my phone voice sounds like the other gender

A reader writes:

I work for a grant-making organization that funds academic institutions around the country. I frequently speak with people on the phone to explain our programs and often eventually meet them in person at conferences.

The issue is that I’m a man with a gender-neutral first name, and my voice on the phone is frequently taken to sound like a woman. Thus, people can often have ongoing phone and email contact with me, sometimes for several months or more, believing me to be a woman (I generally find this out in passing, such as when they use the wrong pronoun when speaking to a coworker and referring to me.) This isn’t a huge problem for me, but it’s awkward and happens pretty regularly, so I wondered if you had any ideas about how to clarify things up front.

I’m not sure if this is relevant to my question, but the reason for the voice thing is that I am transgender (completely out at work, no big deal) and have generally retained the vocal patterns of my previous gender, especially on the phone. It is never a problem in person; in person, I clearly look male and people just tend to assume I am gay based on my speech and mannerisms, but on the phone they assume I am female.

One solution would be to go to voice therapy and learn to speak in another vocal register on the phone, but given that I generally like my voice fine, I’m hesitant to go to the time and expense just to conform to gendered expectations. Thoughts?

One potentially very easy solution to this if you’re also having email contact with people would be to indicate your gender in your email signature like this:

Mr. Lee Smith

Also, I’m not at all a fan of head shots in emails, but some people like them. If you don’t object to them in general, adding one in could be another way to reinforce it in people’s heads.

Aside from that, you could also try just correcting people as soon as it happens, but being pretty casual/matter-of-fact about it: “Oh, I’m a he, not a she!” delivered in a calm, friendly voice and then immediately moving on. People tend to freak out about getting gender wrong because they assume that the person in question will be horribly offended, but if you demonstrate that you’re not, you’ll help put people at ease. If you sense the person is feeling super awkward about it, you could add, “Yeah, over the phone it can be harder to know” (giving them something of an out if they’re feeling mortified) — but really, I think people will take their cues from you on this, and so your own tone and comfort level is going to have a big impact.

I think correcting it early on is going to be key though, since people are going to feel more awkward if they’ve been referring to you incorrectly for weeks. Do it early, and do it casually, and I think that’s your best bet.

{ 316 comments… read them below }

  1. Kate*

    Another idea might be to use your middle name in your email signature (along with first and last names). This way, you could avoid the formality of using “Mr.” but people could tell that “Pat Brian Smith” was a male name. Assuming, of course, that you have a traditionally-male middle name.

    1. soitgoes*

      I was going to suggest this. If not, adding the “Mr.” to all emails would work fine. Would it be odd to begin phones with new people by saying, “Mr. Lee Smith speaking, how can I help you?”

      1. Europa*

        This would work. When calling someone, he could say “Hello, this is Mr. Lee Smith.” He might sound a little overly formal, but at least it’s clear.

    2. Molly*

      That was going to be my suggestion, too!

      I think if someone picked up and said “Mr. Lee Smith” I would think they were saying “Mystery Smith!” Potential band name?

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Your last sentence is the kicker around this house! My boyfriend’s name is gender-neutral but used for girls about 85% of the time, so he gets addressed as “Ms.” quite often. His middle name is a family name… and if you added one more letter it would be a girl’s name that was somewhat popular in the ’80s.

      1. QualityControlFreak*

        My name is gender specific, but it’s long and most people don’t read/hear/pronounce it correctly. My parents always called me by a derivative of it that generally sounds like the opposite gender. In the workplace, it got shortened to initials. People still tend to think I’m the opposite gender when we’re communicating over e-mail. Sometimes my voice on the phone surprises them.

      2. Rat Racer*

        Meanwhile, we gave our second daughter a name that is traditionally male, but is not unheard of for girls. It never bothered me if people thought she was a boy – now that she is 5, she is fairly obviously female. But when her pediatrician kept getting it wrong, I was like “c’mon Dude, just read her medical record. It’s right there in FRONT of you.”

        1. Zahra*

          For a care provider, I’m absolutely on the blunt end of the spectrum for that kind of behavior (my husband says I’m rude). I’d totally go for “As you can see in the medical record *in front of you* (or “have in your hands”, whatever is appropriate), X is a girl.”

          I have told a medical secretary to take a deep breath, re-read my last name and pronounce it slowly back. My last name isn’t complicated to say, there are no extraneous letters, each syllable is simple on its own right, it’s just that the sequence is “not French” so people panic. And, to be fair, she had mangled my name so bad, I think she holds the record for mispronouncing it.

    4. Noelle*

      I do that sometimes. My first name is technically not gender neutral, but it is so unusual most people aren’t familiar with it and assume I am male. I use my middle name, Noelle, on resumes and sometimes at work if I am dealing with people who haven’t met me before.

  2. The IT Manager*

    I think correcting it early on is going to be key though, since people are going to feel more awkward if they’ve been referring to you incorrectly for weeks. Do it early, and do it casually, and I think that’s your best bet.

    I want to second this and I think it applies to so many minor mistakes. Correct the error when it occurs and be nonchalant about it. If you don’t, it is a much bigger drama when you finally correct a long standing error – like telling someone months or years into a relationship that your name is Steve and not Mark (or correcting a person after they’ve been calling you “Ms Lee” for years).

    As for the other stuff (“Mr” or photos), I think Alison is spot on.

    1. Melissa*

      Yes, this! Not exactly gender related, but I had a supervisor at a summer internship (I was in high school) that referred to me as Michelle instead of Melissa. I didn’t get a chance to correct him and later on felt awkward correcting him so I figured I would just let it go. Needless to say, he wasn’t too happy when he found out at the end of the summer that he had been calling me the wrong name all along.

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        I’m a Melissa and I get called Michelle ALL. THE. TIME. What is it about those names that make them so interchangeable?

        1. Liz in a Library*

          Similar letters and length of name is what I always assume, because brains just seem to constantly interchange certain names (and I have a Melissa friend who goes by Missy and who still gets Michelle!). I’m a Liz who gets Lisa constantly, so I completely feel your pain. :)

          1. Kyrielle*

            I’m a Laura who gets Lauren and Laurie – both totally understandable.

            The latter, however, was a real pain when I had a team-mate named Laurie for a while whose job description was the same as mine. We’d have clients follow up on something one of us had done, insisting the other one had done it. We spent a lot of time being very careful to correct names if we heard them mis-speak, because the confusion potential was unfortunate.

            “I just want to note I’m Laura, not Laurie – it’s no big deal, except we have a Laurie here, and you’ll get her if you ask for me by that name.”

            1. ACA*

              The same thing happens to me all the time – the other assistant in my office is “Sara” and I’m “Sarah Beth,” and despite the fact that I’ve worked here longer, our last names are utterly dissimilar, and we look nothing alike, I’m pretty sure that not everyone realizes that we aren’t the same person.

            2. Lauren*

              Yup I get this the other way! Lauren here and if someone calls me by the wrong name (happens really quite frequently thinking about it) it is always Laura.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            Yup, I’m a Karen and I often get Kathy. Which is amusing because my sister’s name is Kathy and we have a similar look, but the people calling me the wrong name often don’t even know I have a sister. I’d never realized it might just be the similar names.

            1. Jessa*

              This one makes sense actually. If they’re old enough to have watched Bewitched where the twins played by Elizabeth Montgomery were called Samantha and Sabrina.

              1. Sabrina*

                They were cousins actually. And the other one was called Serena. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a spin off of Archie Comics, and I’m told is making a comeback. :)

          3. EvilQueenRegina*

            When I started uni, my roommate’s name was Lisa and my mum misheard that as Melissa when she first introduced herself. It then caused confusion when I corrected her and then mentioned another friend of ours called Melissa.

            1. Mouse of Evil*

              I had a dental hygienist named Lisa whose name I misheard as Missy. It took about two years (going to the dentist every six months) for me to figure out she was Lisa. She was SO not a Missy, and I always had a hard time calling her that, so I wonder if my brain knew she was Lisa all along. :-)

          4. Blue_eyes*

            I’m a Lisa and I get Liz sometimes. Also Lissa, Liza, or Louisa. I’ve also been called Julia on multiple occasions in different contexts – I guess I must look like a Julia.

            1. Liz in a Library*

              I’m a Liz who regularly gets Lisa…and Julie. It’s like even in that bizarro universe we are name near-misses… ;)

          5. Canadamber*

            I’m a Louisa who ALWAYS gets Louise. Or, at McDonald’s when they ask me for my name for the receipt, Lisa, Alisa, Eliza, Elisa… Even Louis. :P

            1. Anon for this*

              I am “Melodie” but get Melody, Melanie, and Stephanie. Hahahhaha. No Melissa though.

              1. Kate, not Katie*

                I am Kate and get “Katie” frequently. I’ve never gone by Katie and have just never associated with Katie. I used to feel bad correcting people, as if I were being a jerk. But then I realized I’m not, its not a big deal, and now I am careful to cheerfully correct someone the first time. (Sidenote: In college I very briefly dated a classmate “Rob” and found out weeks later he actually goes by “Bob.” Oops!

                1. Anon for this*

                  I often correct people by saying “I’m Melodie, like the song!” I like your cheerful recommendation though! :)

                2. AvonLady Barksdale*

                  I hate hate HAAAAATE the “-ie” shortening of my name, though my name is always shortened. Think “Jennifer” shortened to “Jen”, which is fine, but “Jenny” is so not fine. I used to get all up in arms about it, but now I’m much more likely to say “Not a fan of ‘Jenny’, but ‘Jen’ works!” I had a professor in grad school who insisted on calling me “Jenny”, and while I tried to kind of gently steer her away from it, I ended up letting it go for the first time in my life. Wonderful woman, great teacher, super quirky.

