5 questions about names and work

I’ve gotten a bunch of questions about names recently. Here are five short name-related questions and answers.

1. People keep shortening my name

I have a name that’s easy to shorten, and many people with this name often DO shorten it intentionally (think “Jonathan” to “Jon” or “Elizabeth” to “Liz”) However, I do not like to use the shortened version of my name, especially in professional settings. The challenge is that many people automatically switch to the shortened version, without asking if it’s okay and even if I’ve never, ever referred to myself with that nickname.

How do I handle this? It’s not like someone is calling me an offensive slur — I feel like that would be easier to handle because it’s more obvious and understandable that I don’t want to be called that on a daily basis. But I very intentionally do not use the shortened version of my name, and I don’t want others to think that’s my preference just because one or two people used it and I didn’t correct them. Pulling someone aside after the fact isn’t always an option since I work with a lot of remote employees or state-based employees from other organizations.

Just address it directly right in the moment:

In person: “Oh, it’s Jonathan — I never go by Jon. Thanks! So anyway, about the teapot convention…”

In email: “By the way, I go by Jonathan. Thanks!”

That said, the reality of how weird people are with other people’s names is that you will probably need to repeat this more than once to some of them, and a couple of them may never quite retain it.

2. Colleague refers to women as Ms. FirstName

I work with a colleague who is relatively new to his position (less than one year). I am his senior, but we work in different departments with completely different reporting lines. But our work often overlaps and he and I have multiple reasons to work together. I have noticed over the past few months that he is in the habit of referring to all women (including his boss, who I know well and am friendly with) as Ms. FirstName, both in spoken and written communication. But men are just FirstName — no diminutive added on.

We work at a large, prestigious public university and this sort of gender-based issue is out of the norm. I suspect that it’s a cultural difference (he is African-American), but I’d like to let him know this isn’t okay in general and specifically, *I* don’t want to be called Ms. FirstName.

How to broach this? I’m not his supervisor, but I’d very much prefer talking to him directly, not to his supervisor. I don’t want him to get defensive and for all I know, his supervisor might not mind this at all. I find it really off-putting, though and want it to stop.

Yes, it sounds like a cultural difference. (It can be a southern thing too.) Because of that, I don’t know that you should address his broader habit, especially since you’re a peer rather than his manager. But you certainly have standing to tell him how you’d like to be addressed. For example: “Would you call me just Jane rather than Ms. Jane? Thank you!” Or: “I know it’s from a place of respect, but I much prefer being called Jane. Thank you!”

3. Using a slightly different last name on a resume to avoid bias

My maiden name is a pretty unremarkable Christian last name (like Smith, for example). Before getting married a couple months ago, I was looking for work and had a few interviews but nothing worth leaving my current job over came up. Post-wedding, I’ve taken the last name of my Muslim husband, which is a fairly common Arabic last name that includes the Arabic “the” prefix (think Al-Fayad), and now that I’m job searching again I find I’m not getting any interviews like I did before.

Nothing in my job search has changed except my last name on my resume, so I want to try a little experiment by changing it slightly. If I drop the Al prefix and just go by Fayad, my name could be mistaken for an Italian one (again, Al-Fayad is just an example, but in any case my name would definitely read as less obviously Arabic). I’m sure people use variations on their first names all the time on resumes (Bob instead of Robert, etc.) but what do you think of someone using a slightly different version of their *last* name on their resume? And, if I do this and I’m offered a job, how and at what point do I bring up the correct spelling of my name?

Note: I don’t want to use a hyphenated Smith-Al-Fayad because, trust me, the two names together along with my first name looks long and unwieldy. Also, before anyone brings it up, my husband doesn’t have the same issue as he works for himself, and in a previous European country we lived in he went by just Fayad for a while, so neither he nor his family think it’s disrespectful or anything for me to drop the prefix.

Sure, you can absolutely do that. Once you accept a job offer and you’re nailing down details, you can just say, “By the way, the legal spelling of my last name is Al-Fayad, which is different from what you have from my resume. I’d like to use it on any paperwork or anything else that might get set up with my name ahead of my start date.”

4. When you mess up someone’s pronouns

We were discussing the recent nickname post over dinner the other night, and my husband brought this up: He works at a company that has a relatively large number of transgender employees. So far, he hasn’t messed up any actual names, but he has accidentally called a colleague by the wrong pronoun, in front of them (and awkwardly tried to cover it up). I said he should probably apologize matter-of-factly in the moment and say it was a mistake he’ll try not to repeat. He wondered if that would be more awkward, especially if they didn’t notice. What do you think?

My instinct is to correct yourself, give a quick apology, and move on — but transgender readers, will you weigh in on this? I could imagine it’s something that might vary by personal preference, but what’s some good general guidance?

(I just found this, which seems pretty helpful.)

5. Business cards and a confusing email address

I use a nickname that is fairly different from my given name, including a different first initial (think Peggy/Margaret). I’ve just changed careers, and I’m going by Peggy at my new job. However, my email address uses the initial of my given name.

Is it acceptable for my new business cards to read “Margaret (Peggy) Smith”? This way people will understand why my email address is msmith@company.com, rather than psmith@company.com; but they also don’t risk being confused about why I introduced myself to them with a different name than the one on my business card. However, I don’t wish to look unprofessional by including a nickname.

Sure, that’s fine to do! Even better would be to see if your company can change your email address to psmith@company.com (and presumably redirect msmith@company.com to it for a while if it’s already out there). I mention this in case you don’t realize that this is a reasonable thing to ask them to do. (They may say no if they’re weirdly rigid — some places are — but there’s nothing strange about asking.)

{ 682 comments… read them below }

  1. Reg poster going anon*

    Ugh, I don’t know why, but variations of #1 and #2 drive me nuts. My boss is a example of this – he is seemingly incapable of calling people by their actual name and feels compelled to use nicknames. For example, a Jacqueline becomes a Jackie, a Deborah a Debby, a Russ becomes a Russell, and when that type of conversion fails, it becomes Mr. LastName or Ms. FirstName. In a joke-y way that seems to be intended as a rapport builder or something.

    I don’t know why it makes me so crazy but it does. FWIW, it’s applied across the board of genders and ages as far as I can tell.

    1. Garrett*

      Yeah, I don’t get using a nickname unless you know specifically they go by it. For email, I will use whatever their signature says. It’s up to the person to tell me if they wish to go by something different and I think it’s odd to do that.

      1. Trig*

        Oof. I have trouble with this because I work with a lot of people from India, many of whom have very long and very similar names (by Western standards).

        Our company’s email convention is firstname.lastname@company.com, but sometimes they’ve got lastname.firstname@company.com, and, unless it’s a common Indian first name I’ve seen before, I have no way of knowing it’s switched! I regularly see people messing this up.

        I also don’t know their cultural norms in name shortening. I usually address people by the full name in their email, but if everyone on a call and in an email chain (including Indian managers or colleagues) is calling Venkatesh “Venky”, I will do so as well. I don’t want to sound too distant and formal! Of course, in his reply he’ll sign the email “Venkatesh”, so it’s all out the window. Many of my Indian colleagues also have a history of not speaking up when something is bothering them, so I don’t expect them to say “Actually, I prefer to go by Venkatesh.”

        Of course, I see where they’re coming from! My LegalName is in my official email, but I go by a similar but shorter and not quite the same ActualName, and I sign emails with ActualName. Colleagues from all over will refer to me by LegalName until they’ve been on enough meetings and received enough emails from me to remember. I wouldn’t really feel comfortable correcting someone on a big conference call, nor would I reach out to them via email to correct them. Of course, it doesn’t bother me much if they get it wrong. Maybe if it did, I’d be more likely?

      2. irritable vowel*

        I have wondered whether the urge to nickname is a cultural/regional thing in the Northeast US. I grew up in the south and NO ONE ever shortened my full name, but once I moved to the Northeast I found that it became more common. There are about 2 people in the world I permit to call me by the shortened version of my name (and one of them is my husband), but I find that people here just assume it’s okay. It is vile!

        1. Bartlett for President*

          Using a nickname implies a closeness or personal relationship of some kind. I think it is an American trait in general, as our culture tends to value “knowing” or “being in” with people. There is a scene in the West Wing that describes this perfectly:

          Sam Seaborn: How you doing, Bernie?
          Bernice Collette, OMB: I’m not wild about people calling me Bernie.
          Sam Seaborn: What should I call you?
          Bernice Collette, OMB: Bernice is fine.
          Sam Seaborn: But how will you know I’m your buddy?
          Bernice Collette, OMB: I’m okay living in the dark on that.

          As an aside, I have lived in multiple foreign countries and those that had lived abroad in the US often commented on the fact that I (as an American) didn’t use a shortened and/or nickname for people without it being offered to me first. It always struck me as odd, but once I moved back to the US I noticed how often people did it. The Germans were especially frustrated with the practice, as they found it incredibly rude.

          1. Julia*

            When this German Girl studied in Japan, some Japanese acquaintances made fun of me for not knowing the nicknames of people and just calling everyone by the names they introduced themselves to me with. Jeez.

          2. Boop*

            I use my “full name” in communications and it’s in my email signature, but I introduce myself and generally use a shortened version that is a very obvious and common nickname for my full name. However, some people shorten it even further, which I CANNOT STAND. Only family can call me that particular nickname, and it REALLY annoys me when people I don’t know do it.

            In a work context, I often feel that people shorten my name in an effort to ingratiate themselves and make me feel like helping them. I’m already going to do that, because it’s my job! Stop trying to butter me up, it just does the opposite (especially since I hate that nickname)!

          3. Bethany*

            I am a Bethany who NEVER goes by Beth and I most frequently have this problem with people I just met. “Hi I’m Bethany” conversation conversation “Oh, I was just talking to Beth here…” I don’t know why they would call me something other than what I JUST introduced myself as. We are not close, we literally just met. It’s not an actual big deal but it does annoy me.

    2. iseeshiny*

      ME TOO. There is an admin of a client of ours who contacts me frequently via email. It’s 50/50 whether she’ll open with the correct name or the truncated version that only my parents use. And she’ll do it to our receptionist too. And really I feel like she should know better. Like she has a name with many nicknames and goes by one – like if her name was Elizabeth she’d go by Lizzie and that’s on her email signature. I’ve been so tempted to say, “Sure thing, Beth! Thanks a lot, Betty!”

    3. Kelly L.*

      I knew a guy who was the opposite–he’d expand out names even if they weren’t short for anything. A guy would just be named John and he’d call them Jonathan.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Man, my dad does this, and it’s really sweet — but it’s ONLY with people he knows well and has a good rapport with, and only in circumstances where jokey, affectionate nicknames are appropriate.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        When I was younger, #1 was the bane of my existence. I have one of those names, too, with a bunch of different shortened versions. And I do not like being called any of them.

        Definitely correct people in the moment. Because if you don’t, then you’ll get other people assuming it’s ok, and it will just snowball. A quick “I go by Jonathan” should be all that’s needed. (Should be, but some people are…interesting…when it comes to other peoples’ names. Don’t be surprised if you get a few squawking about how they’re “just trying to be friendly” or somesuch. Don’t budge an inch. A good response to the “friendly” thing (or at least an effective one) is “And my friends call me Jonathan.” Preferably delivered absolutely deadpan.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          My name is like that, on the birth certificate and everything. So I have to correct them, because while they’re trying to get it right and be respectful, they’re not using my actual name!

          Recently, I ran into a situation where the client was to be called “Robbie” if you were speaking to him, but if you were going to use his name in print, it had to be “Robert”.

        2. Mona Lisa*

          I was introduced to my FIL with a name that’s a common nickname (something like Tom), and when I sent my first thank you note to my then-boyfriend’s parents, I addressed him as Thomas in an attempt to be formal and courteous. I did this for YEARS before I picked up their mail one day and saw that all of the bills were made out to “Tommy LastName.” Apparently his mother couldn’t imagine him as an adult and gave him a diminutive first name, which he has shortened because he doesn’t like the nickname. I was SO embarrassed by that, but it was a good lesson in learning to call people by the names they give you instead of what you think they should be. I’m glad I learned it at 24 instead of later.

          1. Tafadhali*

            This was a pretty common naming trend in the ’50s and ’60s and pretty much all of my mother’s siblings have the nickname name thing and have spent a LOT of time explaining.

            (And of course the two without nicknamey names — other than my mom — chose to go by cutesy ’50s nicknames, just to make things especially confusing. Try explaining to others the convoluted Mexican-American path that turns “Ruth” into “Cookie.”)

            (…for those who are wondering: Great-Aunt Refugio, the namesake, Americanizes her name to Ruth. The nickname for Refugio is Cuca, so young Ruth becomes Cookie. It would take a better linguist than I to explain why Cuca is the nickname for Refugio.)

            1. beachlover*

              oh yes. The propensity for Mexican’s to have a family nickname that doesn’t even resemble someone’s actual name. I remember one of the first times, I heard my dad’s relatives call him by his family nickname “Chano” I had to ask my mom who they were talking about. On the other hand, my oldest brother’s name is Andrew, but everyone called him “Sonny”. I mean everyone, as a small child I was amazed to find out that his name was actually Andrew. To this day, he is 77 now, our family calls him Sonny, and his friends call him Andy.

            2. Rachel*

              Huh, my girlfriend’s Guatemalan grandmother was named Refugio, and they always called her Refy. Her second cousin, also from Guatemala, is called Kuky, which I had expected to be spelled Cookie until she Facebook-friended me :) So now I’m wondering if Kuky is her given name or a nickname, and if that’s why Refy was nicknamed that, maybe – to differentiate! After all, my gf is Sabrina, but her cousin twice removed, named after her, is Sabrinita so we know who we’re talking about :) Same thing happened with my family – except with Scottish diminutives instead of Spanish. Big Daniel and Wee Daniel (although Wee Daniel has now outstripped his big namesake by a good six inches!)

        3. Callie*

          My dad is a Don (JUST Don) and people call him Donald all the time, which is NOT his name. It makes him SO MAD.

      3. Just call me Chris*

        That’s one of my pet peeves. I go by Chris, but so many freaking people want to call me Christopher. The problem is my full name is Christian, which I hate, which is why I go by Chris.

        Why is it so hard to call people what they want to be called?

        1. SongBird*

          Heh. My partner’s name is Chris, short for Christopher. When people *call him Christopher*, he says, “No, only if I’m in trouble with my mom.” Invariably, they laugh and call him Chris.

        2. Maria*

          One guy I worked with named Frank kept having to correct people who assumed his name was Francis. It was actually Franklin.

          1. Jess*

            My grandfather went by Al and everyone assumed it was short for Albert or Alfred, but he was actually Aloysius. Not the most common name.

        3. Candi*

          Drives me bananas. My nickname is extremely common, both as real world and usernames. My full name is really uncommon, but shares five out of seven letters with the much more common version.

          Guess what people assume my full name is?

          Gah. Just ask. And don’t make the joke about the Latin meaning. It’s old. And my name comes from the Germanic anyway.

      4. Honeybee*

        A lot of people do this with my husband’s name – really similar to John/Jonathan, in that it’s a short one-syllable name that is a name all on it’s own but for some reason people always assume it’s short for another very common name.

    4. hayling*

      My mom is Patricia and her whole life people have automatically shortened it to Pat. She usually introduces herself as Trish because she prefers that as a nickname to Pat!

      Speaking of Patricias, Patty Hearst has always gone by Patricia to anyone but her closest family/friends. But when she was kidnapped, her parents would give radio/TV press conferences and address her as Patty, so the whole world thinks of her as Patty!

      1. Lillian McGee*

        I also know a Patricia who goes by Trish! She HATES Pat.

        I have a niece who is just learning peoples names. I have been trying and trying to get her to call me Aunt Lili (or Nini–easier for a 2yo) but I only see her once a week. Over the last week her parents taught her to call me Lillian and it’s stuck. Doh.

        1. Julia*

          Same here! I never had a nickname (or at least never one I liked), and when my niece started talking, I became Lulu. We wanted to keep that, but when everyone refers to me as Julia, the kid will pick up on it. Still can’t pronounce it, though, so I am Luuuulia for now, lol.

      2. Quick Anon*

        My MIL is also a Patricia, and I called her Pat for a long time. (Like, 15 years long time) I guess she doesn’t really like that. Henceforth why she gave her three sons names that don’t have an “official” shortened version. (You can kind of shorten my husband’s name, but that would only be used by either myself, or blood relatives)

      3. FrequentLurker*

        My mum too. She loved her name Patricia, and wasn’t keen on any shortening, but for years her husband called her Pat which was the worst for her (and of course everyone they knew did the same). After they divorced and she moved away, one of the first things she did was start introducing herself to new people as Trish so that she got to choose the abbreviation.

    5. Jayn*

      I see potential for a fail there (beyond the obvious one.) I have an unwieldy first name, so I go by Jayn to make it easier to deal with. Unfortunately people who choose to shorten it often go for Jaynie rather than Jayn, which is what I went by during one of the more painful periods of my life and which brings to mind a nasty rhyme. I’m not as sensitive about it as I used to be, time and distance have helped a lot, but the only people I’m okay with calling me Jaynie are those who knew me at that time.

    6. Finman*

      My biggest pet peeve is when people spell my name Stephen when my email address is Steven, my signature line says Steven Smith, and my emails usually end with “Thank you, Steven”

      1. Kristin D*

        I get “Kristen” all the time, instead of “Kristin,” including people I work with on a near-daily basis and/or have known for years. As with you, if you get an email from me, my name is spelled correctly three different times. How do they not notice? I am extra careful with name spelling now, though.

        1. VintageLydia*

          My SIL is a “Kristin” and she HATES being referred to as “Kristen” with the passion of a thousand suns.

          1. Kristin D*

            I accept it at Starbucks and the like (I also get Crystal, Krista, Christine, Christina), but from colleagues and clients I’ve worked with for a long time, it’s really grating. My own brother even spelled it with an “e” once!

            1. Kristin C*

              This happens to me constantly and drives me insane. Also people constantly call me Christian and Christine.

              I hate the nickname Kris and so many people seem to love calling me that. Nope.

              1. Kristin D*

                How do they hear “Christine” or “Christina” when we say “Kristin”? It is bizarre.

                My high school sweetheart’s name was Kris. My chemistry teacher at the time kept calling me Kris, despite me asking him not to because it was not only annoying, but also weird.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  People hear “Lisa” when I’m introduced or introduce myself as Liz. It’s easier sometimes if I just say “Elizabeth”. Besides, I like the longer version, though I’m okay with the short.

                  Don’t even get me started about how much of a pain it is that I go by my middle name.

                2. Kirstin R*

                  My people!

                  I literally have four names at work because so many of my coworkers are married to whatever pronunciation of my name they think they heard the first time we met. And I’m so shy/unsure about the proper etiquette for correcting that kind of thing, especially in front of others (I’ve had people snap at me for trying to correct them, probably because wounded pride), that I give up after a few tries. And it feels like after a few times of letting one pronunciation slide, it’s a little too late? So it’s Kristin/Kiersten/Christina/Krista for me.

                  Mostly I just introduce myself as Kay now.

                3. NoLongerMsCleo*

                  My given name is Christine and I go by Christy. Which I’ve had several people mistake for Tiffany???
                  I had a former boss (I was the only one who reported to him) who would always call me Crystal. I corrected him a few times, then one day he said, “you don’t like it when I call you Crystal, do you?” Um, no, that’s not my name.

                4. Melissa*

                  They’re probably only hearing part of your name and filling in the blanks. I answer the phones all day with my actual name, but people frequently think I’m saying my name is Martha, Marcia, Marissa, Alyssa, Lissa, Lisa…

                  I have no excuses for people who see your name in print and still don’t get it right.

