our admin earns more than me, I’m embarrassed by my coworker’s name, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My team’s admin earns more than me

I was recently chatting with my team’s administrative assistant (hired a few months after I was) and they let slip that they make $15,000 more per year than I do. My job is a skilled position, requiring specialized training. I’m not dissing administrative assistants, but this one doesn’t even know how to use Excel and has come to me twice in the last few weeks for help doing a mail merge. Should I talk to my manager about the disparity in our paychecks? If so, how?

Some skilled positions that require specialized training pay less than admin positions. Often that’s because of the market for each type of role; for instance, if you’re a lawyer in a glutted market, there’s probably loads of competition for your job, whereas great admins are hard to come by.

Excel and mail merge might not be the core tasks of her job, so I wouldn’t judge based on that. And the salary for your job really has nothing to do with whether someone else can use Excel or not. You were presumably happy enough with the salary you’re earning to accept it when it was offered to you; focus on that, and on the market rate for your work, not what someone else in a totally different role is earning. Complaining to your manager that you’re earning less than your team’s admin would almost certainly look out-of-touch (and like you don’t quite understand the value of admin work).

2. How can I get my coworker to stop gossiping to me?

I work in a very small office of 5 people. I hold a director position, and another person holds a manager position, and is sort of a supervisor for everyone. She was here before me and is above me technically. She is constantly bad-mouthing and gossiping to me about the other employees, from personal (sometimes very personal) information to performance issues/problems.

I really hate gossiping, especially in the workplace. I feel that absolutely nothing good can come of it, and I just want to do my job. I like everyone else who I work with anyway. I understand venting a little once in a while, but this is excessive. Besides, I do not trust this person at all; she’s had issues with everyone at some point, but especially me, and I can’t imagine what she says to others about me. I feel as though she is trying to get me to respond and say something negative about people. I try to shrug it off and change the subject, or defend the person while trying not to get on her bad side (it’s very easy to get on her bad side, and she makes work life miserable if she doesn’t get her way).

It’s getting to the point where I need some different tactics to escape the conversation, without flat-out saying that I don’t wish to gossip. This is someone who for at least the time being, I need to be civil with and try to stay on her good side. Any advice?

Two options if you don’t want to tell her directly that you don’t want to hear this stuff (although I think it’s worth reconsidering that stance — it’s a reasonable thing to say to someone like this):

a. Make it about you, not her: “One of my new year’s resolutions is to stay more positive at work. I’m trying to keep a no-negativity zone.”

b. Be entirely unsatisfying as a trash-talk partner. For instance, when confronted with a complaint about Jane: “Huh, I think Jane is really nice / good at her job / easy to work with.”

3. I’m embarrassed by my coworker’s name

One of my coworkers (a recent graduate from Thailand) has a first name which looks like two English words that look offensive but isn’t pronounced that way. Almost everyone calls her by her nickname, which is a lot easier to pronounce.

A recent directive from corporate means that everyone now has a nameplate on their desks, and we were asked to fill in what name we would like displayed. Her desk is right next to mine, and much to my dismay she chose her real first name rather than her nickname. Since we have visitors frequently passing by where both of us sit, it creates an embarrassing situation for me when they glance at the nameplate. Is there any way I can ask her to have the nameplate changed to her nickname, since that is what she goes by even at home, without appearing to be culturally insensitive? The name has a beautiful meaning in Thai, but unfortunately that does not get portrayed when written in English.

Nope. That’s her name. There is no polite way to ask her to take it off her nameplate or not to use it. And you’re projecting way too much into what strangers think.

4. Excessive reference requirements

I have recently submitted an application for a director position at a state college. The HR is in the process of reviewing applicants and asked for a list of my references. I have a standard list of references including 2 former supervisors and 2 colleagues, but this school requests for total 10 people (2 supervisors, 2 direct reports, 2 management level colleagues, 2 faculty, 2 community members). I personally think it’s a bit excessive and it shows the sign of insecurity. What do you think?

Excessive? Probably, depending on the role. But insecurity? Nah, that’s pretty typical for academia, which tends to have crazily involved hiring processes.

5. Should I be concerned that I haven’t received new hire paperwork yet?

I received a job offer a month ago with a start date on March 2. They send me a PDF document of the offer letter and the benefit compensation; however, I have not received anything regarding the new hire paperwork yet. Is that a common process or should I email my HR point of contact and ask her when would I be expected to receive new hire paperwork?

Also, is it rude to ask the HR to email me in the upcoming month to contact me for any information required since I will be going back to Taiwan for a month?

Lots of employers don’t do new hire paperwork until your first day at work; I’d assume that that’s the case here. However, if you want to be sure, it’s totally fine to email your contact and say, “Is there anything else you need from me before I start, like new hire paperwork or anything like that? I’m going to be in Taiwan from January 15 to February 15 and a bit harder to reach, so I wanted to check with you before I leave town.”

{ 491 comments… read them below }

  1. Sourire*

    #3 – I don’t really understand why this would be embarrassing for *you*?

    Anyway, at most, what I think you could do is “notice” her nameplate one day and very casually mention something like “Oh, I thought you would have gone with Jane since that’s how we all know you”. And really the only answer I could think of that would prompt any type of response that suggests changing it would be if she thought it was policy to have her legal name AND it sounds like she may not be happy with that policy. But really, she may think it’s more professional to list her given name, she may actually LIKE her given name (imagine that), or she may have any other number of reasons for choosing it that are really none of your business. It’s the standard nameplate every desk has, it’s not as though visitors are going to walk by and assume she’s put it there for any reason other than to identify herself.

    1. Newsie*

      +40. It’s a nameplate. They’re there to be looked at. And it’s her name. Sorry, OP, but I can’t see how her name being read silently by others could be embarrassing to you.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Given the coworkers background the names “Fuk”, “Porn” or “Bang Sue” are entirely possible.

          I can see how OP might have concerns, particularly if coworker has a front facing position.

          I think it would be ok (as someone above me mentioned) to say “I was surprised you didn’t pick “Jane” for your nameplate as that’s what you go by.”

          Listen to what she says. If its something like “Oh, I didn’t realise I can do that.” Then you can probably talk about getting it changed.

          If she likes her own name better or feels it’s more official you have to let it go.

      1. Kelly O*

        I’m kind of glad I’m not the only one who is unclear on how this is embarrassing to the OP. It’s not your name. It’s not your nameplate. Sure, there are the 12 year old giggles at the “unfortunate” name, but it’s only unfortunate in English/American, clearly not the co-worker’s native language.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          I’m kind of glad I’m not the only one who is unclear on how this is embarrassing to the OP.

          Me too! I had to go back and read the letter again after I got to the end the first time because I was sure I had missed something.

          OP, if it’s any consolation, most people reading the nameplate are probably thinking something more along the lines of “oh, what an unusual/interesting name” rather than what you picture they’re thinking when they see it.

        2. Myrin*

          Yes to both of your points.
          All kinds of names are “unfortunate” in other languages – my mothertongue is German and when I first learned of Johnny Depp’s existence as a child I laughed because “Depp” is a word for “idiot” here. Yet I bet most English speakers don’t think anything weird of that name at all.

          1. Joline*

            And then there’s people who name their kids unfortunate names within their own languages. I used to know a German guy named Kai Kopf (in my dialect we drop the ‘n’ in words like “kein”).

            1. Myrin*

              I snorted at that tbh. (Although it took me a second because we say “koa” in my dialect so I probably wouldn’t see anything wrong with Kai Kopf ever – apart from the fact that I’ve never met someone whose last name is only “Kopf”, but that’s probably more of a regional thing – but now that I’m thinking of it I cannot unsee.

    2. MK*

      I don’t understand why it would be embarassing at all. I happen to have a funny last name; in school I was made fun of a lot and in university a few people laughed at it, but since then, in my professional and social life as an adult, no one has ever commented on it or even seemed to notice it. Names with unfortunate associations are not that uncommon and mature adults simply ignore it. What exactly does the OP think is going through people’s minds when the glance at the nameplate?

      1. Sandrine (France)*

        Probably the same thing as what goes through *her* mind.

        OP, you’re not being nice to your coworker by claiming “embarrassment” on her behalf. Is it your name ? Nope. So why would *you* be embarassed at all o_O ?

      2. weird name gal*

        This! I have a totally bizarre name, and in the 70s it was hard, today there are so many varied cultures that nobody even blinks when they hear my name. I can’t imagine a world in which somebody else was embaressed by my name, that is just bizarre to me.

        1. Son of a female dog*

          I have a last name that sounds like sonofabitch and some people do a double take when they hear it. My initials, when strung together, sound like asshole, so that’s no better. I’ve just learned to embrace them and smile.

      3. Short and Stout*

        When I was reading the OP’s letter, I took the embarrassment to be connected to how closely their desks are — so people approaching the two of them see something that says F– U or something. I don’t know what, that’s just how I imagined it.

      4. Annonymouse*

        It sounds like many commenters on this thread aren’t familiar with Thai names.

        Lots of names in Thai sound funny or offensive in English. (Fuk, Porn, Bang Sue are all Thai names).

        I can see how others might perceive them or why OP might get embarrassed if people read them first instead of hearing the pronunciation difference.

        That said I think you can bring it up with her just once
        “Hey I was surprised you didn’t put nickname down since that’s what everyone knows you as.”

        And leave it. If she didn’t think it was an option and wants to – that’s fine.
        If she wants her proper name on there then you have to let it go.

    3. Liane*

      Two tips:
      1–Thought Exercise: Pretend your name means something rude in her language. She asks you to change you nameplate because it it culturally insensitive. How would you feel?
      2–Perhaps you could spend at least part of the time you spend thinking about this on–well, working?

    4. Mike B.*

      Yeah. If she were *brand new* to not just the office but the country, and it was plausible that she didn’t yet know the second meaning of her name, I might take her aside…but she’s a grown woman who almost certainly grasped the implications and decided to let the chips fall where they may. It was her decision, and it was an informed and reasonable one.

    5. Raptor*

      I’m going to toss in this too… It’s raciest to insist that people have nicknames because you can’t pronounce their given name. Learn to pronounce their name. Yes, it will take time.. tough. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people (mostly women) who have a ‘non-traditional name’ (and yes, that phrase is raciest too) and everyone goes… ‘Oh, that’s too hard to pronounce, so we’ll just call you Jane instead.’ But if you actually talk to those people, they say that A: it’s pretty offensive that they have to learn to pronounce your non-insert country of origin-traditional name, but you can’t be bothered to learn theirs. And B: they prefer their given name, but don’t know how to broach the subject because they know they will probably just get told how they are being too sensitive (or they personally don’t want to rock the boat or whatever).

      The fact that you know what the name stands for, is great… But not enough. Call her by her real name* if that’s what she is who she is advertising herself as. And further, anyone who insists that they can’t possibly pronounce her name and refuse to learn because it makes them uncomfortable are raciest.

      *I’d make an exception for things is someone made it a point to say, ‘I prefer being called by my nickname’ whenever they are asked about it directly, but if you guys just assigned her a nickname, then that really makes it wrong…

      1. Traveler*

        I don’t think what you’re describing is racist, xenophobic maybe, but racism implies a lot more than what you’re describing. Can we please not toss that term around so lightly?

        1. Zillah*

          I strongly disagree with this. This certainly isn’t the worst display of racism ever, and it seems to be born more out of ignorance than maliciousness, but that doesn’t make it not racist. (Along the same lines, while saying that women are bad at driving is not the worst display of sexism ever, it’s still a sexist statement.) Calling out racist statements and sentiments is important, IMO particularly when they seem really minor and unimportant in the grand scheme of things – microaggressions are some of the hardest things to overcome in many respects.

          1. Traveler*

            My point has nothing to do with how slight the offense was. The OP’s statement does not fit the definition of “racism”. The OP does not have a deep seated hatred of all Thai people based on personal or institutionalized beliefs that Thai people are an inferior race. The OP is worried that people walking by the desk might mistake a foreign name for something offensive. And while misguided, and certainly inappropriate (and perhaps xenophobic, bigoted, culturally insensitive, etc.) it’s not racist. I’m all for calling out racism, however slight it might be. But I think using the word inappropriately is also damaging and needs to be called out as well.

                1. Zillah*

                  Well, there isn’t really a simple, easy definition like you seem to be looking for. It’s a complex issue with a lot of different layers, which doesn’t tend to lend itself to fifteen-words-or-less descriptions.

                  Here are a couple shots, though:

                  Dictionary definition #1:

                  the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

                  Dictionary definition #2:

                  prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

                  NY Times article (I’ll link in a follow up comment):

                  A tone-deaf inquiry into an Asian-American’s ethnic origin. Cringe-inducing praise for how articulate a black student is. An unwanted conversation about a Latino’s ability to speak English without an accent.

                  This is not exactly the language of traditional racism, but in an avalanche of blogs, student discourse, campus theater and academic papers, they all reflect the murky terrain of the social justice word du jour — microaggressions — used to describe the subtle ways that racial, ethnic, gender and other stereotypes can play out painfully in an increasingly diverse culture.

                  Basically: the idea that something is not racism unless it is motivated by hatred is a deeply problematic point of view on several levels. It places the focus on the privileged class rather than those actually being harmed – it’s absurd that a person’s conscious intentions should matter more than the effect of their actions, and you mostly see it only when it excuses people from critically examining their own privilege and prejudices.

                  It’s important to acknowledge these things as statements or acts of racism because writing them off as misguided, insensitive, culturally inappropriate, or even bigoted allows people to dodge responsibility for creating and contributing to a cultural toxicity surrounding race that institutionally disadvantages racial minorities.

                2. Raptor*

                  I’m going to treat this question as serious, and not as an attempt at sea lioning.

                  I’m not saying the OP is raciest.. as a note… (that takes a lot more to be called that), but that what was expressed by the OP is raciest.

                  Racism is through actions or words the othering of people. To make them less than who they are. For example, saying someone is well spoken, is just code for them not talking in a black accent… (which, doesn’t exist btw. Accents exist.. but there’s no universal black accent). Which is just code for them being lesser than whites because they don’t sound white.

                  Racism also has a component of history involved to be racism… So calling a white person cracker, isn’t racist, because it’s missing the history part of oppression and othering (though you would still be a jerk for doing it). Renaming immigrates has a very long history, one that is steamed in making up names for people (sometimes pretty bad ones) so that they ‘fit’ more into someone’s ideal of what an american (white) name.

                  The people in the position of power (white) decide the names of people who are not in power (not-white).

                  Thus, giving people nicknames because you can’t pronounce their given name is raciest.

                3. Traveler*

                  Okay. That gives me a better understanding of where you’re coming from. Here’s where I’m coming from:
                  Xenophobia (summary from wiki which is pulling from several dictionaries including Oxford):
                  …is the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange….
                  Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”

                  To me, the OP’s fear of their coworker’s foreign name being misinterpreted by visitors/clients, much more closely resembles xenophobia or issues with ethnocentrism than it does a feeling of superiority of their race over their coworker’s. The bit about it being “beautiful in Thai” also seems to hint at that last bit of stereotypes and exotic qualities. I will give you that it’s not possible for us to say this isn’t racist given we only have a small snippet, but from the small snippet we have – I’m not getting that the OP is coming from a place of “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

                4. Zillah*

                  Hmm. I agree that it’s xenophobic, but I don’t think xenophobia and racism are mutually exclusive. I think they’re frequently intertwined, in fact.

                  Again, I think that intention needs to be put aside, because actions and statements can be racist without being ill-intentioned. And after we put intention aside, I think the OP is showing prejudice – she’s saying that her coworker’s more traditionally American nickname is superior to the same coworker’s traditionally Thai name. It’s a very, very specific kind of prejudice, but that doesn’t make it nonexistent – it just makes it specific.

                  I would also argue that whatever the OP’s intentions, asking her coworker to change her nameplate is feeding into a broader society of racism – and IMO, that on its own makes it a racist statement.

                5. Traveler*

                  “I would also argue that whatever the OP’s intentions, asking her coworker to change her nameplate is feeding into a broader society of racism”

                  This is a great point.

                6. ThursdaysGeek*


                  Racism also has a component of history involved to be racism… So calling a white person cracker, isn’t racist, because it’s missing the history part of oppression and othering (though you would still be a jerk for doing it).

                  Wait, what? So only the majority race can be racist? I must be misunderstanding you, but I’m pretty sure that calling a white person a cracker can be pretty racist too.

                7. Sue Wilson*

                  @ThursdaysGeek, yes only the group who has the power to oppress can be racist. This doesn’t always mean the majority group. In America calling a white person “cracker” can be offensive, and can personally hurt, but it does not contribute to the oppression of white people. Minority groups in America simply do not have the culturo/socio/politcal power to oppress white people.

                8. A Non*

                  We’ve hit the limit of comment nesting, I’m trying to reply to Thursday’s Geek.

                  Yeah, actually – for a lot of purposes, “racism” is used only to mean one people group (called the ‘majority’, even if they’re numerically fewer, like in some African nations where white colonials took over) historically oppressing another people group. According to that definition, one person being a jerk about someone’s skin color is just one person being a jerk. To be an example of racism it has to be part of an overarching cultural pattern. It doesn’t mean that the jerk’s actions are any less categorically bad, it just means that it’s not relevant to a discussion of a society that’s subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) tipped in one direction. It’s also a good foil to the people who want to point out “reverse racism” in an attempt to make the majority group look victimized too, when that’s entirely not the point of the conversation.

                9. Raptor*

                  Whew, this is getting long.

                  Here’s the thing with racism… It’s not a zero sum game. As racism is reduced in this country, it doesn’t mean that racism grows against white people… it just means there is less racism.

                  And it’s possible for blacks (for example) to be raciest… but only against other minority groups. For example, there is a big problem with people who are LBGT among the black community. And it has its roots in racism.

                  However, being white means that you’re in a position of privilege. What privilege means is that while yes, you are dealing with all these problems you have, someone who is just like you, but also happens to be black, is also dealing with all the problems you have in addition to also dealing with being black…. You will never experience being black because you aren’t black. Any experience you have with it will always be second-hand, what other people have told you they have witness or experienced themselves. If you ever witness it, it will be something you fail to notice happening, or it will be a thing that happened this one time to someone you know. This is privilege.

                  You’re broke? So is another man who’s black. But he can’t get a loan because they would prefer to give it to a white man, because you’re a safe investment, but the other guy is a risk cause he’s lazy/poor/on drugs/in a gang/whatever.

                  If you ever wonder to the depth of racism (or sexism or any other -ism) ask yourself this…. When was the last time that you saw a black (or female or both) actor in the lead role in a major movie where it wasn’t a comedy/low budget and they weren’t the side kick to a white actor (or love interest in the case of a women)?

                  And when I say, major movie, I mean something like The Avengers, where lots of money has been poured into it.

            1. Zahra*

              The one thing you need to remember here: Intentions are not a free pass on making racist statements or actions.

              Repeat after me: “Intentions are not a free pass”

              The only thing intentions are is “attenuating circumstances”. As is, it’s not as egregious as doing it because you do have negative (or positive) stereotypes about a certain group of person, but it’s still a racist statement/action and needs to be corrected/apologized for, whatever the correct reparation is.

              For example, studies have shown that women who negotiate salary are viewed more negatively than men doing so (by men AND women). The consequence is that many women don’t negotiate and they end up with a lower salary than men. Those that do are viewed negatively and do not get the same negotiation margin than men and still end up with a lower salary than a man who negotiated just as aggressively. All that bias is unconscious, but it still leads to discrimination. The correct answer is not “But we didn’t choose to do it that way! It just happened!”. The correct answer is “Holy shit, we need to correct the existing disparity ASAP and make sure we don’t reproduce it in future hires/raises.”

              1. Traveler*

                You’re putting words in my mouth, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t condescend to me. I said this was not racism, not that it wasn’t wrong. I said that this may very well be bigoted, xenophobic, and culturally insensitive. An element of privilege is probably at work here.
                But screaming “racism!” at every xenophobic or bigoted comment is not productive. Lambasting people that make these mistakes will not help the problem. We need to address with OP what’s wrong here and how to fix it- from the noble savage like statement of “It’s beautiful in Thai” to the importance of OP supporting coworker’s use of their name.
                I promise you I don’t need you to explain to me what racism is – however, unintentioned or micro it might be. It’s because of that, I dislike labeling every discrimination/prejudice issue “racism”. Racism carries a truckload of connotations that I don’t think are necessarily appropriate to be laying at OP’s door.