                3. Phoebe*

                  My name is Phoebe which I realize isn’t a very common name, and people most often hear my name as Stevie, Abby, or Katie. I do kind of mumble on the phone so it is understandable, but still a tedious procedure to give my name to anyone over the phone; additionally I have a hyphenated and difficult, commonly misspelled last name so I’m pretty much incapable of giving my name in any official setting without immediately launching into its spelling. The other name I get called by mistake sometimes is Sophie which does make some sense as it has a lot of the same letters. Also, it’s misspelled with an “eo” about 70% of the time, even in email where my email address has my name spelled correctly in it. I know it is an easy mistake to make, but it still kind of irks me so I usually give a fake, more common name at Starbucks or similar place. (Sidebar: I spent the summer in Germany once and I used to love giving”Anna” and having it spelled “Anne” – I found that weirdly charming)

          1. Melissa*

            I’m Melissa and Melanie is probably the second most-frequent accidental name-call I get – a distant second after Michelle, but still often enough.

        2. Facilities&more*

          If it makes you feel better, I’m a Nicole and when people call me by the wrong name, it is ALWAYS Michelle! All my life! It doesn’t even sound the same!

          1. Mints*

            For some reason, Michelle and Jennifer are stored in the same spot in my brain, and I have mixed them up a lot. I don’t know why; they sound completely different. It’s just a common enough name that I’ll forget. Sorry, neighbor! /:

            1. Jennifer*

              I have been married twice and BOTH of my mother-in-laws called me Michelle. It made a little more sense with MIL #1, because my husband’s prior girlfriend was named Michelle, but I have no idea why #2 does it.

          2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            When I get called a wrong name, nine times out of ten it’s Melissa. I don’t get it– not even close to Emily. I guess I look like a Melissa or something.

          3. Nichole*

            Same here-the number 1 wrong name I get is Michelle. They must sound more similar than you and I think to other people.

        3. Melissa*

          I am ALSO a Melissa who gets called Michelle ALL the time!! Normally I correct people immediately but there was an older woman who was an administrator in my department who got it wrong repeatedly, even through corrections, so I gave up correcting her. She called me Michelle for 6 years until I graduated.

        4. chewbecca*

          When I was in elementary & middle school, I was still going by Rebecca for official stuff and I would get Rachel a lot.

          Now I just get Becky, which is understandable, but still not my name.

          1. Another Rebecca/becca*

            Yes! I get Rachel SO often, and actually still do with Becca (though not as often). I have a sister who is close in age to me named Rachel, so when I was a kid I just chalked it up to people confusing us, but it still happens with people who have no idea I have a sister named Rachel.

          2. ella*

            Name in the header notwithstanding, I am also a Rebecca/Becca that gets Rachel a lot. Including from people who know me.

            I don’t care if I get called Becca or Rebecca (though everyone seems to drift toward Becca eventually), but yeah, don’t call me Becky.

          3. Becca*

            YES YES YES. People always think it’s strange when I tell them that I get called Rachel, and I thought it was just me.

            I go by Becca, and have been called Beth too…but I think that’s because we had a Beth at my last job.

            My step-grandmother is the worst though. She calls, and spells, my name as ReBecca. As in RE-Becca.

            1. Rachel Not Rebecca*

              OH MY GOD. I am a Rachel, always mistaken for a Rebecca. (Hence the screenname) This has happened for YEARS, in many different situations. One time, I was even going into my university’s office because I wanted to change the name that was going to go on my degree (I wanted to include my middle name). I came in, and they were like “Rebecca, right?” and I said, no it’s Rachel (last name) and we sat down and I filled out the paper work, and after a few ‘sign here Rachel’ after I stood up, the guy said “Thank you for coming in Rebecca”

              I get told all the time that I just look like a Rebecca.

        5. Jennifer*

          Jennifer vs. Jessica. ‘Nuff said.

          The other night I heard a comedian doing a riff on a drunk guy screaming, “JESSICA!” outside for like 20 minutes…eventually realizing that he got the wrong name. “JENNIFER!”

          1. JayDee*

            Yup. Made worse by the fact that our office has a Jennifer, a Jessica, a Jennie, and a Jenny.

          2. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I have a dear friend named Jennifer, and her sister’s name is Jessica. I always shake my head at that.

          3. Smilingswan*

            Happens to me too, all the time! I’m also not fond of Jen, so I purposefully introduce myself as Jennifer. It doesn’t always help though.

        6. ella*

          My first name is actually Rebecca, and the number of people who (independently) call me Rachel by accident–including people who know me and who know my name–is incredible. I just started responding to it after awhile.

          I also once both lived and worked with a friend of mine named Robin. She responded to Becca and I responded to Robin fairly interchangeably.

      2. B*

        My sister is called Lucy and everyone on the phone thinks she’s called Lisa. If she answers her own extension people say ‘oh Lisa, is lucy there?’
        Weirdly her middle name is Michelle :)

        1. Career Counselorette*

          Oh my God, welcome to my life. People also think I’m “Lizzy.”

          I’m so glad to hear it’s not just me who apparently can’t get people to get her name right. Seriously, I thought I just had an ugly voice.

          1. Lizabeth*

            I tell people at work it’s Elizabeth and it ALWAYS gets shortened to Liz. I grew up as Liz but…? Never been called Lizzy…yet!

            I seriously considering going by E at my next job and see if it gets shortened to Liz :)

            1. Liz in a Library*

              I think that some people will always take one degree of further familiarity than what you call yourself. I do go by Liz, and I have gotten Lizzy frequently at work.

              1. Ali*

                Agreed!! My name is Alexandra, I go by Ali and people automatically shorten to Alex. Drives me crazy! I’m fine with Alexandra or Ali, never Alex.

            2. Tinker*

              Sometimes the answer to the question “Where is my coffee, because I have been standing here for a long time and nobody has called my name?” is “It’s in a cup that has ‘Liz’ written on it. With a heart over the i.”

              It’s moments like this that I contemplate things like name changes and/or a cash-only lifestyle.

            3. Lizzy*

              As a fellow Elizabeth, I have run into the problem of people choosing to refer to me based on what Elizabeths in their personal lives like to be referred as. After formalities, I tend to go by Liz on a casual basis, but I have been called Liza, Eliza, Elle, Izzie, Beth, and my personal favorite: Betty. I know Elizabeths have a variety of nicknames to choose from, but it has been decades since Betty was a popular nickname for Elizabeth. Of course most people who have referred to me as “Betty” were also 60+.

              1. Annie*

                I responded about the other things I get called down thread but geez- I was Liz in high school (I’m an Elizabeth Ann) and my grandfather called me Libby- but for most of my life its been Elizabeth or Annie- I hate it when someone shortens my name without asking first. One of my friends said that if I turn around my face reads “You don’t know me”. Its not a good (or polite) look.

              2. Anon for this*

                FWIW, I had a co-worker who was named “Jill” but was nick-named “Jilly-bean.” Now, everytime I meet a Jill, I have to stop and make sure I call her “Jill” and not “Jill-e-bean.”

        2. dragonzflame*

          Yup, I’m a Lucy and I often get Lisa. It’s really weird when it happens in email – you sign off Thanks, Lucy and the next email begins Hi Lisa. It’s happened more than once.

          1. Elsajeni*

            I have had someone actually argue with me when I picked up a mislabeled takeout order and mentioned (not angrily! just like, “Oh, I think that might be mine — I’m Liz, but sometimes people hear Lisa?”) that it was mislabeled. “You said Lisa.” No, I know my own name, so I’m pretty sure I said Liz.

      3. MPL*

        I’m a Michelle and I get called Melissa from time to time. I don’t know what makes people confuse those two names – to me they are completely different!

        1. Taylor not Tanya*

          My name is Taylor and I get Tanya and Tara ALLLL the time. I make sure to enunciate and say TAY LOR not Tanya.

        2. Meredith*

          I’ve been called every other M name in the book, Melissa, Michelle, Marianne, Mary Beth, and even Mercedes! My name is also frequently misspelled. I’m pretty chill about it, but it does make me hyper-vigilant about getting other peoples’ names and name spellings correct!

          1. Another Meredith*

            Ha! I was just going to comment along these lines. I got Merida the other day at Starbucks. I also get Mary Edith a lot? And Melissa a lot too. I enunciate pretty clearly, so I don’t get it…

          2. Margaret*

            I am Margaret, and when someone gets my name wrong, I’m most frequently called Meredith. I had a boss in college that really really tried, but just couldn’t get it right, leading her to say something like Mer-no-Margaret, which morphed into Merry Margaret, which led to other co-workers asking if I was, like, super-Catholic or something.

        3. Nicole*

          I can relate because I get called Michelle a lot. How people hear Michelle when I say Nicole, I don’t know. This has even happened to friends of mine who have accidentally called me Michelle without even noticing. My mom even did it the other day, but in her defense she was recently speaking to my cousin whose name is Michelle so I let that one go (and she immediately caught it anyway).

          Also, some people insist on spelling it Nichole even after I’ve pointed out there’s no H. *Sigh*

        4. Melissa*

          I always wondered if the Michelles got Melissa ever. I have a close friend who is named Michele and she occasionally gets called Melissa when we are together, but I assumed that it was at least in part because having a Melissa and a Michele in the same room interacting with each other is just too confusing for some people :D

      4. Diet Coke Addict*

        I really do wonder if this is a gendered thing. Whenever I’ve spoken to guys, they’ve either never had this problem, or their problem has been related to people shortening/lengthening their names (i.e., calling Jonathan Jon, or Joseph Joey, even if they don’t use that themselves). It’s very rare I come across a guy who’s said “Oh yeah, happens all the time,”or whatever. Or possibly because there’s generally fewer men’s names out there?

        1. Sutemi*

          My husband is a Ryan and gets Brian and Sean all the time. I (female) rarely get called the wrong name.

          1. AcademicAnon*

            Weirdly if I don’t enunciate carefully, I get Bryan sometimes. The only common thing is the R sound (I’m female btw.) My first name is unusual enough I usually got with My name is NAME but if it starts with M I’m good. With that tactic a lot of times they remember my name and pronounce it correctly.

        2. Karowen*

          My SO is Carl, but for some reason people either always hear Kyle. Or if he tries to enunciate Carl really clearly, he gets Carol. (His voice is not feminine – not Barry White by any stretch, but certainly not a voice that would make me think Carol.)

          1. krm*

            This is funny to me…my SO’s name is Kyle, and one of his best friends spent a significant amount of time thinking his name was actually Carl. It became a thing, and now the whole group of guys that he is friends with from high school call him Carl. I didn’t find out about it until I asked one of the friends who Carl was, and why I hadn’t met him yet.