                5. Elfie*

                  I’m an Emma, but I guess my phone pronunciation is terrible, because loads of people think it’s Anna – even though in the UK, Emma is just about the most common name you can have!

                6. MnGreeneyes*

                  My given name is Pamela. I am called Pam, although I guess I got the name because Dad wanted a Pammy, but have never been called that. I believe my last name is the problem for me. My last name is Buth. If I am introduced with first and last name, or someone sees it on my email, at least once a month I am called Beth! Sometimes in the email that is signed by me as Pam. Its been happening for more than 20 years. I guess I look like a Beth!


                7. Harold*

                  My ex is named Nanette. At various times she’s been misnamed as Lynette, Annette, Jeanette, Janet, Nan, Ann, Nancy, and alternate spellings of all of those. Because she likes to obfuscate, she doesn’t just let them go, she adopts them as aliases.

              2. Kristin (Germany)*

                Looks like I’m in the right place! My favorite thing is if someone misspells my name on Facebook or such — I mean, there’s zero to remember, the correct spelling of my name is literally DIRECTLY ABOVE THE WORDS THEY ARE CURRENTLY TYPING. How?? Why?!

            2. Joyously Anon for This*

              My name is Joy, and my pet peeve is when people call me Joyce. Happens both from them mishearing or misreading it. Those two extra letters and the sound just grate on me.

            3. ThatGirl*

              Starbucks. Goodness. My first name, despite only being six letters, seems hard for people to spell so I often tell Starbucks and similar places “Lyn” as a name (my middle name)…

              Last time I did that the cup said “Linh.”

              LINH, are you kidding me?

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Long before the Internet, I read an anecdote about Katharine Hepburn that stuck because I have name issues (a double-barrelled first name that gets truncated constantly) – a friend of hers wanted to name a child after her, and Hepburn said something to the effect of it was a sweet idea, but just think about the fact that she’d be dooming the child to having her name misspelled constantly.

        3. NoLongerMsCleo*

          Drives me crazy when people IM or email me and spell my name with a I instead of a Y at the end. I’m like, you had to look me up to get this far, how hard is it to spell it right? I always triple check when writing names that have multiple spellings.

        4. Flor*

          My first name is pretty common in the UK (where my parents are from), but almost unheard of back home in Canada. Let’s say it’s Hermione, because I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and it took till Goblet of Fire for me to learn how to pronounce it XD

          I grew up constantly being called Hermy-own, Hermy-one, Herminey, etc., but I’ve lived in the UK for the past several years and gotten used to people knowing how to say my name. I’m not looking forward to correcting hiring managers and interviewers when I move back home; there’s something really awkward when someone introduces themselves to you and the first thing out of your mouth is, “actually, it’s pronounced Her-my-own-knee”.

        5. Kristen*

          I get the opposite — long-time friends and colleagues who believe I spell my name “Kristin” when it’s actually “Kristen.” It’s actually misspelled on a commemorative clock from a group of colleagues. Once the president of a board on which I served called me specifically to get the spelling of my name straight because another person in the group was so insistent that the board was misspelling my name and that I was a “Kristin.” The misspelling doesn’t really bother me, because it’s not as bad as my grandfather pronouncing my name “Christian” (which he did throughout his life). I figure I must look more like a “Kristin” than a “Kristen.” The one thing that does bother me is anyone who tries to call me “Kristy.” I shut that down immediately!

          1. SignalLost*

            I have an unusual spelling of my name, and the number of people who have proactively “corrected” it is more than 0, so it is too damn high. It was actually entered wrong into an email system at one of my workplaces, and took much too long to fix. More recently, my insurance agent’s assistant decided it was spelled wrong so changed it, even though she was on the phone with me at the time and didn’t mention what she was doing or ask if it was correct to change it. Are these people for real?

        6. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

          I have one of those names, too, that can be spelled a few different ways. Of course, everyone spells my name NOT like I spell it. Whenever I see my name spelled the other ways, I cringe. I don’t know, but when an email or text etc is addressed to me and my name is not spelled like I spell it, I cringe. It’s like “who is that? That’s not me”.

        7. FrequentLurker*

          I’m careful with names (easy when it’s in writing, you only have to look!) but for some reason I really struggle with Kristy vs Kirsty.
          There’s some sort of blind spot in my head around it and I always have to stop and ask which way is correct.

      2. Phyllis B*

        I hear you, Steven. My name is Phyllis. All my contact info has “Phyllis” in it. I constantly get Phyliss or Philis. Sigh…………..

        1. Mmmmmk*

          Well. I’m Margaux and you would NOT believe how often in business correspondence I get “Marqaux”. A “g” is most definitely not the same as a “q”.

          1. JessaB*

            They’re not even close on a querty keyboard. That’s a lack of attention. At least they don’t spell you Margot.

          2. Harold*

            My surname contains a “q”. I constantly see it misspelled with a “g”. There is nobody in this country with the “g” name — all instances that I’ve researched are misspellings of the “q” name — but it persists.

      3. Lana*

        My birth name is Ilana, which I use at my day job and in my theater credits (Lana is a nickname that my Archer-loving friends started using, which I approved and adopted myself after I started watching it too). I have had SO MANY people reply to emails addressing me as “Llana” or “Liana” even though they can see my name, spelled correctly, and printed in a serif font that I use specifically so people can see I’m not going around spelling my name with all lowercase letters. It absolutely drives me up the wall.

      4. SarahKay*

        My name is Sarah, but people shorten it to Sar or Sars (pronounced to rhyme with care or cares) and just NO! I politely correct them twice, then the third time I just ignore them; they’re clearly not talking to me. Also, yes, there is an ‘h’ on the end of my name. When emailing me you can see the spelling in my email address, so please don’t start with “Hi Sara”.

        1. To H or not to H*

          Hi there, can I give you all my spare Hs please? I have a name which is very close to a more common name that ends in an H. This common name is pronounced differently to my name. (Like Sarah/Sara, essentially.)

          As others have said above, my name is spelled correctly in my email address, in my signature and in my sign-offs to people, and yet the Hs seem to magically appear in replies…

          This also happens verbally – I introduce myself with my name and people seem to internally append an H. So, if I were a Sara, it would be “Hi, I’m Sara.” “Oh, hi Sarah, nice to meet you.”


          1. bkanon*

            That’s funny to me becaause I don’t say Sarah different from Sara. I might hear the difference if you said it to me, but I’d pronounce them the same until told otherwise.

          2. Anonhippopotamus*

            In my geographical location Sara and Sarah are pronounced identically. What is the difference where you are?

          3. Cath in Canada*

            When I was growing up in the UK, all the Sarahs I knew pronounced it like “fair-er”, and all the Saras I knew pronounced it like “far-er”. But then I moved to Canada and found that all the Saras I met pronounced their names like “fair-er” too.

            1. To H or not to H*

              Sorry this is late, but yes this is a geography thing exactly as you say! Clearly the Sara/Sarah difference is not an example that travels well…

      5. Lori*

        I’m a Lori. Not Laura, not Laurie, or any other spelling. It’s not a nickname for anything (though when I was younger I wished I’d had a longer name that could be nickname-ized!) My sister is a Sheri, so she gets all the same problems that I do.

        The people who get a pass on misspelling my name are my in-laws, as my sister-in-law has the same name but different spelling. Obviously, they knew her first ;)

        Like you, I’m flummoxed when someone spells my name wrong when it’s quite literally spelled out in the thing they’re responding to!

    7. Phyllis B*

      Yep, I have relatives from New Jersey who do this All.The.Time. My name is Phyllis so I am always Phyl. My mother is Marjorie, who usually goes by Margie. So of course they call her Marge. It doesn’t really bother me, but my husband Richard, HATES being called Ritch, Ritchie, or Dick. In fact, he won’t even answer until they call him Richard. (Which I think is more rude than them calling him a nick-name, but he has been telling them for years he prefers Richard.)

      People here in the South don’t tend to do that. If you introduce yourself to me as Sarah, I’m going to call you Sarah, unless you say, “Oh please, call me Sally!!”

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Ha, that reminded me of my cousin’s husband, who is also Richard, and who went on a business trip last year with someone who was also Richard. The guy they were meeting with had a real problem with the concept of the fact they had the same name, and said to my cousin’s husband “You know, you don’t look like a Richard, I think you look more like a Marvin.” He then proceeded to address him as Marv for the rest of the business trip. My other cousin wanted to make it stick as a nickname to wind him up, but it never really caught on.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Oh God, I hate it when people rename me! Even if they use variants of my actual name.

          Someone creepy I used to know always wanted to call me “Beth,” though I told him six million times I don’t like it, I don’t want to be called that, and I will not answer you if you do. He wanted to be “special.” Ugh ugh ugh gross no.

        2. Honeybee*

          I have a friend that does that – he just renames people to whatever he thinks they “look” like. There are at least two friends I met through him that for months I thought had a different name than they actually had.

      2. Chalupa Batman*

        That’s the rule I use-I call you what you tell me your name is. In situations without formal introductions, I call you by the full name until you call yourself something different. If someone has a name that’s almost always shortened, sometimes I ask “Do you go by [full name]?” It’s a little awkward sometimes, so I follow it up by explaining “I’m an Abigail-not-Abby [not my real name], so I always ask if I’m not sure” (I have a name that’s commonly shortened, and I haaaate the most common nickname). Two birds with one stone!

      3. SusanIvanova*

        I don’t intentionally ignore people who only use the first half of my double first name, it simply doesn’t register any more than an entirely dissimilar one would. I got marked absent by countless substitute teachers over the years.

    8. Not Rebee*

      Yep! I have a coworker who insists on calling me Rebee… I’m Rebecca. I’ve only ever introduced myself as Rebecca, though I don’t mind nicknames as long as it’s not Becky, and I don’t plan on ever starting to introduce myself using a nickname. If I did, it sure wouldn’t be Rebee. No matter how many times I bring it up with him, he reverts to calling me Rebee. Apparently Rebecca is too much of a mouthful, and he thinks Rebee sounds cool. I’ve even given him an alternate nickname (would rather be called Becca that Rebee even if I think he doesn’t deserve to use the nickname which people typically adopt once we have been friends for a while) but it has not stuck. Ugh…

    9. Liz*

      It’s so ridiculous. I do use a shortened version WHICH I PUT IN MY EMAIL SIGNATURE. People still respond with all sorts of variations on my name. I can justify the full name which is used in the email address itself, but other versions? Who’s got the time or energy?

  2. Leatherwings*

    Regarding #4: Just correct yourself with a brief quickly and move on. You don’t want to overly apologize and put the burden on the person to say “it’s really ok” or whatever. The language about making an effort not to repeat the issue is also great.

    1. Garrett*

      I volunteer at an LGBTQ center and people go by a variety of pronouns. We actually ask people in meetings and gatherings to put their pronoun preference on their nametag. I’ve slipped a few times, but most people don’t call me on it, as they understand it isn’t done intentionally. But, if I realize, I will do a quick correction, a little apology and move on.

      One board member there told me she just uses “they” with everyone to avoid having to remember. That probably won’t work everywhere but it does for her.

        1. Gaia*

          I think that is a little harsh. I work really hard to be sure to match my words to the preferred pronoun but sometimes I err. It isn’t laziness it is ingrained societal instinct that one has to work against.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I think pronouns are something that we generally don’t think about consciously at all when we speak, so if it gets wired into your head one way at the start, it can take deliberate effort to rewire. If someone isn’t making that effort, that’s not only lazy but hostile — but I do think even when people try, it can be a process.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I had a slip that embarrassed me the other day–and it doesn’t even make sense, because I’m bi myself and very pro-LGBTQ in general. A woman called here and said she was calling to ask such-and-such question about her fiance (and note, this was verbal, I didn’t have a spelling to look at), and I replied, “Sure, what’s his major” or something like that. And then I was like “D’oh, we won that battle, there’s no reason it can’t be a fiancee.” Thankfully, the rest of the conversation cleared up that it really was a guy, but I felt like a dope.

              1. Government Worker*

                As a woman married to a woman, I totally don’t care when people assume that my spouse is male, as long as when I say “Actually she’s a chem major” the person takes it in stride. Either no reaction and immediate adjustment going forward, or a quick apology like people have been describing for misgendering someone directly, is fine. It’s the people who make showy apologies or launch into stories of how their best friend’s cousin married a woman or make other comments that make it into A Thing that irritate me.

                Something like 95% of the time, a woman speaking of a fiance/e is speaking about a man. Sure, it’s nice when people use inclusive language and don’t make assumptions, but I really don’t think this is one to beat yourself up over.

                1. Sofia*

                  What pronoun would we use if we want to be gender neutral?

                  “What’s their major?” Isn’t grammatically correct as their implies more than one person. Should we just say “What is your fiance(e)’s/partner’s major?” Or does the grammar not really matter?

                  Not trying to be picky or anything I am genuinely curious?

                2. Emma*

                  Sofia – “they” has actually been used as a singular in English for centuries. Some people object, but I don’t see why it’s a problem and it is, at this point, the obvious default gender-neutral pronoun, especially since most people will default to that automatically if faced with a need for one.

                  So I guess part of it is, what do you consider grammatically correct? What a particular style guide says, or what is common (and established) usage?

                3. Natalie*

                  @ Sofia, it’s a common misconception that the “singular they” is grammatically incorrect – it’s perfectly fine in English and has been used for centuries.

                  I’m assuming Strunk & White are somehow to blame.

                4. Evan Þ*

                  Myself, I’m reluctantly accepting singular “they” as grammatically correct. It sounds really weird, but there’s actually a rare but longstanding tradition of singular “they,” even in authors as conservative as C. S. Lewis.

                5. Sofia*

                  Thanks everyone for letting me know! I did not know that. So would that be the best way to ask when unsure?

                6. Turtle Candle*

                  My favorite example of the history of singular they is Jane Austen, who used it fairly frequently!

                7. Rebecca*

                  @Sofia: asking can feel awkward, but I’ve found starting from a personal place can work. Something like “by the way, what are your pronouns? Mine are she/her.”

                8. Trig*

                  @Sofia, in this example, and in many places, avoiding the pronoun altogether works just fine. “Sure, what’s your fiance’s major?”

                  (Eventually it can start to feel awkward using “your fiance” over and over again, but hopefully context cues will have sorted out the confusion before then!)

                9. Turanga Leela*

                  I’m a bisexual feminist who loathes the singular “they.” I’m happy to accept it for a nonbinary individual who describes themself as a “they,” because that’s respectful to the person in question, and that person’s identity is more important than my feelings about grammar. (I’ll use other nonbinary pronouns too, if someone requests them.) But I just can’t use “they” as a generic singular, in place of “he” or “she.” It grates on me. I am a stickler for stodgy old grammar rules, and I work in a field where that’s a good thing rather than a bad thing. I have decided that I can promote LGBTQ rights and gender equality without giving up gendered pronouns.

                  When I’m thoughtful about it, I ask, “Oh, what does your fiance do?” (no pronouns, and you can’t tell whether I said fiance or fiancee). When I’m not thoughtful, I ask, “What does he do?” and if it turns out that the person is actually a woman, I just go with it and usually nobody cares, as Government Worker says.

                  Rebecca and Sofia, asking about preferred pronouns is a great idea in some places, like LGBTQ organizations and many college campuses. Outside of those contexts, you have to be careful because some people will be offended. If you ask a woman, “What’s your preferred pronoun?” and she’s a cis woman who doesn’t spend time in circles where that’s a common question, she may think that you’re saying she’s masculine or insulting her in some way. Approach with caution, and try to use context clues like asking for people’s names.

                10. D*

                  Explicitly misgendering a trans person *who is actually present* is a very, very different thing from tacitly misgendering a gay/lesbian/bisexual person’s partner because you made a default assumption that they’re heterosexual. I agree that the latter “isn’t one to beat yourself up over”, but the former is much more serious.

                  OP #4 is absolutely correct that their husband should have made a matter-of-fact apology to their colleague on the spot. That is the professionally appropriate way to handle a non-malicious but potentially extremely hurtful mistake. In this case, the husband has already made things worse by “awkwardly trying to cover it up”, and if they doesn’t offer an apology afterwards

                  then he totally comes off as having *intentionally and maliciously* misgendered their

                  he husband look like they *are* in fact transphobic

                  and are trying to

                  lleague by the wrong pronoun, in front of them (and awkwardly tried to cover it up). I said he should probably apologize matter-of-factly in the moment and say it was a mistake he’ll try not to repeat. He wondered if that would be more awkward, especially if they didn’t notice. What do you think?

                11. DArcy*

                  Explicitly misgendering a trans person *who is actually present* is a very, very different thing from tacitly misgendering a gay/lesbian/bisexual person’s partner because you made a default assumption that they’re heterosexual. I agree that the latter “isn’t one to beat yourself up over”, but the former is much more serious.

                  OP #4 is absolutely correct that their husband should have made a matter-of-fact apology to their colleague on the spot. That is the professionally appropriate way to handle a non-malicious but potentially extremely hurtful mistake. In this case, the husband has already made things worse by “awkwardly trying to cover it up”, and if he doesn’t offer an apology afterwards then he totally comes off as having *intentionally and maliciously* misgendered the colleague in public.

                12. Karo*

                  @Sofia – I know I’m super late, but: I loathe the singular they (I know it’s grammatically correct, but it’s like an itch deep in my ear canal that I just can’t scratch), so I’d try to go with something that removes the pronoun altogether. Instead of “what’s his/her/their major?” it’d be “what’s the major?” or “what’s your fiance’s major?” I don’t think it sounds awkward to repeat the title like that.

            2. Rebecca*

              See, I think people care a great deal about pronouns, but aren’t necessarily aware of how much they think about pronouns and gendering everything. I agree that it’s a process, but if you learn that a person’s pronouns aren’t what you may have expected them to be, I think the onus is on you to internalize it and honor their wishes as quickly as possible.

              (“You” meaning the larger “you,” not just Alison; and “as quickly as possible” meaning “it probably won’t be immediately perfect.”)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I certainly agree that the onus is on you to internalize it as quickly as possible. But I can’t agree that slip-ups are always due to laziness or hostility (as was argued above).

                1. Rebecca*

                  I agree, but I think (know/have seen many times) slip-ups can be from a place of laziness or hostility. And when someone does experience those kinds of slip-ups, it’s really easy to feel uniformly disrespected by being misgendered, even if it’s an “honest” mistake.

                2. AnonEMoose*

                  Actually a reply to Rebecca (out of nesting).

                  I don’t think anyone is saying people should feel a certain way – feelings kind of are what they are. It’s more about the assumption, and not assuming someone is being hostile or doesn’t care enough to remember, at least not right away.

                3. Sophie Winston*

                  Also, there was an NPR story awhile back that basically said the more nervous you are about doing something wrong, the more likely you are to screw it up. So the folks worrying the most about getting your pronouns right may be most likely to mess up.

                4. Chinook*

                  “I certainly agree that the onus is on you to internalize it as quickly as possible. But I can’t agree that slip-ups are always due to laziness or hostility ”

                  I have to agree. There have been times when I have been talking about someone straight and messed up their pronouns because my mind stutters and won’t give me the one I know is correct. Considering I do the same thing with names, I know it isn’t personal and I correct and move on.

                5. Karo*

                  @Sophie – That’s why I (unintentionally) wind up in Group C in the link Alison shared (the OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT group). I’m trying so hard to get better, to just correct and move on when I do slip up, but it’s like I’m putting this pressure on myself to be right/sensitive, so when I’m not I get super flustered and then concerned that people think I’m doing it on purpose.