                1. Stephen*

                  You don’t have to be in the Klan to be do or say racist things. The thoughtless assumption of privilege by people who aren’t necessarily hateful is the face of racism in the 21st century, and pretending people should get a pass because they’re just a little xenophobic and bigoted, but they have a good heart, is not helpful. It’s a big part of the problem.

                2. Vin packer*

                  It’s not crazy to think that, in a country with a long history of racism at every turn, “xenophobic and bigoted” comments might stem from racism. I don’t get why it’s so important to you that nobody ever, ever use the word “racist” unless every other possible synonym has been exhausted.

                  Insisting on calling a nonwhite person a different name because you don’t like the one they have, when it has nonwhite, nonwestern cultural roots, is racist. If she goes by a nickname, fine; if she decides to use her own name, that needs to also be fine, and if it’s not fine with you maybe you should check yourself. That’s all anyone is saying, really.

                3. Zahra*

                  The problem with refusing “racism” because of connotations is the same as women refusing to call themselves “feminist” because of connotations. Regardless of connotations (see, same as intentions), when it comes to “-isms”, the best thing is to call it for what it is, not dance around the question so as to not “offend” the offender (who is in a position of privilege and can stand some push back, as they are not subject to micro aggression).

                  You’ll also notice that, as far as I remember, most people here (including me) have referred to racist *actions* and not to racist *person*. Just as much as intentions aren’t a free pass, racist actions do not mean that one is racist. It just means that one needs to examine their motivation, thought processes and privilege before acting.

                4. Traveler*

                  Zillah: I don’t think I can do adequate justice to that question in the comments on this blog. As you and others pointed out, it’s a complicated issue, and racism is pervasive, and as many times subtle as it is overt. There is no perfect answer. I can address this particular situation as I have above, and I can explain why I feel like we blanket a lot of things with racism that are much more nuanced, and would be better solved by acknowledge the nuances as I have above. I think people here are mistaking what I’m saying for a belief that I think we should deny issues of prejudice and discrimination, racism, or ethnocentrism when they come up, when it’s exactly the opposite: I feel like they happen so often, that its important we understand where they’re coming from rather than put a blanket stamp on it.

                  Zahra: This is the comment I was responding to that prompted my original response “And further, anyone who insists that they can’t possibly pronounce her name and refuse to learn because it makes them uncomfortable are raciest”
                  I’m not worried about offending the offender. I’m worried about reaching the offender, so we can fix the issue. There are ways you can explain to someone that what they’re doing is wrong without taking the nuclear option.

                5. Zillah*

                  @ Traveler – I actually took

                  “And further, anyone who insists that they can’t possibly pronounce her name and refuse to learn because it makes them uncomfortable are raciest”

                  to be talking about the people the OP was concerned about, not the OP herself.

                6. Raptor*


                  Since I made the original comment.

                  “And further, anyone who insists that they can’t possibly pronounce her name and refuse to learn because it makes them uncomfortable are raciest”

                  Yes, you are correct, it was about the people the OP was concerned about, not the OP themselves. Like someone said somewhere in here… I’ve lost the comment… Anyone who makes fun of her name deserves, at the very least, stern glares.

                  If you want a fun website to read, check: Yo, is this raciest? Not linking because it’s NSFW, but its a great way to learn about microagressions, special pleading, privilege, and random tidbits of things you might not have thought are raciest, but really are. All from random questions that people about wither or not this thing they heard/said/saw/did is raciest nor not. (Spoiler, it generally is).

                7. dahllaz*

                  Wasn’t sure exactly where to put this due to the nesting, but I think it’s an important aspect to what is/isn’t racism.

                  This comic really gets to why using only a dictionary definition of racism is…well, rooted in racism.

                  Kind of long, but well worth a read. Hint about why it’s rooted in racism – just who has been the people/class that wrote those dictionaries?
                  It really brought the point home for me.

            2. RG*

              Well, while racism includes systemic oppression, it’s not the end all be all of it. Any time you act as if an aspect of someone’s race or ethnicity is not important, that’s racism. And that’s what this is: deciding that someone’s name (which is a super important part of many cultures) is irrelevant. I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand how you don’t consider that racist.

            3. Mephyle*

              Traveler, I entirely agree with you and support what you’re saying. I’m afraid it won’t get through to everyone, though.

              1. Zillah*

                I’m afraid it won’t get through to everyone, though.

                Thank you so much for respecting other people’s opinions by essentially calling them hardheaded. Top marks.

          2. RJ*

            Exactly! As a society, we need to get over their kindergarten ideas of racism that “racists are bad people who hates xyz race(s)”. Even the KKK is posting billboards protesting that they aren’t racist, for pete’s sake. The fact is that racism and privilege are prevalent and even good people can be racist or be unaware of their privilege, but it’s the responsibility of each individual to be adult enough to admit it. It is only by admitting it that we can overcome it and learn treat people with dignity and respect regardless of their culture or background.

            This LW’s attitude towards someone of a different culture is racist, period. The only way we are going to be able to move past this as a society is to call it out, recognize it, be mindful of when it occurs, and make the adult decision to do everything we can to avoid letting it happen in the future.

      2. INFP*

        I agree with you! Call it racism or xenophobia, the problem lies with the OP, not the person with the “non traditional name.”

      3. Ann Furthermore*

        I took a training class a few years ago, and most of the attendees were from the same agency. While chatting, I learned that a contractor I’d worked with at my company was now at that agency. In passing, I said that his name (he was from India) was very similar to the names of 2 other people on my team (also from India). I think the difference was only one letter in all there names — so similar to something like Mike, Mick, and Mack. So I said that I always had to double check my emails to make sure I was sending them to the right person — and to be clear, I wasn’t complaining, it was something I kind of laughed about.

        One of the people I was talking to replied with, “Oh yeah, we’ve run into that too — we just call them all Mike.” Pretty appalling.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            I know. It took everything I had not to say something. It’s boors like that who give Americans a bad name.

            1. Giselle*

              Having lived in 4 different countries, I can assure you “boors” are not limited to the United States.

        1. NewishAnon*

          This reminds me of an incident at my last admin job. I worked with two people, originally from India, who had nearly identical last names. Both were very long and difficult to say, but there was a letter difference (one spelled with a B and the other with a P, but otherwise identical). One of these guys worked from India and we often communicated via email, on a delay, due to the time difference. The other worked locally and so we knew him personally and were friendly with him.

          Well, one day the person who sat on the other side of my cubicle, who I was friendly with, let out a long string of obscenities about dealing with the guy in India and then proceeded to purposely pronounce his name wrong several times. Then finished of with “or whatever the F— these people what us to call them.” I was shocked. I really wanted to point out that his other coworkers name, who he was friends with (supposedly), was only 1 letter off from this other guy. How difficult is it to learn that at that point? I really lost respect for him in that moment.

        2. glt*

          whoa. my brain can’t even formulate a coherent sentence to express how horrible/appalling/insensitive/rude/HOLY-CRAP-TERRIBLE that is. I mean … just wow.

      4. H*

        +1, though I will add that you should call that person by the name they want to be called. That could mean learning to pronounce their given name, or it could mean respecting that they really actually DO prefer to go by their nickname for any number of reasons

      5. AW*

        This is a very good point. LW#3, if your co-workers just gave them a nickname then it’s already too late to not be “culturally insensitive”. At this point the only thing you should be asking them is which name they actually prefer to go by.

        For those who don’t understand how this is racist, Google “racial microaggression”.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          This. Racism comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I figure if you can pronounce Edinburgh, Worcestershire, Guinevere, or Etobicoke, you can learn to pronounce the given names of people you interact with. It’s what polite, professional people do.

          1. glt*

            yes! I actually learned that Joaquin Phoenix’s name is pronounced “wau-keen” and not “joe-quinn” from this blog’s comments, and I felt BAD about it.

            like he knows me. hah!

            I tend to just poke fun at myself if I struggle with pronouncing a name. even if I’ve said the name 20 times, if it still sounds not-quite-right to me (compared to how I hear them pronounce it) I’ll ask again. I really am bad with names, so it’s not unusual for me to ask people with easier-for-me-to-pronounce names what their names are.

            my last name isn’t difficult, but just mispronounced all the time. I know it doesn’t sound how it’s spelled in English phonetics. I appreciate when people ask more than once. most people don’t. there are a handful of people at my office who actually pronounce it correctly. the others forgot and/or weren’t paying attention in the first place.

            I think there’s a lot to be said for making an effort. it makes most people feel valued.

        2. Pennalynn Lott*

          LW #3 said that the coworker goes by the nickname at home, too. So it’s not something the other employees dumped on the coworker.

      6. NewishAnon*

        Generally I agree with you about this. However, in this circumstance, it seems the OP is having difficulty because it conjures an explicit image in her mind that makes her blush. If the name were just difficult to say and didn’t remind her of something she finds offensive, I don’t think there would be an issue here.

        That’s not to say that the issue isn’t with the OP. She is still wrong. But the information we have doesn’t inherently imply that she is racist or xenophobic. If anything, it implies that she has delicate sensibilities. Without more information, I’m hesitant to call her a racist.

        1. Zillah*

          But there’s a difference between saying that a statement or sentiment is racist and saying that a person is racist. I don’t think anyone is labeling the OP as a racist person – they’re saying that something she said is racist.

          1. NewishAnon*

            But my point is that based on the information provided, we don’t actually know that this is a race issue. Presumably should could be just as offended by the nickname “D–k”, which would most likely be a older, white American man’s name. The person she is talking about happens to be of a different race, yes. But that doesn’t mean her issue is with the race. The problem she is facing is that something is offensive to her. Which is the OPs issue for sure, but I don’t think its the same as a racist sentiment.

            I’m not sure how people are supposed to broach questions about dealing with something that happens to involve someone of another race if they are automatically called racist just for bringing it up. All that does is perpetuate ignorance. I think it would be wise to ask oneself whether this would be a problem if the same issue applied to the persons own race, and if the answer is yes, then leave racism out of it.

            If OP comes back and say’s that she’d have no problem with a white American being named something like “D–k Holden” then, yes, her sentiment is racist. But we don’t have that much information so I don’t think we should be casting her in that light.

            1. Vin packer*

              It’s true that we don’t know a lot about this OP. We don’t even know if the OP is white. But we actually don’t have to wait until we have undeniable proof that an OP is for sure racist to their core before we say, hey this thing you want to do sounds racist. The OP, who of course probably doesn’t want to be racist, or help perpetuate racism is now free to say, “whoa! I had no idea! I better back off on this name thing!”

              In other words, I don’t care what the OP thinks about the name Dick. Telling a nonwhite, nonwestern person to change their name to make me more comfortable would be a racist thing to do regardless of my personal feelings or intent, so if I’m not racist I better not do it. Lesson learned. Personally, I think refusing to acknowledge that racist things are racist does a lot more to perpetuate ignorance than anything else.

              1. Zillah*

                Personally, I think refusing to acknowledge that racist things are racist does a lot more to perpetuate ignorance than anything else.


                1. NewishAnon*

                  I agree but I’m not “refusing to acknowledge that racist things are racist.” I’m genuinely questioning whether it is or not. If she wanted the person to change their name because she couldn’t pronounce it and refused to learn it, or thought ethnic names were stupid, or believed that her coworker didn’t deserve the same respect as her American co-workers, I would agree that’s racist. But since this is an issue of being reminded of offensive words, which would be the case for these words regardless of what race her coworker is, then it seems to me to be more of an issue of being thoughtless, insensitive, and even somewhat immature for not being able to deal with it. And perhaps some other words, but for me it doesn’t seem racist from what we know.

                  Is anything you would ask someone of another race to change racist, even if you would ask the same of someone who is your own race? Racism is about believing your race is superior to other races, being prejudice and discriminatory to other races. In this case, it doesn’t seem to be a race issue for the OP. It’s an issue she would have with anyone, no matter what their race is. Based on what we know anyway.

                2. Raptor*

                  It’s raciest because it’s the othering of someone… that their name isn’t acceptable to our white culture because it looks like naughty words if you look at them in a certain way.

                  When the dominate culture says that you are wrong for existing, that’s racism. (Or insert whatever -ism as is needed).

                  And keep in mind, we’re not saying the OP is herself raciest.. we’re saying is a pretty raciest thing to want people to not go by their given name because someone might feel uncomfortable or because its hard to say. This is a thing, because there is history involved with forcing people to change* their name… and it was, at its core, racist then, and still continues to be today.

                  *I make exceptions for people who do this out of choice.

            2. Zillah*

              But it’s irrelevant whether the OP says she would have a problem with a white American being named “Dick Holden.” It’s even irrelevant if it’s true.

              Because here’s the thing: the OP’s coworker has a Thai name. Expecting people from other cultures to change their names to align with your sensitivities is racist. Is it a subtle display of racism? Yeah, maybe, but that doesn’t make it not racist. That doesn’t make the OP a terrible person, nor does it mean that she has a deep dislike of Thai people in general – but the sentiment and concept contributes to a societal institution that treats people as “other” and tries to get them to conform to the majority.

              1. NewishAnon*

                I guess I see what you are saying. I’m just thinking of it more like expecting any person with a name you find offensive to change their name. It’s wrong and rude to anyone, and yes, especially where different races are concerned if that is the issue.

              2. Theguvnah*

                Zillah thank you so much for your work on this thread. It can be exhausting and frustrating to keep explaining racism to people who seem very vested in maintaining a posture of “that’s not racist!” Despite all evidence to the contrary. Thank you.

      7. marci*


        Most people in Thailand have nicknames. Those nickname are not given to them by foreigners. They use them in social settings, but not in written form. So my Thai friend Panitat has a nickname that sounds like the word “chain.” That’s how he introduces himself. (Most people in the U.S. think it’s Shane.) But on Facebook, his diploma, his dissertation, etc., he goes by Panitat.

        1. Raptor*

          Then I’m cool with that (which is why I’ve noted the exception to people who choose to do this), because that’s how he is introducing himself…. But, the only information we have here is that the woman in question has a nickname, but that on her desk is her actual name. The name plate is a means of introducing herself to clients as that name The question is in regard to her choice to use her given name on the nameplate rather than her nickname… which leads of course it being raciest to insist she use the nickname instead because of the off chance people can’t figure it out.

          I’ve run into several stories of people who have been given names by other (ie white) people because their name was too hard to pronounce and also, most people who I run into that prefer to be called by their nickname introduce themselves in all things as that nickname. Even in work settings (and as you said, your friend uses that nickname in social settings… but what does he use in work settings? )

          The fact she wants to use her actual name on her desk, as her introduction to people walking up to her, raises some flags for me that there might be a little more to this.

      8. Kimlet*

        “It’s raciest to insist that people have nicknames because you can’t pronounce their given name”

        Yes. 100% agree.

        However, as someone who’s intimately familiar with Thailand and Thai culture, let me just say that it’s EXTREMELY common–almost universal–for people to have a long “formal” name, which they use exclusively in writing, and a nickname which is what they go by every day. Both names are usually given at birth, even. In Thailand, it would be more common for your nameplate *not* to match the name you introduce yourself with. The coworker probably didn’t think twice about it, and would likely feel odd having people regularly call her by the formal name.

    6. Anonsie*

      My partner is from China and his given name is long and contains what would be a rude word in English. He uses a more Anglo name conversationally, but in writing (for things like his work email address) he uses his legal name. His email signature and etc have both to avoid a Wakeen situation, but mostly it’s the Chinese one written and the Anglo one spoken. It throws people off from time to time but he finds it easier than when he just used the Chinese one all the time, and he’s not really keen on giving his real name up entirely.

      Similarly, I abbreviate my last name when talking because it’s really long, but not in writing. It’s easier for people to understand me on the phone that way, but I’m not dropping most of my name out of my life completely over it.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        One of my former bosses was born in Yugoslavia, and came to America when he was 16. He used the American translation of his first name. When he met new people, he would say his Slavic name, then say “My American name is Joseph”. This was actually pretty common when I was a child. There were many immigrants from Europe right after WWII who wanted to become American, and had a legal birth name and an informal American name.

    7. puddin*

      You figured out that her name is not a swear word – everyone else will too. She knows as well. Your question would imply that you think only you are aware of the ‘predicament’. I might suggest that you are in the minority by thinking that this is a predicament.

      1. MM*


        Do you really think people are going to be shocked and think she had profanity written on her name plate as some kind of joke? Any mature adult who walks by will assume it is a foreign name. End of story.

        What’s embarrassing is 1) Not being able to figure that out on sight and 2) thinking it’s ok to tell someone not to write their name down next to where you sit.

        Saying how beautiful the name is in Thai does not make this more ok to ask.

    8. Csarndt*

      I knew a guy whose last name was Gay, a guy whose last name was Fuchs (yes…pronounced *that* way) and my dad is a Dick. Seriously…get over it. NBD

  2. Seal*

    #1 – This in not uncommon in the public sector, where salary and raises are often based on seniority rather that job performance. I once inherited a 30+year staff member who made more than entry-level professionals with advanced degrees and far more complex job descriptions. Despite the resentment this caused, my hands were tied; my institution did not allow merit raises.

    #3 – I had a similar issue with a former coworker from that part of the world (not the same country, though). Fortunately her name isn’t pronounced the way it looks! No one bats an eye at her name plate or at the staff directory, although people do make a point of asking how to say her name properly. Her bigger concern is that people tend to assume her name is misspelled because it includes a vowel combination not found in the English language.

    1. MT*

      That is very common in some industries. My brother started working for a company in the early 80’s, hourly position. He hasn’t changed job titles since the early 90’s. People ask why he doesn’t get promoted, its because he makes more with overtime in a year than the most senior manager at his location, and has 3 weeks more vacation than that manager. He knows he is set until he is ready to retire.

    2. JC*

      Re #1: Yes, this is definitely true. When I started my first federal job, when I was straight out of school but had a PhD and was working a job that required technical expertise, our veteran admin earned more than me.

    3. kozinskey*

      2nd year government attorney here, and I’m quite certain my admin assistant who’s been here 20+ years makes more than me. She also works very hard and has caught a lot of near-mistakes on my end and I’m very, very glad she’s here. Sure, she’s a little slower with various computer programs than I am, but I attribute that to her meticulous personality (which makes her great at her job) and the fact that she didn’t grow up with computers.

  3. Adam*

    #1 The job market can be a funny thing in regards to pay and what positions can earn what, so really it’s best never to give much mind to what your co-workers are making compared to you unless you’re in similar roles and have reason to believe your employer is well below the going market rate for your job and skills. Admin Assistants in particular can have salary ranges all over the place based on what organization they work for, so I wouldn’t even be able to begin to guess what a fair average salary for an experienced Admin Assistant would be.

        1. nicolefromqueens*

          Frequently, All. At. Once.

          Imagine what it would be like replacing an admin who was in that position for 15 years, especially if she/he were the only admin. They REALLY need to know their company/agency. It’s not even an issue of skills, responsibility, education, supply and demand, or seniority. It’s a matter of ‘omg, it would take months to train and acclimate a new admin!’

          1. Snowball II*

            At my old job, there was an admin who was basically the only admin, and she was basically an executive assistant to the three bosses, personal assistant to the big boss, office manager, and general admin person all rolled into one (and she also coordinated the hiring process, so add a dash of HR in there, I guess). The first day I started that job, I was told she was planning on exiting the role and they were working on finding/training her replacement. A year and four potential replacements who didn’t make it through the probationary period later, I left the job and she was still there (apparently they were almost literally throwing money at her to keep her until they could find someone acceptable to take over, and she didn’t have a specific new position lined up, so she was sticking around). I know for a fact she was making more than almost any other person in the business, and she deserved every penny of it (and then some!). A skilled admin is a worth their weight in gold.