          2. Jessa*

            He doesn’t need a voice that sounds female, Carroll is also a man’s name (see O’Connor, for instance.)

            1. chewbecca*

              My grandpa’s name was Carroll, which caused a lot of confusion when I discovered his name wasn’t really Papa.

            2. Karowen*

              Did not know that! That may explain a lot of it. But I’ve also seen people write it (like when I had to give his name as an emergency contact) and they always spell it Carol, which makes me think that they’re assuming woman. Or is the Carol spelling also used for a man? (Serious question)

              1. Chocolate Teapot*

                I have heard of Carol/Karol as a man’s name (Pope John Paul II was born Karol Wojyla) It’s a variation of Charles.

        3. PizzaSquared*

          I’m not comfortable saying my real name here, but I’m a man with a pretty standard male name, and there are two other standard male names I get called with some regularity.

          1. PizzaSquared*

            Oh yeah, I forgot my favorite one. Once I was talking to my manager in the hallway, and as he walked away, he said “thanks, Bill!” He’d been my manager for over a year at that point, and Bill has absolutely no relationship to my real name. I’ve never been called that before or since. Pretty funny.

        4. Melissa*

          My husband’s name is a common nickname of a longer name but also stands on it’s own as a name, so it’s always puzzled me when people ask if it’s longer. Like he’ll introduce himself as John and people will ask “Is that short for Jonathan?” And when he says no, it’s just John, some people ask “Really?” or “Are you sure?” No, I’m pretty sure my husband has somehow managed to forget his own name, how silly of him.

          But that has to do with the lengthening.

          1. L McD*

            How incredibly strange, unless they’re filling out legal paperwork or something – surely they should just accept the name he goes by at face value? I can’t even fathom asking that question in everyday conversation. (Frankly I’ll have enough trouble remembering Max’s name is Max without grilling him on whether it’s short for Maxwell, but that’s another issue. Also, I really don’t care! Not in a mean way, but it’s just none of my business what someone’s “real name” is.)

          2. Karowen*

            My boss frequently has to correct people that call him Jonathon. When he tells them that his name is John, though, a lot of people respond with “that’s not what it says on your birth certificate!” I have no idea how you could respond to that gracefully…Other than keeping a copy of my birth certificate on hand at all times.

          3. KTM*

            I have the same thing… on my birth certificate I’m ‘Katie’ and people are always asking what it’s short for, especially when I’ve gotten diplomas or filled out other official paperwork. They always double check even though it says ‘no nicknames’. I’m like, yes, I’m sure it’s ‘just’ Katie

            1. Natalie*

              My aunt has the exact same problem, going back to kindergarten. For some reason they really wanted her to go by Katherine at school. Not her name, and I can’t imagine why it would matter anyway.

          4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            I dated a guy once – his name was not Carl, but let’s say it was. When he was 4 and in nursery school, his teacher called him Carlton. He corrected her – “My name is Carl” – but she, in turn, tried to correct him, insisting that Carl is short for Carlton. She wrote it on his cubby, called on him as “Carlton,” and so on. It took his mother coming in to the classroom and explaining that no, her son was named Carl, and that is a name by itself, before the teacher stopped.

            1. Jan*

              I had a teacher who did that to me once. I was born Janis but she insisted on spelling it Janice, as if she knew better than my own mother. I always go by Jan, as you can’t really mis-spell that; but I’ve also had plenty of mishearings. Jan = Jane, Anna, Sam, Pam, Joanne (usually on the phone). Janis – Jennifer, Gemma, Janet.

          5. ella*

            My sister is Meg (short for Margaret) and the number of people who decide she’s named Megan is both confusing and angering. She gave you ONE SYLLABLE to say, you couldn’t just keep it simple and say the name she told you?

        5. Agile Phalanges*

          My son is Nathan, and I dated an Ethan for a couple years. Both of them have been called by the other name, and they DO sound a lot alike, but I managed to keep them straight. :-)

        6. Another Rebecca/becca*

          I have a hell of a time keeping track of all of the Joshes/Jordans/Jakes/Johns/Joes/Jameses in my life. (But, the same thing is true of the Kenzies/Kaylynns/Kaylees/Kylees/Karlees).

        7. Another HP!*

          I was once introduced to a Garrett, but for some reason the name didn’t register in my brain and I went weeks thinking his parents had cruelly named him Carrot.

        8. loxthebox*

          I was seeing a guy who went by Jeb (short for Jebadiah) and got Jim or James all the time.

      5. Barbara in Swampeast*

        I once worked with a Beverly and she said people OFTEN thought her name was Barbara. I thought that was weird since the only thing the names have in common is the beginning B. But then a co-worker passed away unexpectedly and Bev helped her family (who were from out of town) organize and gather her things. At the funeral, the minister said the family wanted to thank Barbara for all her help!

      6. Adonday Veeah*

        This actually happened to a friend of mine. She only learned after several months of dating that his name was Bob, not Fred. Yes, please correct mistakes early on!

      7. Gbab*

        I’m Gina, and have gotten basically every girls name starting with a J sound or -ina rhyme, and every spelling of Gina at Starbucks. Jenny, Jenna, Tina, Geena, Jeana, Janina, etc etc. I just end up hittng the JEEna really hard.

        Does anyone have a starbucks name? A friend of mine has an ethnic name that sounds like a common English word, and if she feels like skipping that, she goes by “Natasha.”

        1. Al Lo*

          I’m Alida, and I have an Instagram series of how my name gets spelled at Starbucks. The variations are seemingly endless! Elaida, Aleeda, Aleega, Elaina, Eleta, Alaida…

          I don’t have a separate Starbucks name, because I love seeing how my name comes out. I find it endlessly amusing.

          1. Anon for this*

            I’m Melodie, and use another name as my pizza name. I am so going to call it my Starbucks name from now on. It has more class.

        2. louise*

          Ha! Louise or Amy is what I tell baristas. My real name is too tricky to explain in a hurry. Though, after reading all the craziness above re:Melissa/Michelle/Melody/Melanie/etc, I’m feeling more and more grateful for my tricky name. People have trouble remembering it, but I figure it’s my name’s fault–turns out people just can’t remember ANY names, so I might as well enjoy my unique one!

        3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          They’ve messed up “Elizabeth” enough places that I tried “Liz” once. “L-I-Z?” the man asked, or so I thought, and I nodded.

          A few minutes later, the barista at the other end of the counter started hesitantly calling, “….Liege? Lidge? Uh…” There was my drink, with LIG written on it.

        4. Has an annoying name*

          I’ve never called it that, but yes! I have a “starbucks name” too. My real name is a single syllable that’s rarely heard correctly (like Jane), so I always add the -ie suffix (like Janie) despite the fact that I despise being called that in my normal life. For some reason it seems easier for people to understand and remember.

        5. LizB*

          In addition to being my online handle, Liz is my Starbucks name. I figure I don’t need to put poor overworked cashiers through the trouble of trying to understand, pronounce, and spell my rather unusual first name. It’s not foolproof (I’ve gotten “Lis” a few times — uh, what?) but it’s so much easier.

        6. Shuvon*

          I often tell them my name is Six, because all they need to say is, “Six, your order is ready.” (It comes from the novel Syrup by Maxx Barry.)

      8. Anonyby*

        I’m a variant on Christa, but I get called Kristin or Crystal All The Time. I generally let it go, in most cases it’s not worth correcting.

      9. kd*

        I am Kathy.
        I had an older woman friend who called me Peggy. Never called me Kathy even after correcting her; she would just laugh and keep calling me Peggy.
        I just adapted and responded to Peggy. ;)

      10. squid*

        My first name and last name, together, sound sort of like a reasonably common first name. So many times I’ve had to explain, “no, that’s my full name, X is my first, Y is my last.”

    2. LBK*

      Anyone else think of Garry/Jerry/Larry/Terry Gergich from Parks & Rec? His boss called him by the wrong name on his first day and he was too shy to correct it, so he just went by Jerry for the rest of his career there.

      1. Annie*

        I’m an Elizabeth (Ann) who gets Alyssa & Melissa all the time. Also I go by Annie in my personal life and get Amy and lately Avery half the time.

  3. Snork Maiden*

    I have a vendor who continues to call me by at least two other names. I’ve corrected him politely and include my name in emails (he also emails me for everything regarding the company, when it is better addressed to my manager). After correcting him many times over 6 years, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be Karen or Kendra forever.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      I have clients who do this. No matter how many times I give my name, reply to emails using my name, have my name in my email address….I’ll always be “Linda” to him.

      I’m also periodically Daisy, Liz, Liza, and once Melissa (?).

      [My actual name is Lindsey.]

      1. Sascha*

        Yep, there are three other early 30s women in my office besides me, and we get mixed up by clients all the time. We look nothing like each other, but they just get “young woman” stuck in their minds and don’t care which one it is.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          Sigh, yes. I suppose it’s better than “Hey, miss! Miss!” Or my other hated perjorative, “Girlie”.

          1. Victoria, Please*

            GIRLIE???? Only my best oldest friend in the world, who is from the South, gets to call me that. Or Darlin’.

    2. majigail*

      I have older volunteers who call all my male staff members Jerry. We had a Jerry working here once many years ago and I guess they didn’t notice that Jerry has been doing some serious Benjamin Buttoning…

  4. PEBCAK*

    My last name is a common male first name, and despite the fact that my email is and I always sign Firstname Lastname, people very often express surprise that I’m a woman when first meeting in person. All of which is to say that people are just dumb about this stuff, generally, and the minor correction probably feels way more awkward for the person making it than for the person hearing it.

    1. Ebonarc*

      I’ve suffered a similar issue. My first name and last name are both usable and common as first names and as last names, and I swear I get more people addressing me by phone and meail by my last name than my first name.

      So, if my name is actually Christopher James, I get a ton of people calling me James, not Chris or Christopher.

      I’ve corrected people if I expect to work with them again, but if it’s one email that they got it wrong on and I don’t expect to work with that particular customer contact again (which is commonplace), I might not bother.

      All of my emails end with my first name, and my email address, is People don’t read well.

