just tell me your real name

Okay, this one is for college students and recent grads.

Someone along the way, someone gave you the idea that it’s unprofessional to use anything but your full, given name, even if everyone in your life calls you something else. While this is sort of adorable, you should drop this idea.

It’s disconcerting to go through the whole interview process with Katherine and hire her, only to discover on her second day of work that she’s Katie. Or weirder, to discover that the William who I spent several weeks talking with, and who I now know as William, actually goes by his middle name, Peter.

There’s nothing unprofessional about middle names, or about Katie, Jim, Liz, or whatever your nickname is. This isn’t like school where you have to register with your full and complete birth name.  We’re all adults here; just tell me what to call you and don’t confuse me.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Kim*

    I agree that this is important to mention. I've found this challenging in the workplace, but I think it goes both ways. Most good interviewers/future managers I've had have asked whether I go by Kimberly or Kim during the interview and I always emphasize Kim. Some of them pick up on it without even asking. But I had some out-of-touch senior managers in a corporate law firm who didn't seem to get to know their employees very well, and after three years of work they still called me Kimberly. Even after they asked what I preferred and I told them I go by Kim, and when all of our coworkers (and my direct supervisors) who actually knew me called me Kim, in front of them. I have long since left that firm, and part of it was because it was clear how little they valued their employees as individuals. Small things like that are indicative of bigger problems! :)

  2. Mneiae*

    I'm a business student and I was just taught that this is what "professionals" do. My name is Caroline and I go by my full name, but I know plenty of people who are named after their dads and therefore go by their middle names instead of their first. And introducing yourself as Will when your first name is Lee is frowned upon at my b-school.

  3. ~Me*

    I put my legal name at the top of my resume, but I sign my cover letter and all other correspondences with the name I'd like to be called. I want the employer to be able to Google the right me, or run a background check. But I also want them to know I go by something different. Hasn't caused any problems yet.

  4. Rebecca*

    My given name and the name I go by is "Rebecca," so that's what I use on job apps and my resume, including in the box after full name where I have the option of giving you my preferred name.

    PLEASE don't force me to stifle the cringe when your first question is "Do people call you 'Becky'?"

  5. Anonymous*

    I'm like Rebecca (see above). I have a name that can be shortened, but I was raised to accept nothing but the name that's on my birth certificate. I will correct you.

    Full names are needed for paychecks and other legalities.

    The employer can ask "Do you like to be called William?" Or sometimes the candidate can say "Oh please, call me Bill." If the employee doesn't mention it right off the bat but says something later, perhaps after s/he's been hired, then I guess that's their perogative.

    I'd say leave it be and don't make an issue out of it. The person will correct you, hopefully nicely.

  6. shawn*

    I've had this happen a few times with new hires and it drives me nuts. It's like why didn't you say something? I understand using your real name on a resume/application, but in emails why wouldn't you use your commonly used name? It's incredibly hard for me to get used to calling someone a different name after I've come to know them as… whatever. Personal problem I know, but still annoying.

  7. Cassie*

    I've always used my "real" name but I have a name that isn't easily shortened.

    Back when I was in school (i.e., elementary through high school), teachers used to tell students to let them know if they wanted to be called a different name. So when the teacher calls roll (on the first day), you would say "here" and then say "but I go by Katie" or something. There was a kid in my class whose name was Michael(?) but went by Nick. Everyone knew him as Nick, except when there were substitute teachers.

    In my office, we have a lot of people from other countries (namely in Asia) – some of them adopt American/western names, some of them don't. The most common practice I've seen is for them to put their official first name followed by their preferred name in parentheses and then their last name. So it would be something like Jing (Jenny) Yang, or something.

    I don't know what it's like to be in a corporate environment (is not going by your given name considered unprofessional?), but I imagine it shouldn't cause too much problems.

  8. Anonymous*

    Also, if you're interviewing and I get your name wrong, please have the courage to correct me. What sort of hire are you if you're not willing to stand up and say, "This is wrong."?