    1. Kelly O*

      I’ll add, on behalf of career admins everywhere, that it really does get old when someone starts complaining because the admin makes more than they do, particularly when there are assumptions made about what the admin does, or how effective the admin is. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean there is not tremendous value there.

      I actually had someone say “well all I ever see you do is sit at a desk with a phone at your ear.” So clearly I should be pulling in minimum wage just because you don’t see the hours spent planning meetings, on the phone arranging catering and attendees for your meeting, talking to the insurance company regarding your questions about your policy… it’s really easy to judge when you only see a slice of a person’s day. Heck, I may only see you in the kitchen, grabbing a cup of coffee or talking about last week’s Ultimate Fighting Championship, so does that mean it’s all you do?

      Sorry, hopped on the soapbox. It’s just a very personal issue for me, having been on the receiving end of comments and assumptions based on an individual’s perception.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Thank you Kelly! I am the 2nd-highest paid person on my 11-person team (I’m an EA). I make 30,000 more than our project managers (who have advanced degrees from top schools). But they are still “paying their dues” and will be making huge salaries in a few years – while I will still be doing what I’m doing now. There is no career path for an admin where you get promoted with a big salary bump, so in many cases we are paid at the same level as a lower-level manager (like AVP).
        I get paid well because I offer peace of mind. People really don’t seem to understand how much easier their work life is because of an efficient admin. No one ever has to check up on me and they know they can trust me to get my job done well with no supervision. Sure they could get someone cheaper, but my bosses have learned the hard way that you get what you pay for.

      2. Shabang*

        That Admin Assistant probably has way more power than you do. They typically have the ear of whomever they work for, and a negative attitude from this person carries some BIG WEIGHT to those higher up. I am always impressed by how much the Admin Assistant can juggle to get things sorted, and usually they can make it look effortless. Much respect – a good AA can make a so-so manager look OUTSTANDING.

      3. AdminAnon*

        To add to Kelly’s point, in my experience, the mark of a good admin is that you *don’t* realize everything that is being done by that person because it all goes so smoothly. Admin work (at least in my office) is all about making sure that no one is left in the lurch. None of my co-workers tend to notice what I do on a regular basis, but they sure do notice when I’m gone!

        1. some1*

          “the mark of a good admin is that you *don’t* realize everything that is being done by that person because it all goes so smoothly”

          Exactly this. Your paperwork is processed, you have the supplies and resources you need on hand, your outgoing mail and overnight packages have gone out, your business trip is booked, your expenses have been reimbursed, your appointments are scheduled, your files/records are kept electronically and in hard copies in an organized, easy to find system so you can find info you need.

        2. Natalie*

          Ugh, seriously.

          My office has been without a real admin for at least a year (we have no one right now, and had a series of temps before that) and we are going out of our tiny minds.

        3. LittleT*

          @AdminAnon: exactly! Whenever I take a vacation, even if it’s just a 4-day weekend, there is a mountain of things waiting for me. All because “we’d rather you handle it than give it to someone else”.

          Even if the team ignores you when you are there, they certainly notice when you’re gone for any period of time.

      4. Adam V*

        > Heck, I may only see you in the kitchen, grabbing a cup of coffee or talking about last week’s Ultimate Fighting Championship, so does that mean it’s all you do?

        Brilliant. :)

      5. Natalie*

        “well all I ever see you do is sit at a desk with a phone at your ear.”

        Buh? This could describe so many jobs of varying skill levels and pay. My boss, who definitely makes a good salary, “sits at a desk with a phone in his ear”… making deals with brokers.

      6. LittleT*

        @Kelly: I think I love you. Thank you on behalf of all admins everywhere!

        As a veteran admin (20+ years), I definitely run into this attitude as well, especially from those who have just graduated and cannot believe that I make considerably more than minimum wage, often well more than what they themselves are making.

        I’ve more than paid my dues and worked my way up to that salary, thank you very much, so please don’t begrudge me one of the things I have going for me, career-wise. Years later, those same people are likely making far more than I ever will, as the admin’s career mobility is often somewhat limited.

        When the job is being done well, people don’t realize just how much you really handle. One boss I had knew the value I provided to him and his team, after over 10 years of working together. Three years later, we keep in touch & he still asks if I would consider coming back, because he misses me & says that since I left, they’ve gone through 5 admins, all because they can’t handle the heavy workload.

      7. Mike C.*

        Another word for admin is “consigliere”. The know how everything works, they know how to get things done, they are trusted advisers, they make everything run smoothly and so on. Why wouldn’t you pay them well?

        1. Natalie*

          If I ever have an assistant, I’m definitely going to call them consigliere.

          (Assuming they are ok with that, natch)

      8. MM*

        Amen sister.

        I moved from an admin to a researcher at my company. All the researchers bitch about the admins being paid the same with fewer technical skills.

        No, they don’t need a specific technical degree, but the admin job is harder. They get more work. Mistakes are tolerated less. It’s far higher stress. More people demand your time every single day. And you learn tons and tons of skills on the job that make people hard to replace/train.

        Being an admin might not come with prestige or require a graduate degree, but the work is difficult and complex.

    2. GOG11*

      ” Admin Assistants in particular can have salary ranges all over the place based on what organization they work for, so I wouldn’t even be able to begin to guess what a fair average salary for an experienced Admin Assistant would be.”

      Several posts have suggested finding out fair market rates for your role and I’ve been trying to work out how to go about this when you’re an Admin Assistant. Most job postings don’t include salary and, even if they did, how do you even know you’re comparing apples to apples?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Lots of industry trade associations conduct annual or periodic salary surveys. National Association of Colleges and Employers publishes one for new grads. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics publishes ranges. There are also statistics on household income/cost of living by zip code so you can take national salary information and adjust it yourself based on your areas cost of living.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        You have to consider the location and industry. In my opinion, there are only a few cities where you can make very good money as an assistant – NYC, SF, DC, and oddly enough, Denver. Creative industries pay much less than finance and professional services, but the work is probably more varied and interesting in the creative fields, and you might have the ability to get promoted off the admin track. I’m not too familiar with academia salaries but I don’t think those admin jobs pay all that well. Same with the medical field.
        A good way to find out salaries beforehand is to work with a recruiter. I’ve gotten my last two jobs using a headhunter and you always know the salary before you agree to an interview. They often list their open jobs on their websites and include the salary – just check the postings online for different employment agencies and you will start to get an idea of the salaries in your area.

        1. Admin_Kathy*

          I think “very good money” depends on where you are, and is subjective. I’m in the PNW, with a non-profit, and no doubt make far less than NYC, but make enough that I was able to purchase my own home five years ago.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            By “very good money” I mean 6-figures. Of course it’s subjective. I would love to live in Oregon but when I did my salary research it was one of the lower-paid areas I’ve seen. The high-level EA jobs paid between 30-40K. I just can’t stomach making a third of my current salary.

            1. AdminAnon*

              My aunt made 6 figures as an admin in Indianapolis, and this was back in the late 80s/early 90s. Of course, she was the EA to the CEO of a global pharmaceutical company, so I’m sure that had something to do with it. I think it’s probably possible (if not likely) to make “very good money” in a lot more than the few cities you listed :)

  4. Carolum*

    #2 – Great idea as to haven a no-negativity zone. I’m getting negative stuff out of my life too.

    #3 – Unless their first name is risqué, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    1. Lightning*

      To Carolum Re: #3 – I think the issue IS that a number of Thai names are written exactly like “risqué” words in English. For example, a name you may encounter, meaning “full of blessings” is PORNPISS. It’s pronounced more like “Pawn-Pid”, but when written in the Roman alphabet, someone decided THAT is the spelling. Porn is part of many Thai names. I am not Thai but my name has been miscontrued in another country I have clients in, so I know the feeling of both sides. I waant to keep using my real name and teach people the beautiful significance of it. But it’s true, if I don’t know some people already, it can be awkward for them to say and see it.

      1. HarperC*

        Thanks for adding that insight. I do think sometimes there is an initial reaction, but I’ve never seen it be more than a passing, first reaction type of thing. It’s not a big deal after that.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        That’s a seriously unfortunate transliteration! Thanks for sharing an example. I can see why the OP would find the nameplate startling, but I agree with the consensus—it’s not the OP’s name or her business.

      3. Observer*

        I can see why the OP would have done a double take the first time s/he saw it, but being embarrassed every time someone sees it seems a bit odd and over the top.

        Now, if the person with the name felt that way, I would understand. But, if she’s ok with it, then that’s her call. And, honestly, I totally understand her POV.

      4. Beezus*

        One’s name is a part of one’s identity. Telling someone that her name is too embarassing for you is another way of saying that you think your personal comfort level (over something that doesn’t even really affect you!) is more important to you than her identity – and by extension, she – is. Telling her to change how she identifies herself to people is like saying that her identity should be less important to *everyone* than their collective presumed inability to be mature adults about it.
        To be fair, from the way OP3 talks about her coworker, I don’t think that’s actually true, it sounds like she has heartfelt affection for her coworker. I think her original confusion over how to address the issue may have stemmed from realizing that her thought process wasn’t entirely appropriate, but she wasn’t quite sure how to reconcile that.
        I work with a lot of Chinese coworkers. It’s extremely common for Chinese people doing business in/with Western companies to adopt a Western name to avoid difficulty with their given names. We got a new engineer a few years back who stuck with his given name, and my initial internal reaction was that his name was too difficult to spell and pronounce. It took me a little bit of time to give myself a little slap upside the head and remember that this was his *name*, and thinking that he should go by something more convenient for me was selfish and not very respectful.

        1. AMG*

          Yes, and I hate that we do this. As if Westerners aren’t smart enough or thoughtful enough to learn an unfamiliar name. I would rather use the ‘real’ names myself.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Re: Chinese (not other Asian cultures), the Western name is also their real name.

            It’s like me going by my middle name rather than my first name. Really messes people up, especially since my first name is common and my middle name is a mashup of my parents’ names. It’s not like one name is more real than the other — they’re both mine.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            It’s not just a western thing. I’m American with an English first name, and it turns out that my name is VERY difficult for speakers of many languages to say or hear. (Something about the phonetic structure of the name works in English but not in most languages.) When I travel or work in countries where people have trouble with my name, I use a variant of my name to make life easier for everyone involved. This has happened on multiple continents, in both wealthy countries and developing countries.

            1. Biff*

              I too, allow my teammates from other countries to use an easier-to-pronounce version of my name. It turns out like “Biss or Bit” but so long as I know I’m “Biss/Bit,” I’m good with that.

            2. Kate*

              I went by Kathy until I realized how many languages don’t have the th sound. Kate is a marginally better solution. The main non-English-speaking community I work with are Spanish speakers and I often just tell them it’s Catalina

          3. manybellsdown*

            I mentored a group of ESL students from several different Asian countries, and they’d all done this. What surprised me was that some of them had chosen nicknames that contained sounds their native language didn’t. So in trying to give us an easier name to say, they’d chosen one THEY had difficulty saying.

        2. sunny-dee*

          Re: the Chinese thing, it’s not Westerners making them do that or to avoid difficulty. It has been common (particularly in Hong Kong and Taiwan) for them to have two given names for over a hundred years. It’s not like they have their “real” Chinese name and then the name they tell white people — both names are their real names. My dad had a good friend in grad school who was Chinese, and he chose to go by his Chinese name (Coo) and his wife chose to go by her Western name (Grace), and both were simply a matter of personal preference. I work with two native Chinese ladies, and both go by their “Western” names. Actually, another lady I work with is frustrated because her preferred name is her Western name, but HR entered her Chinese name when she was hired and they can’t change it.

          Naming is a lot more fluid in some cultures than in others.

          1. fposte*

            That’s an interesting point. It’s amazing how hard it can be for us to realize that we’re looking through cultural lenses.

          2. Natalie*

            I used to rent a room from a Chinese-born woman who used 2 different Western names – one for college, and one for all other business transactions. And then her Chinese name she used in social situations. It was interesting.

          3. Lily in NYC*

            LOL, what is it with the name Grace? I know so many Chinese women who chose that as their Western name.

            1. Student*

              In China, you are only allowed to use specific names from a list of acceptable names for each gender. I have no idea if that rule applies in Hong Kong. I do know that in mainland China you are not allowed to make up new names, or name your child with a word that is not considered a name. It’s both a law and a cultural expectation.

              1. Lily in NYC*

                Oh interesting! I used to teach at a cram school in Taiwan, and had kids with unusual western names: Apple, Farmer, and David Hume (that one really tickled me). Are those really on the acceptable list? Now that I think about it Taiwan probably doesn’t have to use the list like people on the mainland.

          4. Mephyle*

            “Names they tell ‘white people’” – by ‘white people‘ do you mean English speakers?

            1. Chinook*

              “Mephyle January 6, 2015 at 1:35 pm
              “Names they tell ‘white people’” – by ‘white people‘ do you mean English speakers?”

              I suspect she means “non-Chinese” as there are whites who don’t speak English and those of Chinese descent who don’t speak a Chinese dialect. When you live in Asia, you get used to “white people” being interchangeable with foreigner.

          5. martini*

            On the other hand, I have a Chinese friend whose (foreign) English teacher “named” all of the kids in his class, because he couldn’t pronounce their Chinese names… and that’s the name he uses in business now. So, sometimes it *is* gross colonialism.

            1. Amy*

              Eh, most (local) administrations when I taught English ordered teachers to ‘name’ their kids. Your friend just likely wasn’t privy to that. I never met an ESL teacher who just decided to rename out of laziness/racism, and most were uncomfortable with the idea but couldn’t refuse. I don’t think it’s “gross colonialism” when a Chinese administration asks an English speaker to rename Chinese children- it’s far more complicated than that.

              I think it was just assumed that the kids were going to use English names in future, so having a native speaker allocate them at least meant the kids would have a gender-appropriate, real English name that was likely to fit their age as well. I was never told to appoint English names, but all my kids had to choose their own and therefore we had Robot, Fisherman and (male) Jessica.

    2. Iro*

      I respectfully disagree that it would be okay to worry about the name plate if it were risque. Even if her name were Pornphuk it’s her name and it would be racist and jingoist to try and get her to change the name just because english speakers can mispronounce. Instead the best action to take would be to use this as an oppurtunity to enlighten people on the proper pronuciation and maybe have a neat conversation on Thai phonetics.

  5. Yogurt*

    #3- This reminds me of Gaylord Focker from “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers.” Anyways, I have meet someone from Southeast Asia who has a name that has the word “Porn.” But I think all educated people will not assume that her name actually mean that. When educated people saw the name, I am sure that they will stir in the direction of pronouncing it the least offensive way as possible until she tells them the correct pronounciation or her preferred nickname. If your clients are educated people, I do not think they will find anything “weird” about your coworker’s name. If your clients are not educated people, then it is their own mistake for having a misconception about your coworker’s name. If your coworker is fine with her real name, then I think everything should be okay. Maybe she even have experience dealing with people that have misconceptions on her name.

  6. LikeOhMyGod*

    Wow, #3. You’re embarrassed by your coworker’s name? Her name? Like, the name her family gave her which, as you say, means something beautiful in Thai? Her name, #3, really?!

    You just. The place of UTTER privilege that you’re coming from, like you’re offended that she put HER OWN NAME on HER OWN name plate on HER OWN desk, and you feel this way not because of any real consequences for you–but because of the glances of visitors, of the way that you think they’re mispronouncing her name in their minds, because of that, you’re embarrassed to be in proximity of her nameplate.

    You’re embarrassed because you agree with what you think they’re thinking, #3. You think that this woman shouldn’t have put her own name on her own desk because it might possibly embarrass some english speaker who mispronounces it.

    By the way, she knows what people think her name sounds like. She knows what those lingering glances on her nameplate mean. She knows that people laugh at her name behind her back. If you’ve made any ‘subtle’ comments about her putting her real name on her nameplate, rest assured that she knows perfectly well what you meant.

    She chose to put her real, full name on her desk for a reason. That nickname you wish she’d put there instead, tell me, does she usually introduce herself by saying, ‘Hi, my name is Shi’iit, but call my Shelley’ or is that nickname something you use because it’s easier for you? Do you have any idea what it’s like to go through life with people calling you something else because they think your name is too foreign or too’difficult’ to pronouce? ‘Your name is Rubaab, but we’ll just call you Ruby. That’s easier for US to say.’ ‘Your name is Muhammad, but we’ll just call you Bob, it makes you more relatable, less like a terrorist.’

    I know I’m being rather harsh #3, but you need to learn to think about other people.

      1. LikeOhMyGod*

        I don’t really think so, actually. OP wants his/her coworker to change the name on her nameplate to a nickname because her real name makes OP uncomfortable. That is ridiculous. It calls for some rightous incredulity.

        I didn’t call the OP stupid, or racist. I don’t think the OP is. That would be uncalled for. I called him/her priveleged, and then I implied that he/she is self-centered and ignorant, and I told the OP why.

        Can you imagine a letter from the other side? ‘Hey Alison, my coworker who sits next to me has asked me to change the name on my nameplate from my full name to a nickname, because my name is a Thai name that is easily misconstrued in its English spelling as an obscene word in the English language. My name makes my coworker uncomfortable, but my name is my name. Should I change my nameplate? What do I do?’ Does my response still seem uncalled for?

        1. Sourire*

          I don’t think anyone is necessarily taking issue with the merit of your argument, but rather the tone. People write into AAM for advice, and when the commenters response rudely and/or the OP feels attacked, that may discourage others from writing in, which has a negative effect on this website and Alison’s livelihood. I really love and respect this site for the maturity and generally positive tone exhibited here, as do many of the other commenters. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing a letter writer, but there is a difference between constructive criticism and condescension.

          As for the argument of the letter coming from the other side, I do agree that the responses toward the coworker wanting the OP to change her name would be different and likely harsher, but we are not speaking to that person, nor did that person come to this site looking for help.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, absolutely. It’s great to have strong opinions and conviction, but we can express them while not making this an unpleasant place to read and interact.

            Likeohmygod, you sort of turned the volume up to 15 (out of 10) in your original comment. If people have to (figuratively) put their hands over their ears because something is so harsh, the substance of your point gets lost, and it makes it a less pleasant place to hang out.

            1. Z*

              Don’t give in to this mealy mouthed tone policing. The amount of privilege being shown in letter 3 is breathtaking and should be called out as such.


        2. CoffeeLover*

          While trying my best not to pile on the OP, I’ll agree that at least one person needed to voice some outrage. The OP is way out of line to think her view is appropriate… To think she has some genuine ground to ask this woman to change her nameplate. There’s a level of insensitivity and borderline intolerance that really irks me. For the sake of transparency, I’ll say I think a big reason I feel so strongly is because I’m a foreigner. Perhaps I’m being overly protective of the coworker as a result.

          1. Mike B.*

            I don’t think people deserve to be yelled at for inadvertently crossing a line of appropriateness in addressing a topic more delicate than they realized.

            1. CoffeeLover*

              No one ever deserves to be yelled at, but no one was yelling here. If anything it was a blunt condemnation, which I think someone does deserve when they so blatantly cross the line precisely because they do it due to lack of understanding. This will help them understand just how inappropriate their behaviour is.

            2. Vancouver Reader*

              Agreed. To me, the OP sounds like someone new to the workplace (and to me that means someone fairly young). If I were the OP, I’d be scared to ever ask for advice again. Alison gave a nice, but firm no to the idea of changing the nameplate, that should be sufficient. I think all the other responses reinforced that idea, but please, don’t beat up someone for asking a well-meaning question.

              1. MM*

                There is nothing in OP’s letter implying that she is new to the work place or young.

                I’m 24, and I find it really annoying that every time someone writes in about something ridiculous he/she did, everyone finds some meaningless “clue” that points to the OP being young. Being in your 20s doesn’t automatically make you some kind of bumbling idiot.

        3. Dan*

          Your tone really is off base, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

          The OP mentioned that passerby give off funny looks, so it’s not the OP just being juvenile or “privileged”.

          Would you feel differently if the co-worker wrote in and said, “Allison, my Thai name can easily be misconstrued to be a derogatory word in American English vernacular. I have a nickname that everybody knows me by, should I use that on my name plate so people are more comfortable?” When Alison gives out English name advice, she tells people to use the name on their resume that they will go by in the office. It’s strange to interview “Steven” and get to know “Steven” but work with “Joel.” This really isn’t terribly different.