              2. A for this*

                I just have to say the transgender thing really confuses me. I’m not trying to knock it or anything, but there are many lesbian women who dress and present very masculine – but they consider themselves to be a ‘she.’ However, I’ve also met a young person who I worked with who had very feminine facial structure, voice tone, etc. but dressed very masculine, so I assumed to be a masculine lesbian. When I introduced myself and asked ‘her’ name – because at the time I assumed she was a she, but I hadn’t used a pronoun yet – He identified himself as Max and from thereafter I referred to him in my head/conversationally as a He.

                I think it’s such a tough thing to assume someone’s gender pronoun, because so many people present in different ways. I tend to just go with societal norms (because there are masculine presenting lesbians who consider themselves to be shes, and feminine presenting gay men who consider themselves hes) of gender pronoun unless I’m specifically told otherwise.

                For what it’s worth, I’m in the South. Gay and Lesbian people certainly aren’t uncommon, but I’ve only ever run into a few transgender people in my field of work.

                1. Rebecca*

                  I think that as long as you do your best to honor somebody’s pronouns if you learn that their gender isn’t what you initially thought, you’re doing great!

                2. kac*

                  Perhaps you’ve run into more transgender people than you think! A lot of trans people aren’t necessarily “out.”

                3. Kay J*

                  I’m not going to touch the rest of your comic because it’s clearly coming from a place of knowing nothing about trans people, but suffice to say that butch women and trans men are feminine men and trans women are completely different. Trans women are women and trans men are men, because they are, not because they match the standards you expect

                  And for the record, I’m a southern non-binary trans person you wouldn’t assume is trans if you met me. I’m sur you’ve met trans people, we’re everywhere, we just don’t go around announcing it because people don’t understand.

            3. irritable vowel*

              @Turanga Leela — I find the singular “they” problematic as well. (I am a language prescriptivist, I guess.) It is not grammatically correct in my opinion, although I understand and appreciate the purpose behind its use in this context. But other languages are much, much harder for transgender/transitioning/queer people because EVERYTHING is gendered, not just pronouns. You have to make a gender distinction for every statement you make about yourself as well as what other people say to you. It would be very challenging to change the rules of the whole language to allow for a neutral option. So I guess I can be okay with “they” if that’s the only change we English-speakers need to make. :)

              1. TyphoidMary*

                other languages come up with their own creative answers. For example, we see “latinx” (pronounced “latin-ex”) for non-binary or ambiguous nouns in English. I’m also waiting for Mx. (“mix) as a non-gendered honorific in English to become mainstream, because as a linguist I am all about the dynamism and organic development of language!

            4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              I’m usually able to do pretty well with he/she/they pronouns, but I have a hard time with my gender nonconforming friends who go by more nonstandard pronouns (aer, eir). This gets harder still when ae wears clothes and other markers that are stereotypical of women–my brain wants to say “she” and “her” so badly–no matter how consciously I’m trying to follow aer preferred pronoun!

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I would have to ask how to say it. I haven’t a clue. Though I’m endlessly curious and totally would, in the spirit of getting it right.

                They is more problematic for me when I’m writing–I strive to use standard English as much as possible unless it’s in dialogue. Anything else bugs me, and I will rewrite the entire sentence to avoid it. But when I’m commenting, or just talking, not so much.

            5. Big10Professor*

              I literally practice this. When someone tells me their pronoun preference has changed, I talk to myself using that person’s name and new pronouns when they are not around, and it rewires it in my brain.

          2. violet*

            Harsh, really. Harsh is having coworkers refer to you he and him despite never knowing you before your transition. How come people who have known me for over 5 years can it right, but coworkers who have known me for a few months can’t.

            1. Adonday Veeah*

              What’s harsh is your assuming all slippage by anyone ever is caused by laziness. I’m sorry if you work with assholes, but not everyone is.

                1. Mustache Cat*

                  I feel like you’re painting with the same brush when some offenders deserve to be judged more lightly and some deserve to be judged much more harshly. Your coworkers sound straight-up transphobic, since you’ve asked them to correctly gender you multiple times. People who slip up once in a while, apologize and mean it, and try hard not to slip up again? They should get the benefit of the doubt for now.

                2. Squirrel*

                  Well, it *is* an act of transphobia.

                  It’s a manifestation of the fact that we think that people who look a certain way should have certain pronouns. Yeah, it can be an unconscious thing, but it absolutely should be taken seriously as a transphobic behavior. We all have internalized transphobia the same way we have internalized homophobia and sexism and racism that we have to work on every day.

                  Yes, I’ve messed up a couple of times, and I take it as the serious microaggression that it is and I actively work to not mess up again. My partner in 3+ years of dating me has not messed up my pronouns once because he takes it incredibly seriously.

                  I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is to make sure we use the right pronouns if we know them.

              1. DArcy*

                That’s not harsh. Harsh would be assuming that misgendering a colleague in public is always based on transphobia, as opposed to only *most of the time*.

                Laziness is an optimistic spin on the situation. Hint: if you’re “lazily” referring to me as ‘he’, it’s probably because you insist on thinking of me as male, and that is in fact transphobic.

            2. Rebecca*

              violet, that really sucks. Do you have anyone in a management role, or any organizational resources you could leverage?

            3. Myrin*

              That doesn’t sound like a slip of the tongue, though, but like intentional misgendering. I’m really sorry you’re working with people like that.

              1. Prismatic Professional*

                I agree that sounds like intentional misgendering. Particularly since he didn’t know you as the gender he’s calling you! That’s horrific and you have my sympathies. :-/

              2. Kelly L.*

                This. It could be laziness or a brain fart if they did know you before and haven’t rearranged their neurons yet. But not if they never knew you before.

            4. Gaia*

              If people are openly, intentionally and repeatedly referring to someone as the obviously wrong pronoun that is hostile and wrong. But that isn’t what you said. What you said was anyone who ever makes an error in statement was lazy (or below were you suggested transphobic). This is overly harsh and seems to expect robots instead of humans.

              1. Rebecca*

                I’d recommend reading into the “spirit” rather than the “letter” of the initial comment, rather than chiding someone who’s experiencing a lot of hostility at work.

            5. ToxicNudibranch*

              violet, the (very understandable and justified!) pain this is causing you is obvious.

              However, (and this is a big however), please try and understand that your particular experience of being willfully and maliciously misgendered is not at all what’s being talked about here. That’s not an okay thing for those people to be doing to you, and it is harmful and hurtful in the extreme. What’s being discussed here is that sometimes people misspeak without malice or intent to wound, and the people who misspeak would like to know how best to acknowledge they screwed up and move forward *without causing additional pain or discomfort to the person they misgendered*.

              What we’re saying is that making the default assumption that *everyone* who misgenders an individual once or twice is doing it as a deliberate and cruel act of transphobia and ignorance is not a reasonable assumption to make.

        2. Emmie*

          Sometimes people get it wrong, and it isn’t always laziness. I was once a hairdresser to trans clients while they were contemplating a gender reassignment in a progressive city about 20 years ago. Many of my clients would alternate between identifying as male for one visit, and female for another. The distinction between genders was usually the way that the person parted his or her hair, and the gender direction was different for each client. Plus, I always had to remember: “is it real life right / left” or “shampoo bowl right / left.” There were times that I was mistaken. I felt HORRIBLE. Genuine apologies were very helpful, but so was getting it right in subsequent interactions.

          1. JessaB*

            A number of my trans friends have basically said that if you just go “Oh, sorry,” and continue on correctly, it’s better than all the “OMG I’m sooooooo sorry, I screwed up, I’m sooo sorry…” kind of responses. You made a mistake don’t make a whole show of it.

            I wish I could find the Assigned Male comic about the difference in reactions and link to it. But the trans cartoonist who does the strip does expose a lot of the reactions and how trans persons feel about them. And she very much says the whole going into a grovelling I’m sorry thing is very discomforting and makes her think that it’s more about the person than the mistake.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          Or just people making an honest mistake as happens in everyday life with lots of things. I have called people by the wrong name before, even though I’m a sticker for knowing people’s names and using the one they prefer. Just yesterday, I called someone (that I’ve know for over a year) by a nickname they don’t use for no reason other than I spaced out for a second.

          I think assuming good intent until you see otherwise is generally a good way to approach coworkers. If someone is refusing to use preferred pronouns or a preferred name repeatedly or getting eye-rolly about being corrected, yeah, that’s rude. Slipping up is just what humans do sometimes.

        4. Mephyle*

          Lazy? Perhaps for some, but it could simply be the verbal equivalent of a typo. Parents famously mix up their children’s and pet’s names. Dis your parents ever call you by your sibling’s or your dog’s name? Or, for those who are a parent, have you ever done it? It’s a common experience, and I don’t think it comes from lack of respect of one’s child’s species (i.e. forgetting that they’re not a dog). It‘s a brain-to-mouth typo.

          1. Marisol*

            Great example. My sister, childhood dog, and I all had names ending in an “ee” sound. Mom would scroll through them until she landed on the right one.

          2. SarahKay*

            So true. I have two stepsisters, both much younger than my sister and I but with a similar age gap between the two of them as my sister and I have. Dad has got the pairs of names swapped so many times (often to hilarious effect); he now goes with ‘Daughter number One’ when I call him :)

          3. Daisy Avalin*

            Growing up an a farm with two sisters (so three girls), we got called any name that came to mind! Dad defaulted in the end to just using the ‘species’ name, i.e. Child, Cow, Dog, etc. Most of the time it wasn’t an issue, because the context of the conversation indicated which Child/Cow/Cat/etc was being talked to/about.
            I do refer to my Child as Child a lot, along with various silly nicknames that are just messing about.

            I default to ‘Trouble’ for Child’s friends/classmates because there are two reactions – the child says indignantly “I’m not trouble!” as their parent laughs in disbelief at the child, or the child grins happily at me! One of her friends (whose father I know through work) has taken to calling me Trouble in response, which amuses me. Of course, if the child said they’d prefer Name, I’d try to remember that. But 90% of the girls have medium-length blonde curly hair, and 90% of the boys have short dark blond hair, and I don’t see them often enough to know exactly who’s who.

        5. Anonanonanonanona batman!*

          I think that’s really harsh. I have a trans* parent and it took me awhile to switch pronouns. I wasn’t being lazy, I love him and was trying. Sometimes slip-ups occur.

          1. NiceOrc*

            (Sorry, totally irrelevant, but I just read that as transparent and was confused for a minute! A transparent what?)
            (Sorry, I’ll shut up and go away now…)

          2. LabHeather*

            I agree. It does take a while to get used to changes.

            When a friend of mine (now partner) started his transition in his early teen, we all slipped up in the beginning. It was out of habit and it took a while to adjust. Luckily we went together with some other friends for a vacation that summer, and the intense socialisation/gentle reminders every day for two weeks was all it took to finally cement him as a “him” in our heads. It has not been a problem since.

        6. BSD*

          I use they/them pronouns personally but not professionally, and one of my coworkers started going by they/them pronouns recently and even I screw up sometimes when I’m referring to them! It’s not laziness, it’s just really really hard to change a deeply ingrained and societally reinforced habit.

          1. anon for this*

            I’ll raise you one: I also go by they/them pronouns personally, and I’ve screwed up my own pronouns before. Deeply ingrained habits indeed. (Even if it did leave me feeling like I had just failed at being genderqueer forever.)

          2. Elizabeth West*

            It is hard, but it’s doable. I know it’s not the same thing, but when I started going by a different name, my family moaned about it for a while, but now they never call me FirstName anymore. Even my almost-80-year-old dad got it right.

            I had a friend from high school, however, whom I reconnected with later on Facebook, and she insisted it was too hard to call me MiddleName. We’re not friends anymore because she is deeply homo- and transphobic, and I just don’t have room for that (and we have little in common these days anyway). I can’t even imagine what she would have said if I were gay or trans.

        7. chickabiddy*

          I have one kid and I still manage to get her name wrong on occasion. And it has happened that I have referred to recently-married women by their birth names, even though I know that they have chosen to change their last names, because that’s what my brain is used to and it defaults.

        8. Green*

          I’ve never had trouble using the preferred he/his or she/her pronouns for a transgender individual.

          But if you knew someone pre-transition, it can be easy to slip. Ze/zir are still relatively rare, and can be more difficult to input consciously into an unconscious part of speech (pronouns), although I would absolutely make a deliberate effort to do so. (Which may make me more likely to goof!) Similarly, someone who is genderqueer or otherwise prefers a gender that isn’t aligned with how society would generally interpret their gender presentation, we all have to override cultural defaults of varying strengths. That’s not nothing, and I’ve generally found that people take any misuse in the spirit in which it was intended. If you’re trying to get it right, mess up and follow up with a quick apology, it may sting a bit but often people accept that someone is trying. If you’re deliberately misgendering people to make a point or convey rudeness, people take that way.

      1. TBoT*

        I wouldn’t recommend using “they” for everyone. There are are plenty of times where “they” as a singular pronoun makes total sense (like when you’re talking generically it can be a better option than “he or she”). But for individual people who have a specific preferred pronoun, “they” can feel as hurtful as being misgendered with “he” or “she.”

        1. Aurion*

          Yeah, I like using they when speaking generally or when I don’t know the preferred pronouns, but willfully using “they” instead of their preferred terms is still ignoring their wishes.

      2. Kore*

        I use they for every person that isn’t clear, but since my sibling is genderqueer (doesn’t identify as male or female) it’s pretty easy for me. Still, any time you don’t know a person singular they is totally fine.

      3. N*

        I’ll second this one. I was in a meeting a few months ago where they suggested that people should mention their preferred pronouns when they introduce themselves (ex. “Hi, my name is N and I use she/her pronouns.”) and when in doubt it can be helpful to use they/ze pronouns. Not for every office, I realize, but in an environment with many trans employees it could be something to consider.

      4. Misc*

        I use ‘they’ by default for most people; some of it’s gender assumption avoidance (I’m agender myself and gender specificity feels a bit weird/artificial a lot of the time), some of it’s the world’s worst memory (faces? names? what are those?).

        When I go for an actual pronoun, I always hesitate, run through markers in my head, and replay a recent/memorable sentence in which somebody referred to that person by a specific pronoun in front of me. This passes great 90% of the time, and gets me in real trouble around anyone transgender because either I get stuck in the ‘wait, there was a pronoun thing I have to remember, do I go with my instinct or not, what IS my instinct?’ or they’re not out to a lot of people, so I have to remember that, or they’re not out, and the most recent memory I have is of someone who refers to them by the incorrect gender.

        I have exactly the same problem with names, but I can get around names by using pronouns. When it comes to pronouns, I have to default to ‘them’ or ‘this one’ or their actual name, if my brain is tripping me up. I get away with it because I am very good at covering for my brain glitches and ‘they’ is normal for me, but as I actually want to make the effort to use the *correct* pronoun, not a generic one, it’s extra annoying to me. Transgender people will probably ALWAYS notice, at least my friends do, because they’re hyper sensitive to it, but they’re also generally more accepting of genuine errors, as a 90% accuracy rate is better than ignoring their gender entirely.

        If I mess up, I always correct it, just sort of ‘so she, uh, he…’ or double back and go ‘sorry, she’, as relevant, and it’s usually fine, same as if you messed someone’s name or age or something up. You can get *anything* wrong, even if you actually know what it should be. Treat it like that, it takes a lot of the weirdness out.

      5. an anon*

        Using “they” for everyone can also be misgendering. If you have worked really hard to present yourself to the world as, say, a “she,” being called “they” can be really demoralizing.

    2. TransAnon*

      ^ This. If you feel like you must apologize, keep it very short and simple. I wouldn’t even say you won’t repeat it in the future, because the longer you spend on the apology, the more people are going to notice and the more awkward it’s going to be. As a general guideline, if the person whose pronouns you fudged feels the need to verbally respond to your apology (i.e.: “That’s okay”, “No harm done”, or any other variation), you’ve gone too far. That means it’s no longer about the mistake, now it’s about them reassuring you that you’re forgiven.

      Speaking from personal experience, the best way to correct yourself is as if it was any other slip of the tongue. If you said “back door” instead of “front door”, you wouldn’t make a big fuss about the correction, so there’s no need to here. Something like “Jason said she wanted – sorry, he wanted – to talk about…” is fine. The most important part is to make an extra effort to gender the person correctly in the future. Mistakes are fine, as long as it’s clear you’re putting in an effort to get it right!

      1. Squirrel*

        As a fellow trans person, I second this. I prefer a quick sorry and a correction most of all.

        Honestly, I think that a self-correction is one of the least hurtful of gender slips because I’m more confident that the person will get to the place of zero mistakes.

        The worst is having to correct other people who don’t notice that they’ve misgendered me. It just takes so much energy to say something in the moment and sometimes I just don’t have the energy for it. So y’all: if someone uses the wrong pronouns for someone else, correct the other person for the trans person. *Especially* if the trans person isn’t there.

        Like sometimes I worry that co-workers are all misgendering me when I’m not around and just code-switch to the right pronouns when I’m present when they misgender me without correcting themselves. I suspect other trans people think the same thing, or the corollary, “this person doesn’t really think that I’m really trans/a woman/a man, etc.” It’s hard to feel like I’m being taken seriously.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          I second speaking up to correct pronouns when someone is misgendered in their absence! It’s one of the small things I can do as an ally to make my friends’ lives easier.

          I also feel that, if you didn’t catch it in the moment but did later, it’s ok to (again not as a big deal) say “I belatedly realized I misgendered you the other day. I’m really sorry about that.” and quickly move on. I’ve used this because I get my friend and her wife’s names mixed up a lot – not because I don’t know who is who, but because human BRAINS are lazy and make associations that sometimes work against us (see: stereotyping.)

    3. Reilly*

      I agree totally. My partner is transgender and I’m hesitant to speak on his behalf, but I’ve witnessed this happening to him many times and we’ve had many conversations on the topic. In my experience, this is a genuine mistake that lots of people make- it’s habit-based, and especially if you’ve known a person prior to their transition, it takes time to reframe the way your brain refers to them. My partner never interprets this as a hostile act unless it’s clear the person is using the wrong pronoun on purpose (from those people out there who refuse to acknowledge a trans identity as a valid one). That said, the person will almost certainly notice. A quick, genuine apology is the best route to go.

    4. Rebecca*

      Another thing people can do to help to is explicitly state pronouns on email signatures. It’s great for a gender-diverse environment, but also for a multi-ethnic environment. I found the below page really helpful when I was trying to figure out how to go about being upfront with pronouns. It also gives tools for how to explain to people why I’m bothering, though to be honest, nobody has asked about it.


      To answer OP #4’s initial question, if you accidentally misgender someone, it’s sort of time-based. If you notice right away, just quickly correct yourself and move on. If you realize after the fact, just be correct the next time. While some people might want a heartfelt apology, many would rather you not make a big deal about the error, and just be correct in the future.

      1. Trig*

        “but also for a multi-ethnic environment”

        I wish this was the norm in my globally-dispersed workplace! I’ve definitely Googled a lot of non-Western names trying to determine the probably gender of people.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Oh yeah!

        When I send clients emails, I always say “Dear FirstName,” or whatever instead of “Dear Ms. LastName,” so I don’t inadvertently mis-gender someone. Even if they’re not trans, I don’t want to make them uncomfortable or be the 9,000th person who made them roll their eyes that day.

      3. Anlina S*

        Oh I like this idea.

        I literally have a sign up at my desk with my pronouns and I still get misgenered 99% of the time (and I just don’t have the energy to correct people.) I’m pretty sure it’s not happening maliciously, but it’s exhausting, and clearly people need more reminders.