      1. Lindrine*

        This happens to me all the time. My last name is a much more common female name, and my first name has the “male” spelling. Makes it easy to screen telemarketers though!

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        My last name is spelled the same way as, but pronounced differently from, a common first name and people very often address me by my surname. It didn’t help that in my last job my predecessor had that first name.

    2. Dan*

      I’m just curious, is your first name a less common “first” name, or perhaps more traditionally a last name? I mean, if someone signed their emails “Veracruz Mark” I’d be confused. A “Sarah Mark”? Less confused.

      I do work with a woman with a last name that is very commonly a male first name, but her first name is a common female first name, so I don’t find it that confusing.

      1. Natalie*

        I get the same thing (my last name is a common male first name) with a pretty typical and obviously female first name. People just don’t pay attention.

      2. PEBCAK*

        It’s something very similar to Sarah Mark. I am in a male-dominated field, so people read what they want to, I guess.

    3. Scott M*

      I accidentally do this all the time because our email address book lists people by last name, first (Smith, John).
      Even though I KNOW this, I still call people by the wrong name when I see a last name that is usually a common first name (Chris, John).

    4. Lauren*

      I usually encounter this when emailing people in other countries. I’m in the UK where the norm is to sign your name as firstname lastname. I have seen a lot of email signatures coming back from some places in Europe with lastname, firstname. At college our lecturers always asked students to put their last name all in caps when emailing as we had a lot of overseas students who didn’t always follow the firstname lastname pattern. It wasn’t always apparent at all which was which if you didn’t recognise either as a common first or last name.

      1. Rachel*

        That is such a brilliant idea! I would never have thought of the caps thing, but I work with a ton of international students, so I may steal that. :-)

  5. Lils*

    I have at least two professional contacts who do the “Mr. Lee Smith” email signature thing. It kept me from putting my foot in my mouth, and I don’t think it’s weird at all. Good luck, OP!

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      If it feels awkward to sign “Sincerely, Mr. Lee Smith” then OP could still put “Mr. Lee Smith” in a signature block below. I like to sign my emails with just my first name as a way to indicate to people that they can just call me “Elizabeth” instead of “Ms. Lastname” but underneath I have a signature block with my full name and contact information.

    2. Episkey*

      I had a colleague who was male, but had a name that while technically is gender-neutral, is far more associated with a woman. He would sign his emails: MISTER Ashley (not his real name, but something similar) Smith.

      1. Adam*

        I knew a guy with the name Ashley back in high school. He went by Ash EVERYWHERE including on his diploma. As I understand it that name was a bit of a rub between him and his parents.

        1. tesyaa*

          His mom was probably a fan of Leslie Howard in “Gone with the Wind” – I think I’ve got that right?

          1. Loose Seal*

            Might be a family name. Ashley was a man’s name before it became commonly used for women, just like Courtney.

        2. HRC in NJ*

          Waltons fans will remember Ashley Longworth, Jr., a long-gone beau of one of the Baldwin sisters.

        3. Jennifer*

          I’m assuming he’d rather have people think of Bruce Campbell and a chain saw rather than Leslie Howard wasting away after the Civil War.

    3. Turanga Leela*

      +1. I regularly correspond with a woman who has an unusual, gender-neutral first name, and I really appreciated when I first got an email from her and saw “Ms. Carter Smith” in her signature line. I would totally have gotten that wrong.

    4. Layla*

      My colleagues do
      Lee Smith ( Mr)
      Which I feel makes it clearer that you are not asking to be called Mr all the time but it’s there to indicate the gender

  6. Magda*

    Oooh. I work with a lot of electronic submissions and I cannot always tell gender from the first name. I will generally go out of my way to avoid identifying gender if I’m not sure, which can lead to some contorted e-mails. I personally do appreciate it when people identify themselves as Mr./Ms./etc. in their signature.

    I always feel bad if I misgender someone, or screw up their name in some other way (not that the two are equivalent), because I always suspect I am soooo not the first person to do that.

    1. Adam*

      Yeah, I’m the same way. I’m in customer service and I feel I need to be a little formal on initial contact until the other person establishes how they want to proceed (first name, Mr./Ms. etc.) and the gender neutral names drive me nuts a little more than the situation merits (same with names that are culturally very different from typical western ones where I can’t even tell which one is the first name let alone what the gender might be if any). I’ll usually defer to using first names if I can’t initially tell but I always feel a just a little twitchy about it.

      1. Dot*

        You can’t imagine how delighted I am to see that someone actually pays attention to the way a person wants to be addressed! I’m Dot to friends and family and prefer Mrs. [lastname] otherwise, but I’m ALWAYS getting people who insist on addressing me as Dorothy, no matter how much I try to tell them what to call me. As someone noted above, it does let you tell which phone calls are telemarketers.

    2. class factotum*

      I worked with a lot of people from outside the US – in the Middle East and in Asia – so it was not always obvious to me if the person was a man or a woman. I started googling everyone for a photo so I could at least narrow the name down. If I couldn’t figure out the sex, I would just reply, “Dear FirstName LastName.” (And a contact in Egypt told me if I just called out, “Mohammed!” I could be sure I had gotten the name right for about 70% of the men in the crowd.)

  7. Ms Molly*

    Does your agency have a webpage with short bios of the program officers (or would they be willing to put one up)? A short bio and a photo might help.

  8. Uhmealeah*

    My mom has a gender-neutral name and she typically responds with “This is she” when people ask for her over the phone. I understand that this is a more appropriate response when people are calling asking to speak with “Lee Smith” or “Lee” rather than starting off with “Hi Lee, it’s me, Barack,” as an alternative.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Is this old-fashioned? I was taught this is the correct way to answer the phone when someone asks for “Hi, this is Blahblah calling for DCA” or whatever.

        1. Adam*

          I think it might be in the sense that I’m on the phone a lot and feel like I rarely hear people use it anymore, but I feel like it was more common when I was kid. I definitely remember hearing my grandma and mother using the phrase, and both of them have very obviously female names.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I say “this is she” too because it’s wired into me, and I didn’t realize until just now that wow, yes, it is an old-fashioned-sounding construction! I like it and will keep saying it, but it hadn’t even registered with me until these comments that it does sound a little formal.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            I feel like the only other “professional”-style response is “Speaking” which sounds…a bit terse to me? And any other construction–“that’s me,” “You’ve got me,” “Here I am” sounds a too informal/juvenile, I think.

              1. Jennifer*

                Somewhat unrelated, but my cell phone is also my business phone (I travel a lot, so my celll # is on my business cards), but that leaves me with a conundrum when the phone rings and it isn’t a number I recognize. It could be a business call, but maybe it’s just my long-lost cousin. So how do I answer the phone, by identifying myself in relation to my employer (at work I answer my desk phone with “Department of Teapots, this is Jennifer.”), or some other, less formal way? I just say “This is Jennifer”… which is a bit more formal than I like for personal calls, but seems to be a fair compromise.

                1. Another HR Pro*

                  My personal and work cell are the same as well. For any unknown calls I answer the phone with my full name. As in, click “Jill Smith”.

                2. hayling*

                  When I answer my cell and I don’t know the number I almost always pick up with “This is FNAME”

                3. Blue_eyes*

                  My father-in-law, a busy lawyer, always answers the phone with “Firstname Lastname.” My husband has taken to doing the same when his father calls. It’s a little terse, but at least it’s clear and it works alright in both professional and personal contexts.

                4. Joline*

                  I think I answer my phone to almost everyone as “Joline speaking.” Both on my personal or work phones (direct line work phone).

                  Which admittedly makes me extra cranky when telemarketers call and have a delay on their system before the person is clicked in.

                  Me: Joline speaking.
                  Them: May I please speak to Joline?
                  Me: Ugggghhhhh.

              2. Steve*

                I usually say “This is he,” but since my name is Steve it often sounds like I’m saying “This is Steve.” Guess it works out either way for me.

              3. Karowen*

                When I answer the phone, I say “Hello, this is Karowen” but if I forget and someone asks to speak to Karowen, I respond with “This is she.” Saying “This is Karowen” in response sounds more curt somehow, like there’s an implied “duh” at the end of the statement.

              4. AvonLady Barksdale*

                I pick up the phone with, “This is AvonLady,” but if someone calls and asks to speak to AvonLady, I saw, “This is she.” In a world riddled with “between you and I”, this single old-fashioned convention makes me very happy. It also reminds me of a scene in one of the Little House books where Ma admonished Carrie (or Grace?) for saying, “That’s him now!” and told her it should be, “That’s he now!”

            1. Turanga Leela*

              I switched from “This is she” to “This is Leela”* a few years ago out of concern that I sounded too formal and/or pretentious over the phone. I grew up with “This is she” and it’s automatic for me, but no one else around here seems to say it.

              *I’m treating “Leela” as my given name and “Turanga” as my family name, which I think is Futurama canon.

              1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                I love when you comment, because every time, I imagine it in Leela’s voice, and it’s always awesome. :)

                1. Turanga Leela*

                  Aw, thanks. I wish I had Leela’s voice. I once read an article that described Katey Sagal’s Leela voice as “a kitten that wants petting, crossed with an especially competent and reassuring tax attorney.”

              2. Phyllis*

                If I am at home and receive a phone call, I respond “This is she.” If I am working in a store and I am paged, I will pick up the call and say “This is Phyllis.” Or sometimes, “This is Phyllis. How may I help you?” My old South Central Bell training kicking in :-)

            2. Snork Maiden*

              I used to say “Speaking” but I have some vendors who consider themselves comedian types and I tired rather quickly of the reply “Hello, Snork Speaking!”

            3. Sabrina*

              My mother always said “Speaking” when answering the phone and someone asked for her. So I picked it up. And I’m surprised that some people are completely confused by that answer. In particular there’s a woman at my Doctor’s office that constantly says “Uh, what?” when I say that.

            4. Kelly L.*

              I sometimes also hear “This is,” without the pronoun on the end at all. But I agree–“this is he” is a great tactic for the OP.

          2. Grammarland*

            “This is she” isn’t old fashioned – it’s grammatically correct! Although maybe that’s old fashioned these days.

            I <3 the predicate nominative.