          Yes, your response is really uncalled for. I don’t think the question from the OP is terribly out of of line, if it’s out of line at all. It’s a reasonable question, just as much as “no” is a reasonable answer. Your tone isn’t reasonable, or called for, at all.

          1. Asian Name*

            I’m Asian with a nontraditional name. As such, I did find the OP’s question to be come off as offensive, privileged and a tad racist. What the OP is essentially saying is the coworkers name is not a prepackaged Westernized name that is easy to say and look at. And is definitely not the same comparison to “Steven” and “Joel.” When the coworker was hired, the manager was aware of their name, so it’s not a surprise the coworker would want their name on the plate. The coworker is more than likely well aware of what people think of their name. But it’s their name. Plus, sometimes we project our feelings or opinions onto others and it’s possible that these side looks from customers aren’t anything to read into. Anyways, my point is you wouldn’t ask a coworker to not use the name Dick or Peter and this is no different. To be quite honest LikeOhMyGod actually captured my initial feelings as I read the question. That’s also another facet that should be explored in the workplace: cultural differences, understanding and tolerance.

            1. dot.*

              I agree with you. I also think that the people who find likeohmygod’s tone to be rude are people who have most likely have a traditional western name, and have never really experienced racism. The original question is insanely offensive and rude, more so than likeohmygod’s tone, in my opinion.

              1. illini02*

                I’m a black man and have experienced plenty of racism, and I still found the tone to be rude. They could have made the same point in a much less harsh way.

              2. MM*

                So you…

                1) are taking at face value what OP says about people staring, when the letter itself is proof that she is paranoid about how people view her
                2) don’t see anything out of line about asking someone to change their name for your own comfort

                The above attitudes are why people like likeohmygod are so pissed off.

            2. Dan*

              Yes, but the op’s coworker has a nickname that is used regularly, it’s not like the op said “find a new name that you’re not used to using.” More like “can you use the name you use with everybody.” Most people are really missing that point.

              Hell, the only time I use my full given name is on my government documents, including travel. It’s ever so slightly awkward, because it always catches me off guard when someone addresses me or calls my name out. But I roll with it, because it’s easier that way.

              I’m not saying the op is “right”, but given that the person has a commonly used nickname, not out of line. “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

              1. Dan*

                Let me clarify: not out of line for asking an advice columnist if it’s appropriate to ask someone.

              2. MK*

                I don’t think people are missing that point; they simply don’t see that as being the point. In my opinion, the point is that it’s not the OP’s place to interfere when her coworker puts her own real name in her nameplate, especially since the reason seem to be only about the OP’s feelings of embarassment about what she imagines others are thinking. Also, using a nickname doesn’t create an expectation that one will always use it; and it’s more than common to use a nickname in verbal communication, but the real, full name on nameplates, bussiness cards, etc.

                1. Asian Name*

                  I 100% agree. A nickname is just that. My nickname is “K” but I would not go by that in any professional correspondence with clients or executives. That also seemed to be the case with the coworker.

                2. fposte*

                  Another agreement here. It’s not the colleague’s responsibility to change to mitigate the OP’s embarrassment, and it’s not appropriate to ask that she do that.

                  And if visitors are ever so rude as to smirk or snicker at somebody’s name, I hope the OP will produce her best stony-faced glare in response.

                3. Judy*

                  I’ve only had my full name on my business cards at one company. That same company required the email addresses to match the legal names, so Bob who had a legal name of John Robert Smith, had an email of John.R.Smith@company. I’ve never had a nameplate with anything but the name I’m called. And most companies were flexible about the email names, at least once we were allowed more than 8 characters.

                  At my current company, my nameplate, business cards and email address all are based on the name I would like to be called.

                4. MK*

                  Judy, I am not saying one way or the other is the right way to go. Just that what the OP’s coworker chose to do is such a common thing to do that there shouldn’t be an expectation that she would use her nickname for everything.

                  I would also guess that it’s a question of how formal one’s field is in general. My experience has been the opposite to yours; I have certainly never seen a card or a nameplate that read something as informal as Bob.

                  By the way, I have to wonder whether the coworker, like you, actually put the name she wants to be called on her nameplate. It’s possible she would prefer to be called by her full name.

              3. Asian Name*

                Or the coworker could refer to them self as their full name in customer and professional correspondence and simply use the nickname in the office to make it more convenient for their coworkers. I do that as a courtesy to my coworkers. Ultimately, the point is it’s really not up to the OP if the coworker wants to use their full first name. What you may “roll” with is different than others.

                1. Also Asian*


                  It’s super common, in my experience, for people with names from their native language/language of ancestry that become nigh-unpronounceable names to American English speakers to pick a nickname specifically so other people can use it. I’ve known lots of people who introduce themselves first by their full name, and then give everyone the option of using an anglicized nickname. It’s not necessarily because they prefer it, they’re just trying to make it a little easier to get through the day.

                2. MM*

                  My roommate just gave up and picked an american name because she was so sick of people not learning how to pronounce her name. I’m not good at this stuff, and it’s honestly very easy to pronounce.

                  Just because someone introduces themselves with a nick name doesn’t mean they actually want to use it. Some people just get sick of hearing their name butchered.

            3. Kelly L.*

              I agree, and great point about Dick and Peter–there are plenty of English names that can cause puerile snickering too, but we don’t ask people to change them.

              1. Karyn*

                My former married name was pronounced “Bonn,” but people ALWAYS thought it was just hilarious to call me “Bone.”

                The first day of law school it happened – my first professor was calling names and he said mine the wrong way, which was not the issue. The issue was that adults – ADULTS IN LAW SCHOOL – thought it was appropriate to laugh at that. It astounds me how grown people can act like ten year olds looking up dirty words in the dictionary.

                1. Anon for my poor coworker*

                  I have a coworker with the last name Schartz. (Note there is no W, it is pronounced exactly like the slang word for an unfortunate bodily function.)

                  Whenever I say to my 40-50 year old professional coworkers that Joe Schartz is working on XYZ for us, I get a smirk, or someone says “Is that really his last name?”

                2. Stephanie*

                  Yeah, I have a friend with a similarly German last name that also sounds like that same body function (not mentioning it here for anonymity’s sake). He’s good natured about it, but his sister definitely took her husband’s name when she got married.

              2. Natalie*

                There was a guidance counselor in my high school who’s first and last names were both slang terms for penis. As you can imagine, us high school kids considered this to be the height of comedy.

                Until fairly recently, one of my clients had the last name Fuchs. I clearly type the swear word *a lot* because my muscle memory goes right for that “k”. I always went over everything with her name on it three times, backwards and forwards, to make sure I didn’t send anything out with the typo.

                1. Myrin*

                  The “Fuchs” thing is actually very similar to the OP’s situation – “Fuchs” is the German word for “fox” and is a very common last name here that no one would bat an eye at. I actually had to stop and think for a moment about what swear word you’re referring to (yeah, sometimes I’m slow) and I can imagine the OP’s coworker is much the same. If you’re in “native language mode” you find it at best irritating/weird and at worst offensive if someone reacts to a (to you) perfectly normal name with embarrassment.

                2. hnl123*

                  that was my maiden name :)
                  NO ONE made a big deal of it, ever. If anything, people were EXTRA careful to pronounce it correctly, most people said f000ches.

            4. HR Manager*

              Though I want to give the OP the benefit of the doubt, I’m inclined to agree that the ‘concern’ unfortunately reeks of an overly Western-centric mindset (this is the best euphemism I can think of). This is like when you watch that terrible American pair traveling abroad on the Amazing Race and say stupid things like “Why doesn’t anyone speak English here!?” in the middle of Africa. It’s her name; it’s not her problem that the OP or other people in the office can’t pronounce it properly.

              Only someone very immature would attempt to poke fun at her name, or even upon realization that it is foreign and likely not pronounced the way it’s romanized into English would take offense at it. I think OP and the people in the office just have to demonstrate that they are grown ups now. I’ve worked in very diverse offices with foreign names that are Turk, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Russian, etc. in origin. I’ve never any of our employees or clients having an issue with a foreign name.

            5. Biff*

              Actually, we do tell “Richard” that his nametag can’t say ‘Dick.’ That certainly happens. I once dealt with a guy that was “Pennis” — in some industries, he’d probably be ‘informed’ his new name was Penn. Certain industries have so much image control (I’m thinking of merger banking right now) that it’s not odd to ask someone to use their middle name or a more formal address — Jan becomes Janice. Teddy becomes Theodore.

              Another side of this — “Blackie” is a common nickname in Japan. I can absolutely understand that a company may tell someone that they could not use “Blackie” as their name in the US, especially if they were in an industry that needed to be very careful about racial sensitivity. I guess I don’t think, depending on a number of factors, that OP is necessarily out of line. I’d be very uncomfortably, personally, to see a sign that says “Pornpiss” everyday.

              1. Z*

                If you’d be uncomfortable to see someone’s given name on their own nameplate every day, you have some serious issues.

                1. Biff*

                  No, I don’t have serious issues. I understand that culture mergers are difficult and sometimes people lose battles. This is why I make a point of staying in the good ol’ USA, where my name is just a name, and I’m not required to take on a new culture.

                  We know that having stereotypically urban names like Latisha and Tyrel can hold people back in life. You better bet being “Pornpiss” will hold someone back in life, but even more than that, it will make others uncomfortable. In a client-facing role, I can understand needing to adjust “Pornpiss” to be more approachable and instill more confidence. And, I think handled appropriately, this can be done without making everyone feel bad. For example:

                  “Stephanie, you know, you sign all your emails as Stephanie, you answer the phone as Stephanie and most of our clients know you as Stephanie. Since you use “Stephanie” for work, I’d like to replace your desk name plate with the name you use here.”


                  “I know you switch between Pornpiss and Stephanie at work, I was wondering if we could stick with Stephanie for consistency sake.”

                2. Stephanie*

                  Heh, I’m thinking of the Jared character from Silicon Valley: “My name’s not even Jared! I’m only that because Gavin [a megalomaniac CEO] started calling me that!”

                3. MM*

                  People’s names can hold them back, but that doesn’t mean their bosses or coworkers get to change them at will for their own comfort.

                  “This is why I make a point of staying in the good ol’ USA, where my name is just a name, and I’m not required to take on a new culture.”

                  This is one of the most ridiculous, privileged, stupid things I’ve ever heard.

          2. MK*

            Actually, no, the OP did not mention that passerbys give off funny looks, they said “it creates an embarrassing situation for me when they glance at the nameplate”. As far as the letter tells us, this is about the OP’s feelings, not any actual reaction from an outsider.

          3. Observer*

            This is actually fundamentally different. Alison’s advice s about making sure that people connect the resume to the person. The OP’s letter is about HER personal discomfort with the name and expectation that someone else not use their name to PLEASE HER.

            If (and it’s actually not clear from the letter that this is the case) people give “funny” looks when they see the name, that’s the coworker’s problem, and it’s her choice whether to stick with it or use something that won’t cause those looks.

            I don’t see why asking someone to change the name they use to make you comfortable is any better than asking someone to lose weight, straighten their hair or bleach their skin to make people “more comfortable”.

          4. manybellsdown*

            Well. The OP THINKS that passerby are giving it funny looks, and is interpreting those looks to mean embarrassment or shock or something negative. Or maybe passerby are jut trying to read it to figure out how to say it. Or interested to encounter a name they haven’t seen before. Or thinking “Huh. That must be rough for her. I bet people make dumb jokes about that name.”

            1. Tina*

              Unless you are a moderator on this forum, you don’t get to tell people to go away. If this isn’t a conversation you can have maturely, then walk away from it.

    1. Hidden for this*

      I agree with many of your points here likeohmygod, but wish you had conveyed them in a more respectful manner. It would be lovely if we could start out the new year on AAM with a constructive and positive tone.

    2. Sarah G*

      What Dan and “Hidden for this” said. AAM is a designated attack-free zone. Whether or not you have a legitimate point, no need for this tone.

    3. dang*

      Your points would be well taken if they had been presented more respectfully. I’ll admit that I had a wtf response to the question as well, but I don’t think your level of outrage was necessary.

    4. dang*

      Sorry, I didn’t see that there were multiple responses to this. Was not intentionally piling on.

    5. LikeOhMyGod*

      I apologize, OP#3. I did not word my response in a sensative manner. I am clearly not as diplomatic as I like to think that I am, and I spoke to you in the way that I would have if one of my friends had asked for my opinion, and I think that that was a mistake. I have made mistakes along similar lines to the one you’re making currently, and I have benefited greatly from people who called me out clearly, in a way that I could not easily dismiss or deny, and that showed me the perspective of someone whose personhood I had taken for granted and ignored. But you are not me, OP#3. I could have been gentler, and I apologize.

      Take 2: OP #3. People’s names are personal, intimate things. If you take it as read that your coworker knows what people think of her name, and that she looked at her placard before she put it on display on her desk, then she knows that visitors probably mispronounce her name in their minds as they walk by. She has prepared herself for this. She knows what people will think of her name at first glance.

      She chose to display it as is, because that is her name. That is her name. Say it in you mind, OP#3. Accept it. Correct anyone who mispronounces it. Correct them matter-of-factly, with no hint of laughter or apology. Don’t join in on any jokes at her name’s expense. Let the silence stretch as they expect you to laugh. Let it get awkward. Say that [NAME] is coworker’s name, pronounced [NAME]. Say that you don’t understand what there is to laugh or make faces about, it’s just her name. It means something beautiful in Thai. Hey how about [insert subject change here].

      If you change how you think about your coworker and her name, you might not feel embarrassed by them anymore.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thanks for taking input from others so graciously — much appreciated! And I think the advice you have here in this comment is excellent.

        (By the way: There will probably be other critical comments in response to your first post from people who haven’t yet read all the way down. Assume they haven’t finished reading, and hopefully we can minimize a big derailment.)

        1. LikeOhMyGod*

          Oh, it’s a hard earned skill. I’m a veteran of sticking my foot down my throat and then trying to find a graceful way to get it back out.

          I think it’s just that what OP#3 wanted to do was so exactly, precisely Not What I Would Have Done that I forgot about how tone carries in text without facial expressions or body language. I’ll try not to do that again.

          1. EduNerd*

            I just started reading, so I’m a little late to the party, but I felt compelled to comment because I have added respect for you, Likeohmygod, for how you’ve handled this. Not only were you classy in your second response, but you also shared some really constructive advice. I wish everyone would handle feedback this way, and I know Alison thanked you, but I thought another “thanks!/great job!” Was in order.

            1. Fabulously Anonymous*

              I know we try not to pile on, but in this case, I think it’s warranted: great post!

          2. Saurs*

            Thank you for your comments. I have a slightly different take from Alison on the crux of this question, in that it wouldn’t matter whether clients or other strangers were routinely taken aback by a nameplate or not; enabling banal, mostly unintentional prejudice in the workplace does no one any good, makes no progress towards accommodating fellow humans (strips them of their dignity and identity, in fact), and only leads to confusion. This isn’t about theoretical strangers’ reactions — adults don’t need to be catered to in this situation — it’s about refraining from Otherizing completely innocent people, even with the best intentions, who are only trying to live their lives.

            I’ve noticed a persistent habit amongst Anglophones in which they selectively resist learning the correct pronunciation of other people’s names. Brad Pitt made a joke about this over the weekend, pretending that well-heeled film industry-types require a sing-along in order to learn David Oyelowo’s surname. Uzo Aduba made a brilliant point about this peculiar learned helplessness when it comes to non-Euro names, describing her mother’s reaction when a primary school teacher asked Aduba if they could address her as Zoe because her real names was too “hard.” Aduba’s mother countered that “[i]f they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” Here, here.

            1. V. Meadowsweet*

              it’s not that long ago that Anglophones were mangling Euro names that weren’t “standard” too – there’s more than one person of my parent’s generation with a perfectly lovely Scandinavian name who was told in elementary school that it was “too difficult” and had to be different for school. And the kerfuffle over “Schwarzenegger” when he started becoming known…

              basically…stick with it, correct when necessary, and practice absolute ignorance of anything but the proper pronunciation and the fact that it’s her given name.

            2. Iro*

              Frankly I find the selective resistence idea ridiculous.

              This idea drastically oversimplifies the issue. There’s no “selective choosing” it’s simply that english and eastern European languages have hundreds of years of shared phoenetic history as well as common root languages.

              Your comment above is like saying that chinese or japanese natives who learn english but struggles with names like “Laura” are selectively choosing to not learn how to prounounce “L”. It’s a ridiculous concept. These speakers have trouble pronouncing “L” because it’s not a sound heard in their native language.

              As these sounds and characters become more common, then the population will learn to pronounce them correctly. I think back to my time in Australia where they pronounce Tortilla with the “L” sound instead of the “Y”, a mistake rarely made in the U.S. because we have more exposure to Spanish.

              1. Tina*

                Honestly, I think a lot of the problems with Asian names for Western speakers is the incredibly stupid Romanization system that was put in place by linguists who weren’t thinking about how average people read. The original Japanese -> Roman alphabet transliteration in the 70s/80s was terrible. They actually revised it in the 90s and now it’s super easy to read Japanese words with the English alphabet.

                Original transliteration of a random word in my ancient textbook: Hurosiki
                Current transliteration would be: Furoshiki
                Correct Pronunciation: Fu-row-she-key

                If a name is pronounced Pawn-Pid, that tells me it shouldn’t be spelled Pornpiss with Roman letters.

                1. Iro*

                  That’s an interesting point! As we become more and more diverse as an earth we may just have to create a standardized alphabet or modern Rosetta stone!

              2. Saurs*

                These speakers have trouble pronouncing “L” because it’s not a sound heard in their native language.

                And, yet, we don’t go around excising all labials from our speech. We grin and bear it, expect others to do the same, accommodate all speakers, accommodate people with hearing and speech disorders, politely excuse / forgive / ignore errors; what is ridiculous is the expectation that someone must change their identity.

                As for the shared phonetic history of Europeans, by which you mean proto-Indo European, these diversified several thousand years before the dawn of the common era, so the notion that a modern Welsh speaker and a modern Persian speaker might encounter similar difficulties when acclimating to English is preposterous.

                1. Iro*

                  I completely agree that it is unacceptable to expect someone to change their name because it’s hard to pronounce. What I find perposterous is the idea that westerners selectively choose to find asian names hard to pronounce.

                  While these languages did diversify thousands of years earlier, they still have a common history that is not shared with asian languages because their countries have shared histories. Celtics, Welsh, German, French, and even Persians and Muslims have interacted as cultures extensively for over a thousand years. Westerners simply don’t (yet) have the shared history with Asian countries and thus still struggle with these pronounciations. There’s no active choice involved with this mis-pronuciation. It’s a matter of exposure.

                  This goes back to my Australia example. Both Australians and Americans speak Engligh (language with shared history). However the U.S. has more recent and profuse shared history with Spanish speaking nations, and thus have learned common pronuciations of the Spanish language that Australians still muss up on. When I “corrected” most Australian’s the typical response was “Well I’m still gonna’ call it a tor-till-la and fa-geet-ta because that sounds better”. Until the correct pronuciation of the words is common place, which will only occur with high exposure to spanish speakers, it will continue to be mis-pronounced and there is no active choice of the Australian people as a whole to do this.

      2. Buu*

        I like this phrasing! Also it can happen the other way around too, so a little flexibility and support of your co-worker is not only the right thing to do, but it’s good karma if the same happens to you!

        Here’s a funny article about Ikea and Bugati making international translation mix ups:

        I mean on that example imagine working for Mondelez International, putting it on your CV . business cards, your Linkedin etc all whilst applying to or working with companies with Russian employees :)

      3. LBK*

        I would agree with take #2 except I find the “it means something beautiful in Thai” part a little icky. I can’t put my finger on why, but I think it’s a combo of the fact that Asian culture has a tendency to be romanticized/fetishized by Westerners and because it undercuts your point that it’s her name and she’s entitled to use it. Even if it meant something ugly, it’s her damn name. Just use it.