    5. Tammy*

      Yes, this. I’m transgender (and also facilitate a transgender support group) and my experience has been that most trans people are used to the occasional mix-up. This is especially true with people who knew them before their transitions, because old habits die hard. Just correct yourself, make an effort not to mess up in the future, and move on.

      The two cases where misgendering does become more problematic are people doing it on purpose (because being a jerkface isn’t nice) and people who never knew you before transition and still misgender you (because they’re either demonstrating they don’t respect your identified gender or else they’re trying to call attention to your transgender status. This second case has happened to me once or twice in my career, generally by male IT people whose egos were threatened by a transgender female IT person, and the effect is very off-putting and disrespectful. (It reminds me a lot of the letter we had a while ago about the person whose coworker kept calling attention to her physical disability for no good reason, and I see it as inappropriate for the same reasons.)

      But honest mistakes? Not a big deal unless they become a habit.

  3. Loopy*

    The Ms.first name thing happens semi frequently at my job and we are the south and everyone here is very southern.

    I do think sometimes it’s a regional thing- of course still fine to correct.

    I’ve let it go knowing the person who does it is generally not offensive or sexist even in the slightest, and because it’s only an occasional thing…but now I wonder if most other women would dislike it/speak up?

    Am I letting something condescending slide?

    1. Observer*

      No, it’s not condescending. Neither Mr. nor Ms. are diminutives. In some cultures calling someone of the opposite sex JustFirstname rather than Ms. / Mr. comes off as disrespectful.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The issue in the letter, I think, is that he’s only doing it to women and not to men. Singling out the women for different treatment in a work context is what rankles.

        1. BobcatBrah*

          Typically southerners (and black culture since it is rooted in southern culture) only do it with women older/more respected than the speaker, not the other way around as a diminutive, and don’t do it to men. From my experience, male respect is more nuanced and nonverbal in southern culture.

            1. BobcatBrah*

              He’s likely not making it a thing, but rather is doing it instinctively.

              I think that anything op says to him will come off rudely, while he’s only trying to be respectful to her. It’s really all about the delivery. The way she says “just Jane, thanks” can make his opinion of her go from one of respect to one of “oh I never want to collaborate with her again” real quick.

              1. blu*

                Well yeah and that’s the problem with changing your behavior based on the gender of the person you are interacting with. Now your saying that because this guy has decided to treat her differently based on gender, she somehow now has an obligation to make sure he isn’t upset she wants him to follow office norms and address her the same way he would a man.

                1. Concerned Citizen*

                  There have literally just been several paragraphs of discussion about the nuances of addressing people differently based on their gender and why it is disrespectful not to do so…

              2. Bwooster*

                Without knowing more about him, I’m more inclined to give him credit for being able to accept feedback constructively than you seem to.

                There’s nothing in OP’s letter to indicate that her colleague is unreasonable and reasonable people won’t have issues with reasonable requests.

                1. Phyllis B*

                  Bwooster, I agree with you. I am much older than a lot of my co-workers and I get Miss Phyllis, Ms. Phyllis, or even Mrs. Phyllis. I just tell them I understand they are trying to be respectful (Southerners here!!) but I really prefer just Phyllis. This usually takes care of it. I have one African American friend/co-worker who says this (and M’am, too.) I made this request to her and she told me she just couldn’t stop, it was too in-grained by her grand-mother and she would feel like a horrible, disrespectful person if she didn’t address me this way. I give her a pass because I understand cultural conditioning and I don’t want her to feel bad.

                2. ArtsNerd*

                  Right, and there are also workplace issues with treating women with more respect and courtesy than men. I used to work in a small office environment where all of the administrative was white or latinx, while the custodial staff was all black. I was a low-level office employee, and having Robert call me “Ms. ArtsNerd” all the time made me feel so very awkward because we actually worked as peers on event setups and other areas! Instead, for that and other reasons, it generally felt like he was providing a service to me, instead of the more balanced power dynamic I would have greatly preferred!

              3. Tea*

                But isn’t that… his problem? Honestly, if being faced with “Hey, can you treat me exactly the same as you treat all the male coworkers” makes this man think “Oh, I never want to collaborate with her again,” then he clearly has a sexism problem that is beyond the pale. I don’t know why you’re treating that as a normal reaction, because it really isn’t.

                1. BobcatBrah*

                  I don’t really see a sexism issue in a situation where you’re being polite to somebody and you have your opinion of them soured when they throw it back at you.

                2. Natalie*

                  How is politely saying “oh, please just call me [Name]” throwing it back at them? Unless they’re so thin skinned they can’t take a mild correction.

                3. Tea*

                  We’re out of nesting, but if someone’s idea of polite is to treat people differently based on gender and someone asks them to stop doing that…. I would imagine that the polite thing is to stop treating them differently based on gender? Getting huffy or having one’s opinion “soured” over asking for equal treatment is really the definition of some real problematic opinions.

                  If I called all my white coworkers by their first names but only called my black coworkers by Mr./Ms. Last Name, that would be a real issue too, I imagine. Or if I opened doors for all the women but let it slam in the men’s faces, that would be rude, and not chivalrous. I’m not seeing why this is somehow different, just because someone was raised with sexist standards of politeness.

                4. Lissa*

                  Yes, I don’t think it’s “throwing it back at someone” any more than any other example. If someone’s being super nice to me but uses the wrong form of my name I can correct them politely yes? “Thank you so much Melissa!” “You’re welcome, and it’s just Lissa, thanks!” I doubt anyone would think I have to let somebody call me a thing I don’t like just because they are being polite/nice, right?

                5. Trout 'Waver*

                  Manners, even in the South, dictate you call people by what they ask you to call them. Especially so if it’s something reasonable like “Just Jane, please”.

                  Calling someone by an unpreferred name is impolite, but completely excusable if the person did so unknowingly. Alerting them to the preferred name is polite.

              4. Turtle Candle*

                But… couldn’t you just as easily say that the way he responds to her “Just Jane, thanks!” might make her opinion of him change to “I never want to collaborate with her again”? Cultural adaptation ought to be a two-way street; I don’t see why she should be so scared of his respect for her (especially as she’s his senior, per the letter) that she can’t make a cheerful request of the way she wants to be addressed, or why it should be entirely on her to figure out how they can comfortably work together.

              5. Raquel*

                Being treated/referred to differently because of gender is also rude. He doesn’t mean harm by it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doing harm.

                Just because something is an inequal gender norm in a region doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be so forever. Telling each other how they might unintentionally be sounding prejudicial or bias is how we start to understand each other.

              6. Marisol*

                I was with you, until you said the OP speaking up will come off rudely. If a man is a southern gentleman, then he will be able to recognize genteel manners in others, and a polite request to be called something else will not be taken amiss. Only a ill-mannered nincompoop would take offense at a reasonable request like that.

                1. Callie*

                  Exactly. The whole idea behind “manners” and “etiquette” are that you don’t do things to make other people uncomfortable! So if you’re doing something that makes someone uncomfortable, you apologize and stop!

              7. Gaia*

                Hmmm…see, no. Racists and sexists also often act instinctively. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior.

                And if he gets mad because she requires him to treat her as an equal, there’s a much bigger problem at hand.

                1. Jodi*

                  Now he’s sexist who can’t control his instincts because he says “Ms”? That seems like a bit of a stretch.

          1. Honeybee*

            That…is not true. Or not universally true. I’m a black Southerner and the respectful address is added to both male and female others that are older or more respected than the speaker.

        2. Observer*

          Sure. Because he’s a guy, so only women are of the opposite gender. And if his supervisor told him that he needs to address the men and women the same way, I wouldn’t think it’s terrible. But his calling women Ms. Firstname is not disrespectful.

          And, if the OP tells him “Just Jane, please.’ That’s fine. But, if she tells him to quit using a diminutive, no one will take her seriously. Ms. is not, and never was, a diminutive.

          1. Trig*

            “Ms. is not, and never was, a diminutive.”

            Eeeehhh I wouldn’t go that far.

            I’m the newest and youngest person in my workplace. I’ve been referred to as Ms. Firstname before, and it definitely had a jokey diminutive vibe to it. I’ve also been referred to as ‘kiddo’, though that seems to have stopped, thankfully. Both used by people I like in a joking way rather than condescending way, so I wasn’t super offended, but yes, it was definitely a reference to my relative age/status and not a respect thing.

            (Note: I’m not in the US, so while OP’s situation may have something to do with southern culture, about which I have heard this “Ms. as respect” thing before, it has nothing to do with it in my culture and everything to do with being diminutive.)

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Yeah, I’m thinking back to recent interactions, and all the times I can think of recently that “Ms [Firstname]” was used were to address small children. “Well, hello, Ms Jainie, what a pretty doll you have!”–whereas they’d never call me Ms. Turtle, ever. In fact, I can’t think–in my West coast city–of a time when “Ms [Firstname]” would be used other than to address a child (or, actually, also a pet). (“Ms. [Lastname]” is another story; I hear that all the time, usually in semi-formal situations like doctor’s offices or banks. Ms. Candle would grate on me quite a lot less than Ms. Turtle.)

              So while I totally understand that “Ms. [Firstname]” is not diminutive in some cultures, it’s definitely not the case that it is not and never has been diminutive, and it can result in a major culture clash if you are from a “Ms. [Firstname] means respect” culture, walking into a “Ms. [Firstname] means you think I’m a little girl” culture, or vice versa.

              1. Caity*

                I teach children’s ballet (on the west coast) and it is definitely a norm that teachers of dance for little kids often go by “Miss Firstname.” It is not actually my first choice but it’s what my colleagues all do so I do it, too.

            2. Julia*

              Also not in the US, and at least no one’s calling you Miss XY. Or Mrs. because they cannot understand the word Ms. and INSIST you go by Mrs. even though you’re not even married. Argh, German and French native speakers.

              1. Trig*

                To be fair, “Mademoiselle” is a lot more of a mouthful than “Madame”! When I was a kid in French school, all teachers were “Madame”. We had no idea if they were married, they were all just “Madame” (or “Monsieur”).

                (Uh this is assuming they’re calling you that in French. If they’re French-native but calling you Mrs. in English, then I don’t know. I think perhaps it’s just cultural to use Mrs. when you’ve reached a certain age and status is unknown? I don’t know of a ‘Mizz’ equivalent in French.)

          2. Rey*

            I agree, the phrasing “Just Jane, please” is all that’s needed, but the usage of Ms. is more complex than that. It depends largely on context and tone. It’s true, one usage is meant to be respectful–and based on the letter, I’d say that’s the case here–but it can also be used as a diminutive, especially in the south. In fact, if the speaker is male, white, and older than the woman he’s addressing, I’d say it’s almost *guaranteed* to be diminutive. It’s meant to put the woman in question firmly in the position of being subordinate, of needing to be looked after or cared for, regardless of actual standing in the workplace. It’s one of the most infuriating diminutives out there, because of the prevalence of the first usage. The person using it can hide behind the excuse that they were “just being respectful!”

            Of course, I don’t think this particular interaction is what’s going on here at all. The person in the letter probably really *is* just using Ms. to be respectful. But he still needs cut it out.

            1. DragoCucina*

              I wouldn’t agree that an older man using Ms. automatically means a diminutive or lack of respect in the south. For staff privacy we only use first names with the public. We have many older gentlemen who use Ms. as a recognition that the much younger department head is the person in charge. In fact, I cannot think of one time it used in any other way than a means of respect.

              I was just updating the public contact staff contact list (call Mr. K. to volunteer). It’s their preferred method of displaying their names.

        3. Payroll Lady*

          When I worked in a predominately African-American company (I am white) most of the men and women would call me “MsPayroll” I asked why they did that and was told it is a sign of respect to the woman you are talking to. Most of the times, it was the younger employees (male and female) that called me this, however almost all the men called me MsPayroll.

          I do understand that it can come across as condescending or sexist, however, once the reason was understood, it made feel a lot better.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Same, it was weird to me at first but I got it after a while. Men were always just FirstName unless they were much older or higher ranking. Women were always Ms. FirstName, even the women older than me called me that and I was the youngest by at least a decade. It’s just a cultural thing, I was never offended by it.

        1. BobcatBrah*

          Only if you’re from another part of the country. Of course, since the employee in question is African American, and they’re more spread out around the country than other southerners, it’s entirely possible that him doing it is irritating the OP because they are somewhere in the north or west.

          1. MeridaAnn*

            Intent isn’t magic. The speaker thinks of it as a respectful thing, but the LW feels uncomfortable at her gender being called out as a primary identifier (the speaker is essentially making the LW’s gender part of her name). The LW has every right to be uncomfortable with that designation and to request that he stop doing it.

            It really doesn’t matter where in the country they are. She wants to be called Jane – not Ms. Jane, not Janey, not Jan. It’s all the same. The best way for the speaker to be polite is to acknowledge her preference and do his best to address her accordingly.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Intent isn’t magic, but it does matter. To me, anyway. Someone who calls me Ms. Rusty because that’s how he was taught to show respect is going to get a lot more slack than someone who calls me Russell because he thinks I’m going by the wrong name. I’m still going to ask him to change, but I’m going to be more patient and less annoyed.

          2. Gaia*

            Nope. Treating women different than men in the workplace is sexist and gross no matter where you are from in this country.

      2. Student*

        It can also come off as condescending (or at least obnoxious) when Ms. is not your preferred or proper title.

        I’m Dr. Student, not Ms. Student. I wouldn’t put up a fuss over somebody guessing at the wrong one, but I’d be annoyed to be called Ms. every day by co-workers. My parents do this deliberately to me (and refer to me by my husband’s last name, despite the fact that I kept my name when we married) to try to “put me in my place”. I know a co-worker would likely be coming from a place of ignorance instead of malice, but once you get the malicious title-drop a few times it can be hard to keep perspective when someone does it unintentionally.

        1. Adam V*

          Try referring to them by the wrong last name for a while (like Jones -> Johnson or Andrews -> Anders). If they complain “that’s not my last name”, you can say “well, Smith was never my last name either, so if you won’t give me the common decency to refer to me by the right name, then I’ll do the same”. *

          * This advice will probably start arguments and should not actually be followed by anybody

          1. Student*

            Heh, I have a much better solution. It’s called not talking to my parents. They aren’t worth my time.

            They reach out every once in a while and I ignore them. They primarily do the title-drop thing on the mailed care-packaged of kitchen items now (…I don’t cook, either; not sure whether it’s also a message or just the only thing they know to give a woman). I can’t tell at this point whether they send them in hopes of reconnecting or to try to be spiteful, or maybe both at the same time.

            1. Adam V*

              Since they know it bothers you, I’d think it’s to be spiteful. Completely agree on not wasting your time.

              Wonder about sending one back in the same box, and write on it “no such recipient at this address”…

        2. Edith*

          Ugh. There are three families that all live on the same street as me and we are all active in the same church, so we do a lot of socializing. John Smith and Jane Doe are both doctors, both Sunday school teachers, and are both about 60, so you’d assume the same social standing, right? Well the Joneses have taught their children to call John Dr. Smith and Jane Miss Jane. Occasionally it’s Dr. Smith and Dr. Jane, but never Dr. Doe. Makes my blood boil every time I hear it.

        3. Chameleon*

          Yes, this. My students call me by my first name, which is pretty standard for both my department and the field in general. However, I have a student (from a foreign culture) who keeps calling me Ms. First, which…I’m not anymore? But I don’t want to go by Dr. First, both because it sounds awkward and also because it’s the nickname of a well-known media personality whose views I find abhorrent and don’t want anything to do with her.

          Note, I also get ticked when people get up in my face for wanting to be called Dr. Chameleon instead of Ms. Chameleon. Like, I’m not trying to pull rank or anything, but it was a lot of work to get my PhD and I feel like I earned the Dr. If you call me Ms. and I politely correct “actually it’s Dr.” don’t get snippy, and don’t tell me I’m “not a REAL doctor”. Just call me by my damned proper title.

      3. Rebecca*

        I feel that constantly referring to people with Mr. or Ms. is unnecessary gendering, and can reify unconscious bias.

    2. Garrett*

      I’m in the South too and older ladies tend to get the “Ms.” treatment and most don’t have a problem with it. I don’t personally do it, but it’s not meant as a sign of disrespect. In fact, I would say it is extra respect to give them this title (I realize not everyone sees it that way). Still, it’s up to the lady to determine that and I think it’s fine to correct someone. They shouldn’t take offense.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        I’m from the south, too, and I agree. That’s how it’s typically used (as a sign of respect, usually for older women) in my experience. But I also think it’s okay for OP #2 to ask her colleague to just call her Jane instead of Ms. Jane. I doubt he would be offended by that. People get to choose what they want to be called.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      As a cultural thing, the mindset behind it isn’t condescending. It’s supposed to convey a mixture of (entirely platonic) affection and respect. Something like… “I respect you and therefore use an honorific, but we’re als0 friendly enough to be on a first-name basis.” When I was living in a rural part of Virginia, it was particularly used younger -> elder, so that my coworker nearing retirement was “Miss Evangeline” while I was just “Boochie.” So there was an element of social stratification to it as well — I don’t know if that is also widespread or more specific to my experience.

      Which is not to say that it should affect how you feel being addressed by it! Just that condescension isn’t really baked in.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep, and it can also be habit. I am in my 40s and still hear my mom in the back of my head going, “You do not call adults by their first name! That’s disrespectful! It’s Ms. X or Mr. Y.” I had to really train myself out of that when I hit the working world and all of a sudden I was one of the “adults”.

        Mom was also big on calling people by the name they preferred, though, so if Ms. X ASKED to be called X, that was what you called her.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          This was my childhood, and I had difficulty transitioning to calling adults by first names in college. (Some professors wanted to be called by their first names, there were university staff in our dorms, etc.) I STILL refer to some people that I knew as a kid by Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones because it feels wrong to me to call them by their first names.

          1. MWKate*

            This is interesting, I’m from the Midwest and even as a child never called anyone by Miss/Mrs/Mr except for teachers. Everyone else was just referred to by their first name, the exceptions being parents/grandparents/priest.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              We didn’t do that–it was Mr. Black or Mrs. Johnson, unless they asked to be called by their first names. With relatives, we usually used the title — Aunt Sue, Uncle Bob, etc. When I got older, it felt really weird to say Uncle Bob, so I dropped the Uncle and just started calling him Bob.

              But I went to visit a former primary school teacher in her nursing home a few years ago, and I had a very hard time calling her Ruth instead of Mrs. Harris!

            2. Mona Lisa*

              Interesting! I’m from a solidly Midwestern state–the same one in which my mother who taught us this grew up–, and everyone I knew referred to each other’s parents as Mr. Jones or Mrs. Smith. The only three people who I did not call that were our next door neighbors and my friend’s mother who had a different last name than her kids, which completely baffled me, so she asked me to just call her Lynn.

              1. MWKate*

                I think it varies a lot more in the Midwest vs the south perhaps? My aunts and uncles were always just Dave, or Tom, or Pam, no titles.

          2. Honeybee*

            Fun fact: I started calling my MIL and grandmother-in-law “Mom” and “Grandma” primarily because they are both die-hard Southern ladies and my only other alternative was “Ms. Firstname” Just Firstname would never be an acceptable option for them, but Ms. Firstname felt weirdly formal, so I just went with Mom and Grandma instead (and Dad, for my FIL as well).

            It kind of grated me a little at first because although I partially grew up in the South, I really spent my formative childhood years in the Northeast and my parents are New Yorkers. All the Ms. and ma’ams were baffling to my parents, and my mom still hates being called ma’am.