  9. TheLabRat*

    Flip side; My name is Ann Marie. It is first and middle but I go by both as all one thing. I've had interviewers ask me (because I list the whole thing), "is it Ann Marie or do you go by Ann?" I truthfully tell them, "I answer to both." Seriously, people. I really don't care. Unless you're willing to call me what most people call me (Mouse) you can call me just about anything as long as you warn me my new name is "hey crazy coffee chick."

  10. Anonymous*

    I complete agree, especially when the preferred name is not an obvious shortening of the full name. I use my full name on my resume with my preferred name in parentheses, and always introduce myself and sign emails with my preferred name. Another issue here is that there is a lot of internal setup for a new hire that is dependent upon their name, like email accounts and network user names. It's much harder to change after it's already been set up than to use the preferred name from the beginning.

  11. Anonymous*

    I agree with AAM. If you prefer to go by something other than your full name, it is your responsibility to mention that up front.

  12. Evil HR Lady*

    This post made me laugh. It's true.

    And also, because your legal name needs to be on your paycheck and in your file and we have 30,000 employees, don't call and scream at me when I (who doesn't know you) send out official correspondence to your legal name and not to Jr.

  13. HR Godess*

    I had an applicant go by a totally different name than what was on her resume. It was listed as Mary but when I called her, she answered the phone "This is Diane". When I explained I was looking for Mary, she told me she was Mary. Very confusing.

    I'd put the name you want to be called on your resume. You can use your legal name when you fill out paperwork when hired. Otherwise, save us from the guessing games please!

  14. HR Godess*

    I had an applicant go by a totally different name than what was on her resume. It was listed as Mary but when I called her, she answered the phone "This is Diane". When I explained I was looking for Mary, she told me she was Mary. Very confusing.

    I'd put the name you want to be called on your resume. You can use your legal name when you fill out paperwork when hired. Otherwise, save us from the guessing games please!

  15. Anonymous*

    I guess I'm kind of odd, because I make the call on which name I want to be called by after I see the work environment and whether I'm going to be dealing with new people all the time. My first name is difficult for Americans to say initially but I've never had people struggle with it for more than a week of regular use. However, if it looks to be a high turnover/dealing with lots of different short-term clients/whatever job where I will constantly be sounding out my name and then explaining my ethnic background I give them my first and middle initials instead. This was mostly an issue back in my temping days, since now that I'm a teacher I pretty much go by Ms. Lastname regardless and just teach the kids how to pronounce it. (In both cases my names are easy for Americans to say in terms of vowels/consonants/length/etc but non-intuitive to sound out if you've never seen them before.)

  16. Anonymous*

    I don't know. Perhaps I'm thinking incorrectly, but this issue has turned quite petty and nearly nickpicking. Some of the responses above claim that it will tax the brain if they have to learn a nickname for an employee after having used the legal name throughout the interviewing process. Maybe it's understandable if you are the supervisor of a rather huge number of employees, but if you are in a small office, I don't see what the big problem is. Perhaps people don't feel comfortable the boss using the nickname until they are actually in that environment on a "permanent" basis. Who knows? But to say it annoys the boss is just nickpicking, almost like trying to find a way to already have a mark against the employee. It's just a name. "What's in a name?" Like what I have heard many times before in the business world, it's nothing personal (at least not to the boss!).

    This reminds me of the movie "Devil Wears Prada" because the boss couldn't be bothered remembering the new hire's name and just referred to her by her first assistant's name.

  17. Anonymous*

    Yeah I used to always include my middle initial on my resume….because someone told me I should. Then I started a new job and discovered that they'd ordered the sign for my office door and all of my business cards with my middle initial, and set up my email signature with it too. I had to set them straight, I'm not like William H. Macy or Michael J. Fox–I don't use my middle initial in everyday communication.

  18. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous at 8:20 — The point is that when people do this, it's because they think they're supposed to, that it would be unprofessional otherwise. They would be helped by knowing that in fact it's okay to use Katie or Liz or whatever from the beginning.

  19. Rebecca*

    Aw, this ain't nickpicking. Nickpicking is when someone named Nicholas applies for a job and you insist on calling him Nick. I think we can all agree that that's an unprofessional thing to do.