        1. Iro*

          The OP states “The name has a beautiful meaning in Thai, but unfortunately that does not get portrayed when written in English.” so LikeOhMyGod is not festishizing her cultrure or name.

            1. Iro*

              Regardless, LikeOhMyGod can only extrapolate from the OPs letter which we have to take a face value.

      4. cuppa*

        “If you change how you think about your coworker and her name, you might not feel embarrassed by them anymore.”
        So spot on and excellent.

      5. Lady Sybil*

        likeohmygod:I think you gave the harshest criticism, followed by the humblest apology and then the most useful advice all in one comments section. That was the full meal deal today for sure.

    6. Alex*

      I agree that the people that are upset about LikeOhMyGod’s tone are probably those with more traditional, Westernized names who likely have no had a lot of experience with racism…

      Living in Asia, I have seen some very non-traditional Western names. Often times, people do actively change their given names to more Westernized names (especially in the case of Chinese- I very, very rarely run across a Chinese national who goes by their given Chinese name). The reason they do this is to be more accepted.
      It is a bit sad, to be honest, and evidence of the subtle racism that is taking over as Globalization/Westernization take over. I think the fact that she is keeping her name is amazing- and I bet it probably caused her a lot of stress when she decided to go forward with keeping it. I might even suggest that she did it purposefully- as a sort of opportunity to educate. I have done that before, living abroad- used situations to educate.

      My name has an unusual sound in it for the country I live in, so it is naturally changed upon pronunciation to the language. However, no one has ever asked me to change my name to make it easier to say for them. If they ever did, especially in the sort of tone that #3 has (and I am sorry, but the author sounds incredibly ignorant and very much privileged ), I would be offended.

      I think that is key- the tone #3 has is just so self-centered and completely unaware.

      1. fposte*

        Or the people unhappy about LikeOhMyGod’s original tone know what it’s like to make yourself vulnerable by writing into a blog and get smacked for it, or they know what it’s like to host people in their home who snap at at the host’s other guests, or they’ve learned that loudly “calling out” people isn’t an effective way of changing minds.

        I don’t buy the idea that resistance to a recriminatory tone can only come from ignorance; it can also come from knowledge.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I do think, however, that the “tone argument” can be used to derail, and I don’t think a point is invalidated just because it touches a nerve and someone’s emotions show through.

          1. fposte*

            I think in general that’s true (and I’m aware that this discussion is tangential), but I also think this is Alison’s blog and she’s asked us to prioritize civility.

      2. Anonymous1973*

        “I agree that the people that are upset about LikeOhMyGod’s tone are probably those with more traditional, Westernized names who likely have no had a lot of experience with racism…”

        And yet I do not have a traditional name and have much experience with being ridiculed and disagree with the original tone. Honestly, I’m sick and disgusted of hearing the word “privilege” thrown around whenever someone disagrees with someone else. How does sneering “your privilege is showing” or “you can never understand as you come from a place of privilege” solve anything? It’s a put down. And it makes massive assumptions about the other person.

        Even the assumption that obviously anyone who is upset by LikeOhMyGod’s tone is XYZ is a put down. How can we ever get along when we constantly try to put each other down?

        1. Alex*

          Where did I sneer at people? I think I made a fair comment, interspersed with my perspective of this issue and personal experiences. And I certainly never said “you can never understand as you come from a place of privilege.” In fact, I explained my perspective to show a different view point. I am a white American, so in fact, I would argue that I very much come from a place of privilege relative to the world. Living abroad has both taught me this, and has required me to learn to be more aware of it so that I can counteract it, as I was trying to do here. And asking someone to change their name because it embarrasses me, or makes me uncomfortable, would be invoking that privilege- especially because in our Westernized world, I imagine they would likely feel they needed to bow to that request.

          I explained my perspective, which I think *is” validated by the tone of the OP. They state that the name embarrasses THEM. The OP asks if there is any way to ask the person to change their name so that THEY are less embarrassed.

          Isn’t requesting someone change their name so that it does not embarrass you a definition of requesting a specific privilege?

          I understand that there may be connotations with the term “privilege” but the reality is that privilege or the lack of it is the reality of everyone’s lives.
          What if this were someone writing in and saying, my coworkers name is Osama, and it makes me embarrassed and people look at it funny, so I want them to change their name?
          Or if someone wrote in saying that the coworker had a typical African-American name, and it seemed to embarrass clients, so they wanted them to change it?
          I imagine that the comments might be a bit different- and the only thing that would change is because in those cases, the privilege is perhaps a bit more obvious and shocking.
          The tone of #3 is concerning to me. LikeOhMyGod also could probably have had a better tone, but I absolutely understand the gut reaction.

          1. fposte*

            My disagreement was you set it up as a binary–either you had to be fine with a highly intemperate response or you had to be ignorant about racism. And there’s no reason to think that’s true, and a lot of reasons to think it isn’t.

            1. jag*

              Privilege also isn’t binary. I really didn’t like the phrase “UTTER privilege” in LikeOhMyGod’s post, even though I agreed with the overall message.

              The concept of privilege is very very usual, even if it’s sometimes used in an insulting way. I’ve very privileged in some ways and very underprivileged in others, and it’s really useful for me in improving my behavior.

        2. Respectful Dissent*

          I am simply commenting because some very influential voices on this advice column did not approve of Likeohmygod’s tone. I concur with the outrage that Likeohmygod expressed and feel like it’s not welcomed here particularly because of the reprimand by the influential voice. The outrage over demeaning another human being is warranted and if you are not ready to embrace that in your space, then you will be left out of a progressive conversation. It’s a joke to think that the individual standing up for human decency is reprimanded.

          1. TempAnon*

            AAM isn’t a space for progressive conversation, unless sexism is involved (see the comments on the post about the truck sticker guy, for example). In all other instances, it is purely pragmatic.

            1. Zillah*

              I’m not quite sure that’s true. Yes, we tend to be pragmatic here, but I don’t think that that’s diametrically opposed to being progressive.

            2. Respectful Dissent*

              @ Temp Anon I agree that I have seem progressive advice as it relates to sexism. Nonetheless, I do think the responses to OP#3 about why she should not be embarrassed by her coworkers name relate to a larger conversation in our country about privilege.

              @Fabulously Anonymous “I do not believe that furthers the conversation and it may, in fact, alienate it.” You are in fact correct that when someone’s tone isn’t ideal for addresses generations of systemic oppression that they are often alienated. I just finished reading “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin and was utterly amazed by how relevant his analysis is today. I encourage you to read it.

          2. fposte*

            You’re failing to note that many people made the same point and did not receive pushback, because they made it civilly.

            You’re failing to note that the “influential voice” is the owner and host of this space.

            You’re failing to note that if progressive conversation limits itself only to people who already embrace it, what you have isn’t progress but an echo chamber, so the threat of withdrawing only threatens to hurt the goals you embrace.

          3. Fabulously Anonymous*

            And I disagree that the way to engage in conversation is by insulting others, even if you personally believe those insults are justified. Let me be clear: I am NOT saying the co-worker should change her name. Rather, I’m focusing on the tone and how some commenters, although I agree with their opinions, are expressing themselves in a disrespectful way. I do not believe that furthers the conversation and it may, in fact, alienate it.

        3. Z*

          If you are often getting people ‘sneering’ about your privilege, have you considered that your privilege might be the problem?

        4. Biff*

          I think it’s odd when people assume privileged on the internet. I feel like in some cases this is a valid argument, but we have NO IDEA who the other person is on the internet. I could be a disabled, black, female veteran (I’m not.) You could be rich, white, tall, handsome and smart. Or we could both be something else entirely. How can I possibly know what privileges you do or do not have?

            1. Biff*

              Yes, that’s the point — on the internet we know even less about each other’s privileges or advantages than we do when we meet in real life.

      3. LBK*

        I think the fact that she is keeping her name is amazing- and I bet it probably caused her a lot of stress when she decided to go forward with keeping it. I might even suggest that she did it purposefully- as a sort of opportunity to educate. I have done that before, living abroad- used situations to educate.

        Or maybe it’s just her name and she wanted to use it. Not everything is a statement or needs to be a call out. The infantilizing of minorities and celebration of every them doing normal things like asked to be called by their own damn name is just as grating to me as the subtle racism of stuff like the OP’s original post.

        1. LBK*

          Ugh, need coffee – sorry for the messiness of the grammar here. Apparently I’m bad at deleting all of a word after I decide to use a different one.

        2. Former Diet Coke Addict*

          Good grief, yes. It’s her name. She may just want to use it because It’s Her Name. Not because of a burning desire to educate. It may be–but it may also not be. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

        3. Xay*

          Or maybe it’s just her name and she wanted to use it.

          This, so much. I have a traditional South African first name. Most Americans can’t pronounce it at first glance. Growing up teachers would just decide to call me by one of my English middle names instead of my first name. It is fairly common for people to ask me if I have a nickname or middle name they can use instead. And yet, I go by my first name and ask people to use that name because IT IS MY NAME. It is the name my mother gave me and it has meaning to me.

        4. Judy*

          It would almost seem like a time for the OP to ask a slightly different question than what was posed above.

          “I’ve noticed you put X as your name on your nameplate, is that what you would like us to call you rather than Y?”

          I try to call people what they would like to be called. Someone from around here (midwest US) named Mark has a different vocalization than one of my college friends from Boston named Mark. I had a friend named Gunter, and was amazed how many people called him Gunner.

          I also had a co-worker who decided I needed to be called Judith. The name she preferred for herself was Jennifer. Whenever she called me Judith, I called her Jenny. She started calling me Judy within a week or two.

          1. MM*

            My best friend did that to me when we first met. (She is Jenny… NOT Jennifer. Jenny is on her birth certificate). We still affectionately yell our incorrect names at one another sometimes.

    7. Xay*

      Thanks for saying what I was thinking, LikeOhMyGod. I just hope that the tone policing doesn’t obscure your message.

  7. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 I was in a similar situation my coworker was paid a lot more than me for an identical role, there was a lot they did well and objectively I could understand some of the difference in salary, but it still upset me. I did two things:

    Built a case to show my boss why I was underpaid, focusing on market rate and my successes over the year.

    Put my CV together and started applying for jobs that had a similar skill set but a higher salary, I felt underpaid and wanted to prove that to myself if nothing else.

    I had a very positive reaction to my CV and had a few interviews and eventually a job offer.

    Do some research and see what current opportunities there are in you field have a discussion with yor boss, but make it about you, not anyone else.

    I’ll post a link to an article that Alison wrote about this subject below, it helped my get some perspective on the situation I was in.

      1. Graciosa*

        Alison, I’d like to put in a plug for a follow up on Denise in this thread. I can’t help wondering if she was successful in either getting her raise or finding another job.

        I am definitely on the side of ignoring the admin’s salary in this case, however – it’s just not relevant.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I don’t know, I think #1 is different because they don’t have identical roles. I can understand why you were upset, but #1 has no cause for complaint.

  8. Stephanie*

    #1 – Yeah, while I wouldn’t say being an admin requires mastery of string theory, being a good admin is harder than it looks. It requires being good at multitasking, dealing with competing (and changing) priorities, dealing with lots of people, ensuring all the little operational things run smoothly, among other things. Especially if the admin’s supporting a really busy person or department (or has lots of experience doing that), I could see how those skills might be at a premium. Going to a higher-up to complain would look pretty petty.

    #3 – Yeah, don’t worry about it. I think most reasonable people will see your coworker and her name and figure that it’s a traditional Thai name (and not that she had really immature parents).

    Doesn’t sound like its the case here, but I know sometimes emails/nameplates end up getting legal names by default or policy. My friend has a pretty awkward work email between going by her middle name and having a hyphenated last name.

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      #1 I totally agree. At my last job, I accidentally opened the admin’s pay stub. We had similar first names and our mailboxes were adjacent, and I didn’t look closely. The pay was the same, but the PTO was totally wrong, so I checked the name- oops. For a little while I was a bit upset that we were making the same salary, even though I had a graduate degree and was working in a very specialised position. Then I thought about how she was the best admin person I’d ever worked with (always organised, helpful, on the ball, nice person, diplomatic, etc. etc.) and then I got over it. She moved on eventually, and I got promoted. I always kind of wondered if the new admin (who was terrible) made that same salary, but I tried not to put too much thought into that.

  9. Dan*


    You know, I’m actually going to show the OP for this one a bit more empathy than s/he has received here so far. I’m not sure if I “agree” with him/here, but I certainly understand the OP’s position. A lot of Thai names are much like Chinese — they use the English alphabet to play nice, but they don’t use the alphabet in ways in which westerns are accustomed to. And that creates awkwardness. With the Chinese, it’s just names that are extraordinarily hard for us to pronounce if we don’t know the background (Q’s and X’s in particular don’t use the Western pronunciation).

    With the Thais, they have names that Westerners can think of as funny, if not awkward. For instance, the very juvenile part of me thought the seaside beach town of “Phuket” had the funniest name I had ever heard. (The “Phu” is pronounced more like “poo”, not the “fu” westerners would expect from a derogatory word.) Having been to the country three times, that novelty has certainly worn off.

    All I’m saying is that I get where the OP is coming from, particularly if s/he is noticing sideways glances from customers.

    1. Sourire*

      You make some excellent points and I hope I didn’t come off as too harsh on the OP in my response. The thing is, this is such a slippery slope. There are plenty of names that might get the side-eye treatment, and I’d argue most of them are not actually foreign (to the US) names. It gets very messy to try to determine just what names might be too embarrassing or unusual and brings up some very weighty issues of prejudice be it of the ethnocentric kind, socioeconomic, etc. I am not at all trying to say the OP is prejudiced, just that the issue itself can very easily become very messy.

      At any rate, is it even the end of the world if someone does internally laugh or give a side eye? I tangentially work with a Richard “Dick” Head and yes, the immature bit in all of us gets a bit of a chuckle out of it at first and then we all go about our lives as normal professionals.

      1. jag*

        I worked in Asia with an American guy named Doug and when most people said it it sounded like Dog. Good times.

        1. Alex*

          My name is long and difficult to pronounce where I live, so it makes for fun times.
          And the way my nicknamed is pronounced sounds like “Grandfather” which is funny because I am a young female.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Every American named “Randy” who works in London knows allll about this, I’m sure. Poor Randy.

        1. fposte*

          I was thinking about Randy; I was toying with placing him in a hypothetical situation where I was the manager in a British funeral home and he was customer-facing and then thinking whether I’d discuss the name issue with him.

          It sounds too much like an ITV comedy to go any further, though.

        2. The IT Manager*

          Are British men not called Randy?

          FYI: Long time ago a co-worker never could get into calling our supervisor “Dick” as he requested because it was “Dick” (!). She was American, but just was bothered by it and never could understand why he or his parents picked that variation for his nickname. We had another Richard going by “Rich” in the office.

          Last year I worked with two “Rich”-es and we decided (there was a some kind of dicussion) to go with Rich and Rich X or just X to differentiate.

            1. LBK*

              “Randy Giles? Why not just call me Horny Giles? Or Desperate-For-A-Shag Giles? I knew there was a reason I hated you.”

            2. The IT Manager*

              So do they not shorten Randall and Randolph to “Randy” or do they just not name their boys Randall and Randolph at all because not providing a nickname for those names seems pretentious. Not that they’re that common I think.

              *Randy – a masculine name was originally derived from the names Randall, Randolf, Randolph, Bertrand and also Andrew.

              1. UKAnon*

                If I’ve understood what you’re asking (forgive me if not):

                Randy is out of place in the UK as it is a term which is used to refer to a person who wants sex. We’re aware it is also a name, but it’s unlikely to be a name in the UK, and isn’t nearly as prevalent, because of its common usage.

              2. UK HR Bod*

                Names that would shorten to Randy are really uncommon in England. I’ve never heard of a Randall, and the only Randolph I can think of is Churchill’s father. Bertrand would be seen as pretty old-fashioned here (again, the last one I can think of is Russell), and would be Bert as a nickname in any case.

          1. Jennifer*

            I think I’d be with your coworker on that one. Even if he wants to be Dick, if he was someone I liked at all, I’d find it very hard to call him that to his face.

            I can call Dick Casablancas or Andy Dick by that name because, well….you know.

          2. Hlyssande*

            My (American) dad has always been called Dick by his mother as his full name is Richard. I think his brother does it too. It’s not unusual in America, just a bit old fashioned.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, good point–I should have thought of that. (Though I guess there must be lots of giggling in British literature and history lessons, since plenty of women used to be called Fanny in the UK as well.)

            1. A Cita*

              Yes, my great something aunt was Frances Burney (an author in England) and she went by Fannie.

              1. fposte*

                You’re a relation of Fanny Burney?!! You have the coolest backstories ever. She had quite the life (though I could do without the mastectomy without anesthesia).

          2. Headachey*

            I have a friend whose grandmother named her dog Ophelia Fanny so she’d laugh every time she called her.

          1. Kelly L.*

            We do know it means horny, but it’s common enough as a name that I think most of us hear it more often as “guy’s name” rather than its other meaning. In the UK it’s the opposite.

            1. Anonsie*

              That’s the ticket, I think. A few people have pointed that out– a lot of names have dirty double meanings, but the ones we hear a lot we just ignore.

      3. Pennalynn Lott*

        When I worked as an admin for an IT agency, we had a contractor named Harry Weiner. He pronounced it “wee-ner”, not “wy-ner”. I giggled, mentally, the first time I saw his name, but then moved on. And I certainly never asked him if he preferred to go by Harold or Hank. We got lots of contract jobs for him, without having to be “embarrassed” for him on his behalf when presenting his resume to potential clients.

    2. nep*

      Perhaps the OP’s name sounds like something ridiculous in some other language.
      Anyway, you said it — ‘the very juvenile part of me’…We hardly want to be governed by that part of us.
      If anyone’s having any sort of negative reaction to what’s on the nameplate, that’s that person’s problem and immaturity. Period.

    3. Short and Stout*

      When I first read the OP’s letter, some variation of Phuket or F-U is what immediately came to mind (though I thought surely most adults who pay attention to news have at least some passing knowledge of Phuket?). Then others mentioned that Porn and more are common to Thai names.

    4. Helena*

      As has been pointed out above, the OP didn’t mention anything about sideways glances. The OP is assuming people are internally raising their eyebrows, but there’s no evidence that has actually been happening, so that’s all in her or his head.

    5. Observer*

      So, I’ll repeat the question I asked you up-thread, in a different format.

      Your coworker has a very noticeable mole at the tip of her nose. Lots of people give a double take when they first see her. The mole is removable.

      Your coworker is good a what he does, but he’s seriously obese. You get uncomfortable looking at him.

      One of your team mates has dark skin and dark, curly frizzy hair. It creates discomfort for you when you go into meeting with totally “white bread” (blond, blue eyed and straight haired) teams and they see her.

      Do you think that it’s even remotely appropriate to ask any of these people to “change” these things to ease your discomfort? What makes this any different. This is her name

      And, yes the obese guy should lose weight. But, he knows that AND it’s not about you.

    6. NutellaNutterson*

      It seems that due to the OP’s mindset, there’s not going to be a way to approach this from a position of goodwill. I think that the one reason for a change would be *for the benefit of the co-worker* i.e. if the person was genuinely experiencing difficulty with people approaching her at her desk and not knowing who she was because the name on the sign was different from her nickname and email address.

  10. Sandy*

    I’ve mentioned before that I work for an organization overseas, and that each of our offices has a combination of local staff and staff from North America.

    Our North American staff earn salaries based on what they would earn in North America, while our local staff earn salaries based on the local wage. Depending on which area you’re in, this can mean some really weird disparities.

    For instance, in the area of the Middle East I’m working in right now, it’s very hard to get people who speak the local language plus English at a high enough level *and* can meet the security requirements. And so we have to pay accordingly. I would estimate that probably half the staff in my office have a salary than I do, including my own assistant.

    We have offices in some Scandinavian countries, and in a few of those cases, the local janitors actually earn more than the North American program staff.

    Of course, it goes the other way in countries with a low cost of living and an abundant supply of English-speaking (potential) workers.