            (I also had to train myself into answering my MIL “yes” – or better, “yes, ma’am” – instead of just “yeah.” Because, again, my parents are New Yorkers, and if they called me saying “Yeah?” was totally acceptable. NOT the case in a Southern household. Oy.)

        2. Candi*

          When I was a kid, you stuck a title on every adult, and only called related adults by first names. So it was Mr. Potter and Mrs. McGonagall (Ms. was disrespectful according to mother), or Uncle Sirius or Aunt Molly.

          Dang that was hard to shake.

      2. Perpetuum Mobile*

        This. Exactly. I call a lady at work Ms. First Name, about 50/50 with Ms vs just her first name. She is about 25 years older, close to her retirement, and she’s a good friend and one of the most pleasant people I’ve ever met. And yes, we are in the South.

      3. Honeybee*

        That’s been my experience too. When I taught summer school or volunteered at home in the South, I was Miss Honey. And even out here in the PNW, I run across African American kids who call me Miss Honey. Or Dr. Honey, which is cute.

    4. Seal*

      I’m a Midwesterner who’s worked at a Southern university for almost a decade. As a department head, the only people who regularly call me “Ms. Seal” are some of our student employees, which is completely fine with me since it’s obvious they’re doing so as a sign of respect. If anyone condescendingly called me “Ms. Seal” I’d speak up, though.

    5. MillersSpring*

      I’m in the South, and I’ve experienced this from colleagues at times but never often enough to be off putting. I’d speak up to the person if I thought they were coming off more formally with women and more familiar, one of the guys, with men.

      I wouldn’t want a man to have more opportunities or to limit women somehow due to his habits of formality or distance with women.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        I’m in the South (not from there originally) and I occasionally get called “Ms. So Very” by students. Given the nature of my job, I don’t really know if they refer to my male colleagues as “Mr. FirstName” or not. I tend to be more annoyed when they address me as “Mrs. Anonymous,” to be honest.

    6. Mona Lisa*

      It’s an issue when they’re singling one group out for a different treatment. We had a male employee who did this with the mostly female staff at the awful non-profit, and several of the women tried to get him to stop. Whether by force of habit or sheer will, he refused. He tended towards shows of chivalry in general though, too.

    7. Lynn Marie*

      As a New-Englander in New England, I’m most comfortable addressing people and being addressed by either Ms, Miss, Mrs, Mr Last-Name OR First Name. I understand that in other parts of the country, people mean no disrespect by Ms or Miss Last Name. BUT, I do wish that when they visit here, they’d try to respect our conventions and realize that Ms or Miss First Name sounds very disrespectful to us, and try not to use it. Same with Ma’am and Sir, which indicate sassiness or that we’ve offended you in some way, not respect.

      1. Recruit-o-rama*

        I grew up in New England (southern NH) and I don’t think calling someone “sir” or “Ma’am” is taken as disrespectful at all. I concur that calling someone Ms. Firstname is out of the norm for the region, but I wouldn’t think of it as disrespect unless it’s in a work environment. I live in AZ now and it’s such a mishmash of cultures, almost everyone is from a different state that almost anything goes, but I don’t think “Sir” or “Ma’am” is disrespectful almost anywhere.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Agree. There can definitely be a tendency to start dropping in titles when dealing with particularly irritating/entitled people in business situations, as kind of an overcompensating politeness, but “sir” and “ma’am” are also used in polite formal situations in the usual non-sarcastic sort of way.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Out of curiosity, how do you expect Southerns to know your conventions in order to respect them? This has never been in a travel guide that I’ve seen. Do you also use ma’am and sir when you visit the South? I mean, I know that I can’t pump my own gas in New Jersey and that Dunkin’ Donuts up north will sugar/cream up your “regular” coffee if you don’t tell them NOT to, but it’s only very recently that I’ve come to know that sir/ma’am, ingrained in me since birth by my parents and grandparents as the way you address people respectfully at all times, is apparently rude and sarcastic in New England. And I’m 40 and reasonably well-traveled within the US.

        1. Recruit-o-rama*

          I guess it’s possible that I’m misremembering, but I really don’t think most New Englanders consider sir or ma’am sarcastic or rude. I don’t love their anymore, but I was born and raised there and visit with regular frequency since the vast majority of my family still live there.

        2. Emma*

          I’d assume if you’re actually living in a place you’d eventually make an effort to notice/learn the local norms. If you’re just passing through, no one likely cares (or if they make a stink they’re being the rude ones), but if you’ve settled in, insisting on going by the norms you learned as a kid, even if they don’t fit your new place, is actually pretty rude in a different way – it’s saying the new place isn’t good or respectful enough.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Oh, I agree with this (to an extent — I’m not giving up “y’all” regardless of where I live, and I don’t think that I could ever work “wicked” into my vocabulary in a natural flow :). But Lynn Marie specifically said “when people visit here”, and I think that’s pretty unrealistic to expect someone visiting to learn the regional patterns of speech.

        3. an anon with an anon name*

          To go off my point below, I think it’s “apparently rude and sarcastic” for some people, but it’s more or less the tone you use when saying it. If it’s clear you’re upset with me and use ma’am, I’m going to think you’re rude. I do know some people equate “ma’am” with age, so that could be a different issue.

          If you say, “excuse me, ma’am, could you tell me the time?” most people in New England aren’t going to think it’s rude. It might take someone aback or make them raise an eyebrow, but only because it’s not common to hear.

        4. memyselfandi*

          Sorry, but I agree with Recruit-o-rama. As a New Englander I HATE being called Miss FirstName. I don’t think Sir or Ma’am is automatically sarcastic but it can very often be used as such. My parents or relatives did not expect to be called Sir or Ma’am, but for someone outside the family in a very prominent or distinguished role, it was appropriate.

        5. General Ginger*

          I’ve lived in New England, and Sir/Ma’am being anything other than respectful is news to me; I wonder if I’ve offended people without knowing it.

        6. Lynn Marie*

          Well, it’d be great if visitors to our region would try to learn about our culture! When I’m in the South I do sir and ma’am people because it works there and it’s respectful. In the northeast, it’s what you call someone if they’re really ticking you off and you want to warn them they’d better cool it. Not a good thing to call cops! The idea is to actually be respectful in your manner.

          1. Sofia*

            That is crazy! I am not in the south but people still use ma’am and sir here for respect. Especially when getting pulled to over. That is good to know not to use that in the northeast

            1. doreen*

              The Northeastern thing with “Sir” and “Ma’am” isn’t quite that they are always seen as disrespectful. It’s more that they are not usually used as a sign of respect in the Northeast – so much so that it’s hard for me to even come up with an example to use for contrast. But a post above had one, so I’ll use that. You won’t often hear, ” Excuse me, sir , do you have the time?” . It’s more often used when a person is being irritating or doing something they shouldn’t – such as “Ma’am, the line is over there”. I think most of us Northeasterners can tell the difference , at least most of the time. ( It can be hard to tell with law enforcement whether they are trying to be condescending or whether that’s just their agency’s culture.)

              1. Honeybee*

                I’ve spent half my life in the Southeast and half my life in the Northeast, and yes, I can totally see the difference. I can’t think of any time that I heard “ma’am” used in the Northeast that wasn’t in a tone of warning annoyance.

              2. Bob Barker*

                I would posit that what you’re describing is a New England tendency to fall back on formality to signal offense taken, but not for very many other contexts. It’s possible to say “I beg your pardon” and mean it literally, but… I am pretty much never doing that. If I say “I beg your pardon” I actually mean “You are a jerk and had better stop doing that.”

                Similarly with sir/ma’am — it’s like middle-naming a kid. That level of formality with a stranger, it’s mild annoyance. If someone has resorted to that level of formality with someone one knows, oooh, Mildred, go slip the lead weights into your handbag right now.

      3. Prismatic Professional*

        When I volunteered with children after school in New York City I was always called Ms. Prismatic by both the children and fellow volunteers. It was a sign of respect.

        1. Trig*

          I think (outside of the American south) it’s different when children do it or you’re working with children.

          Example: In my early twenties, I worked in an elementary school. The children called me Mme. Firstname and *in front of the kids*, the teachers also referred to me as Mme. Firstname , but just Firstname one-on-one (and had to say “Oh, honey, you can call me by name” because, as I still felt younger than them, I was calling them Mme. Firstname when the kids weren’t there.)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            All the kids I skated with called me by my first name. Technically, I was one of them, so it wasn’t an issue. If a parent had insisted they call me Ms. Liz or something, I would have said something because it was super awkward when we were all doing exactly the same thing. Plus, a couple of the coaches preferred Ms. FirstName, and I didn’t want anyone to mistake me for one of them because I can’t help you with your Axel!

      4. an anon with an anon name*

        I’m a native New Englander still in New England and I have to disagree about Ma’am and Sir. It’s not common around here as it might be in other regions, but I don’t think we automatically think it indicates sassiness. If it’s said in a rude tone, sure, that’s not polite, but something like “Excuse me, sir/ma’am” is not going to get a hostile reaction here.

        I also think it’s a bit much for someone to change their pattern of speaking if they’re visiting a new region.

        1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

          Another New Englander – “Excuse me, sir/ma’am” is perfectly normal in my experience – addressing a stranger whose name you don’t know is ofteb done this way. But almost any other use of sir/ma’am would be oddly formal. Not rude or insulting unless spoken in a sarcastic or hostile tone, just odd and awkward.

          1. Kat*

            I agree with you. I live in New England now but grew up in Atlanta and I instinctually call strangers Sir or Ma’am. It has never been a big deal.

            1. Greetings from Lole*

              As a dyed-in-the-wool New Englandah, I also never think of Sir or Ma’am as disrespectful. I guess it matters with context and tone but I have called police officers “Sir” during more run-ins with cops than I care to remember and I don’t think they blinked.

              When I used to work in retail in another region, a female coworker with a very heavy Cockney accent said to an American customer “Yes, Madam, I will check to see if we have that in stock” in a very sincere “Are You Being Served?” manner (i.e. kind of stuffy and old-fashioned but not intentionally disrespectful). The customer completely flew off the handle at both of us. My coworker started using Ma’am and Sir but only with people who we sensed had a calmer vibe about them.

      5. Phyllis B*

        Sassiness??? Offended you in some way?? In the South, it’s simply a sign of respect. Not even age-related, unless you are 20 years old and talking to someone in their 90’s. Generally, it’s meant to acknowledge you respect their rank (teacher, supervisor, ect.) I know it’s a fading practice, and I had to really have to work on it to quit saying “Sir” to my boss, who is 20 years younger than me.

        Socially, it’s a bit harder to overcome. I am 65 years old and my mother is 85. She would slap me winding if I didn’t say Sir and Ma’am to her peer friends.

      6. DeadQuoteOlympics*

        I don’t remember the ma’am/sir implication from my years in New England either. And how do they deal with the military? They’re taught to use those terms as terms of respect. I was working as head of a community college library during the early stages of the Afghanistan war, and a large number of our students in the national guard were deployed suddenly. I learned if I took a phone call and the caller ma’amed me right away, it was going to be about overdue books and accruing fined that they didn’t have time to return before they were deployed. They were definitely not sassing me, and it was something that all active duty military did.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      (I’m from Texas.) “Ms.” or “Miss” FirstName is something that was *drilled* into us. I didn’t move here until middle school so I don’t do it as obsessively as a lot of people do, but it’s not intended to be condescending or sexist. I know a lot of people who consider it quite the opposite: Leaving off would be seen as overly familiar or informal.

      That said, your preference takes precedence, so you coworkers should call you whatever you ask them to call you.

      I went to college in the Midwest and my classmates, who are mostly Midwesterners and a few Northeasterners, find this (to my mind) off-the-charts offensive (they don’t like yes/no ma’am/sir, either). I find this amusing/more than a little annoying since they’re all gung-ho about “multiculturalism” in the international and coastal U.S. sense but as soon as it involves the Southern U.S., they assume that everything is racist and sexist instead of simply unfamiliar.

      1. Emma*

        It is sexist, though, and possibly ageist and classist as well, depending. It’s only not any of those if you use honorifics for all people, and don’t make age or class distinctions – and even then there’s the argument that the very fact that men and women get different honorifics is still sexist. (Not to mention there’s not a good gender-neutral one.)

        You may not be sexist or intending to be so when doing this, but the custom is.

        1. BobcatBrah*

          Ah yes, the classic “All cultures should be respected*”

          *except Southerners, those backwards dirty rednecks

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            You missed the discussion we had about the Muslim gentleman who didn’t want to shake women’s hands, didn’t you?

          2. Emma*

            I am a Southerner, born and raised and still living in the South. The custom is damn well sexist, and it is goddamn annoying, and I say that as someone who’s had to deal with it all her fucking life.

            If a Southerner is not allowed to criticize the South, who is? Cultures aren’t all purely right. They all pick up bad ideas and perpetuate them. I think it’s wrong to distinguish by gender unnecessarily. I think it’s sexist. I think couching it as respect is just a neat little way to try and short-circuit criticism, akin to people who label offensive statements as “just jokes.”

            I think it’s wrong and sexist whether we’re talking the South or we’re talking other cultures.

          3. Emma*

            Except I said none of that. Where did I mention other cultures? I find distinguishing by gender just as sexist regardless of the culture in question.

            And I am a Southerner. I am perfectly entitled to complain about the sexism in my own culture, that I have had to put up with my whole life, and that I don’t find respectful in the least.

      2. Bwooster*

        There is really nothing intolerant about asking to be addressed a certain way. They’re not being intolerant by being selective with mode of address when it comes to themselves. If they don’t call you Ms Dust or Ms Bunny when you request they do, then it’s different.

        Also, treating people differently based on gender and/or race is racist and sexist. It might be purely benign, as this seems to be, but it doesn’t get more textbook than that.

        It doesn’t mean that you’re either of those things of course. Just means those particular practices are.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Treating people differently based on gender or race is not the definition of racism or sexism, though. Discriminating against people based on gender or race is.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Men and women have some different health needs due to their hormones and development. Should we treat them all equally, or should we take into account their gender and sex when developing individual treatment plans?

          1. Marisol*

            I think you might be confusing illegal discrimination as defined by law with racism and sexism. There is no neat and tidy answer to what is, or is not, racism or sexism, as far as the absolute sense of the words go. There are practical definitions of what constitutes illegal discrimination though.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              I’m not confused. Bwooster made the claim that any difference in treatment based on gender is sexist. That’s not the definition of sexism. The definition of sexism is discrimination based on sex or gender. And the definition of discrimination involves prejudice or unfair treatment.

          2. Honeybee*

            That’s what discrimination means, though – treating someone differently on the basis of some characteristic.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              noun: discrimination; plural noun: discriminations

              the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

      3. paul*

        I agree it’s drilled into us….as kids. For referencing our friends parents (Ms. Jane beats “hey friend’s mom”). But not for use in a professional setting, at least not since I’ve been an adult.

        1. Bwooster*

          Exactly! It was drilled into me to raise my hand and ask before going to the bathroom and I don’t have issues not running it past my boss now. Childhood conditioning is not quite as difficult to get rid of as people claim sometimes.

      4. Anonymous Texan*

        I’m also from Texas–born, raised, college, still live here–but in my community (in the 70s), adults were always Mr. Lastname or Mrs. Lastname. It would have been very presumptuous of me to try calling any of them Ms. Firstname or Mr. Firstname. I once addressed a friend’s mom as “Mom” a few times out of fondness, and within a week, the friend came to me and said that her mom preferred that I call her Mrs. Lastname.

    9. pnw*

      I live in Oregon and it is not part of our regional culture to call women Ms. Firstname. But a year or two ago I went to a diversity training where African American co-workers were talking about their culture and we were told that calling a woman Ms. Firstname is a sign of respect. Until then I just thought people were joking around when they called me that and it did kind of bother me. But now that I have a better understanding of why they do that it doesn’t bother me at all. If it doesn’t cause any harm to show respect for other cultures, I think we should just learn to live with it.

      1. Bwooster*

        It is not a sign of disrespect to have a preference for how one is to be addressed. Disrespect is failing to heed such preferences from other people. I’ll happily call you Captain PNW if that is what you prefer and it’s not against regulations of some sort, if you’d just call me Bertie.

        We both show each other respect in this way.

      2. Rocky*

        I’m also from Oregon, and white. When I lived in the Midwest I worked somewhere with predominantly African American employees. I figured out the “Ms. Rocky” thing was cultural and intended to be respectful, and never minded it. But I can’t imagine any of my co-workers would have had a problem if I *had* minded it and said, “Oh gosh, just call me Rocky, please.” I mean, they were reasonable people. I find this whole thread fascinating.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I have a coworker I do this with and she calls me Baby Girl. Don’t ask me how this got started–I have no damn clue. We just slipped into it.
          I don’t mind when she calls me that, but when my mother does, I hate it!!

    10. EW*

      Is it Ms. or Miss? I’m in the south and lots of people referred to me as Miss First. I corrected people I dealt with frequently – “Please, just call me First!”

      But I found it was worse when everyone knew I got married and called me the new Mrs. I did not change my name, no one even knew my husband’s name, and I am Ms. I had to very loudly correct that one.

    11. Temperance*

      We have a few older African American women here, and I call them all “Ms. Ann” (for example), which they all prefer.

  4. Just Another Techie*

    A quick correction and “sorry” is absolutely correct. What would be incorrect would be to drag out the apology and make a big Thing of how Very Sorry you are and how You’re a Good Ally Really.

    Good Example: “So I was talking to Jane and he said that–she, sorry, she said that the teapot report would be late.”

    Bad Example: “So I was talking to Jane and he said–OMG of COURSE I meant “she” because I know Jane uses female pronouns and I can’t believe I messed it up AGAIN. I’m trying really hard and–”

    Meanwhile Jane is dying of mortification and just wants to finish the debrief about the teapot report instead of having her work derailed and all the attention in the room focused on how she’s different from everyone else.

    Or at least, that’s been my experience.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      This is nearly exactly the advice/examples given in the link. Glad to get confirmation from more than one source!

  5. Wendy Darling*

    I worked at a very large corporation that was very tech-savvy but for some reason changing email addresses would basically cause the entire universe to end (apparently once you’re running an exchange server of a certain size things get… delicate). I knew several people who had been with the company for something like 5 years and had gotten married and changed their name six months in and their email address still reflected their maiden name. Everyone just got used to ignoring it internally, and some but not all were listed in the directory as FirstName (MaidenName) LastName.

    1. Natalie*

      I’ve worked places with this issue as well, which is especially silly since you can set up a dozen aliases if you want. I’ve never changed my name but at least 4 general delivery email addresses are aliased to my email address.

    2. Observer*

      No, it has nothing to do with that. Exchange, at any size lets you set up all sorts of aliases, so that doesn’t have to be an issue.

        1. Observer*

          I’m not the biggest fan of peoplesoft but I’m pretty sure that your IT people were wrong about this, too. Changing your login might be a problem, but not your email address.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My discussions with IT indicated that for some reason involving some combination of Exchange, Active Directory, and whatever we were using for an HR DB, trying to change an email address basically opened up some kind of software black hole and destroyed the universe. The entire thing was apparently a shambles held together by duct tape and the angry glares of systems administrators, the way mission-critical stuff can get when no one can ever actually make a major change because it might make email go down for a few hours, so it’s just a giant pile of stuff bolted on top of other stuff bolted on 7 or 8 years deep. So suddenly one day you wake up and it’s 2016 and you’re still running a version of Active Directory from 2007, just covered in nasty hacks. (And some day the entire thing is going to implode and email will go down for two DAYS and it will be a disaster.)