  20. raskal*

    I think this is more an issue of familiarity. But there are degrees of social skills involved and face it, we're all in front of computers so how well do we excel at social graces?

    Pet Peeves: When they still address you by your full name after being told what name you go by. Or when someone sulks like a child because you don't know the nickname they never told you.

    Worse, the first paycheck is payable to Katie & the bank won't cash the check since Katie's real name is Diane, and Katie has no ID as Diane.

    Better yet, waste my time & money on background checks that come back incomplete. If I can't confirm your identity I'm moving on to someone else.

    Bottom line, I need to know your legal name & what name you go by. As a hiring manager, I ask and confirm both before I start the interview. Makes my life a whole lot easier and usually puts the other person at ease.

  21. The Engineer*

    So, does this mean there is a spot for "preferred name" on the applications at AAM's business? To me, part of the problem is that no one asks either.

  22. Anonymous*

    AAM – I understand where you're coming from – professionalism vs. unprofessionalism and how people understand that being called "Katie" for "Katherine" (to just make an example) is okay. However, raskal above is correct – legal names are necessary for paychecks, background checks, and other legalities that come up for JOBTITLE. I would think a legal name on the resume should be required purposes and treat the resume as a legal document (after all, you can't lie on it).

    Rebecca – Your example of nickpicking isn't nickpicking. If I kept calling you Becky when you prefer Rebecca, that's not nickpicking; that would be me being a jerk (or an ignorant person) because I assume I can call you whatever and you'll accept it. Nickpicking is more like creating a mountain out of a molehill which in a way this is. This name issue is a two way street, and I think the Engineer is right when s/he states that the employer can ask just easily as the employee offers to say "You may call me Katie."

    I just never thought this would be an issue. I have had an employer ask me if I preferred the shorten version of my name which was very nice. I replied no and that was that. No big issue. And even if I said yes, it's not like he has to go back and change all of the paperwork.

  23. Anonymous*

    I agree with 8:20!!!
    Why is this addressed to "new grads?"

    This name bit seems to be a big thing for some of you. At work I am called Ms. **** or by my first name, or my nickname or by my first and middle name (which everyone knows) it's not a big deal! I don't hate any of my names and just because you realize that William would rather be called Bill is not a reason to get your panties in a twist, just call him Bill from now on!
    I wonder what kind of sympathetic response a new grad would get if he/she wrote a letter saying "all my colleagues and bosses want me to call them by their first name, yet I was introduced to them as Mrs. and Mr. **** HELP! I have to remember all the new names! boo hoo. I bet the response would be "welcome to the real world kid, deal with it and learn and remember their names"

    I also read your piece on new grad's mistakes when landing a job – can you bring up anymore stereotypes for us young people. I guess you don't work with many "older" people, I can tell you that older workers lack the same ethics as the younger ones – this is not an age problem, it's an individual one….. will this even make it pass moderation?!

  24. Kate Hutchinson*

    My whole first name is Kate (not Katherine or Kathleen or Katelyn) and I have never gone by Katie. I find it particularly annoying when people assume Kate is short for something else and correct me on forms "Use your whole first name."

  25. dustycrown*

    I've had the opposite problem. HR insists that everything be in my full legal name (Sandra) even though I go by Sandy, and always have. I never, ever use Sandra, except on my taxes. And even then, I don't like it! I had to beg and plead to get my employee ID to read "Sandy." HR wanted it to read "Sandra" because that's my legal name, but I knew if that name ended up on my ID and my corporate email, I'd be "Sandra" forever, and there would be no stopping it. It's like I'm the first person to work here who uses a nickname, and they don't quite know how to handle it.

    1. Dee*

      I to go by a nickname. I told my employer upon hiring that that was what I preferred to go by. Thye introduced me as both, but many people, even though I have corrected them, including the HR Manager, refuse to call me by the name I prefer to go by. I had the HR Manager tell me that it wasn’t my name. I believe she has said this to other employees, because they have said the exact thing to me. Now they blatantly call me by my full name and refuse to call me by my choice. If I correct them, they call me nothing. If I choose to go by a certain name, why do they have the right to go against it!?