  11. Dan*


    Labor markets are a very weird and TBH fascinating thing. My boss can’t do my job. She’s told me. But given that she outranks me by two levels on the org chart, I hope she makes more than me. But should she get paid more than because she can’t do the stuff she needs me to do? (That’s a rhetorical question. I don’t think the answer is “duh” but it’s certainly an apples-to-oranges comparison. Different skillset, different job function, different responsibilities.)

    I have a highly technical job, and for the most part, the only thing I do with Excel is open CSV files, filter them, and sort them. Occasionally, I even need to make a chart! Yet, if I ever need to do something complicated, I probably am going to start with my admin person and ask who she knows. I wonder if she’ll wonder why we get paid as much as we do if can’t even use a tool like Excel that “everybody” knows.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      I wouldn’t worry about her thinking that. At my first internship, I helped the Director of Finance format tables, paste pictures, and a multitude of similar tasks. I didn’t jump to thinking, “how can this guy possibly be a director and not know how to use Word.” People need to use different tools depending on what they do. Plus, I think us millennials have a big leg up when it comes to technology in general. Op #1, definitely don’t use her lack of Excel knowledge as a reason she should earn less than you. I’ve had to help many, many high ranked colleagues do (to me) simple things on Excel/Word/Office/etc. I understand they probably bring great value in their role in other ways.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I agree, I write a lot of code and my boss tried to write bits now and then, but they so out of practice nothing can go live without a substantial rewrite, my one of the team, it got to the point where we collectively said don’t bother writing code give us a spec and well write it.

        My boss adds value to the firm in a million different ways but writing code isn’t one of them.

        1. Dan*

          I know that. I was trying to illustrate the point that there are plenty of people that don’t know things that one does and get paid more.

    2. Revanche*

      And interestingly I have known of Directors who made less than their direct reports partly because they were hired first and then to recruit the report that they needed, they had to offer that hire more. I thought it was weird but it was the reality at that time and place.

  12. dang*

    #1… I have an advanced degree, have had professional jobs, and I’m currently an admin. Believe me… It’s more work and less recognition than you think.

    So…I don’t know. I would not necessarily feel slighted by this, particularly when requirements and backgrounds for these roles are all over the map.

  13. StuckInTheHotel*

    #1 … I am totally bummed for you. But I did want to share that I previously worked at a small law firm (3 attorneys and 3 support staff) and our employer paid everyone an hourly rate (no salaried positions at all). I made a whole $5.00 more per hour than the lowest staff attorney on the totem pole. I was the AA for the boss and this young man was fresh out of law school. He had multiple degrees (and a lot of student debt) but was barely making a living wage … in fact, at the time, he was only making 75 cents more than the minimum wage in the state. And he was an attorney! He also couldn’t get hired anywhere and only got this job because his father was friends with the boss. (To add insult to injury, he had to share an office with one of the support staff). But at the time, I also had 19 years of experience working in law firms, both large and small, so I was paid more. I know that a $5.00 (per hour) difference in salary is a bit different than a $15,000 (yearly) difference in salary, but I did want to share that things like this do happen. I totally get that it seems unfair and again I’m bummed for you, but yes, 19 years of experience versus fresh out of school (even if it was law school) simply meant I was paid more in this particular job. I agree with AAM’s advice.

    1. Elysian*

      Yes, I was going to note something similar. I know of paralegals who have been around for a long time that make more than entry-level attorneys. I can understand a new attorney feeling weird about this (especially because many new attorneys come from other careers, so aren’t really ‘fresh out of school’ in the new-to-the-workforce sense). This can be especially weird if the culture of your workplace is that you, the lower paid employee, give the admin staff gifts at the holidays (why am I giving a gift out of my own pocket to a coworker who makes more than me?). So I can totally understand the OP’s feelings. Especially if extra schooling is involved for the OP’s role, and is not required for the admin’s role, this can seem unfair if the OP has loans to pay off.

      But OP, you just can’t compare your different positions. AAM’s advice is spot on – look at the market for other positions similar to yours. If you’re being underpaid compared to other similar positions, use that as your comparison point.

      1. some1*

        If attorneys (or anyone else) “feels weird about” an admin or a paralegal making more than them, they can look for one of those positions and get that salary. Their loans aren’t anyone else’s problem. It would be like saying someone who had a full scholarship or paid for school should get a lower salary.

        I think Alison’s point applies to the attorneys in your example: they accepted that salary when they were hired; what the admins and paralegals were making was irrelevant.

        1. Elysian*

          As I said, I agree with AAM’s advice. I am just sympathetic to the OP’s feelings of unfairness. I can imagine a person saying, “Hey, why did I specialize in something/get extra school/whatever when I could have forgone that and made more money than I’m making now?” The advice doesn’t change, but its not an unreasonable human emotion to feel that the world is a little unfair. If you put in the extra work/investment or whatever, you want that to pay off for you. I get that feeling.

  14. nep*

    #3 — Seems OP needs to broaden his/her horizons a bit…embrace diversity and the loveliness of a name from a different culture/language.

  15. Noah Sturdevants*

    I live in Thailand and there are some names that might seem strange, such as Poo Porn, but the fact is that your name is your name (although many people in Thailand change their names on a whim, or for good luck). So, if the person is happy with what they are called that is all that matters.

    1. Helen*

      Yes, I have just recently met a Rapeporn. Not sure whether she is aware of the unfortunate translation – but it is her name. And pronounced differently!

      1. Natalie*

        Genuine musing – I wonder if Thai people find they get spam-filtered a lot. A bunch of the phonemes people have mentioned here seem like they’d be blacklisted pretty frequently.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, I was trying to do a google search for the Thai meaning for “p*rn” because I thought it meant “lucky” but I kept getting caught saying “google safe search is on” and I couldn’t remember how to turn it off on my phone (and don’t want to because my son uses my phone and sometimes his spelling causes questionable search terms).

          But apparently “p*rn” in Thai means “blessed” and is a lucky combination of letters in numerology, so it is a very common part of names and nicknames in Thai. I have friends who taught English in a Thai school, and they said 50% or more of their students at the school had the word “p*rn” in their names or nickname, sometimes with other unfortunate English words mixed together as well.

  16. Cheesecake*

    And though a lot of valid points were addressed above, here is another one. Admin position does not have a career path. I know, i know, we had discussions about moving from admin to professional to CEO, but let’s face reality where this rarely happens. There is one payband for admin, there are no junior/senior/manager/director levels. The room to grow is very very limited and thus you have to motivate via decent pay.

    I am a professional, our admins make similar to me, some make more. But that does not bother me slightest. Because a) work-wise, this is a demanding job that i would totally suck at b) money-wise, as said above, i do have a career path and will eventually earn more

    Anyway, your story is a perfect example why discussing salary with colleagues is a bad idea (and is sometimes prohibited). You need to understand what YOU want. Do you like your job? Does it worth it? Or money is the only thing that counts? It is about YOU, not about anyone else. Especially in this case. There is a reason for everything; just because a person doesn’t know excel doesn’t mean there is a huge unfair thing going on with salary difference.

    1. Elysian*

      Your point about earning potential is a really good one. Definitely something else for the OP to consider.

    2. Judy*

      Is it truly only about YOU though? What if you find out in a group of 10 engineers, the white female and the black male make less than the new hires? I’m not sure in this case it matters because they are different job categories, but equal pay is something that really does need to be discussed.

      1. Cheesecake*

        Ok, this is a bit of a different thing, still, building case for one’s payrise around someone else’s salary is a slippery slope, not to mention an inefficient one. Once you question co-workers salary there will be 100 legit arguments (also created on the spot, but how can you as an employee judge that) why a white female makes less. Alison has mentioned an important point “you have negotiated and accepted your salary in first place”. That is why it is about YOU.

  17. SJP*

    Alison, for the answer you wrote to OP1 I could totally kiss you!
    Soooooo many people massively under estimate AA/PA’s and other Admins… I swear they just think we push paper around, photo copy stuff and thats it…
    But often Admins and Assistants are the right hand of a lot of very clever, important people who rely on them to do things quick and efficiently for them, and that can be so broad i’m not gonna try and give examples..
    So OP1 – Yes she gets paid for than you and your job is ‘specialist’ but being an admin but i’ve seen other assistants and admins either go off longer term sick or leave and bosses etc actually crumble because they cannot function without that help for them..
    Someone said above that they’re bummed for you, but sorry but i’m not bummed for you because they may not have a degree or whatever but often experience in years out ranks specialist jobs, so appreciate AA’s and Admins because they’ll be a time you’ll need us to get you out of a tight spot or help you and then you’ll rethink just how important admins are in companies…

    1. Sourire*

      We have an appointed commissioner at my public sector job, and his AA has been there since long before the current commissioner began his term and will be there long after. We all know *she* is the one who really runs things and her importance to our department is nearly immeasurable. Could she do my job, no, but would I fully support her making more than me if this were a private sector job where salary discretion was allowed, absolutely.

    2. Foxtrot*

      Even if you do have to spend a day on nothing but photocopying and paper pushing (because we probably all have those days), there’s a lot of value in knowing that Joe needs color copies, Brian prefers loose paper but Mary needs staples. And don’t forget how cluttered Susan is, she needs those copies 5 minutes before the meeting or they’ll get lost on her desk. Really good support staff makes the office run even when doing the “lesser” job duties, and I don’t know if people appreciate that enough.

      1. some1*

        Yup, and these kind of details aren’t in the manual and employee handbook, and some coworkers you support will give you detailed instructions on what they want, others will not anticipate how they want something until you did it a way they don’t like. (“Oh, I actually wanted these handouts in booklet form.”)

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        +1000. I have noted many times that the 5 months I was an admin were the worst 6 months of my working life.

        Being a good admin requires a major skill that I lacked: getting details to someone else’s specifications instead of your own. Even if — especially if — those specifications fly in the face of what you would do or prefer, or what makes sense to you. I SUCK at that.

        Also, my office has a whole copy center and they can’t get the copies right!

  18. Carrie in Scotland*

    I can’t comment about the disparity in pay but I can comment on the admin’s skills. I left my last job to come to my current one and, like the admin in your letter, I had no idea about Excel (other than very basic things) or mail merges because I’d never had to do them before. Or Microsoft Access. I have gone on training course (and still am going on them 6 months later) and have google-d various questions – such as ‘how to do a mail merge in word 2010?’. And yet – I was offered my job. They chose me out of 70-odd candidates to offer me an interview and then offer me the job out those interviewed.

    I don’t have any advice as such but I just thought I’d share my experience. If your company does offer training course, perhaps you should suggest to your admin to go on them or team her up with another admin who can show her Excel/mail merge etc.

  19. fishy*

    #1: I could have written this letter a couple of years ago. At the time I was new to the workforce and absolutely underappreciated the role of admin work. I also didn’t think about the fact that our admin has been there a long time and had a lot of institutional knowledge. One thing that did help was that I realized that, over the life of my career, I have a higher total earning potential.

  20. Purr purr purr*

    OP#2: Having been in this situation myself, which didn’t end well, I’d be more inclined to report that sort of behaviour. It’s not good for morale or positive professional relationships between colleagues. I say that because I worked with someone very similar. She was a gossip but also a pathological liar and thought nothing of spreading very destructive rumours. I upset her one day – the same way that you’re trying to avoid – and after that I was her favourite target. She was truly relentless, even going so far as to tell my boss I had given a client a lap dance! (Needless to say, not true). Of course, it was my word against hers but had I reported her earlier on when she became an issue, I’m sure it would have swung in my favour by showing it was a repeated pattern of gossip and lies. I ended up leaving that job, which I loved, mostly because working with her became so unbearable. I can guarantee that if you’re having issues with this person, your colleagues are as well, and I’m sure higher levels of management would love to know about it.

    1. Purr purr purr*

      I should also add that up to the huge lap dance lies, she’d also spread smaller rumours that would have been quite believeable as well as spreading some truths (making it hard for colleagues to separate the truth from fiction). I lost a lot of friends as a result.

      1. Ezri*

        I just don’t get people. I remember that the pathological liar / rumor-spreading combo was pretty common in middle school…. But how does an adult go around thinking that behavior is okay?

        1. AMG*

          And how does it end up working in their favor? Wouldn’t most reasonable people look at the rumor-spreader as the crazy, off-base person? You would think that’s the case in most places, but after reading this blog, dysfunctional behavior clearly happens somewhat frequently and goes unchecked.

          1. fposte*

            I suspect it’s self-rewarding at this point–they feel like they’re important because they have something that other people don’t, and it’s making those other people listen to them. It’s kind of like spreading urban legends or scarelore news stories.

            1. Purr purr purr*

              I think it’s exactly that. She took great delight in telling me that my boyfriend was bad-mouthing me during a work trip they took together. The thing is, the work trip he supposedly took with her was actually when he was in Chile on a training course and she was at another work site. She loved having ‘info’ no-one else had.

    2. OP #2*

      Thank you for your responses @alison, and @Purr purr purr. The situation that you were in (Purr purr purr) sounds a lot like the situation that I am in, except for the lap dance part—as far as I know! That is absolutely insane, but truthfully I wouldn’t put something like that past this woman either…I do truly worry what she says about me to colleagues and the new boss.

      It started with my promotion I think; sometime around then she started targeting me. She stopped communicating important information that I needed to do my job, bottlenecked projects and constantly commented on how long things would take me (because she would hold them up)—among other nasty digs, and has made my job 100 times more difficult. I did go to the boss after trying to resolve the situation with her in many different ways, including going to the woman directly and having a heart-to-heart. The boss knew of her ways, but didn’t want to cross her either…I keep wondering why she bent to her will so easily. My boss didn’t do anything—she was absentee and checked-out. I formally received more of this woman’s responsibilities, always picking up the slack, and never even got the promotion raise I was promised. Then, my boss sold the company.

      So, now I’m working under a new boss that is not in the office to see what’s going on. Basically, the new boss gets filled-in by this woman most of the time, and once in a while by the rest of us in occasional meetings. This woman arrives late, leaves multiple times a day, leaves early sometimes, and I don’t even know what she does, aside from having a lot of personal calls every day. Yet, she nit-picks everyone and complains that they aren’t doing their jobs—but they are!

      To get to the point, when the new boss got brought in, we were told that any interpersonal issues were to go to this woman, not her (I think my old boss had said something to the new one—she said it to me privately as well). Hahaha! I felt like laughing at that, but my heart just sank. The person who causes all of the interpersonal problems is now technically HR—great. So, going to the boss is kind of out.

      I think I’ll use the comment about resolving to stay more positive at work; that’s a good one. I have tried your second suggestion, Alison, and it used to work. However, now she pushes for me to contribute negatively after I say, “I like him, he seems really good at his job”, etc… She’ll say, “Really? Come on, you have to admit that ….” I just say something like, “I really don’t know.” I’ve literally said, “Sorry, I need to go to the bathroom” before to avoid this. I think she may be sabotaging me (I recently overheard her on the phone with a client recommending that they go somewhere else for what I the major part of my job is).

      I thought maybe the new boss would see her true colors, as the old one was blinded by their friendship. However, I’m starting to lose faith, since she is also not here to see what’s going on. I’m starting to think that my only option is to really start looking elsewhere; I just don’t think it’s going to change. I’m not sure that things are really secure anyway, since the company was sold; I don’t know for sure what the real motivations for buying us were. However, I do need to have my workplace not a complete living hell for now, so I need to avoid the attempted gossip and trash talk.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t think it’s going to change either, especially since your new boss now defers to this woman. I hope you can find another job soon. Because this sucks.

        1. OP #2*

          Thank you. It does suck because I’m really good at my job and before this, I loved it—I looked forward to coming to work. Now I have to maneuver and work around her issues, gossiping and deceit. It’s just so toxic that it’s not healthy for me anymore. I hope I can find a job soon too.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Honestly? This is who she is. She’s not going to change. She never was going to change.

        This is especially since she is perfectly happy the way things are. The question was whether you could find a way to live with it (by escaping or redirecting her) or not.

        It sounds like the answer is “not.”

      3. Purr purr purr*

        Having her effectively as HR? Yikes. Good luck with your job search! It sounds like escaping that place would be for the best.

  21. Boo*

    #3- I really don’t want to add to the pile on but I would strongly advise against trying to suggest or subtly hint that your co-worker change her nameplate. Leaving aside how offensive that could be and what kind of a racist hole you might inadvertently dig yourself into, I have to wonder if it is a hint from your co-worker that actually she would prefer to be known by her full name rather than her nickname…was it is nickname she was given for example rather than one she introduced herself with?

    I met one of my best friends at a job many years ago, and she has a rather beautiful Portuguese name. It’s not hard to pronounce but her coworkers elected to just give her a shortened nickname rather than bother to learn her real name, because apparently unfamiliar names with three syllables were just too complex for them. I was the only one to make the effort to use her real name but she always appreciated it. Maybe you could reach out to your co-worker in this way? It will probably help you feel more comfortable as well.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, that’s an interesting point. Regardless of the cultural questions, a lot of people really aren’t fond of the nicknames they’ve been given.

      I like the comparison to Dick and Peter, too; I also think the OP might want to think about her own name and how it would make her feel if a colleague asked her to change its presentation purely to save the colleague embarrassment.

    2. Meredith*

      Yes. I lived in Germany for a while, and my name is difficult for native German speakers to pronounce at first. But after a couple of tries, it’s fine. However, I had a few people ask me if they could just call me [XYZ]. Uh, no. Just take a couple of seconds to figure it out, and we’re good. I always appreciated the folks who just rolled with it and learned my name.

  22. Kelly O*

    #5 – Just wanted to add that I’ve worked a LOT of different jobs for a lot of different companies, and I don’t think I’ve ever done new hire paperwork before I actually started.

    Sometimes it does slow things down a bit, but a good HR department/new hire onboarding group will pull information from your application and start things like getting email, access, passwords, etc. I’m always impressed when I arrive to see a functioning computer at a desk, with what I need to work ready and waiting for me. It doesn’t happen much, but it’s nice.

    1. the gold digger*

      My current job not only sent me the new hire packet a month before I started, they also sent me a box of gourmet cookies. :)

      (However, I was not crazy about having to spend an evening completing the paperwork! I would rather do that on the clock!)

    2. Judy*

      In my experience, most companies will let you know what you need to bring for the first day, like the identification for the I-9 or marriage licenses and birth certificates for dependents, but the paperwork gets filled out at work.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I did some paperwork before I started this job, but there was a LOT of stuff I couldn’t do until I actually got here, because it was on the company intranet. We do get people set up as quickly as possible so they can get oriented in a timely manner.

  23. Formerly Bee*

    #2: I’ve been there and Alison’s suggestion B worked wonders. He stopped bothering me completely.

    1. LBK*

      This is what I came here to say. Just calmly, matter-of-factly disagree with their gripe about the person and usually that’s the immediate end of the conversation, often with some satisfying awkwardness on their end.

  24. ExceptionToTheRule*

    #3 – I once had a new hire with a perfectly “normal” westernized name. Unfortunately, when her system login came back from IT, the standard “first initial, last name” turned it into something not quite obscene, but it was a precise medical term for part of the male genitalia. I decided to let her be the one to determine if it was something she was okay with, which she wasn’t.

    My point is this: yes, it’s her name and she gets to decide, but I can sympathize to a degree with what you’re thinking because I had a very upset young woman in my office who just could not understand why nobody looked at her system login and thought twice about it. **I’m aware that these things are likely auto-generated and nobody actually “looks” at it.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yes! I have seen this. I’ve met someone whose email came out as “slut” something, but actually their name was Susan Lutberger or the like. (I don’t fully remember her actual name and am trying to anonymize it!)

      1. LAI*

        My university usually generates student emails with the first initial and last name, but if that’s already taken, they’ll add the first letter of the middle name too. So Sarah Anne Tan (or something like that) got the email address satan@university.edu.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      This happened at our company as well. The default email for A. Ryan would have been “aryan.” A co-worker noticed it before the new employee started and we preemptively changed it to first initial, middle initial, last name. Maybe we should have waited for the new employee to start and determine if it was okay, but frankly management didn’t want one of our public facing employees to have a “aryan@companyname.com” email address. Also, there was already a precedent for using first initial, middle initial, last name to avoid duplication for common names.