        It is entirely possible that this was code for “But it would take me like two HOURS that’s AGES,” also.

        We didn’t use aliases for employees at all, you got one email address and that was you.

        1. Observer*

          We didn’t use aliases for employees at all, you got one email address and that was you.

          In other words stupidly rigid.

          It is entirely possible that this was code for “But it would take me like two HOURS that’s AGES,” also.

          That thought crossed my mind, too.

          1. Meg Murry*

            In addition to the “that could take hours” part, I have also seen it happen either because:
            -the administrators behind the scenes are stupid (and/or just untrained) and don’t know how to do aliases or change a name, and last time they tried instead they deleted the person’s old email address and then created a new one and got reamed out about that

            -there are a bunch of different databases that all use your login info, all administered by different people/departments, so once the msmith login had been created, a bunch of other logins were also created that were named msmith, and it took a ton of coordination to get all those databases changed over.

            -it was a nightmare the one time they let someone change their name in the system because half of their logins were now msmith and half were psmith and the person could never keep straight when they had to use one or the other, so instead they just say “can’t be done”. At the company I’m at now the convention for logins is msmith – but we already had an msmith when a new person started – and for whatever reason, different IT people handled setting up different systems, so this poor person has msmith1 as a login for one system, masmith for another (first 2 letters of first name), mmsmith for a 3rd (first initial, middle initial), etc. It’s a total mess.

            1. Girasol*

              I’ve seen that where it’s email and a number of other logins, and it’s not so much that they couldn’t all be changed as that they couldn’t all be dependably found. So rather than getting it wrong and changing almost all of them, and having that last unnoticed but critically important one cause some huge job to fail, they set a policy of changing none.

            2. Observer*

              The reason I say “stupidly rigid”, though, is that aliases take care of that quite nicely. I manage IT, so I’m well aware of how changing an actual email address can sometimes create a problem. But exchange is actually quite good at allowing you to assign multiple email addresses / aliases to a single account.

              For most people, they don’t care if the sign in to all of their databases and systems is their legal name that they haven’t used anywhere except for legal documents, since they were two, or their maiden name or whatever. It’s not really any worse than some random string of characters. But the email address that goes out on correspondence etc. is a different story. It’s one thing if it were a random string of characters. But when it’s supposed to be your name and it isn’t, it’s not good.

              And, if you can’t figure out how to assign an alias to an email account, then you really aren’t much of an Exchange admin.

    3. SarcasticFringehead*

      When this recently came up (I’m not in IT, but IT-adjacent), I pointed out (because I’m That Person) that if more women had been involved in designing the systems, this might be less of an issue, since women have historically been much more likely to change their names than men.

      1. Ife*

        This is the sort of thing that I like to imagine I would throw a fit about (“Ife X no longer works here, and if you can’t get an email address for me with my legal name I’ll quit!”) but in reality I would probably skip the big fit and and just find a new job. Maybe save it for the exit interview.

        There is no reason for this to be an issue. We have the technology.

        1. Security SemiPro*

          I pitched the fit. Not necessarily for email, but for username. (“I am authenticating myself to these systems as a certain person. I’m SemiPro now, not Amateur. I can’t authenticate as Amateur.”) There was a heavy layer of subtext around “And not being able to change usernames is ridiculous, especially for a tech company, so figure it out.”

          It took 3 days for the head of user IT to change my username everywhere usernames lived. This included my boss & several peers getting termination notices for my old username. But, now IT can change your username, not just give you an email alias, with a documented, painless process. So that was good.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        I had a similar rant when going through mine. All current computer systems postdate both married name changes and a fair number of women in the workforce. I mean, nobody is using a pre-1950 computer system, right? It’s just so stupid that it should be this hard.

        I still have a couple systems at work that use my maiden name login. I kinda wish I just kept my old username, because they changed my main login in the middle of a critical operation without notice, which basically broke everything as application logins timed out, forcing me to log out and back in with my new user name.
        And then at the end of that day, I couldn’t sign my timecard because it didn’t recognize either username. I sent an email to my boss like “I worked 11 hours today. I’m not dealing with this anymore. See you Monday.”

    4. BookCocoon*

      I don’t know if it’s technology limitations or what, but our organization does not change people’s e-mail addresses. Ever. It’s whatever your name was at the moment you were hired, even if you get married or divorced or are planning on doing so before your start date. It was a weird shift from my last organization, where they set up all my accounts with my married name even though I wasn’t getting married until a few weeks after I started. (Thankfully all went through as planned!)

    5. periwinkle*

      Arrrrrgh… I legally changed my first name because my employer required that only legal full names be on our badges and email addresses. I had a lot of confused people asking how to reach me since a search of the email directory didn’t show the name they were expecting. “Sorry, the system lists me as Violet even though I go by Periwinkle.” Once I had the legal papers in hand, IT changed my email. However, I also had an email address with the university with which my employer was partnered because I worked with students and faculty on occasion. Nope, they would not change my email nor would they issue a new one with the correct name. Apparently it was beyond their capacity to do – or should I say, they *could* do it but it would take a few signed forms and 3-4 months lead time.

      I shouldn’t have been surprised. I was in HR and had access to the university’s HR system… complete with command-line interface and ASCII splash screen. In 2008.

    6. Shelby Drink the Juice*

      I work for a Fortune 100 company with around 120,000 employees. They can change email addresses for name changes. I’ve known women that married or divorced leading to a name change. Their user ID to login to the system doesn’t change, so you can still see that in the employee directory, but email addresses are easily changed.

    7. That infrastructure life*

      As someone who works on the back end of things I can understand why this may frustrating from a regular user POV, but often it’s not a company being rigid as to why you can’t change/add email aliases. Many legacy systems are keyed to them, you have to pay licsence fees per mailbox etc. I can appreciate where people are coming from but I really hate being told I’m not doing something that should be so “easy” when I KNOW how much that small change could jack up

      1. Observer*

        Oh, pfft.

        No modern email system makes you pay per EMAIL ALIAS. You do NOT need separate email accounts, etc. We’re not talking logins, we are talking about email addresses. This is true of pretty much any Y2K compliant email service out there. Considering that Y2K hir 15 years ago, that excuse wears thin.

  6. KG, Ph.D.*

    LW#1: I feel you, intensely. My name is one where virtually no one goes by the full name. Except I do, because I have two cousins who go by the two most obvious nicknames, because my family is super unoriginal with naming, but I digress. The recommended scripts have worked well for me, and I feel less and less funny about it as time goes on. A small portion of the population will get annoyed about that correction (People On The Internet occasionally seem to think that having a preference for what name you are called is pretentious or something), but I think taking an upbeat tone and moving on quickly after the correction smooths things over in most cases.

    1. nonegiven*

      Family discussions might involve your John, my John and John lastname. Jim lastname and Jim otherlastname, uncle Larry and Larry middlename. Multiple Jacks, Dons, Billys, Terrys, Karries, Pats, Kathys, Mollys, Jennifers and Mikes.

    2. Observer*

      I’ve got a son and son-in-law with the same name, but they have different nicknames, so that’s ok. Better yet, I have a son, grandson and son-in-law with the same first name, that is almost never abbreviated. So when there is no context, it’s Bil Al, Little Al and Daughter’s Al. (That’s not the name.)

    3. EW*

      My husband and brother both have the same name (no nicknames for it). My dad and uncle (married to my mom’s sister) have the same names (again, no nicknames). My cousin and I share the same name, but different spelling (no nicknames).

      It’s a running joke at this point. I only fault my aunt and uncle for giving the same name to their son as to me!

      1. KG, Ph.D.*

        Haha! I hear that. My dad’s siblings are definitely to blame on this one, since I was born first. :) I was born, and let’s say my given name is Elizabeth (it’s not, but it works as a stand-in). And let’s say that my parents were planning on calling me by the nickname “Lizzy.” 11 days later, my cousin was born. My dad’s sister and her husband named her Lizzy. That’s her full, given first name. 12 years later, another cousin was born. My dad’s brother and his wife named her Elisabeth (same name as me, different spelling). She goes by Liz.

        On the other side of the family, I have two aunts, both of whom are named Lisbeth (again, not their names, but you can follow my analogy). My mom’s sister goes by Lissie, and my mom’s brother’s wife goes by Liz. But Liz only goes by that name with our side of the family to keep things less confusing, and she goes by Lissie at work and with her family.

        It’s honestly totally ridiculous. I love variations on my name, but I feel like I’ll need to steer far, far away with any future kids’ names to keep it from being too confusing. :)

    4. Catherine*

      My dad’s family is Italian with lots of strict naming conventions for boys (at least up until the previous generation) – so we have auntie Lucy’s Vin and Tony, auntie Carmel’s Vin and Tony, Finetta’s Vin, and so forth. For a patrilineal naming system the effect is very matrilineal in practice!

  7. Bookworm*

    #5 – Yes, do that! I’ve also seen some people include names like that in their e-mail signatures.

    Almost everyone will want to know what you prefer to be called, but also want to know your legal first name if that’s what’s on the official correspondance.

    1. Barbara in Swampeast*

      I worked for a university vice-president who was called “Skip” and his cards had: Arthur “Skip” Anderson. This was thirty years ago when business was more formal. So if it was ok then, it’s ok now.

  8. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    2. It’s one of those things where southern and African-American dialects overlap. I have heard it used for men as well, but it’s definitely more common being applied to women only. And for what it’s worth, it’s generally not a disrespectful thing, although I can completely understand why you wouldn’t want to be addressed that way — and your preferences should take priority!

    But I agree, you definitely should stick to what you prefer to be called, and not what he should be calling everyone. It’s very possible that there are others who are from a similar background who don’t mind it at all, or like the meaning behind it.

    4. He should basically respond the way he would if he misgendered someone who isn’t trans. When you accidentally “sir” a ma’am or “ma’am” a sir, you correct yourself, apologize, and note it going forward.

    5. Oh man, did I deal with this. I changed my entire legal name during my stay at my current job, and my email address was never updated (for various reasons) although the display name attached to it was. So essentially, you got email from “Boochie Flagrante (Flora.Daystar@company.com)” and it caused loads of confusion. So I definitely second AAM’s advice to see if you can get your email address updated, and if not, including (Peggy) in the middle is a great way to create continuity.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      I had a coworker who also changed her entire legal name, and could not get IT to change it – she had an email alias but the official account name was the old one. It took me filing a request under the “interferes with processes” category for it to get changed – we have to list the person who reviews our code when we check it in, and if it’s not a valid account name it bounces. So every time we entered j.smith instead of m. mxyzptlk (seriously, it did have about that many consonants) it slowed us down, first from the bounce and second from trying to remember how to spell it!

  9. DCompliance*

    #2. I have definitely been called Miss DCompliance a few times and it seems to be a cultural thing, but I have always taken it as a sign of respect. However, I have also felt comfortable saying “you can call me DCompliance”.

    1. Florida*

      I work with children. This is a conversation I have at least once a month:

      Parent to me: What should the kids call you?
      Me: Florida (my first name)
      Parent to me: Ms. Florida?
      Me: Just plain Florida is fine.
      Parent to child: This is Ms. Florida.
      Me to child: You can call me Florida. What’s your name?

      I always want to say, “Why did you ask if you are going to call me whatever you want?” I understand that parents want to teach their children respect. But respect is calling someone by the name they prefer.

  10. violet*

    Failing to use preferred pronouns is not only insulting but a constant reminder that coworkers don’t recognize a transgender person as a person.
    I have had coworkers do it me several times, it is very upsetting and still happens despite telling management.

    1. Edith*

      +1000 I’m really sorry you’ve had to deal with working with people who don’t do you the decency of making an effort.

      1. DArcy*

        It’s still an issue when it’s unintentional, just not as big of one. And if someone is *repeatedly* doing it (not the case in the scenario described, thankfully, but it happens often enough to be relevant), there’s clearly nothing unintentional about it.

          1. Honeybee*

            It is an issue for people who want their genders and gender expression recognized.

            That doesn’t mean that the person making the mistake should fall on their sword and commit hari-kari, but brushing it off as a non-issue isn’t the solution either.

            1. Julia*

              You mean harakiri, or actually correctly seppuku. Just while we’re on the Topic of respecting people’s pronouns, let’s also respect their cultures.

  11. Bookworm*

    For all these questions (well, aside from #3, I suppose):

    Almost everyone will be more embarrassed to learn from someone else that they’ve been calling you the wrong things for months, than they would to have you briefly correct them. There’s also a flood effect: if you start correcting people, they’ll start correcting other people as well, relieving some of the burden off you.

    1. periwinkle*

      But make it timely! I had a college friend with whom I’d reconnected. She turned out to be a toxic drama llama and I eventually disconnected. One of her favorite things was bringing up something incredibly trivial I had said back in college and throw it back in my face because somehow I should have never changed my mind about anything. “Huh. Well, *I* remember that you said you hated wearing jeans and wouldn’t buy any more. So why did you just buy a pair?” Um, maybe because in the TWENTY FIVE YEARS since then I’ve found jeans that actually fit?

      Anyway, for all of those 25+ years I had called her by a shortened version of her name (like “Jill” instead of “Jillian”). She had introduced herself as Jill when we met. Everyone called her Jill back then. Never once in all those decades did she ever correct me. But then I finally legally changed my name and for some reason she started calling me by my birth name (which I hated, and which she had never called me until then). When I said hey, I don’t like that name, please don’t start using it, she announced that she hated being called Jill and had always hated it and how dare I call her Jill all these years. WTF? (yes, it was just another toxic behavior – shortly thereafter I stopped calling her anything because I stopped calling her)

  12. Murphy*

    #5 – I second seeing if you can get your email changed. At my organization, it’s a quick thing to do and it eliminates confusion.

  13. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    Regarding no. 3: I use my husband’s visibly ethnic last name socially and at work (FDCA Maidenname Lastname) and when I started at this position just mentioned before the paperwork was being filled out “hey, my legal name according to the bank and CRA is FDCA Maidenname, but I’d like my full name on my cards and so on.” No issues, no problems, and I think most places are at least familiar with the idea of women’s last names being somewhat changeable.

    1. Italiana*

      OP #3: I tried the same experiment after I was married and definitely had better results with my generic last name versus the more ethnic. My maiden name is Italian and my new married surname is fairly generic English and I had many more replies once I changed over. It sucks that this is even something you have to consider amending!

      I also have the problem of people slightly amending my first name (think Maria instead of Marie). It’s generally not a big deal and my American accent is quite thick so often my name is misunderstood, but it’s really annoying to have other people and strangers play with your identity like that.

  14. Terra*

    Oh man, names and workplaces always seem to be a much bigger issue than they should. I worked for a boss that insisted on calling everyone by their legal first name when I’d gone by my middle name my whole career. It was fun using him as a reference after I left.

    As far as pronouns go matter of factly handling it in the moment is the way to go, I generally wouldn’t bring it up after the fact unless they ask you to because it seems to bring more attention to the fact that the person in question is “different” than it should.

    1. Murphy*

      We have a lot of people who go by their middle name, and it’s funny how some people just don’t get it at all. I have a moment of confusion when I met “Dan” and I get an email from “Andrew” but then I figure it out and move on.

      My husband causes trouble because at some point he switched from going by his middle name to his first name because he got tired of explaining it and doesn’t really care. I call him MiddleName, since I met him through people who called him that, but he introduces himself as FirstName. New people are always like “Wait, what is his name again?”

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        My SO is the same! He’s FirstName at work (and was in higher education), but he’s SecondName to me, his family, my family, and anyone who knew him before he went to college.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is how my sister-in-law is. When I met her, she went by a (rather juvenile) nickname. When she got older she started using her actual first name, but she never asked anyone who already knew her to use that name. So some of us call her Nickname and some of us (including her husband) call her Jane. And some of us call her Nickname in private and Jane in public.

      3. Florida*

        I have a friend from high school who has the same legal first name as I do. In high school, she had a nickname. It’s not an obvious nickname based on the legal name. She now goes by her legal name, but I still call her by the nickname.
        It is funny when we are out with other people, and someone uses her name. It always take me a second to process that they are talking about her, not me.

  15. she was a fast machine*

    I was always taught to refer to the people you work with with a prefix until you know them well enough to drop it or can pick up on the appropriate norms(if everyone in the office always calls the manager Ms. LastName, you do it too, but if they just call her FirstName then you pick up on that too). I never realized it might bother people or come across sexist.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It won’t come across as sexist if you do it to everyone (the issue in the letter is that he’s only doing it with women). But it might come across as a little overly formal or other out-of-tune in most offices.

    2. Mona Lisa*

      If you continue to do this, I’d recommend using Ms. with women even if you notice they have a wedding ring/are married. I currently have a student at the university where I work who calls me by my first name in in-person interactions but insists on referring to me as Mrs. LastName in e-mails. It bugs me a bit because I’m not a “Mrs.,” but short of calling her out on it in an e-mail, there’s not much I can do.

      1. OP #2*

        From the first time we met, it was how he referred to me (and to his boss, who is female). she introduced me as FirstName LastName–no Ms. He just went right into “So nice to meet you, Ms. FirstName. I look forward to working with you, Ms. FirstName” and so forth.

        1. Loremipsum*

          I’ve worked in some fairly conservative environments / industries so when I start a new venture I do ask: is there anyone that is not addressed by their first name? And sometimes, there is. It is rare but it still exists.

      2. she was a fast machine*

        I have always called all women Ms. unless I’m referring to them as Mrs. MarriedLastName and I know for a fact that they’re married and that’s what they go by. But when I’m getting started, everyone is Ms. LastName.

      3. Julia*

        I did that once. Unfortunately, here in Europe, a lot of people simply don’t know about Ms. and refer to every woman as Miss or Mrs. (I don’t even know which is worse), even though my signature says Jane Doe (Ms.), and once or twice I have corrected people asking me for Mrs. X or Mrs. Y or addressing me as Mrs. Z.

        1. Flor*

          Yeah I’ve noticed that in the UK, where it also seems to be much more common for marries women to take their husbands’ surnames. It sucks because I didn’t take my husband’s name when we married, so I’m Ms Smith (same as I’ve beem since I was, oh, 17 or so), but people either call me Miss, as though I’m single, or Mrs, as though Smith is my husband’s name.

          Meanwhile, people who know my husband’s surname assume it’s mine, with my aunt even addressing cards to “Mr and Mrs J Brown”.

          1. Mona Lisa*

            It’s common here in America as well, but I know there are more women who are choosing to keep their names. (I always say that my husband and I both chose to keep our names because he had a decision, too!) It’s frustrating for people to assume things about me based on my marital status, and it really bugs me that relatives continue to address things to Mr. and Mrs. HisLast even when every communication I’ve had with them shows my name being the same it’s always been.

            1. Flor*

              “We both chose our names” – I like that!

              The weird thing, for me as an expat, is that keeping your surname seems even less common here than in North America. I literally only know one other woman here who kept her surname, and she’s my boss so for all I know she uses her husband’s name socially or just couldn’t be bothered with getting a new email/id at work (of course, equally she may have kept her name full-stop; my point is just I can’t point to any other woman of my acquaintance here that I *know* kept her surname when she married).

    3. Headachey*

      The other annoying aspect to this convention is when you have a name that does not traditionally match your gender – I’m a woman and use a nickname that is more commonly a male name (though I do not ever use my full name socially or at work). I correspond with a lot of clients & customers (mostly federal employees who may be in more formal environments), and a fair number of them start off calling me Mr. LastName. It’s annoying every single time, especially since it happens with some regularity.

      Usually, it’s enough for me to add (Ms.) in front of my name in my email signature when I reply to them, but I’d rather not have to correct people at all. Just use first names!