            1. fposte*

              See, and I hate the predicate nominative. I cannot imagine anything more ridiculous than being in a group knocking on somebody’s door and saying “It’s we!”

            2. Anonsie*

              This reminds me of Venture Bros.

              “Is this them?”
              “Are these they.”
              “Who talks like that??”

          3. Mints*

            I say “This is she” when I think the caller is someone I want to talk to who is also formal (“yes” if it’s a telemarketer). I use “This is Minty” most of the time though

          4. Tinker*

            Heh, it’s ingrained enough that I do it too even though there’s about no other context where I refer to myself using feminine pronouns. This must be fixed, come to think of it…

          5. Melissa*

            I say it too and I also never thought of it as old-fashioned, but that makes me like it more.

          6. L McD*

            Oh, I say that too – sometimes I feel like the only one. Learned it from my mom and it’d be a tough habit to break.

        3. ACA*

          We can be old-fashioned together, I guess; that’s how I always answer when someone calls and asks “Hi, could I speak with ACA?”

      2. AnonyMouse*

        I say it too, and I’m relatively young. Never thought of it as particularly old-fashioned!

  9. Parcae*

    I like the email signature idea, but I think you’re going to have to enlist your coworkers’ assistance with correcting people promptly and calmly. The trouble is, you can have a years-long business relationship by phone without the other person giving any indication of what they think your gender is. It’s always “you” and never “he” or “she.”

    I ran into this from the other side with a vendor’s receptionist, “Gene.” We chatted briefly on-and-off for two years until I made an off-hand comment to one of Gene’s co-workers, who corrected me immediately. “No, Jean is a woman. She has a very low voice. Don’t be embarrassed– everyone makes the same mistake!” I was mortified at first, but since the co-worker was very calm and No Big Deal about it, I got over it.

    1. Jennifer*

      I also know a female who is named Gene, with that spelling. Sometimes you’re just gonna be surprised.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Like Gene Tierney, the MGM star!

        I have to be the enlisted support for my boyfriend, who gets really embarrassed when people misidentify his gender in emails. I’m of the “don’t make it a big deal” camp. We once got an email that said, “You ladies are all set!” and I wrote back separately saying, “I should let you know for future reference– [boyfriend] is a guy. Thanks again for your help!” Takes 5 minutes, saves a whole lot of trouble.

  10. Frances*

    Good advice, as always, Alison.

    Regarding head shots in emails: my company is requiring us to do that now. Ugh.

    1. NK*

      My company does this (internally only – we are a huge company though), and I kind of love it. There are so many people I interact with that I rarely see, even though they’re in the same building. It’s so nice to be able to put a name to a face right away, especially when you do eventually run into them in a meeting or something.

      1. Jennifer*

        Ugh, I really hope they don’t make me do it someday. I already look like a teenager, I’d really rather not get judged on my immature face at work via e-mail too.

        They tried to get me to let them take a photo of me “for medical records” while I was getting a flu shot yesterday. Oh hell no. I gather most people were saying no to it because of the joy the woman showed when someone finally let her.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Ugh, what??? If my company did that, I’d insist they spring for professional hair and makeup. And re-touching. And wardrobe styling.

  11. Susie Derkins*

    My first name is fairly gender neutral, and a lot of international contacts guess my gender wrong. I add a parenthetical (Ms.) to my email sig when I want to gently correct:


    Susie M. Derkins (Ms.)
    Title | Company
    Address, blah blah.

    It feels less formal to me than “Ms. Susie Derkins” which I find clunky in an email signature.

      1. fposte*

        That’s another “but technically correct” thing, though–you don’t properly give a title to yourself, so this was how you gave people the information about your style without using it improperly as part of your name.

    1. Amanda*

      I work at an organization with an extremely international staff, and so the genders of names and also first name vs. last name can often be confusing. A lot of people put in their signature block Susie Derkins (Ms.) or Susie DERKINS (Ms.).

    2. Coco*

      Love this suggestion — it identifies your gender without making people feel like they have to use Ms. when speaking to you. It can also be useful for women who have the problem of automatically being referred to as “Mrs” (a huge pet peeve of mine).

  12. anon in tejas*

    in my social justice circles, it is common to see this on someone’s signature line

    preferred pronouns: she, her, ms.


    preferred pronouns: they, them, mr.

    It’s a single line, and not obtrusive, but sometimes really an easy way to get it out of the way.

    1. Ann*

      I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I would find it odd to see the “preferred pronouns” line in someone’s work e-mail signature. It’s a little too “Tumblr meets the workplace.” Going with “Mr. Lee Smith” or “(Mr.) Lee Smith” seems more professional.

      1. EEE*

        Yeah I don’t think it’s unprofessional per se, it’s just not a norm yet. Something that I would love to become a norm in offices (although it has the same issue as the latin@ solution as being great for text, but difficult out loud) would be the address Mx. rather than Mr. or Ms. for when someone’s gender is either unknown or neutral.

        1. Tinker*

          Yeah, unless we want to accept that a rule of “how to be professional” is “don’t be trans”, we’re going to have to develop ways to handle this sort of thing.

          (I’d rant like a cranky old person that I do not wear a ring signifying an oath I made to not put my feet on desks, but… whatever.)

          That said, depending on the context the OP might not care for a solution that implies that he’s anything other than another dude who speaks (I’m guessing) with a lot of pitch variation, and calling attention to his preferred pronouns in a place where presumed-cis folks don’t do that might not suit.

      2. Mints*

        I think it makes sense on tumblr, not just because of the social justice bit, but because it’s a blog with a bio. If you have a website, or a blurb on the company page, it’s unobtrusive to have like “Blogger Smith has been writing about teapots for 5 years, and…blah blah. Blogger Smith is located in Chicago. Her preferred pronouns are she/her.”
        But in an email signature, “Ms. Blogger Smith” fits the context better.
        I think it’d be cool, actually, if a company website had it listed with all the blurbs.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          In the context of a bio, I think you could work in the preferred pronouns without a separate sentence:

          Jordan Jones joined our team in 2012. Previously, ze worked as a copyeditor for Teapots Daily in New Orleans. Hir expertise is in technological advances in spout construction. We are excited to welcome hir to our office!

          1. Natalie*

            I’ve actually seen that done with a new hire announcement. The person in question has a traditionally female name but uses they” as a personal pronoun so the announcement was written to incorporate a couple of “they”s.

      3. Melissa*

        I think it depends on where you work. My research is on gender and sexuality issues and so I’ve interfaced with a lot of organizations that have people of diverse gender expressions on staff, and it wouldn’t be at all odd or weird for me to see that listed. Another thing I’ve also had done in these kinds of settings is at the beginning of meetings with a new team, when we introduce ourselves we state preferred pronouns.

        Preferred pronouns didn’t get started on Tumblr. They got started in circles of people who needed to clarify their pronouns, offline, and existed before the Internet was really a thing.

        1. Tinker*

          Yeah, this is a thing where understanding is kind of… uneven. Understandably so, in a sense, because I imagine it does seem like a bunch of nitpicking to say “Don’t say ‘women’ when you mean ‘people with ovaries'” and the like, but it wasn’t a trivial distinction to Robert Eads when he got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and couldn’t find folks willing to treat him. As you say, that sort of language arises among people who are dealing routinely with cases where the distinction matters.

          In addition, something I try to keep in mind with regard to Tumblr and the like specifically is that from what I see the ridiculous end of it runs disproportionately to the young and bearing of many serious problems. Not that I don’t get some frustration and the odd hurtful statement from folks who I wish would do better, but at the end of the day I’m a legal adult with relative stacks of money, fairly valuable credentials, and a reliable circle of friends who I don’t have to hide around. There’s a limit to how much I can judge a transgender fourteen-year-old in a small and homogenous town who has major depressive disorder and an unsupportive family, and is in danger of being packed off to a corrupt offshore boarding school — I didn’t have problems like that even at fourteen, and wasn’t anything resembling forthright, even to myself, regarding my own identity at the time.

          That doesn’t mean that I’d blithely out myself at work as the otherkin reincarnation of an anime character who is also a dragon or something like that, but.. well, respect is free.

    2. AnonyMouse*

      This definitely has merits, but I’m not sure if it would go over super well in a lot of work environments. Unfortunately asking for/talking about PGPs isn’t a norm for many people.

      1. LBK*

        To be honest, I don’t think it’s ever really going to be a norm to ask every person you meet about their PGPs. I think it will eventually become normal and not jarring to have someone correct a pronoun when it comes up in conversation, but I can’t picture a point in society where you introduce yourself to someone and their first question is “What’s your PGP?” before they continue to interact with you.

        1. Tinker*

          I doubt it’ll become the norm for people to ask as a matter of routine, but I think it’s not unlikely that people will start learning to ask when they don’t know or something draws their attention to a potential disparity. I’m a member of a roleplay group that has a slightly unusual concentration of trans-spectrum people and of psychology students, as well as a number of folks who work in tech and/or are in the military (and who have other sorts of relatively diverse backgrounds, not all of which have a progressive culture), and it’s been somewhat surprising to me how pervasive the habit of asking about pronouns has gotten within that group.

          Currently, the matter of pronouns is not something I bother with among folks who aren’t already on board as evidenced by their asking first (although I’m on the fence about this subject; my reason is that there are folks I know who I think are actually likely to make a big OMG SJW deal about it regardless of how I model the reaction, and I may be inclined at some point just to let the chips fall where they may), but I do commonly deal with the “read me as male, call me ‘Sir’, I open my mouth, hello pitch variation, prostrate apologies ensue” situation and in that case I’ve not yet gotten a negative reaction to “Oh, it’s fine, I’m actually genderqueer (or whatever)”. Despite that not having a ready and definitive answer to the “is male or female” question is kind of an advanced subject as far as the general population goes.

          Basically, I think that we’re coming to the understanding that a person can have an acceptable “professional” image and mode of interaction while also being visibly gender-nonconforming, and the necessary tools to deal with that in a matter-of-fact way will develop naturally (as, for instance, the singular “they” already is).

          1. Judy*

            I would love to think that we live in a world where people would pay attention to other people and take their cues from that. But I’ve seen too much butchering of peoples names if they are a hair outside of the ordinary to think that many people are paying that much attention to other people.

