresses her as Max or Maxie, even though Maxine never uses these nicknames for herself. Another colleague is named Nikul, but Dean keeps calling him Nick. Meanwhile, Christine doesn’t mind when people call her Chris, but Dean insists on calling her Chrissy. A young intern at the company is named William, but likes to be called Will. However, Dean constantly refers to him as Billy or even Billy Boy, which Will finds embarrassing.

Dean uses these unwanted nicknames names whether he is speaking to his colleagues or sending them emails. Needless to say, they can’t wait until Dean retires next year!

Don’t be like Dean!

Although Dean seems to be using the wrong names on purpose, names can be confusing and sometimes people need help keeping them straight. This is especially true if you are addressing someone from a culture with naming practices that are different from your own. You may also be confused about nicknames, or what to do if someone changes their name. Below are some guidelines to help you figure it all out.

Follow the other person’s lead.

When someone introduces himself/herself to you, either in person or via email, use the same name that they use. If a colleague sends out an email telling everyone that she has just gotten married and now wants to be known as Linda Jackson rather than Linda Stephens, then that is the name you should use.

Be careful about nicknames.

It’s okay to refer to Roseanne as Rosie if this is how she signs her emails, or if she has asked you to call her Rosie. However, it is considered disrespectful and unprofessional to give someone an unwanted nickname, especially if it’s a nickname that can be considered cute or childish.

Don’t change “foreign” names.

What constitutes a “foreign” name depends on who you are–and where you are. If you are a native English speaker, this means you should not Anglicize the names of colleagues and associates the way Dean did with his colleague, Nikul. It would be different if Nikul himself decided he wanted to be called Nick.

What if you genuinely have difficulty remembering or pronouncing someone’s name? Just do the best you can. You will probably get better with practice. If you make a mistake, apologize.

Also, make it a point to use the right name–and spell it correctly–when you send emails and other documents. You can find additional information about names and how to greet someone in an email here and here.

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