  16. Seal*

    I go my a nickname that isn’t an obvious derivative of my given name, which already causes enough confusion in some circumstances. However, I absolutely HATE it when people shorten my nickname and quickly correct anyone who does so. My nickname doesn’t need it’s own nickname!

  17. Opposite problem*

    I have the opposite situation from #1. I was hoping my nickname/shortener would organically catch on, but it hasn’t. I know I could have easily avoided this issue by early on saying “Call me [Name]!” or sign off on by emails with Name, but coming in I felt I had to be Very Official. I’ve now been hear a year and a half and fear it would be weird and I would get a lot of “Why didn’t you tell us?!” if I bring it up now.

      1. KTB*

        God, it was a good day when I finally figured that out. It makes it so much easier for everyone when the name on the resume matches what the person calls themselves on a daily basis!!

      2. Katie-Pie*

        Absolutely! My name is FirstName Kathrine LastName, and I go by Katie LastName (Since day one–it was my parents’ decision). In college I applied for a job under FirstName LastName because I thought official=professional. They greeted me as FirstName at the interview and I was too shy and nervous to say, “Oh, please call me Katie!” After getting the job, I took too long figuring out how to correct them, so each day meant it would be even more awkward to address. Now I just look back on it as The Summer I Went by FirstName.

        Now my resume has Katie, and when I complete official paperwork on day 1, I use FirstName Kathrine LastName on all that.

        Once you learn how to navigate it becomes second nature.

        1. Harold*

          A football player I went to college with had the same experience. He went through all four years of school and a short professional career, always called Firstname when he preferred Middlename.

      3. Ayla K*

        Thank you!! I once had an intern who applied as James, and we knew him as James for 80% of his internship until one of his friends (who was interning in another department) referred to him as “Jack.” We found out that he thought his legal name, James, sounded more professional so he was using that instead of the name that everyone – including his family! – calls him. We all had a laugh at that and it helped us understand the times that we’d say “hey James!” and it would take him a moment to acknowledge us.

        On the same vein, I now work in HR and I just advocated for a “preferred name” field in our onboarding documentation. We’ve had two or three people join in the last three months, gotten business cards printed, set up their e-mail…only to hear, “oh, I actually go by Rick instead of Patrick” or whatever. It’s a huge hassle to reprint things – and not everything can be switched for us – and it has such a simple solution. Just ask from the get-go!

    1. Emma*

      Eh, I don’t think most people would mind. Just say something like, “I’ve decided I prefer [Name], actually.” If anyone pushes, they’re the ones being rude.

  18. CA Admin*

    #3 – I use my maiden name for work, even though I legally changed my name when I got married because I was worried about this. My (former) last name is very very common (think “Smith”, “Jones”, or “Baker”)–easy to spell, easy to remember, and it reads as white. My married name is a very common Portuguese last name. I can’t pronounce it right (I can do the Americanized version, but not the real Portuguese version), it’s hard to spell (especially over the phone), and it reads as not “American”.

    It’s stupid, but these biases are out there–both conscious and unconscious. I was going through a tough time job hunting during the recession and I figured I’d remove any potential obstacle–even ones that are technically illegal (like perceived nationality), but hard to prove.

    I don’t know if I’d recommend the same for you. I feel guilty every time someone asks about why I don’t use my husband’s name at work (I usually leave it at “my maiden name is easier to spell over the phone”). It’s a shitty choice to have to make and it makes me feel like I’ve let down POC and liberals everywhere for deliberately cashing in on my white privilege. But I needed a job, so…

    1. 21*

      My first name and maiden name read very African-American. I am as white as the day is long. When I got married, I hyphenated my last name with my husband’s, which is very white. It’s been an interesting journey. I don’t know if I’ve missed out on interviews. I do know that in every place I’ve worked where people heard or read my name before meeting me, they’ve all had that same confused look on their face when they finally meet me.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        My sister dated a guy with that situation. He also was from a city with a large African-American population. When people met him in person after they were occasionally confused…

      2. Candi*

        Been there…

        Our family name is a ridiculously common Hispanic name. Our ancestor swung through Mexico on his way to the US, but was born in Spain. He married an Irish woman with a dose of American Indian ancestry. Further generations were a real mix and match.

        Buuuuut thanks to stereotypes, when he was in the military, Dad got variations on, “Oh, I was expecting someone a foot shorter with darker skin and a mustache” all the time. The big, bushy mustache stereotype (yes, this was specified to him) was especially silly if you know anything about military grooming rules.

        I’ve gotten a few ‘no ways’ before I got married, and some people looked surprised when they called my name and I responded, but most just rolled with it.

        (Changing my name back once the kids are 18. I don’t like carrying my married name, and the maiden is way shorter.)

    2. CanadianKat*

      Would you be able to just go by Smith professionally? Many professional women don’t change their names for reasons such as inequality (why is it that it’s the woman that’s expected to change her name, rather than the man?), caution (you never know – the marriage may not last), and name recognition (if you had already started your career under the old name, changing your name would erase some of the capital you’ve built up, – your contacts, clients, and others who’ve seen your work won’t recognize you under the new name). Sometimes it’s because one name is nicer or easier than another. Avoiding discrimination is another good reason.

      Once they’ve hired you, you can tell them that your legal name is Al-Fayad, but you prefer to go by Smith for all practical purposes. They shouldn’t have a problem with that. I always do this for my first name; it has never bothered anybody, and most of my coworkers never know what my legal first name is. (One is actually a standard shortened version of the other in another language, – so people in my birth country would call me that automatically, but where I live, most people are puzzled).

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I think having your resume still say “Jane Smith” when that is the name you went by previously is a better option than Jane Fayad in place of Jane Al Fayad. Honestly, since you only got married a few months ago, you may want to stick with your maiden name (or make sure both maiden and married are on your resume) unless all of your references or former contacts will know you as Jane Al Fayad. I had a bad experience once where someone said “oh, I just interviewed Elizabeth Jones and she said you used to work together at XYZ corp” and I said “Elizabeth Jones? Who? I don’t remember a Elizabeth Jones from XYZ, are you sure?” and the same thing happened with someone else as well. The interviewer started to wonder if the interviewee had been lying about working at XYZ, but luckily called her and she was able to explain that she had gotten married in the past year and we would probably have known her by Liz Johnson (her nickname and maiden name, not Elizabeth Jones (the name on her resume).

        So if your references will know you as Jane Smith, put Jane Smith or Jane Smith Fayad. But I wouldn’t go to Jane Fayad and then try to explain “well, actually, my legal name is Jane Al Fayad, but my references all know me as Jane Smith and my resume says Jane Fayad.”

        1. Decimus*

          Yes there’s no reason for a professional woman to have to change her name now. My wife still uses her maiden name. She might introduce herself socially as Mrs Decimus but even that’s uncommon.

          Of course part of the thought process was avoiding a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s everything from new drivers licenses and passports to filing forms with airlines individually to keep your frequent flyer mileage account. Ugh.

      2. Sydney Bristow*

        When I was getting married, my coworker asked me if I was changing my name. I said no and neither is Husband. He was so confused. Blew his mind that the male partner would ever change his name!

        1. SS*

          I’m a woman engaged to a man, and this is what my fiance and I say to everyone. That or “we’re both keeping our maiden names”.

        2. CanadianKat*

          I know somebody whose husband changed his name. She is in academia, where name continuity is very important. He is not. Also, her last name just sounds better (both in English – their common language, and in German – they’ve now settled in Germany).

          1. Candi*

            I know a very very white doctor who had a lot of brothers and a very generic last name. His wife was second-generation Polish and had a fairly complex and unique name. He changed his to hers.

            I thought it was a great story. :)

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        If you do something like this, make sure that if you travel for work, whoever buys your plane tickets knows what name is on your ID.

        1. Chinook*

          Ditto on this. I lived for 5 years where my legal name on provincial id (including driver’s licence) was my maiden name but any national id (passport, credit cards, frequent flier cards) were my married name because Quebec didn’t recognize marriage as a reason to legally change your name and would only issue id to match my birth certificate or a legal court document changing it. I learned to travel with my passport or I wouldn’t be able to use plane tickets issued to match my frequent flier card. I even had my credit card refused because my driver’s license had a different last name.

          The irony was I never legally reverted to my maiden name (via divorce or court filing), so I couldn’t change my credit cards. I was stuck with two legal identities and it was a pain in th ebutt.

    3. (Another) B*

      My maiden name is Polish and 13 letters and my married name is 5. So I go by that, haha. Whatever is just easier!

        1. Editor*

          My last name is my maiden name followed by my late husband’s surname. Unfortunately, my maiden name sounds something like a first name. So, for example, although this is not it, Sarah K. Ailan-Travers. A receptionist will ask for my last name, I say Ailan-Travers. Then the receptionist says, “Thanks, Ellen, let me get your file.” Which turns out to be hard, because it isn’t in the Ts. My workaround is to either say my first name and last name, or to say, “My last name is two words, Ailan-Travers.” Sigh.

        2. Maria*

          I married someone with a last name that starts with a W. I often joke to him that if I ever meet a man with the last name Aardvark, I will leave him.

      1. Julia*

        Oh my god, are you future me? My current name is long and Polish, and I will change it to five letters and easy (and Japanese.) Since I speak Japanese so well people on the phone don’t always figure out I’m a native (and my first name could be Japanese), I am really looking forward to meeting people in person after phone conversations. :D

      2. cncx*

        same here! i went from 10 to 5. i was worried i was going to have the same issue as op 3 but my ex-husband’s arabic last name was one of those ambiguous “maybe this is italian or spanish” names without the prefix. i loved having a shorter name so much.

    4. Bad Candidate*

      I’ve considered doing the same thing. My maiden name is also very common, easy to spell, English, white, all that. My married name is Lithuanian, but often mistaken for Hispanic. I’ve wondered if I should use my maiden name at work or in a job search for this reason. But my husband doesn’t have any problems finding a job, so who knows. And I also think it’s crap that this is even a possibility.

      1. DragoCucina*

        My married name is Italian, but often taken for Hispanic. It’s also often presumed to be my first name. Combined with originally being from S. California I’ve had callers ask for me and launch into Spanish. We have bilingual staff members, but my other language is very basic Italian.

        There was also the lab tech that started yelling at me for writing my first name on a cup. I still wish my anger didn’t result in tears rather than a calmer response.

    5. Yetanotherjennifer*

      Yes, lots of people use different parts of their name under different circumstances. It’s especially common for people who have built a substantial or public career under their maiden name and don’t want to lose that continuity.

    6. T3k*

      It sucks even more when one’s only last name sounds non-white. I’m half Asian and my last name reflects that, and as I’m not married (and honestly, I don’t plan to change my name if it ever comes up) I hate the feeling that someone looks at my resume, sees my odd last name and rejects my resume partly because of it, and unlike the OP, there’s no way to make it look less weird.

    7. First Initial dot Last Name*

      I get, almost verbatim every time I have a meeting with someone new, “You are not the person I expected to see attached to this name.” Every time I want to ask what that person would look like, but it would derail the intention of the meeting, so I suck up my snarkiness and adult on.

      My given first name is common name spelled funny (missing a couple of biblically prescribed Es, and my surname is a normal Irish name Americans can’t seem to pronounce, although it’s not difficult.

      20 years ago I changed my given name to an unusual (non anglican) spelling in part because my given name is just enough off that people cannot or refuse to hear me spell it out for them correctly when they ask, I figured if I say, “It’s spelled funny, please listen closely…” I have a chance that they’ll hear me all the way through. It worked for my first name, but not my surname. My dad had a little song he’d sing to get people to hear it for transcription, but they would still miss pronounce it, putting extra letters and sounds in :-/ After a lifetime of spelling out my entire 15 letter singy-songy Irish name that people still got wrong, I changed my maiden/surname as part of divorce proceedings 13 years ago, I shifted my maiden name to my middle name (family tradition), and adopted my grandmothers maiden name as my new last name; I usually include my “middle name” whenever possible as a way to maintain my strong family identity.

      20 years ago I was the only (first name) on the internet, my web presence is strong in that the first few pages of a search result are me, (all pages if searching whole name), but it goes sharply downhill from there. There’s a staunchly feminist (yay) middle eastern lawyer/judge who works on child bride annulment cases, his surname is my first name, and then there are a vast number of radical wing-nuts with internet access. 20 years ago I was a stand out unique snowflake, now I think I’m feeling some name bias, quite unfortunately. I’d like to believe that I can bend people to my goodwill and make them see the error of their ways, but I’d also like to get a job. I feel similarly to CA Admin in that it feels like I’m cashing in my white privilege rather than making a stand against name bias, I’m grappling with myself, thinking, “Is this the hill I want to die on?”

      As an experiment I have _just_ started using my adopted first initial, commonly shortened given name, adopted surname, but this iteration feels weird. I’d rather go back to my given name than use this (experimental) compromise. but the hassle of it all. meh.

      Going back to my original comment here, I’m not what people expect when they put a face to a name, I recognize that I made this choice, I brought this on myself, it’s not like I was christened with this kooky name. If that were the case, then yes, it might be the hill I want to die on.

    8. Lia*

      I didn’t change my name when I married because all of my work and academic history were under my birth name (can’t we do away with the term “maiden name”, anyways?). Soon after I got married, I moved across the country, and I can’t imagine the difficulty I would have had in job searching and reference checking for things like Lia Original Name and Lia New Name.

      I tend to take a no-apologies approach. This is my name and I’ve had it an awfully long time now — why do I need to change it?

  19. Alex*

    I am curious what peoples feelings are about referring to someone by their last name. I have worked (and still do work) in several industries that commonly refer to people by their last name. Because my professional network only knows me by my last name; I have been trying to get people to refer to me by my last name in other areas. In college classes for example, when the professor asks what name I would like to go by I will offer my last name The norm is that most other people use a shortened version of their first name. I have tried to do this when I work in other industries where this isn’t really the norm as well.

    I have encountered some push-back in the past about this. For some reason some other people feel really uncomfortable calling other people by their last name. Usually for other peoples comfort, I am willing to go by my first name then but that leaves me in a bind where my work is known under two different names. I don’t know if I should just accept the status quo as is or if I would be out of touch to push to be known by my last name in areas where this is not the norm. At the very least I am curious as to why some people bristle at the idea of referring to someone by their last name.

    1. Student*

      I always just try to blend into the local culture on that one. I grew up in a last-name universe. I’ve been working in a first-name universe for a while. I go by the name that blends with local custom. Sometimes I slip up, since I still mentally file people under their last names. To me, it’s just not something I personally care about enough to insist on one or the other, and it’d put me pretty out of step with people around me if I did push it because in each of these two universes I step between, there are essentially no people violating the local norm. It’d be like asking for a soda in a pop town – it’s Not Done and people keep correcting you until you give it up or leave.

    2. she was a fast machine*

      I too wonder this; I have a lot of exposure to the military, and through various groups(like ROTC) as a young adult I’ve picked up on calling a lot of people primarily by their last name(heck, I still call my fiance by his last name sometimes!), and it’s weird to think of them by their first names. It was really strange when I aged out of one of my cadet programs and became the same rank as my instructor and he asked I call him by his first name rather than rank and last name.
      So I have an appreciation or at the very least understanding why people sometimes go by their last name, but I have met a few people who just lose their mind that I have friends I refer to by their last name only.

      1. Chinook*

        As someone who married military and didn’t confidently know my husband’s first name until after we were engaged because no one referred to him by it (and his last name is also a common first name), I don’t blink an eye at someone going by their last name. If I am introduced to someone, I go by the name given in the introduction. If no name is given, I go by whatever is on their name badge if they are wearing one. And, at no time, do I bother to find out if it is their first, middle, last or nick name.

    3. Emma*

      It can come off as really out of touch, stiff, and overly formal, and some people would take it as you trying to keep a wall up or trying to otherwise set yourself apart/above your colleagues. Also, I think sometimes it just sounds weird to people, and if it’s off-norm enough it may make them feel like they’re being rude when they comply.

      The more your last name sounds like a known first name, the easier this’d be, probably. But there would probably still be places where they consider it kind of rude and standoffish or even snobbish, especially if people higher up were going by first or nicknames.

      1. Emma*

        I should add that the reverse situation is also often uncomfortable for people – being the one person who wants to go by a first name out of a group that all goes by last names. It makes you seem out of touch, overly friendly, even immature. But in my experience, people seem to get that it’s a norm they have to roll with when it’s a last-name-only group, even if they find it annoying.

        1. Alex*

          The military is like this. Going by first names is really stigmatized as being overly informal and lacking in discipline.

          1. First Initial dot Last Name*

            Yeah, I’m a vet, this is very ingrained in me. I often refer to people by their last name and feel very awkward using their first name. Likewise I feel awkward when people call me by my first name rather than my first initial or last name. When someone uses my first name instead of my first initial or last name it feels calculated, diminutive, softening, like their trying to pull a power move on me or something.

      2. Lissa*

        See, I have the opposite reaction to just last name with no Ms or Mr (just “Waters” or “Chen” or whatever) — to me it sounds really casual, like college aged guys addressing each other. Because of this I sort of like it when applied across gender lines, it feels very inclusive, but not formal at all.

    4. Anonicat*

      Am I the only one who thought all working adults called each other by their last names? I think this was introduced to me in the X-Files and I thought all workplaces were like this.

      (I just had to get this out…everywhere I’ve worked people call each other by first names.)

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I totally did too! I think it’s because when I was growing up, most of the shows that showed much about peoples’ workplaces were cop or medical shows (or like you say, X-Files), where last names were the norm. The only exception was the Mary Tyler Moore show, but I think in my small child brain I was like “well OBVIOUSLY the sitcom is the one that’s not going to be realistic about it….”

      2. lascozzese*

        Interesting piece of trivia, the Italians (at least in the area I live and work in) almost always refer to each other using their surnames in the workplace, but only if they have a relatively informal relationship with the co-worker in question.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      Just the other day I told my manager he should start calling us all by our last names, like they do on TV. “Johnson! Get me the Sucracorp file!” He declined.

    6. Jubilance*

      I have never liked being referred to solely by my last name – I find it disrespectful. I once had a HS teacher who only referred to his students by last name and wouldn’t stop, even when I asked him to. So I started referring to him by just his last name and he suddenly stopped the practice. It came off as the students weren’t as important as him – he was Mr. LastName and the rest of us didn’t get any type of honorific.

      If someone asked me to refer to them by their last name, I would oblige them, but I wouldn’t reciprocate. I’d prefer FirstName or Ms. LastName instead.

      1. EW*

        I agree. It’s very dismissive. I know it’s a common occurrence when there’s a lot of people in a network with the same first name, but there’s nothing stopping people from saying First Last.

      2. Maria*

        I had a HS teacher who did the same thing! It can be really awkward, depending on the name. There were several kids with color names in my grade…can you imagine yelling “Black, pay attention!” or “Green, what’s the answer to number five?” Then of course, there was giggling with “Johnson”.

        1. CanadianKat*

          umm, what’s funny about “Johnson”?

          (We had that, in an Eastern european country where I grew up. Even though it was the only culture I knew, I hated it, – particularly in kindergarten. Even though I had a very local last name.)

      3. Lia*

        One of my sister’s teachers did this. In his defense, this WAS the 1980’s and of the 15 girls (out of ~30 students) in the class, 11 of them were named some variation of “Jennifer”. Rather than go by “Jennifer A.”, “Jenny B.”, and the like, he gave up and went to last names for all.

        I like using last names, but I worked in law enforcement for a while, where it is commonplace.