      You know, I think there’s an important difference here. It somehow doesn’t seem as bad to alter the standard email convention when the combination is offensive. It’s another thing entirely to ask someone to not use their given name.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yes! I think you’re right. I think it’s in part because your email isn’t really your name and no one is actually calling you by it personally, and also because I think I tend to assume it might need to get changed anyway, for a variety of reasons, usually duplicate names. My last name is unusual, so it hasn’t come up for me. But if you have five Jennifer Smiths working at a place, you might have a jsmith and a jesmith and a jensmit and so on.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        We added this person’s middle initial to her email also and all is well (except it took a disturbing conversation with IT to get them to realize WHY we wanted to add her middle initial) and your other point is very true true as well. A person’s name is their name.

    3. Cat*

      I am going to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what her last name was. Enis? Alls? Oreskin?

    4. Arjay*

      We have a news anchor whose name is Gayle G______. They put her handle up on the screen while I wasn’t really paying attention and I puzzled for a few minutes over what story they were promoting that would be tagged “gay leg.”

  25. College Career Counselor*

    #4, FWIW, I work in higher education, and I think 10 references is…..unusual. Frankly, I can’t recall more than five or at most six references ever being requested. That said, I suspect this successful candidate for this position will have contact with a wide variety of constituencies, and they want to hear from people who know your work in the different capacities. Bear in mind that they’re highly unlikely to talk to references other than for the finalists (although I have seen academic jobs where the search committee wanted to talk to references before the candidate). Given the large number of requested references here, that’s probably not the case.

    I have worked with students and alumni over the years who have AGONIZED about which references to include for a given job (“Prof. X knows my work in class and campus leadership really well, but Supervisor Y loved the work I did for her at my summer internship”). Think of this as your chance to include pretty much ALL your best references. Good luck!

    1. LAI*

      Agreed, I also work in higher ed and have been involved in director-level searches and have never heard of a request for 10 references. In fact, we usually don’t specify a number and probably wouldn’t want more than 4-5. But I’ve also seen hiring practices vary widely across institutions, from a single 1-hour interview to an entire day campus visit so who knows?

  26. C Average*

    I have an I-don’t-gossip-at-work-ever policy, and everyone I’m even casually friendly with knows it. And I’ve had to lay that out explicitly to people, and I feel like Gallant from “Goofus and Gallant” when I do it. There’s a moment of awkwardness when I say, “Hey, I’ve got to cut you short here. I have a policy of only participating in positive gossip. So if you were going to tell me how awesome Jane is to work with, please go right ahead! But if you were going to say something negative, please don’t. I really like working with Jane and want to keep feeling that way.” But then the moment of awkwardness passes and we either say nice things about Jane, or the gossip suddenly realizes she’s got an expense report to file and leaves me for a more receptive audience.

    I have some thoughts about the name question, too. I have an unusual first name and got teased about it throughout my childhood and decided to go by my much more ordinary middle name in college. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I didn’t realize, when I made that decision, that I’d never fully adjust to the new name, and I’d never answer to it as quickly or naturally as my real first name. After my freshman year, I went back to my real first name, odd as it is, and I’ve never looked back. It is really hard to just decide to call yourself something new and actually, fully adjust to it. I have a Chinese colleague who uses an Anglicized version of her name because it’s easier for her U.S.-based team to pronounce, and I’ve seen the moment of hesitation in response when you call her by her Anglicized name. Don’t underestimate how unnatural it is to answer to something different than the name you grew up with, or how uncomfortable it can be to get cornered into using a nickname for other people’s convenience. Names are about as personal as it gets, and people should get a lot of leeway about being called what they ask to be called, without snickering or commentary.

    1. Kelly L.*

      The closest I’ve gotten to that is that in Spanish class in high school, we had to go by a name in Spanish, but mine didn’t translate so I just picked something that I thought was pretty. It was hard, the whole time, to remember to answer to it, even after a lot of time had passed. Or I’ve also had people annoyed with me when I didn’t respond–to a completely wrong name. It didn’t even register as being aimed at me.

      1. Natalie*

        Oh, adopted Spanish names! I had forgotten about that. My name translates really easily (Natalia; a Spanish professor in college actually called me that by accident all the time) but when I was in middle school we had to pick from a list of names even if our name translated. So I was a few different random names with no connection to mine. The only one I remember is Valeria.

        We all though Margarita was hilarious. I guess cocktails are really amusing to 13 year olds.

      2. De (Germany)*

        I really don’t get why those “Spanish names in Spanish class” seem to be a thing (though I have only ever heard about it from the US). Even if there is a German version of the name, I don’t call my colleagues from other countries by that name – it isn’t their name! Andrew doesn’t suddenly become Andreas and Katherine is not Katherina…

        And, allow me to rant for a minute: I have a Biblical first name that is common in both English and German speaking countries, but is pronounced differently – it would be great if just once, when interacting with native English speakers, they would ask how to pronounce it. Like you with that “Spanish” name, I have a hard time realizing it’s my name being called and well… that just isn’t my name.

        1. Lamb*

          My high school German teacher said it was for flow and to keep us in the right accent the whole time we were speaking. I can especially see it for reading; if you have to remember to pronounce the “J” in Joggenanzug like the English “Y”, having to say that that jogging suit belongs to Johnny or Jennifer where those are the English “J”, it’s either going to slow you down or there will be a giggle delay re: Yohnny and Yennifer.

          1. Myrin*

            Except that in this particular example, the “J” is indeed pronounced like an English “J” because the “jogging” in “Jogginganzug” is, well, still the English word and hasn’t been germanised at all. Obviously, your general point is totally valid (both regarding the names and the “German Js are pronounced like English Ys”) and I absolutely believe that this is the reason for the “changing names” idea but the example given here is a bit unfortunate (and if it’s something your HS German teacher used, well, they don’t seem to fully know their way around German pronounciation).

    2. RishaBree*

      My hippie parents got fairly creative with our names (you can see that mine passes well as an internet handle, even though it’s my real name(s)). My brother was always called by his second middle name, Ra, up until as a teenager when he threw a fit and insisted on everyone using his first name, which is an only slightly unusual Western name that blended in with his classmates. But he’s been back to Ra for decades now, except for formal work purposes.

    3. OP #2*

      Yes, I hold that policy too. I have only listened to her in the past and not contributed aside from occasionally giving-in and saying something like, “I don’t know, maybe.”, or, “I guess”. I know that’s just enabling her to keep going so I’ll contribute more to the conversation.

      I like your approach, and really appreciate the advice, but I’m not sure it would work on this particular person at this point. I’m afraid to tell her no I guess, for fear of repercussions. I suppose I could say something like, “Could I interrupt? I’m resolving to stay more positive at work. I like everyone that I work with, so I’d rather not talk about them unless it’s something positive.”? Any thoughts?

      1. C Average*

        There are certain aspects of my existence where, as a matter of integrity, I’ve decided that I am going to behave a certain way no matter how other people around me choose to behave, and the chips are gonna have to fall where they do. I get that a lot of social situations demand adaptability–the ability to adjust my behavior and communication and personality to the company or venue I’m in.

        But there are a few places where my center needs to hold, and gossip is one of them. Whether I’m talking to my boss or my boss’s boss or my mother or my husband or my best friend, if the conversation turns to gossip, I’m gonna tell them I am not OK with it. The more often I simply and clearly state my position, the easier it is to do it. I do it with a smile on my face every time, but I think my tone makes it clear: You just crossed a line with me. Don’t do it again.

        It’s one of those areas of life where I don’t really think about repercussions. It’s just the right thing to do, as far as I’m concerned. I take a similar stand when it comes to a handful of other things I feel strongly about.

        I know it’s not for everyone! We’ve all got to choose our battles. I wish you well in this one.

        1. OP #2*

          I feel the same way. I guess that I have compromised my values a little in order to keep my job, by not specifically telling her that I do not want to hear it. This person is quite vindictive and has a lot of power to sabotage me if she wishes. She has wanted people gone in the past, and soon after, they are gone. I think the only reason it hasn’t worked with me so far is because my boss knew what a hard worker I am.

          I think that I should have been firm and stopped it from the first time it happened, but I was unaware then of what I’m aware of now. Hindsight is 20/20. I appreciate the advice, and I think that I will let her know that I’m not interested in even hearing it, hopefully in a way that doesn’t offend her or set her off.

          1. Brigitte*

            Here’s the thing, though. This person has proven to you she’s vindictive, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. You’ve seen firsthand that colleagues who do everything right are still the subject of her gossip; there’s nothing you can do to prevent yourself from becoming a target. The only thing you can do is operate with integrity, according to your own value system.

            By altering your behavior from fear of what she’ll do, you’re giving her an awful lot of power.

  27. JoAnna*

    #3 – when I was in college, I worked as a circ desk clerk for my school’s science library. We frequently had a patron whose first name was Dikshit (not sure what his ethnic background was, but I am guessing he was from India or perhaps Thailand). He was a nice guy and although his name startled me the first few times it popped up on the computer screen, I eventually got over it. Visitors to your office will get over it too (and if they have an issue, that’s an excellent litmus test for finding who you don’t want to be working with!).

  28. illini02*

    I hate to sound like a jerk here, but I actually agree with #1. If it was like a couple thousand dollars more, that would be one thing, but $15,000 more is significant. While 95% of the time I’m in the camp of your salary has nothing to do with what other people make, I do kind of feel like if someone is in a support role to you, then it doesn’t make sense for you to make significantly less than they do. I’ve worked with some great admins who did a lot, but I’d be very upset about this too. I don’t know the field the OP is in, but in just about any field I can think of, a support person making that much more than the people they are supporting seems unheard of. If a teacher’s aide made that much more than a teacher? A dental hygienist making more than a dentist? It just seems ridiculous to me.

    Now what I do agree with though is that there is almost NO WAY to bring this up to your supervisors without sounding petty. Its just not going to work. I have to wonder though, is this admin just paid super high for her work, or is was the OP low balled for theirs?

  29. LBK*

    Little late to this, but #1 – neither of those things would fall under admin in my department. Any Excel work (beyond extremely basic stuff like recordkeeping that didn’t require formulas) would be done by our reporting team and mail merges would be handled by marketing. Our EA is phenomenal and I wouldn’t expect her how to do either of those. Presumably your salary isn’t based on how many skills you can accumulate, but on how well you use the skills that are relevant to your position – and so is hers.

  30. illini02*

    Also, as far as #1, one thing I think that makes this a bit different than what some people are arguing, at least in my opinion, is that the admin started after the OP. I could definitely see if the admin was there 15 years and the OP was fresh out of college or something. But it seems that, at least at their office, he actually has been there longer. Again, I’m in NO WAY arguing about the skills required to be an admin, but I’m saying with all of this taken together, I do get why someone would be upset about it. I think people are getting a bit offended by the OP, when none is needed. I don’t think its “wrong” to think that if you went to school, worked hard, and got a specialized degree, that you would be making more than others who may have less OBSERVABLE skills and education (of course we don’t know who really has what). Now it definitely doesn’t always happen like that, but I think many people kind of want it to.

    1. LAI*

      Even if the admin started in this office more recently than the OP, they might have more professional experience. For example, if the admin has 15 years of professional work experience as an administrative assistant, and the OP is in their first job after grad school, that could partially explain the difference.

      When I started my first entry-level job with a graduate degree, my younger sister was making more than me as a bartender. It certainly didn’t mean that I had fewer skills or was doing less complex work. But the difference is, 10 years later, I’ve been promoted several times and still have room for career growth.

  31. Sunflower*

    #1- I’ll only comment that it’s generally not a good idea to compare your salary with anyone who doesn’t do the same job as you, regardless of their job. Admin happens to fall under a pretty broad job category but regardless, comparing salaries is like apples and oranges. Please do not say anything to your manager about the admin salary. I would be confused why you were telling me this TBH.

    It sounds like you might be a little irked by your salary in general. It sounds like you might feel as if the company has money that they’ve been ‘hiding’ from you- ie they are saying they don’t have the funds to give you a raise? If you have an issue with your salary, talk to your manager about that and leave the admins salary out of it.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      OP 1 also has no way to know for sure that the admin was really telling her actually salary, or the figure could have included her salary with over time. If admin assistants get paid time-and-half OT and exempt analysts get no OT, both could make $40k base, and the admin could make an extra $15k per year if she always got 10 hrs OT per week.

  32. Iro*

    #3 Instead of being embarressed why not turn it into an oppurtunity to enlighted people a little on Thai culture? If someone asks you about it, illuminate the pronunciation and the true meaning of the name. Most good people appreciate learning about another culture and deepening their understanding of different people.

    Even if ther name is Phukporn you really have no right to ask her to change her nameplate.

  33. RobM*

    My advice to #1 is not to define your value by the salary other people are being paid.

    Your own salary is either adequate for your needs and (at least) a fair rate for your knowledge and experience or it isn’t. Knowing that someone else on the team earns x% more or y% less than you does nothing to improve your situation.

  34. Katie the Fed*

    OK, I might be feeling a little harsh because I spent an hour driving on unplowed roads, but here goes:

    #1 – Administrative Assistants are like the police. It’s easy to complain about how they do their jobs*, and it’s even easier to not notice what they provide, but when they’re not there you’ll definitely feel it. Worry about yourself and your own compensation. And the way you’re framing this, despite your efforts, DOES come off a bit elitist.

    #2 – Most people who encounter a funny or foreign name might have a momentary pause or giggle to themself, and then they move on. If you’ve been working with this person a while and are still fixated on her name, you need to move on. Nobody else is giving it this level of attention – most people are mature enough to understand we live in a diverse society and contain multitudes, and names might be funny and foreign and weird and that’s totally normal. Leave it alone – you’re coming across really insensitive and immature.

    #3 – I vote for the being uninteresting. People don’t gossip with unwilling partners – if you make a noncommittal “mmm” sound or something like “oh, I like Jane” they’ll go away quickly. And good on you for getting out of the office gossip club – it’s such a drag.

    * I recognize that there are some legitimate complaints about police, especially lately – this is just a broad metaphor.

    1. Dan*

      Hijacking your comment, and continuing on yesterday’s thread of making fed employment more appealing: Liberal work from home policies. My last two contractor jobs let us work from home on an adhoc basis with no red tape whatsoever. It’s so nice to get up, look at the window, decide the roads suck, you’re not going to deal with it, and get straight to work.

      Because DC is terrible with road plowing, I don’t consider telecommuting during inclement weather to be a purely personal benefit — it keeps cars off the road that don’t need to be there, creating less congestion for those that do.

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        The only problem with that is a lot of government workers use classified networks. Those that are able to telecommute should be allowed to, but for security reasons there is no external access to some networks.

        1. VintageLydia USA*

          Though I guess those people would be the “those that do” of people who need to drive into work.

  35. Sunflower*

    #2- Gossip. I would suggest being a totally un-fulfilling gossip and either disagreeing or flat out ignoring. That’s usually what I do. When someone comes over to me to gossip, I continue doing my work (sometimes I just type out random words on a draft email just to give off the look of being uninterested in whatever the person is saying). I look up at them every so often if they keep talking but eventually they realize I’m not interested and either walk away or change the subject to something non-gossipy.

    The only other thing I would suggest is playing dumb by trying to be helpful. When she comes over to complain about Jane’s performance say, in a nice way, ‘Hmm I don’t work with Jane that much so I wouldn’t know. Have you talked to Jane about it?’. Pretend like you genuinely think she is asking for help. As we all know, gossipers don’t want help- they want attention. That should make you a pretty useless outlet for gossip quickly.

    1. OP #2*

      Thank you for your comments. I like the playing dumb & trying to be helpful idea. I think I will ask, “Have you talked to him/her about it—maybe that would help?”. Thank you, that will be one of my go-to answers, along with what Alison suggested and a couple other commenters suggestions.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve done that too. “If you have a problem with Jane, it might be more helpful if you talked to Jane. I can’t really do anything about it.” Makes them go away, if nothing else.

  36. Ezri*

    This is the first time I’ve posted in 2015… so Happy New Years, AAM community! :D

    #1 – When you learn about someone else’s pay, I think the best thing you can do is forget it immediately. Knowing that someone else makes more than you just tends to lead to negative thoughts. You wonder why you aren’t as valuable as that person, how they can justify earning so much when they can’t do such-and-such, if you could have gotten that by negotiating better… it’s just bad for your state of mind, whether the person in question does the same job as you or not.

    And yes, I’m definitely speaking from experience here. :) I am one of two recent hires (getting less recent – eight months now). During onboarding the other new hire couldn’t accomplish anything without getting step-by-step instructions; one of those things was getting 401k contributions set up. He asked for help and plopped his computer on my desk, with his salary information showing. It was significantly higher than mine. When we started getting real assignments, I dealt with a lot of bitterness about that. To this day he can’t solve the simplest problems without getting help from 2 or more people, while I’ve handled tasks of increasing complexity and responsibility. It sucks to know he makes more than me, and it sucks worse because I didn’t choose to find the information out – it was a total accident on my part. I did, and still do, like my current salary, but just knowing opened the door for negativity.

    In the end, I’m trying to focus on being as awesome as I can at my job instead of stewing over my comparative ‘value’. It’s hard sometimes, but it really helps your work relationships. If you think you’re worth more, then by all means pitch your case to your employer. But anything that starts with ‘so-and-so makes x, so I want x’ probably won’t go well. Just try to forget about it and move on.

    1. Lamb*

      I don’t know what your coworker was thinking when he did that, and I totally get your expressed position. That said, keep that figur (his salary) in the back of your mind as being within the range for your position, keep track of your accomplishments, save copies of praise and positive reviews you receive, and pay attention to negative feedback and take action on areas for improvement. Then, when annual reviews roll around (or when ever raises are discussed/negotiated at your workplace) you have a file full of reasons you deserve a raise. And, if your coworker has the same qualifications and amount of experience as you do, you have a figure of what they are willing to pay someone in your position. Since you are still fine with your salary as is, if you suggest a raise to the figure you saw on his screen and they won’t approve of a raise of that size (we see posts here sometimes about raises limited to a certain percent of your salary) you can still get a raise you are happy with.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        (Actually, I would request that figure +2-3%. Your colleague also will be negotiating his raise at the same time…)

  37. HR Manager*

    #1 – I guess this is not a good time to mention that the CEO of a company I used to work at (a big co.) had a company provided chauffeur who made 80k a year? Really – the guy had to be 24 hrs on-call though. Not a job I would take, regardless of the pay, just to drive that CEO around. But the responses here are right – a good admin (and a good receptionist) is worth his/her weight in gold!

    #2 – Good for you in not engaging in gossip. I wonder if the gossipy co-worker sometimes just needs to rant and let off steam, and since you are available, she comes to you. I agree with just not responding to her. Some people gossip or rant to let off steam, and if you think that’s part of why she seeks you out, you can always nod and listen, but not reply. When her rant is over, turn it back to work or focus on the positive stuff.

    #5 – A lot of new hire paperwork requires the collection of confidential, personally identifiable info such as SSN, birthdate, gender, spouse/dependent info, work authorization/IDs. Many employers would not want to be responsible for this until we know the employee shows up on day 1.

    1. OP #2*

      Thanks for your comments. I’ve also tried listening and not responding and changing the subject back to work. I understand venting, I vent about clients sometimes (not co-workers though—maybe 2x in 4 years); we all do.

      However, she told me about how a co-worker’s girlfriend had a miscarriage, speculated that another co-worker was on drugs (with no real basis for that), for examples. It’s very personal stuff, and I’m not even sure if it’s true. I don’t want to speculate about people’s personal lives. Worse thing is, I confided in her a long time ago when I trusted her about a medical condition that I have that is sort of embarrassing (it’s a digestive thing), so I’m sure everyone knows about that… I think she’s doing it for a reaction—attention.

  38. Ann O'Nemity*

    Eh, I’m not going to pile on to OP #1.

    I’ve also been in a situation where I discovered what co-workers earned and my first response was “WTF?! They don’t deserve that! I deserve more than they do!” It wasn’t productive thinking, but it was what I felt in the moment.