  26. Anonymous*

    My name is Antony, and as the name Anthony is more commonplace in Australia I get called Anthony all the time.

    It actually doesn't really bother me to be called Anthony, as I know it's a genuine mistake. I also don't like to whine about people getting my name wrong or to embarass them when I don't know them very well.

    People usually notice after a few times, or when we are more familiar with each other I will then correct them in a joking way to make light of it…

    'You know my name is Antony don't you?'

    This works well for me. If I don't know them and I may not speak to them again I can't be bothered to take the time to correct them.

    What really gets me is when I sign my name at the bottom of an email, and people misspell your name when they write back, even two years on when they know how to spell it.

  27. ML*

    Anonymous @ 7:35 — I believe Rebecca was simply nitpicking about your mis-spelling of the word as "nickpicking". :)

  28. Anonymous*

    As some one who has always gone by her middle name, but will respond to her first name, particularly in places where I am not well known like the dr's office, I would like to say "You can call me anything you like, just don't call me late for dinner!"

  29. Anonymous*

    My name is Kimberly and that is what I go by all the time. At every job interview I've had I made it clear up front that I go by my full name. What makes me crazy is when someone doesn't have the courtesy to ask me if what I prefer and instead take it upon themselves to call me "Kim". Like Rebecca it makes me cringe. At my present job a co-worker shortened my name and when I corrected her she actually got mad at me. Seriously, is it really that hard to say all three syllables?

    All in all I agree it's a two way street. I think it's important for the employee to make it clear what they want to be called. I also think it's just as important that the boss and co-workers respect the employees wishes.

  30. Anonymous*

    For those of us with professional licenses who sign our legal name as displayed on our license on a daily basis, I feel it would be unprofessional to use a nickname on a resume. If the license needs to be verified, the full name is required. Also, as another post mentioned, our HR dept also refuses to shorten names on our IDs, but I’ve learned it’s helpful to use that as a filter for people who actually know me vs. those who are just reading my badge and pretending to know me. All correspondence beyond the email contains my nickname, and as long as the correction is made during the first verbal interaction, there shouldn’t be any issues.

  31. Anonymous*

    There are a few people that constantly pronounce my name incorrectly at my office. I feel like you can only correct a person so many times before you start embarrassing them. I give up at that point and just try to drop hints (i.e. enunciating my name when I pick up the phone).

    As a side note, I actually think having a problem with someone shortening your name to something that is common is nitpicking. If your name is Alexander and you have a problem with people calling you Alex then you come off as seeming pompous. While I doubt you are pompous… it makes me think that you don’t want us common folk shortening your name. If you work with someone closely and have to call them all the time, 4 syllables is just too much.

  32. KFonte*

    I was wondering though… my legal name is only for documents(I am transgender)… so what is the best way to tell my employer politely that the name they’ve been calling me all this time(since my interview) shouldn’t be on my paperwork? I tend to put my initials on my paperwork and I have only my initials on my resume as well because I haven’t legally changed my name yet.

  33. Hoju*

    Great comments, everyone.
    I’ll be using my full name, while putting my nickname in brackets. That should suffice.

    Oh, if only my real name was Homer Junior. People could’ve called me Hoju.

  34. Michelle*

    What about last names?
    Is it okay to alter your last name on your resume because it’s easier for to pronounce? In my case – Aaron instead of Ben Aaron?
    Does it mean I have to change all my online profiles?

  35. Anonymous*

    What about people with very long ethnic names AS WELL AS two last names? I shortened my name to three letters Key and use the last of my legal name professionally (but my SS only has my first one — my bank has both last names registered) which I would like to Americanize before I get too advanced in my career? Would it be easier to register the name as a FBN or DBA and let any employers know that I would prefer to use that?

  36. C.Dentrinos*

    I’m trying to Change my name, but can’t afford it yet, and I’m sick of having to put my given name on my resume. But I don’t know I’m allowed to put my chosen name on my resume, but when I comes to legal papers, putting my given name. Can someone please tell me if this is okay.

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