            I worked with a Tamera, and was very surprised at the number of people who called her Tamra. (Ta-mer-a vs. Tam-ra)

            1. Tinker*

              I think you’re right about that as far as people paying attention goes — I’ve accepted (okay, grudgingly) that if someone gets their mitts on my credit card they’re apt to conclude that the thing written on it is related to the name I should be called (it is presently not), and it’s always going to be questionable whether they’ll think to ask.

              (Maybe I can get folks to call me Discover instead?)

              However, in the case where someone’s calling me one thing and then thinking to their horror that they did it wrong (which happens to me quite a lot) the problem isn’t that they’re not noticing but that they don’t know what to do. That, I think, is apt to improve.

          2. LBK*

            Basically, I think that we’re coming to the understanding that a person can have an acceptable “professional” image and mode of interaction while also being visibly gender-nonconforming, and the necessary tools to deal with that in a matter-of-fact way will develop naturally (as, for instance, the singular “they” already is).

            I agree with this assessment, and I think we’re actually closer to that being common than may be perceived. Although maybe my view is skewed living in the northeast and being a pretty open-minded person myself.

            (Also, misread “prostrate apologies” as “prostate apologies”. Very different image.)

        2. AnonyMouse*

          No, it probably won’t be a norm to ask everyone completely unprompted what their PGPs are, and that makes sense. But I could see it becoming much more accepted to reference them more frequently (like, say, in an email signature, which I think would elicit some raised eyebrows from a lot of people now), or, like you say, to correct people without feeling awkward.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Hmm! We start meetings (that include new people) with preferred pronouns, but I haven’t seen it in email signatures. I like it.

    4. Anonsie*

      That’s interesting, I’ve never seen that before.

      I think that just leading by example is the best way to do it, though, same as for anything. You sign your emails with your preferred name, for example, or the degrees relevant to your work, or whathaveyou. So putting Mr or Ms in front of it seems like the the logical continuation of that to me.

  13. TotesMaGoats*

    My old big big boss had a male first name but went by a feminized version. Story was that her father wanted a boy and didn’t get one but refused to change the name. I don’t know how true that was. She was a very early Boomer generation, FWIW. Anyway, people got it wrong all the time with her. Everyone did their best to correct and she didn’t seem to mind.

    As for your situation, you don’t necessarily have to go to a voice coach. Think about singers who sing in different registers. You switch between using your “head” voice (or nasal voice) and your “throat” voice. The head voice is lighter and typically higher than your throat voice. I think it helps to just think about talking “high” versus “low”. I can’t explain the mechanics of how that works but sometimes just thinking that way will help your vocal chords do what you want.

    I know that my voice, being high and light, can make me sound very young. I was asked, not 6 months ago, if I was old enough to be placing a food order over the phone. Not even kidding. I make a conscious effort to use my “adult” voice as work. I make it just a little bit deeper than I normally speak. It usually does the trick.

    1. Phyllis*

      I used to work at the phone company with a lady who was called Jimmie, but her legal name was James O. Lastname. Yep, her father wanted a boy.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        I watched an old movie (Without Reservations with Claudette Colbert and John Wayne) the other night where the heroine’s name was Christopher. I had to look it up on IMDB to verify that I was hearing it correctly (She went by Kit most of the time).

      2. Kristy*

        My husband, who happens to be named James, has a family tradition of using the father’s first name as the first son’s middle name, but I’ve tried to say that we should do that for the first child, regardless of gender. Gender constructs around names change over time. Granted, in my case it wouldn’t be for a first name, but I don’t find it that strange.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I recently moved to the south. My neighbor has an obvious family name as her first name, and it’s also sometimes seen as a boy’s name (like Curtis Sittenfeld, the author). It’s not that rare down here, and I have to remind myself that Corbin and Scott might be women.

      I do think it’s a little strange that my neighbor gave her female dog one of those last-name-as-a-first-names, though.

  14. L*

    This gave me an embarrassing flashback. I had been working in my first job after college for about 2 months, and I had to call a reservations assistance hotline for a hotel. I was from the south, and the person on the phone sounded female to me, so I naturally peppered the conversation with “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am”. At the end of the phone call I found out the person was actually a man. I apologized profusely, but he was totally gracious about it and said – in a slightly resigned tone – that it happened all the time.

    This is how I weaned myself of my southern mannerisms. I have never used the word ‘ma’am’ in conversations since.

  15. HR Manager*

    I’ve worked for fairly diverse companies and so foreign names in particular are hard to decipher as distinctly male or female. I’ve see the (Mr) or (Ms) in parenthesis often, and I find it very helpful. If you think people are giving you weird looks for it, you can pass it off as helping global folks who may not be as well-versed in American names yet.

    1. Jen RO*

      Working in a global company… I am always happy when people add their photos in the corporate directory!

      1. BadPlanning*

        Me too! I’ve been in many conversations at work where we’re discussing an overseas coworker that we’ve only corresponded with over email and had to use, “I got the specs from Name. She, er, he? I guess I’m not sure — does anyone know?”

        For the OP, if the company doesn’t have a corporate directory type system, maybe something on LinkedIn? LinkedIn takes photos, so that might help out.

        1. Arjay*

          I’ve been known to call people’s voicemail after hours to attempt to determine gender based on their voice. Obviously that wouldn’t work regarding this OP, but it works a lot of the time for names that don’t appear to indicate gender.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I have occasionally Facebook stalked people to figure out their gender (like to write a letter). It works when you know their workplace and general location, so while there might be fifty Terry Mulberrys, there is usually only one who lives in Toledo and works at Wakeen’s Teapots.

  16. Meredith*

    I worked with an excellent vendor with a traditionally male first name and a voice that sounded feminine on the phone. The only reason I found myself embarrassed was that I’d call and second guess that I’d reached him successfully. Every timed I called I’d be asking, “Is this David?” and I felt rude, given that we worked together every year on an event that put us on the phone 2x each week for 6 weeks. He owed me nothing, of course, but answering “This is David!” would have been a great favor.

    1. class factotum*

      Wait. He didn’t identify himself upon answering the phone? When my work phone rings (which, thankfully, is almost never), I answer with, “Class Factotum.”

      And no, I do not add, “How may I help you?” I am not a clerk at Macy’s.

      1. JMegan*

        I called Jack Astors the other day, and got possibly the longest phone greeting ever. “Good morning, and thanks for calling Jack Astors at (location), where every day feels like Friday! This is (hostess), how may I help you?”

        It was so ridiculous – I think the actual call took less time than the greeting. So glad I don’t work in the service industry any more, and I can just answer my phone with “JMegan speaking!”

      2. AnonyMouse*

        At my small office, if you call our main number (which is the only number most people who do business with us have), three or four phones will ring. Whoever answers will normally say “Good afternoon/morning/etc, Teapots Unlimited,” rather than identifying themselves because it’s the main company line so that’s what seems to make the most sense. The person will then normally ask for someone specific, and you either identify yourself or connect them. It might be a similar set up where David works.

      3. kac*

        Yeah, I always say “This is KAC.” Because I work from home, I sometimes hilariously answer my mom’s phone calls this way, too.

  17. another trans*

    Ha! I can relate to that so much! I am also trans, and while my name is masculine, on the phone people would think they were talking to a woman. It didn’t bother me so much – I find as Alison points out, correcting it in a way that makes it not be a big deal, works well (and people do feel so uncomfortable!).

    Anyway, I was having some other issues with my voice (getting hoarse all the time) and I ended up seeing a speech therapist (the one I saw had worked with other trans people). It was one of the best things I ever did. I learned how to engage my stomach muscles to not strain my voice but we also worked on the phone aspect, for example she noticed how I would raise my voice when we role played, it was not like I went extremely soprano, but just enough for me to be heard as female when there were no other visual cues, so taking a moment to make sure my voice is in its proper register helps it sound more masculine. Slowing down my speech pattern a tiny bit also helped that and there were more – most of them were just small little adjustments but they really helped. I hope this helps!

    This is the person I saw: there is a lot in her website (and she may know others if you are not in NYC).

  18. Ann O'Nemity*

    There’s a lot of ways to unobtrusively reveal your gender. I like Alison’s suggestions of include Mr. in your email signature or even including a headshot. Sometimes you can work it into conversations (“The event dress code? Oh, it’s tuxes for us gents.”) It can also help to build up your online profile. And if someone guesses wrong, correct them the FIRST time. It’s as easy as saying, “Oh, despite my gender-neutral name and soft phone voice, I’m actually a man.”

  19. Relosa*

    My full name is Scandinavian. It’s so Scandi, in fact, that though I live in a mostly Scandinavian-heritage state, very few people recognize it. Because of that, in Norway, my name is instantly recognizable as feminine, but here in the US, it’s not. It’s very gender neutral (that and there are at least a dozen anglicized variants of my name that are unisex, all of which I loathe…a lot. They are pretty homophonic of my given first name. :)

    Because my name is so “foreign,” unless people see a photo of me or speak to me on the phone, they are almost always wrong about my gender or nationality. They’re shocked that a native English speaking woman answers the phone or greets them.

    I’m just used to it, but I have used the middle name trick before. I don’t like the idea of putting “Miss” because I’ve never married, and it seems to diminish the power of my pretty BAMF name :)

      1. Relosa*

        I’ll give you a hint: I’m part of the Linkedin group and my AAM handle is a very weird abbreviation of my full name :)

        1. University Allison*

          MN/ND/or WS?

          My sister-in-law has a great Scandinavian name — so great, in fact, that it was adopted by Apple. I don’t know how she can use her phone…

    1. Zahra*

      Put Ms.! It’s purpose is to remove marital status from the equation when it comes to titles for women. I love it for the workplace and any professional relationship, since my marital status has nothing to do with work or me as a client (unless I’m planning my wedding and you’re a vendor).

    2. The IT Manager*

      It’s up to you, but I totally recommend “Ms” and not “Miss” if you’re trying to be professional.

  20. LillianMcGee*

    On a similar subject, I sometimes get confused when people write their names Lastname Firstname, as would be common in their nation of origin. I usually prefer to call people Mr. or Ms. Lastname, but if I don’t know which is which (or if Google is of no help) I’ll ask, “How would you prefer I say your name when we speak (or when I speak of you)?”