    At this point, you need to banish those thoughts from your mind before they take hold and poison your happiness. Comparing yourself to a co-worker isn’t going to do a bit of good. It would be far more productive to make a case to your manager about why you should receive a raise because of (1) prevailing market rates for your position, and (2) the value you bring to the company. Don’t even mention the admin; it will only hurt your case.

    1. some1*

      It’s one thing to think something like that in the moment and plan to keep it to yourself; it’s a different ball of wax to assume the admin should be paid less.

      From the letter:
      “Should I talk to my manager about the disparity in our paychecks? If so, how?”

      Notice the LW didn’t ask, “Can I ask for a raise?” or whatever — s/he wants to go to the manager and complain that the admin makes more.

  39. De Minimis*

    With #3 I can understand how it might be annoying if you’ve got several people per day walking in, seeing the nameplate and smirking/laughing/making comments, but that’s their problem, not the co-worker’s, and it’s not your problem either.

  40. De Minimis*

    #1 is funny for me because I can see what everyone is paid in my entire organization, even the people whose salaries aren’t consider public info [most feds are.]

    Of course, since it’s public sector, the pay is not really a lot for upper level people, considering what their equivalent roles would pay in the private sector.

  41. Rae*

    #3 I don’t find this racist, but I think that particular person will have to get over horrible sounding names. Working in K-12 I came across some purely American named kids who had unfortunate names like Va’gina and Clitoris. I’ve also herd that children have been named Felony, Butt, Twerk, Anal and Anass.

    Not sure what will happen to them when they are in the workplace….

    My feeling is that a person has a right to their name, regardless of culture, so long as that person understands what juvenile remarks may come of it. I know a young Norwiegen girl who’s name was Nanna, like many people call their grandmother. She went my Nancy because she felt embarrassed people thought she was an old lady. Her friend, with the same name was fine with it.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Are these students you personally met, or are these names that others reported to you? Some of those are infamous urban legends with some unfortunate racial bias behind them. There’s a Snopes link I’m going to post, but in a separate comment so that the rest of this doesn’t get stuck in moderation limbo.

      1. Natalie*

        Oh lord, soooo many people have tried to tell them they went to school with or taught oranjello and lemonjello. Those twins must get around my not-terribly-big city, and they’ve apparently been in K-12 for at least 30 years.

        1. Rae*

          Well the other names are recorded by SSI, so I am not sure on their authenticity, but I’m pretty sure that SSI reports are accurate. Anass in particular because apparently it’s an Arabic name. The Va’gina unfortunately belonged to a tot of American origin who’s one-year-older sister was Na’zinga (which is an African queen? At lest that’s what she told us) .

          1. Kelly L.*

            Just googled Anass and that appears to be correct–it’s a legitimate name in Arabic, and so it’s a parallel to the co-worker’s name in the OP, rather than a ridiculous name given by a native English speaker.

            1. Natalie*

              Yeah, I’ve met a few people named Anass. I never really thought about the spelling though – the pronunciation is so obviously not any sort of English word.

          2. Former Diet Coke Addict*

            Nzinga was an actual African queen in the 17th century in what is now Angola. I can see Na’zinga as an alternate spelling. Really.

            1. Rae*

              The only issue would be that she tried to invent a matching name for the younger child….which was supposed to be Ra’gina but somehow was translated to Va’gina. The intention was not to spell out the female organ, at least in this case.

              1. Kelly L.*

                How did it end up Va’gina when the mother meant Ra’gina? Did the hospital misspell it or something? o.O

                (Ra’gina actually makes sense to me as an alternate spelling of Regina, which of course would be carrying on the royal theme. Kid would have to spell it for people all her life since it’s an unusual spelling, but it does make sense.)

          3. Laufey*

            And now I’ve discovered SSI data by year, gender, and state. There goes my productivity for the rest of the afternoon.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        I definitely think there’s some urban legends like that floating around. But there’s also been some very real court cases where a judge forced parents to change their child’s name or even removed the child from the parents. The examples I remember were “Adolf Hitler” and “4real.”

      3. Katie the Fed*

        As soon as I read this post, I was waiting for the La-a story (you know, Ladasha! Black people, amiright?)

          1. fposte*

            That’s why funny names stories were forbidden on the old alt.folklore.urban newsgroup on Usenet. They always went there.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Yeah – I know it’s an urban legend, and I’ll always call out these things when I hear them. Nobody’s telling that story picturing a white suburbanite in a sweater set and pearls.

            1. Stephanie*

              Well, exactly. And in dominant cultures, it’s quirky and unique (see Utah names).

              But then there are actual consequences, unfortunately. My parents even said they named me “Stephanie” intentionally so I would have a racially ambiguous name.

              1. fposte*

                Oh, I had not seen that video (and the boy-name followup); it reminded me of the late lamented Baby’s Named a Bad, Bad Thing blog.

              2. Turanga Leela*

                I have so many African-American friends whose parents did/said the same thing. Lots of Nicoles and Laurens. (We were born in the 80s.)

              3. Biff*

                WHOA. For someone that just posted a bunch of stuff about don’t be racist, you sure are crappin’ on Mormons. How about you don’t do that? Also, you might not know this, but it’s very common to honor your wife’s family by giving your kids family names from her family tree as first names, such as Hollis or McCade.

                No, I’m nor Mormon, I’m not from Utah, but the made up stories, outfits and hair to go along with those poor girls was just… as bad as that damn L-a story.

                1. Stephanie*

                  Oh, I didn’t mean it to mock Mormons. If that was how I came across, my apologies.

                  My point was that the privilege does extend the benefit of the doubt, where you’re allowed to explain that McCabe or Aunustee is a family name (or can be chalked up to inventive parents) without negative connotations of being ghetto or Anglicization (although I know that’s not quite the same thing as that can be done for more practical reasons).

                  People mock “ghetto names” without realizing that those sprung from attempts to create a unique black culture in the Black Power movement (because that whole slavery thing kind of wiped out any culture). Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

      4. Malissa*

        Having worked in a position where I got to see what 2000 people or so are named and what they named their children, a year, nothing surprises me.

  42. Joey*

    I might get reamed for this but I have a different take on #1.

    I don’t really see it as a sign of how difficult or valued the admin job is, but more of how little your job and skills are valued. Because let’s face it, admin jobs are typically jobs that don’t require a whole lot of experience or education. Now I know someone will say being a good admin is hard and takes time, but the fact is that the learning curve to become competent is much much smaller than most professional jobs. Now I get that becoming that all star invaluable admin is really hard, but that’s more like a luxury than a necessity, meaning it’s nice to have but its not usually a must have.

    So what you can take away from this is that your skilled position is worth less to the company than what’s usually one of the lowest paid easily recruited for white collar positions.

    Im assuming you meant a real admin and not someone like an executive assistant whose functions are more critical than the typical admin.

    And of course I’m not bashing admins in any way, just putting the position into perspective.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Chances are the OP will make more than the admin over time – the admin may have capped out already.

    2. some1*

      1) It may be true that admin positions don’t *require* a lot of experience, but the admin job market is like the market for many other positions – employers are in a position to ask for more experience than they need. I have seen admin job postings that wanted 5+ years of experience and “Bachelor’s Degree preferred or required” for receptionist positions.

      2) Many companies are largely moving away from hiring admins. Since the work still needs to be be done, admins end up wearing way more hats than they would have ten years ago.

    3. AnonymousOne*

      I look at it another way — admins don’t usually have much opportunity for advancement. Once an admin, you’re pretty much always gonna be an admin (I’m not trying to bash admins either. I used to be one and realized that the lack of upward movement is pretty much a fact).

      Skilled positions, on the other hand, may start out small (in this case, even smaller than an admin), but you at least should have opportunities to rise up the ranks in the company. You salary probably won’t stay stagnant, and your position probably won’t stay stagnant if you do a good job. That’s a key difference, so don’t worry too much about it.

      1. Whippers*

        I don’t really think that it’s the case of once an admin, always an admin. Being an admin requires a lot of transferrable skills and, in a lot of cases, they pretty much do the job of a manager. I think that an admin is probably unlikely to move upwards within their current organisation , due to various prejudices. However, if they sell their wide ranging skills and experiences correctly, I think that admins should be able to move upwards into other posts, which require a lot of the same skills as admins. Like project/events coordinators, managers, logistics etc.

      2. Green3*

        This is interesting. I don’t have that impression of admins at all. An admin assistant job has always seemed to me like an opportunity to get your foot in the door and then eventually get promoted, something that has happened to me twice in two different workplaces – in one of them, I was clearly being groomed to take my boss’s job when she retired, although I ended up moving to a different position before that happened.

        1. Whippers*

          Yeah, it probably does depend in the organisation to be fair. In the current organisation where I work, it is very hierarchical and the managers/specialists are very much at the top of the ladder, with admins and frontline staff bunched round the bottom. I think that it would be very difficult for an admin to move up to a managerial or specialist post in this organisation because of the way the role is perceived (and there being very few “middle” posts) Of course this perception is completely inaccurate and the admin actually does most of the work of the manager, who doesn’t even realise it.

    4. Brigitte*

      I think this isn’t taking into account how much variability there could be in an admin’s job. Most are not simply answering phones and making copies.

      Admin at oldjob was also doing accounts receivable and really detailed data entry about our members (trade org).

      VAs have become popular for Internet based businesses, but more often than not, VAs do a lot of marketing and social media work.

      You can’t make a blanket claim about how much training and experience and admin has — there’s just way to much variability.

  43. A Non*

    If my office’s admin makes less than I do, I would be pissed on her behalf. Here are some of the hats she wears:
    – HR for the office
    – Oversees building maintenance, first contact for any problems
    – Contact person for the four other programs leasing space in our building
    – Assistant to the CEO
    – Plans all board meetings, including scheduling and travel arrangements
    – Works longer hours than anyone else in the building
    – And if I need a package sent out, she does that cheerfully too

    And I’m our senior IT person after the IT director. Admittedly I’m underpaid, even by non-profit standards, but if she’s making less than I am she needs a raise ASAP. The office would not function without her.

  44. Zillah*

    OP#3 – I don’t want to pile on, but something has occurred to me that I don’t think has really been brought up yet.

    There’s no way to do this without offending her. That’s pretty clear, IMO. But I think that it’s also important to keep in mind that this isn’t just between the two of you – this is your workplace, which means that any conversation between the two of you has larger ramifications than simply your relationship with each other. Most notably, I suspect that your boss would be pretty deeply displeased if you initiated a conversation asking your coworker not to use her Thai name – while I doubt there would be any legal ramifications for doing so, feeling targeted because of your race/ethnicity is going to make the vast majority of people feel super uncomfortable (which is bad for business), and it does introduce some tricky territory in terms of liability.

  45. AnonymousOne*

    Regarding #3, this is how I interpreted it:

    OP isn’t embarrassed of the person’s name, but embarrassed of people’s reactions to the name. For example, I’m one of those people that HATES when people gossip about others to me, especially when the person they’re gossiping about is actually really nice and friendly. I get embarrassed for being involved in a negative conversation behind the person’s back, and feel ashamed for essentially acting like a “two-face” (nice when you’re looking, and rude when you’re not. How would that person feel if they knew what was being said about them?).

    So when it comes to this Thai name, OP perhaps doesn’t want people glancing at her, looking for some sort of knowing nod about the odd spelling — involving her in a gossipy type of situation about this girl’s name. Am I the only one who took it this way?

    That being said, I myself come from a culture where names are often difficult to spell into English without sounding/looking funny, so I definitely sympathize with OP’s Thai coworker. If OP is truly concerned about people making fun of her coworker, and unwillingly involving her (OP) in it, then just don’t give anyone the chance to do or say anything. And if someone does try to do or say something, shut them down.

    1. Kelly L.*

      It doesn’t sound like anyone has said anything rude/gossipy yet, though. She just sees them glance at the nameplate, which I think they’d do at any nameplate as they passed by. She’s totally speculating.

      1. AnonymousOne*

        Yeah, like Alison said, it sounds like projection of her own feelings onto what others may also think. I was just saying that OP’s concerns might not come from a malicious place, like she’s embarrassed OF her coworker. She might just be paranoid about other people looking at the nameplate and thinking what OP is thinking, or glancing towards OP looking for someone to laugh at the name with.

  46. Changing my name for this*

    Regarding names – would it change anyone’s opinion if the person at issue chose their nickname specifically to be funny / make other people uncomfortable. I had a friend named Richard in high school. During childhood he went by Ricky. In high school he decided it would be hilarious to go by Dick. He refereed to himself as a big, fat, hairy dick. If he spilled something on himself he would laugh that he was now a “wet dick” or “sticky dick.” He became really inappropriate and we didn’t stay friends. The school made him tone down the jokes but didn’t make him stop calling himself Dick despite the fact that he laughed and snickered about it all the time. In that case, I would have appreciated if the school said “look, you are just doing this to make the girls uncomfortable. Go with your legal name or the nickname you used all along. No Dick.”

    1. Natalie*

      I think you may have misread – the “risque” name in question is the Thai woman’s legal name, not her chosen nickname.

  47. Jules*

    The last time a fresh graduate engineer came to me with this concern, I laughed out loud. I know it’s mean but lad, she’s been working longer then you’ve been alive. Pay is determined by market, position and years of working experience. He and I are still good friends but it helped for me to walk him through the process. If you have an open HR department, feel free to talk to them about it. Otherwise, your supervisor should be able to explain it to you.

  48. summercamper*

    OP#3 – As you can see, the consensus is pretty strong here that you should NOT say anything to your coworker about her nameplate. I’m casting my vote against saying anything, too – it’s her name, so she gets to choose.

    However, if you decide to ignore this advice and go ahead with saying something to her, the least-awful way to do it might be to say NOTHING about how her name sounds strange, but instead approach it the same way you would a colleague who is named Robert but goes by Bob, or a John Franklin Smith III who wants his nameplate to simply read “Frank Smith.” Perhaps she’s under the impression that your workplace is more formal and she needs to use her full name, and you can correct that misconception and let her know it’s OK to use her nickname if she wants. Of course, this only works if our fictional Robert would indeed be allowed to put Bob in his nameplate and if your colleague really does use her Western-sounding nickname for everything.

    To be clear, I’m not advocating for this approach. It’s not a good one. Your colleague is no doubt aware of the English meaning of her name and has made a thoughtful decision regarding its use. But if you really can’t keep yourself from saying something, approaching it from this angle is less awful than focusing on your own discomfort.

  49. EvilQueenRegina*

    Anyone else reminded of that How I Met Your Mother episode where Ted sees the name Cook Pu on a class list, immediately thinks someone added that as a joke and calls out the “joker” in front of everyone, only for that student to stand up and say “here” and ultimately drop Ted’s class?

    When I was at university, my ex was friends with a guy whose surname contained a slang word for penis and his first name could be shortened to another one. He used to use a different shortened form of his name, but people did pick up on it and snigger at him. It’s only reading this post and thinking about it that I remember that he did have a middle name which he could have used if he wanted to and disguised it even more, but he chose to use his real first name and rise above it.

  50. torreadorable*

    I have a comment about the admin assistant earning more than other “skilled” people on the team.

    I have been struggling with this myself recently. After several demanding executive-level roles at small organizations, I decided to rethink my career and I got a job as an executive assistant at a large, highly respected company. I make $15,000 more than I made at my last job (where my title was Director), and this was the biggest jump in salary from one job to another I’ve ever had.

    This change has really been confusing me, especially as I have learned indirectly that I am making substantially more than many of my coworkers. My very first job was as an admin assistant and I made practically nothing, so I just had this idea in my head that if your title is “assistant” you must top out at $39K a year and that’s that. I had never given it much thought until now.

    But I am highly skilled and I have a great background and experience, and they wouldn’t have offered me this salary if they didn’t think I was worth it. I think there’s too much hierarchical thinking among people who work in traditional office environments – I am a teapot specialist with a master’s degree in spout design, so why does my boss’s assistant make more than me – without understanding all the factors that come into play when you put together a job offer.

    1. Whippers*

      Can I just ask, what is the difference between an executive assistant and an admin assistant? I’ve never quite understand the distinction, so it would be useful to have someone who actually does both jobs explain it to me.

      1. torreadorable*

        This is such a good question that I will have to copy and paste an explanation I found on the internet:

        “Executive assistants serve executives. They are essentially the right hand of the people in power…people like CEOs, CFOs, presidents, vice presidents, and others.

        “Administrative assistants, on the other hand, generally deal with the mundane tasks associated with keeping a business in order. In other words, filing, answering phones, scheduling meetings, greeting visitors, etc. This isn’t to say you won’t do these types of things as an executive assistant…in fact, you probably will. However, as an executive assistant, you’ll probably be called on to do a lot more duties that require more finesse and greater sensitivity to time and require you to have a certain degree of business acumen.”

        This matches my experience pretty closely.

  51. Green3*

    #4 – I applied once for a mid-level administrative position at a local university and was gobsmacked by how involved the application was. Writing samples, 6 or 8 or 10 references broken out exactly as you describe, plus three LETTERS of reference, and all kinds of additional things that made me sincerely feel as though I was applying for a PhD or fellowship as opposed to a pretty low-level admin job as some dean’s scheduler.

  52. Iro*

    Going to play devil’s advocate a little on the admin question.

    First, let’s assume that being able to maintain excel sheets (lists of items for inventory, agendas, etc) and a solid understanding of basic excel (new tab, formatting, saving as pdf, etc) is a core part of the job. However, this admin frequently struggles with this and asks OP to help him. OP then finds out that the person who bugs him nearly every weeks is actually making $15K more a year than him?

    It’s frustrating to be in that situation and I think it’s understandable.

    1. Zahra*

      The way to approach it, then, is to say “So-and-so often asks me questions about Excel. I’ve asked her to take notes so she can do it next time, but she doesn’t. This affects my productivity in X, Y, Z fashion (many interruptions, not able to complete assignments, etc.). How do you want me to handle the situation going forward?”

      No mention of salary, just a mention of the effect her behavior on your own work and productivity, a proof you’ve tried to find a solution and a request on how to manage the situation yourself in the future. If the behavior is especially egregious, a good manager will take the matter in her own hands to tell you to refer the admin to your manager to check if you’re available (and to not help anymore on these matters before your manager has said that you should. Of course, help on mundane stuff: give a hand when you see her coming in with multiple parcels, offer to open the door if her hands are full… the usual stuff that you would do for anyone, regardless of their position and gender.).

      1. Iro*

        Still doesn’t help the moral issue of that someone who can’t even do their core simple responsibilities is making more than you.

  53. Sally Forth*

    #1 Don’t assume that the admin is telling the truth. I just discovered that one of my coworkers, who told me she was making $18K more than me, actually makes about the same. She’s brought this up several times in conversation, and I think it was a not-so-subtle way of telling me she is “above” me in the hierarchy, which she isn’t. We work at a not-for-profit and it is clearly stated in the financials.

  54. Another Lee*

    #3- OP good luck in dealing with that! I’m guessing I was the only person who pictured a name like “fuk yuo” which, depending on the position of the desks and name tags, could make ya’lls two names read like a weird misspelled run-on sentence.
    However, I would not say anything to anyone. Maybe asked to be moved?

    Also I’m surprised at all the racial sensitively regarding this in the comments, considering the OP did research on the individual’s name meaning (and called it “beautiful”). Claiming a name is hard to pronounce, due to a heavy foreign accent, isn’t racist. Pointing out that the name spelled phonetically is similar to an undesirable English phrase isn’t racist either, especially considering the individuals live in America!

    1. Zahra*

      Well, no one would think of saying “Charity” means something beautiful in English. Exoticizing another culture comes under the header of “Othering” and is “Benevolent Racism”.

      Claiming a name is hard to pronounce and that the spelling is unfortunate is okay. Saying a coworker should change a nameplate because of it is racist. No one would ever dream of asking someone named “Dick Swinger” to change their name plate, even if the combination is unfortunate.

      1. Iro*


        This exactly. There’s nothing racist about thinking the name is unfortunately awkward. But going as far as to ask your co-worker to changer their nameplate because you are embarressed by their name certainly is.

Comments are closed.