  21. Anonathon*

    I second the comments about using a middle name. (If you have one of course!) My partner has a gender-neutral first name, but a very common gender-specific middle name. So she’ll sometimes use that just for early correspondence with people.

  22. stillLAH*

    A (female) VP at my job in grad school had the first name Lee and I remember now that she always signed her emails “(Ms.) Lee Lastname”.

    1. Your gut*

      Yeah, I remember a great conversation I had with many international people on whether “Lee” was a Korean name or an American Southern name and if American Southern, was it more Caucasian or more African-American? It is also a great Hebrew name or nickname, too, not sure what other cultures it transcends.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Le/Ly/Li is also a shockingly common Vietnamese and Chinese name last name. I wonder where else that particular name is found?

      2. class factotum*

        A college friend received an invitation to join the Asian Student society just because his last name is Lee. I guess nobody bothered to notice that he is from a small mill town in east Texas.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          My aunt’s name is Anna Lee, and her husband was most definitely Caucasian. I don’t know if she ever gets mistaken for an Asian, but people do hear her name and expect something more, since Annalee is a legitimate name. :P

        2. Alter_ego*

          My very much white roommates last name is lang, and he has similar issues with people assuming he’s asian.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I used to work with someone whose last name was Lee, she had a Chinese first name which a lot of people assumed was her last name and addressed emails to “Hi Lee”.

  23. JStarr*

    I actually had my middle name taken off of my email signature. I have a masculine first name and a super female middle name (I am female), but I found that I got more responses when people figured I was a guy. *sigh*

    I also really hate being called “Miss” because it sounds childish and unprofessional to me. There’s also the problem of it making a joke out of my last name… (think Miss Take).

    All of this being a very round about way of wishing that we could drop Mr/Mrs/Ms altogether.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Unmarried woman and I absolutely hate being called “miss” in any context. I don’t know why, it’s just an irrational pet peeve! But I do think Mr/Ms can sometimes be useful…for situations like this question, mainly!

    2. Alex (Female)*

      I can relate! Obviously, based on my handle here, I do specify sometimes – but overall, I feel I get better response rates when people think I’m a dude.

    3. Anonsie*

      I can abbreviate my name down into a really old boy’s club sounding thing (think JR Ewing in Dallas) and I’ve been doing it more and more. I definitely get a better response to it.

      1. JStarr*

        Yeah. Unfortunate truth of the workplace, I’m afraid. There’s a reason JK Rowling did abbreviations.

  24. Seal*

    Not to date myself, but I remember watching The Waltons as a kid and realizing they listed the actress who played Olivia as “Miss Michael Learned” so people would know she was a she.

    1. HRC in NJ*

      This was done for several seasons, but eventually she was just listed as Michael Learned. Her father wanted a boy, and didn’t change the name when he had a girl instead.

    2. Natalie*

      The woman who played Brianna Barksdale is also Michael Something, I believe. I wonder if it was the same kind of story in her family.

    3. Nina*

      I also thought of Michael Michele, from ER. Apparently, she was named for a friend of her mother’s. People probably thought they mixed up the order in her name, LOL.

  25. Sabrina*

    I have a trans friend that I play World of Warcraft with. She sounds male in voice chat though. Generally if we have someone new in chat, someone will make a point of saying something like “Yes ma’am” or referring to her as she, to give the newbie a heads up without flat out saying it. But if someone doesn’t catch on or refers to her as a he before something can be said, she just says “No! I am not a sir/he! I am a ma’am/she!” and then just goes on as if nothing happened. It can be tricky because her real name is gender neutral, her gaming name isn’t a “real” name, and while her character is a female, that means nothing at all as to what someone’s actual gender is. Anyway, I agree that an email signature might work, or just correct someone the first time and don’t make a big deal about it. They’ll be momentarily embarrassed but will get over it quickly.

    1. kac*

      I really love that your community rallies around your friend in a simple way to give other people a casual heads up. It reminds me of when my mom has to introduce me to an old colleague who’s name she’s forgotten–we have a simple stragey where I say “Hi, my name is KAC.” which prompts the other person to say their name. And then my mom can tell us all about one another. (She’s great with stories, terrible with names.)

    2. AcademicAnon*

      When I’m in chat in WoW either voice or text, I try to let the other person or people talk enough so I can figure out what they want to be called.

      1. Sabrina*

        I do that too. Not everyone does. But most people we’ve played with are cool and either catch on or take direction well. I don’t know if she’s ever had to ban someone for being a jerk. We’re all very female & LGBT friendly and also, it’s her vent that she pays for, so douchebaggery is not allowed. Everyone makes their own sandwiches.

  26. AnonyMouse*

    I’m a cisgender woman with an unusually deep voice, and I’ve been mistaken for a man when I answered the phone once or twice. Despite the pitch my voice (and name) is otherwise feminine enough that people would realise their mistake quickly, but even so I usually try to politely correct them right away. Whenever I’ve made a stupid mistake with someone’s name or gender or something like that, I really appreciate being corrected before it goes too far, so I typically assume most people are in the same boat!

    1. fposte*

      This was a recurring joke on Maude, starring Bea Arthur. “No, this isn’t Mr. Findlay, this is Mrs. Findlay. Mr. Findlay has a much higher voice.”

  27. Another Lee*

    Had this problem as well (male with soft voice + gender neutral name). I just tend to lower my voice a bit on the phone and people have generally figured out. You can condition this habit over a long period of time and not even really think about it.

    On an unrelated note, I’m actually a bit surprised to see the OP was a trans man and many commenters are trans individuals with this same issue. Why go through the trouble of physically changing yourself, and jump through the legal hoops of obtaining status as the other gender, but then not conform to sounding or acting in mannerisms associated with that gender?
    I do understand that western gender stereotypes are…a little outdated, but I don’t get spending a great deal of effort to physically look the part of the opposite gender, but then intentionally continuing to act and sound like the gender you’re not trying to be.

    1. Anon for a moment*

      Because a lot of one’s vocal quality is determined biologically, early in life, through hormones. I’ve got an acquaintance, for example, who is a transwoman and has taken all the legal, medical, and surgical steps you can think of. She’s also had some cosmetic work done in order to look more feminine. But her vocal cords were changed by testosterone when she was in her teens, just like a cis man’s, and while she now takes female hormones, some of that early biological stuff is irreversible after the fact. She has actually done some vocal training but still struggles to find a balance between her “natural” voice–which she feels is too low for a woman–and a higher-pitched trained voice that she worries sounds fake.

      It’s about the same as wondering why she would go to all this effort but still stay unusually tall for a woman.

      I imagine there are similar issues in the other direction.

      1. Anon for a moment*

        And an added note: the “she”s in this post refer to my acquaintance and not to the OP, just so I’m not misunderstood.

      2. Dasha*

        “It’s about the same as wondering why she would go to all this effort but still stay unusually tall for a woman.”

        But how would she get un-tall?

        1. Anon for a moment*

          That’s the point. She can’t, any more than she can have different vocal cords.

      3. Tinker*

        Transgender men don’t tend to have quite as distinct issues with vocal pitch as transgender women do, because testosterone tends to be kind of a one-way gate (this being a common theme for a number of factors, actually). The voices of transgender women drop if they go through male puberty, and they don’t change back on their own when hormones are changed — in order to get a vocal apparatus that naturally sounds more typically female, one has to get surgery at that point. On the other side, transgender men will generally see their voice drop when they start testosterone regardless of when they do it, although if they are older they may not get exactly the same results as they would have had they experienced a male puberty at the expected time.

        I’m not completely familiar with the differences in that case, but I have the impression that it’s along the lines of that their pitch doesn’t necessarily drop as much as it would have otherwise, and that they can sometimes have issues with vocal quality — basically because they’ve stopped growing and then kind of started again.

        The other thing that becomes an issue, and I kind of get the impression that this might be what the OP is alluding to, is that there are also more masculine and more feminine ways of using one’s voice that are independent of the hormone-influenced changes. Those habits have a way of persisting, and it comes off as sufficiently unusual that it’s not uncommon for transgender men to “sound gay” because they look like men and speak in a male range but have feminine vocal habits, or to have difficulty passing as male on the phone as the OP does.

        The solution to this is basically to change the habits, and some people do that, but not everyone will see it as enough of an issue to go through the trouble of reworking the way they speak.

        1. Anon-123*

          This is an old post but I’d like to point out it’s NOT entirely true. Yes male puberty is in a sense a one way gate, but:

          One can train their voice to sound male or female with pitch and resonance and all. The problem is most trans women sadly don’t (I’m trans myself and I cringe when I hear someone like Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner speak – and in Caitlyn Jenner’s case for more than one reason). I don’t even get sirred on the phone and the only training I had was one session with a speech therapist.

    2. AnonyMouse*

      There are a lot of issues at play here that are probably best addressed by a trans person or at least someone more knowledgeable than me, but here are just a few things that come to mind.
      1) As you acknowledged, our idea of acting and sounding like a particular gender is unnecessarily narrow. Like I said in another comment, I’m a cis woman, but I have a pretty deep voice. Some people might associate this range more with men, but I’m a woman and it’s my range too, so it is inherently also a woman’s voice. The same would be true of a trans woman’s voice that was deeper than average.
      2) Some trans people have a more difficult time than others conforming to the expected characteristics of their gender, even if they want to. For instance, in college I was in some classes with a trans man who was short and very slim and had a much higher voice than mine. Regardless of what he did, his voice was probably never going to be super deep and booming, nor would he be tall and muscular. Trans people who speak in a way that isn’t typically associated with their gender may not be doing it intentionally.
      3) Even if it is intentional, there’s not just one right way to be a man/woman and it’s everyone’s decision how they want to express their gender. The OP said he likes his voice, so he shouldn’t need to change it if he’s happy with the way it sounds now, and that doesn’t make him any less of a man. He also mentioned the time and money costs associated with speech therapy – these things can be really prohibitive for some trans people.

      Definitely not trying to jump down your throat or be overly critical with this response, a lot of people (including myself) are less informed than they would like to be about trans issues! Hope it was helpful.

    3. OP*

      Hi Lee, OP here. Interesting question. I think it’s important to first note that trans people aren’t “trying to be” a gender – we are that gender, just like you are your gender, and make various medical and legal choices to live in the world in a way that feels whole and integrated. (And, actually, everyone makes choices about how to live in the world in a way that feels whole and integrated to us, for many people, that’s how we make decisions about family, career, hobbies, etc – trans people just have some particular and different challenges and considerations about how we address our reality of being trans.)

      For me personally, I have always understood myself to be a feminine man, and at first this was confusing for me because my impression was similar to yours, that trans people needed to be willing to take on all stereotypical aspects of their transitioned gender. Turns out I was wrong about that! I transitioned so that I could live a life that felt whole and integrated, and I do. I am a man who wears bright colors, waves my arms around a lot, and speaks in a high voice. This is exactly who I hoped to grow up to be, before my transition. Except for this minor inconvenience – one that also affects, it seems, several cis (non-trans) commenters here – everything’s fine and I feel like “me”, which I think is really the goal here, rather than conformity.

      Hope that helped!

      1. Another Lee*

        I’m still a little confused by your answer.
        “I think it’s important to first note that trans people aren’t “trying to be” a gender – we are that gender, just like you are your gender, and make various medical and legal choices to live in the world in a way that feels whole and integrated.”
        Not sure I understand this. Mentally you are that gender, but physically you are not. A transwoman will never get a period or go through menopause. I do understand her brain is female and she may get surgery to physically resemble a female and legally change her gender with the government, but her body doesn’t become 100% female just because her mind is (even changing the hormone distribution, her body will still age as though it was male).
        “(And, actually, everyone makes choices about how to live in the world in a way that feels whole and integrated to us, for many people, that’s how we make decisions about family, career, hobbies, etc – trans people just have some particular and different challenges and considerations about how we address our reality of being trans.)”
        Not trying to push an issue, but “family, career, hobbies” have nothing to do with gender. You could be either gender, sterile or fertile, and still have a “family, career, hobbies” etc.
        “For me personally, I have always understood myself to be a feminine man, ”
        This is so fascinating to me, especially coming from a transman. All of my trans-friends try to prescribe to the social norms of whatever gender they transitioned to.
        “I transitioned so that I could live a life that felt whole and integrated, and I do. I am a man who wears bright colors, waves my arms around a lot, and speaks in a high voice.”
        I’m glad you’re comfortable with yourself and your life has worked out!

        1. AnonyMouse*

          I think in terms of clarifying confusion behind comments like “mentally you are that gender, but physically you are not” and statements about periods and menopause etc, it might be helpful to do some reading about the difference between sex and gender. I won’t link to anything because I’m not sure how AAM comments handle links, but there’s not really any one specific way to physically be a particular gender, nor does something like having periods necessarily relate to gender – that’s much more related to sex. If you search “sex vs gender” or anything like that you should find some good resources.

          There’s a lot more to be discussed here but this is getting pretty far off the topic of the original post, so I’ll stop now!

    4. Tinker*

      Some of your assumptions also aren’t entirely valid, depending on who you’re addressing. The way I usually refer to myself is as “on the transgender spectrum” or “gender-variant” — “trans” often isn’t my first choice, but I am more or less in that vicinity and the issue that the OP raises is one that I share (with some variation).

      I haven’t, actually, gone to the trouble of physically changing myself (at least not in the way that people think of), and because I haven’t done this I can’t change my legal gender either. I also sometimes am a bit cautious about presenting myself in ways that are unacceptably transgressive in the case that I’m read as female or among people who persistently label me that way.

      Well, okay, I hardly come off as non-transgressive. But, like, although I’m technically “out” to my family it’s sometimes in my best interest to, without outright contradicting my identity, not do things that remove plausible deniability so that I get mildly dirty looks about my formal dress as opposed to a big direct confrontation (and, like, my cousin’s graduation should be about my cousin graduating, not an epic shitstorm regarding ties). Obviously, this isn’t an option that is available to everyone, but it’s one that kind of works for me and I try to make do with what I have.

      The voice issue is kind of like that in that I probably could pass with some consistency, even with the vocal pitch I presently have, if I spoke with less pitch variation. Provided that it comes off well. If I don’t, I run the risk of sounding like a ridiculous caricature, as a woman who is acting outside of the (wide, but having limits) acceptable range of masculinity for a woman, or as someone who is presenting a fake identity for nefarious reasons (which is a very, very serious risk for transgender women, as in it regularly gets people killed, but isn’t without problems on the other end).

      Anyway, your question actually opens up an entire subject that has a lot of complexity and depth, and happens to be one that I think is pretty neat so — yay!

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        “…as in it regularly gets people killed…”

        It breaks my heart that that sentence even needs to be said. I am ashamed for my species.

  28. Artemesia*

    I am a woman who is often taken for a man on the phone; I think you just need to correct them when the conversation starts and move on. It is not uncommon for people with voices in the mid-range to be confused for the opposite gender — while my voice is mezzo and no soprano, it is not base — but I still get heard as a guy a good portion of the time. Men who are tenors in speaking have the same problem. I would not confound this with the transgender issue but given the transition you have made, a little voice coaching is not a terrible idea if it bothers you.

  29. kac*

    Some version of this happens to me too. I have a feminized version of a name that is more typically male, and in their haste people often read it as the male version of the name. As a result, when people meet me in person, they often comment, “Oh, I thought you were a guy!” and laugh a little nervously. I’ve found that the key is to be really comfortable with their reaction. (I have a dumb joke that I often use, “If I had a dollar for every time someone made that mistake, I wouldn’t need to be here!”) The first few times I was more surprised, and they in turn felt embarrassed and it felt more like a “thing” throughout our interaction. It sounds like you’re not made uncomfortable be their surprise, so you’ve probably already figured this one out!

    FWIW, I like the “Mr.” I’ve seen it in other emails, and I think it gets the idea across nicely. I also like the middle name idea, if that’s an option for you as well. That might work even better, if you could work it into your name as it appears in the “from” field.

  30. Mister Pickle*

    This may not be an acceptable fix, but I haven’t seen anyone mention it yet: there are apparently smartphone apps out there that will do pitch-shifting and/or other interesting stuff to one’s voice during a phonecall.

    Audio-geek that I am, I don’t have experience with any of these things, so I don’t have any specific recommendations. I assume one could go all-out Fever Ray with this kind of thing, but I was thinking that maybe just shifting the pitch downward a few semi-tones might be enough of a hint for the listener, without undue distortion of the voice character.

  31. Mister Pickle*

    Also related: This blog post discusses gender shifts in US given names:

    Which is an interesting topic in itself. It doesn’t appear to be something that people think about often, but when they do, they often infer that male names can shift to become female names, but not the other way around. But some female names do shift to male usage, and the author provides examples.

    (the Usual Disclaimers, I have no relationship with the blog I’m pointing out).

  32. Tara*

    I don’t really have anything to contribute on top of the comments already here, I just thought your choice of gender neutral name was amusing as my (transgender guy) friend’s name was Lee before he came out, but he ended up having to change it to something more clearly male because of the precise problem in this letter!

  33. LibbyG*

    OP, maybe correcting people with something like, “It’s a common mistake; I have a very musical voice” (or some other positive descriptor of your voice) would quickly put people at ease. If I were corrected that way, I would think, “Whew! He’s not offended … or even annoyed!”

  34. ECH*

    I am a woman, but this week I had a cold and someone who regularly calls me, when I answered, asked for me (assuming I was someone else) because my voice was so deep. Made my day!

  35. EvilQueenRegina*

    I once had a similar situation where it was a cultural thing – in my country, the name in question is commonly a female name and everyone I’ve known in RL with it has been female. Recently I got to know someone online who is from a country where the name is more commonly male. I did get it wrong initially (I realised from something he said). My friend never did find out that I made that mistake, although he knows that someone else did once.

    1. Dawn88*

      My deep voice is always mistaken for a man. I just went through a personal “customer service issue” in my home last week, with TV and Internet providers. Every call I made to clarify issues, I would state the basic problem in a friendly voice, and every time, the Rep would say, “No problem Sir, I’ll be glad to fix that.” or “I’ll be glad to help you out, Sir…” or “I understand, Sir…”
      I was called “Sir” repeatedly….until they needed my name spelled to them with my Account Number, then they realized I was a woman, and basically blew it off.

      I really hate correcting people, too….what do I say? “Oh, actually I’m a woman, my voice is just deep.” ARGH!! I generally ignore it…since they are Customer Service and deal with hundreds of voices and callers.

      I’ve tried to raise my voice a few times and get a sore throat. I feel embarrassed and annoyed when this happens, which is OFTEN….Being a manager for years, the “deep, authoritative voice” worked fine in prior jobs. Trying to get a job now is making it really uncomfortable for me, and I wonder if this is what screws me? For phone interviews I try to sound cheerful, hoping it won’t sound like a MAN….ARGH!!!!

      Any ideas? Before I end up living in my car?

      1. nonegiven*

        There is a point where I will not correct the person’s pronunciation of my name again, if I even noticed they were talking to me. I just don’t respond to any name other than my own.

        One time, apparently a woman had been trying to get my attention for some time, from behind and about six feet away, by repeatedly calling out $wrongname, $wrongname. I never noticed, I thought she was calling out to someone else, until a person next to me told me she was wanting me. I turned around and she said “$wrongname, [whatever she had on her mind]” I said, “I’m not $wrongname, that’s $wrongname over there” (pointing about 15 feet farther away.) She asked what my name was and I told her, again. She’d been calling me $wrongname for a week and I corrected her before but I knew she was talking to me because those occasions took place face to face and $wrongname wasn’t there yet, she either didn’t listen or didn’t care. Then the girl named $wrongname showed up and I stopped answering to her name at all. If I even heard the name I assumed they were speaking to her. I was happy when she showed up because I thought, now they’ll have to stop calling me by the wrong name.

  36. Mary*

    I heard my boyfriend’s phone voice for the first time. He is 61 and sounded 30-40. Is that possible or did he put a young man on the phone to pretend it was him? I doubt that.

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