    7. Palmanic*

      My name is such that there are 4 of us in a fairly small department – we all go by last names and it’s way easier than trying to keep track of who uses which nickname or tacking on our last initial (which some of us share, too)

    8. DArcy*

      My company is oddly specific about that: employees are always referred to by last name for company business, except for our three management level people who always go by their first names.

    9. Phyllis B*

      Alex, do you mean at work you are referred to as “Smith” or “Mr. Smith”? If it’s the first, not such a big deal. Coaches do this all the time with their players, and I know hospitals refer to nurses that way (or used to. My sister was a nurse in the seventies. They never used her first name.) I worked as a telephone operator, and our supervisors always addressed us by our last name. Now, if you are asking people to refer to you as Mr. Smith, it probably puts people off. Don’t get me wrong, you have the right to be addressed the way you prefer, but Mr. Smith comes across as weirdly formal to most people these days.

      1. Chinook*

        I wonder if nurses did this for the same reason that cops do it (I think). They all wear name tags and interact with a lot of people who may or may not be happy to see them. Then, when they go out in public, it can be unnerving to know if the person who just called you by name knows you from your role at work or is a long time friend you haven’t seen in a while. By going only by last name at work, it is really easy to distinguish between the two groups because you have both a work name and a casual name.

    10. Phoenix Feather*

      I have worked in Athletics and with a military group. My husband is a member of a fraternity from college. Last names is so standard for me. In fact, when people offer their names, I repeat the last name.

    11. FrequentLurker*

      Regarding “why some people bristle at the idea of referring to someone by their last name”, I just tested myself on that, and yes, reacted with a horrified feeling of how rude it would be. Mentally exploring that reaction, my own answer was “because the times I’ve heard someone called by their last name, it’s been a signal of inferiority to the person speaking, in a very hierarchical system”.
      Examples which came to mind : servants in British period dramas, students in rigid schools, and the military – but in the case of the military I suddenly realised I have assumed it is a low-status signal and I might be misinterpreting that.

  20. Misgendering happens sometimes*

    Regarding pronoun mistakes, you definitely don’t want to make a huge deal about being sorry or correcting yourself. *You* may know they’re trans, but not everyone does and not everywhere is safe to be openly trans. By overemphasizing your apology, you could be outing them and putting someone’s livelihood at stake. If you have time to Youtube, please consider checking out Jackson Bird’s channel. He has a ton of videos that talk about trans issues, from an openly trans person’s perspective. Just make sure you click on the right video, he also runs a show on that channel called “Will it Waffle?” (which everyone should watch, but maybe on some other free time).

  21. A. Nonymous*

    #4 –> I’m queer and hang out/ work with a lot of queer circles. We’ve taken to introducing ourselves first, such as “I’m Jane, please use ‘she’ when talking to me”. It makes it clear that you’re aware that people don’t always look their gender and that it’s safe for them to be out around you.

    If it’s in conversation, it’s honestly known and okay. Just say “Oops, she” or “I’m sorry, I’ll work on it.” Getting a pronoun wrong HAPPENS particularly in environments where it’s not the norm. Handling it gracefully and saying that you’ll work on it goes a long way. Provided of course, that you DO work on it.

    I’m trying to push to make it the norm to do pronoun-name introductions, but it does sound strange saying “I’m she-Jane”.


  22. seejay*

    LW#1: I’ve had this weird issue since I started university when I was 18. Until then, I went by a shortened nickname of my legal name birth name: think “Liz” and “Lizzie” instead of “Elizabeth”. My grade and highschool registration all had my birth name, but my attendance sheets all had “Lizzie” on them so my teachers and classmates called me Lizzie and close friends would even shorten that to Liz.

    Come university, I registered under my legal name (as I had to) and that’s what showed up for my professors so they called my Elizabeth. Classmates called me that. Before that, the only time I heard that name was when my mom was mad at me and screaming across the house because I was in trouble. Oh and on top of that, the actual pronunciation she had for it was different from the norm (think “Eliz-ay-beth” instead of “Eliz-ah-beth”). I literally didn’t have the energy to correct everyone to either the shortened nicknames I had been using for 18 years *or* the custom pronunciation of the full version my mom gave me so I just went with it.

    20 years later, I’m still going by the full standard pronunciation of it in work environments and with new friends. My nicknames are lost in obscurity, only used by family and friends that knew me in highschool and *maybe* one or two new people who picked up that my name actually has shortened nicknames and I honestly don’t mind them. No one uses them! Or when they do, the use the extremely shortened one (Liz). I’ve gotten used to my full name, but it’s such a weird place to be in, when I spent the first 18 years barely ever hearing my full name.

    (I used the name Elizabeth as an example, it’s not my real name or even close to it but is a good example since it has the three variations I needed, although it doesn’t have the two pronunciations I needed for the example.)

    1. Elizabeth*

      It’s hilarious that you used Elizabeth in the example because this is what happened to me as well. I went by Liz all through school and then in my very first professional job, I introduced myself as Elizabeth just as a formality and it stuck. Now I really dislike it when new folks call me Liz; close friends I’ve made from work might shorten it to Eliz, which I prefer but never introduce myself as.

      1. seejay*

        It actually was the only name that came to mind when reading some of the examples here that fit because it had two nicknames that were close/similar to my real nicknames and a long proper name! The only thing that does fit in the example is that my legal name can have two pronunciations, while Elizabeth doesn’t (technically I don’t think my name does have two, but I’ve heard at least two people use the alternative pronunciation for it, but it’s *super* rare, and I know my mom just changed it around in the 70s when she gave it to me because she felt the original pronunciation was really nasally sounding, while her version was more sophisticated. Along the same vein, she also changed the spelling of the longer version of my nickname as well, just because she thought it was “neat”. If the 70s part there is any hint, my parents were hippies.)

        I’m pretty much used to my full name now since I’ve been going by it for 20 years and it now sounds weird to hear my nicknames since I talk to work people more than my family these days. I have people ask me what I prefer and I genuinely don’t mind all three names and I’m attuned to all three, even the pronunciation of both versions of my full name. The only thing I’m a stickler for is the spelling of both nicknames (the shortened nickname has been misspelled occasionally, and when it comes up, I do use the alternative unique spelling my mom gave the longer version when I was born).

    2. Sydney Bristow*

      My husband shifted from a common nickname to his full formal name after college. He did it by choice though. I met him after that so I use his full name but slip into the nickname when we’re surrounded by people who met him when he was younger or his parents. I don’t always even realize when I do it. Luckily he just finds it funny!

      1. seejay*

        I did technically do it by choice, since I probably could have found a way to emphasize my nickname over my full name on attendance sheets or by insisting I still go by the nicknames, but it honestly just wasn’t that big of a deal to me at the time. It felt like more effort than necessary to correct people back to the nickname, the same way it felt like more effort to also correct them on the unique pronunciation of the full name too (and trust me, that is a whole other barrel of monkeys when my mom overhears me use the “wrong” pronunciation in front of her). >< It's so weird to hear the nickname now though since I've become so accustomed to the full name!

  23. OP#4*

    I feel I should clarify something that I didn’t make clear in my initial question: the employees in question transitioned while at the job. So he’ll get a company-wide email that says something like: “Frederick Smith in Accounting is now Rebecca Smith, please adjust all documentation accordingly.” So he’s only stumbling over pronouns occasionally because he’s been calling someone “he” for years, and not because he doesn’t care about getting it right.

    1. Murphy*

      I got the impression it was an honest mistake. It happens, especially when it’s new like that. I second the advice from Alison and the other commenters.

    2. A. Nonymous*

      Then that’s extra understandable! Seriously, just apologize and work on fixing it. We understand that this kind of thing takes time. The less a deal that’s made about it the better, really. “I’m so sorry, I’m working on it.”

      As for getting him to remember, and this sounds silly but roll with me here, is mock introducing that person to things in the house. Like “Doggo/Wife/Sink/Houseplant, this is Rebecca, she works with me at Teapots Inc.” One of the things he’s fighting with is his repetition ingrained memory. So repeat the right pronoun some. It’s worked with a lot of folks I know.

    3. Jesmlet*

      It does make it a little harder but I don’t think it should change his response. Just a quick apology and correction should be fine. My cousin transitioned when she was 22 years old (last year) and I still feel like there’s an almost imperceptible pause before I say the pronoun just because I don’t want to screw up. If I did it in front of her or accidentally said ‘he’, I don’t think she would be offended. They know it’s not out of disrespect but it’s sometimes hard to break unconscious patterns and we sometimes slip up. As long as it only happens once or twice, it’s not like it’ll damage the relationship.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        “It’s hard to break unconscious patterns”–yes. It’s worth trying your best, and it comes easier with practice, but I remember when I was in sixth grade and my teacher got married and changed her name mid-year. We spent about two months going “Miss Ruler–oops, sorry, Mrs. Eraser,” and then we all got over it. (It helps that since we saw her for eight hours a day every day, we had lots of opportunity to practice….)

        Transphobia absolutely plays a role in this too, but there’s also an extent to which it’s just that it’s difficult to rewrite bits of your memory consistently and can take a while (and even longer if you don’t have frequent or consistent contact). If someone is consistently wrong, doesn’t apologize, doesn’t seem to be trying, etc., that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

        1. DArcy*

          That’s true, but it’s also true that we consistently apply stricter standards of conduct to adults in the work place than we do to children at school.

        2. Candi*

          Reminds me when one of the teachers at (one of) my elementary school got married: her maiden named was three syllables and looong, and her married name was also three syllables, and only one letter shorter. That was all kinds of fun.

          It’s like learning one set of manners, and then having to learn a new set. Takes time.

    4. TransAnon*

      Trust me, the person who transitioned knows that it’s going to take people a while to get used to the new name and pronouns, so they’re very unlikely to be offended by an occasional mistake. That might be something to mention to your friend if they’re concerned. I’ve often found that the cis people around me think accidentally using the wrong pronoun is a way bigger deal than it is. People called me by the wrong pronoun occasionally before I was out, and it wasn’t a big deal. Mistakes happen.

      If your friend is really concerned about how long it is taking them to re-learn the right pronouns, they may want to pull the trans person aside (assuming they’re relatively close) and say, “I’m sorry I’ve been messing up your pronouns. When that happens in conversation with others, do you have a preference for how I should handle it? I don’t want to make it a big deal or make you uncomfortable.”

    5. TootsNYC*

      I don’t think I’d even derail the conversation with the literal words “I’m sorry.” I’d just correct myself at the first opportunity: “I’ll leave this on his–her desk” if it can be that fast. Or “I’ll leave this on his desk. I mean, Rebecca’s desk.” Or, “I’ll leave this on his desk. Then, when I get the last parts of it, I’ll check with her to see what needs to be done.”

      Maybe a quick shake of the head or a rueful smile.

      But as the person who made the mistake, I wouldn’t want the mistake to take over the communication. Just keep going.

    6. paul*

      Honest mistakes happen. I’ve had an acquaintance (member of a D&D group) transition and even years later there’s still an occasional slip up, but it’s not intentional and I correct it and move on.

    1. LW #1*

      I’ve read all the comments (and appreciate them!), but I just have to say that this Politico article is AMAZING. I promise to not be THAT person!

  24. Alexandra*

    My name is “Alexandra” and I often go by “Alex” but I really hate when people short form without asking me first, it just seems like a weirdly personal thing to assume I’m ok with in a work setting. Not to mention that I know other Alexandra’s that go by Aly etc so it might not even be the *correct* short form.

    1. TheAssistant*

      I get really peeved when people see Alexandra and just automatically call me Alex. I go by Lexie. I am So Not an Alex.

      1. seejay*

        Without revealing my full name (cause I won’t do that), someone once tried to give me a new nickname that started from the middle of my full name (so extrapolating from your name, it would be taking Lexie from Alexandra, while my nicknames normally were based off the beginning of my full name, so Alex and Alexie were fine).

        I was very much not amused.

  25. Not-Morgan*

    On a related note: I’m a woman with a unisex name (think Morgan). I frequently get emails addressed to Mr. Smith–it’s happened all my life so I just ignore it. That said, some people seem to get really frazzled when they realize they’ve been misgendering me. I had a prospective student once totally freak out because she’d been addressing me as Mr. Smith in our emails. (“I’m SO sorry, I was sure you’d referred to yourself as Mr. in our emails, I’m really really sorry”–chill, I do not care even a little.)

    Changing my signature block to say “Ms. Morgan Smith” has cut down on a lot of it, but I still get it occasionally. Should I be correcting people when they get it wrong? Or only if I’m likely to meet them in person/talk to them on the phone? Or should I just let them deal with their own embarrassment and ignore it, which is what I’ve been doing?

    (Side note, my middle name is also unisex, so no help there.)

    1. Emma*

      My actual name is unisex, and like you I just ignore it when I’m misgendered. Most people who do make the mistake and later realize they were wrong, ime, take it in stride, and frankly, I know when I misgender others* I’d rather they either ignore my mistake (if it doesn’t bother them) or correct it briefly and then let it go (if it does). Besides, it seems to me that the people making a big deal out of it are trying to make their feelings my problem, and they’re not.

      *I really, really hated how policy at my last workplace was to address folks who called by Mr/Ms Name, because a good chunk of the time it wasn’t obvious and most people who called didn’t introduce themselves that way.

    2. Annby*

      Something similar happens to me, too (though for different reasons, since I use a gender-neutral shortened version of my obviously female first name — like “Sam” for “Samantha”), and I also don’t care at all. I generally ignore it or say “no worries” if the other person brings it up overtly. People will figure it out.

      I spent some time in a non-English-speaking country that was very much into formal salutations for emails where even the “dear” was marked for gender. There, I tried to work in a feminine noun or adjective to describe myself whenever I responded to a mis-gendered email. It doesn’t work quite as well in English, unfortunately.

    3. ali*

      I get this a lot too with people assuming I’m male because of how I spell my (nick)name. And people shortening my already super short name to “Al”. It’s a matter of people reading too fast and making quick assumptions. It annoys me to a minor degrees, but in most cases it’s not worth it.

      1. Emma*

        It tends to only annoy me when they do it twice (assuming they’ve had ample chance to notice their mistake, like they’ve met me or I’ve told them). With a gender-neutral name, I expect it to not be obvious what my gender is, but once you know, well.

        I usually only correct people who do it a lot, because sometimes it is just a brain fart, but at that point it is rather annoying.

    4. ZVA*

      I would advise you to briefly & lightly correct people when they get it wrong, even if you’re unlikely to speak with or meet them in person—just because, were I one of those people, I’d want to know as soon as possible so I didn’t keep making the same mistake! Maybe something at the end of the email like “P.S. It’s actually Ms. ___, not Mr.!”?

    5. Jax*

      I also have a problem with this- My name is Dutch and it is an uncommon (in the US) feminine version of a male name (think, Albertje/Albert.) I get emails addressed to Mr. Lastname or they drop the end letters and just call me Albert. Usually I ignore it because it will be with people I am only in contact with through email. Sometimes students ask to meet with me and address me as Mr. Lastname to be formal and I like to let it be a surprise when they come to the office :)

      I also get the “oh your name is Albertje? I bet your parents really wanted a boy!” all.the.time. My response is “Actually, I was named after a very special woman close to my mom.” Nice people apologize, but I have had people get nasty with me about their assumptions.

    6. Jesse*

      If I think I’m going to have a relationship with the person, I might say “(BTW, I’m a Ms.)” in an early email, but mostly I don’t worry about it. Although one time, I was on a conference call with someone who persisted in believing I was a man through the call! (I do not have a manly voice.) It was the oddest thing.

    7. Alton*

      In my case, I have a somewhat androgynous name, and I’m actually trans. I have a somewhat deep voice, but not so deep to be read as male on a regular basis. Occasionally, someone will gender me as male after communicating via e-mail, and then apologize profusely when they talk to me and realize their “mistake.” It’s so awkward because it sucks for me to get gendered correctly and then have it “corrected,” and if I try to let them know that they had it right the first time, they just get more confused and embarrassed.

      (One time in college, this happened to me when I was getting up on a stage to collect an award. I was feeling very dapper in my shirt and tie combo, and the emcee, who hadn’t seen me before I came up when my name was called, said in front of everyone how sorry she was that she called me Mr. Kind of took the wind out of my sails.)

      1. Kay J*

        Oh my god OUCH. I’ve had this same exchange with waiters or store clerks (I mean, I’m non-binary so they were never gonna really get it but I am closer to one than the other), but never on a stage… All of my sympathy to you.

    8. Drew*

      Many years ago, I had a male coworker with a name that’s more commonly used for women. His solution to people making assumptions was a signature that read

      (Mr.) Firstname Lastname

      and that seemed to work pretty well. Putting Mr. in parentheses made it clear, even to naive me, that he wasn’t insisting on the use of the title, just putting it there so people knew he was male.

    9. Pixel*

      We have two sets of clients with unisex names – think “Pat” and “Jerry”. One couple is Patricia and Jerald, the other is Patrick and Jeraldine. Luckily, their last names are very different or we would have been destined for a perpetual string of foot-in-mouth moments.

    10. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      Same thing happens to me all the time. My last name is super masculine too, so it’s like signing an email Max Steele or something and no one even stops to think the Max might be Maxine. When people get extra apologetic I just tell them that literally about 90% of people I meet do the exact same thing. They seem to relax faster when I let them know how often it happens.

  26. Collie*

    I read recently from a trans* blogger that the one exception to using incorrect pronouns is when using correct pronouns means outing the person. Not exactly the same as the issue here, but something I felt was helpful to be reminded of when I read it and worth spreading, IMO. Safety first.

  27. saminrva*

    #5 – I had a colleague whose official name on her business card (and office door etc.) said “R. Jane Smith” and then when she out her card, she’d write on the back “Rosie,” which is what everyone called her. I realize that’s not very practical all the time, but it had a nice side effect of making the recipient feel honored and like she’d done something personal for them.

  28. Murphy*

    I have a name that’s one letter off another name (Think Brandon/Brendan, except the incorrect letter adds an extra syllable) and people screw it up all the time. At my current job, it’s especially common in email, but people usually get it after the first correction. (Although one time someone replied to my email with the completely wrong name (think, I don’t know, Benjamin.)) At my old job, people would get it wrong all of the time, which was complicated after we got a new employee with the alternative name, and they would get mad at ME for correcting them. It’s not fun to be called the wrong thing. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to politely correct people to call you what you’d like to be called (especially if it’s wrong).

    1. Not Katherine*

      Ha! I was typing while you were. I am also a 1 letter off normal person and I hate that people get mad when they spell my name wrong and they have to correct it.

      1. First Initial dot Last Name*

        There’s those two EEs I was talking about upthread. It’s Kathrin than you very much! Kathi.

        Not Kathy, Kathie, Katey, Katy, Kay, Kat, Katie, Kati, Kit, Kitty, Kaity, Cathy, Kate, Katie, Kate, Kath, Cath, Cate, Cat, Katheryn, Kathryn, Katharyn, Katherin, Catharine, Cathryn, Katheryne, Catherine, Katharine, Katharina, Katrin, Kare, Karina, Kathrin, Katerine.


    2. Alexandra*

      As an Alexandra that get’s called Alexandria all the time – I feel that. And when I say “oh actually it’s Alexandra” and they still think I’m saying “Alexandria” it’s resulted in a few uncomfortable conversations. I’m realizing that I have several name related hang-ups in this thread :/

      1. Murphy*

        Oh Alexandra/Alexandria is an even better example. I was having a brain fart on close female names other than mine.

      2. Anon for this one*

        My daughter’s name is Alexandra and SO MANY PEOPLE feel compelled to add that extra “i.” I hate it. Nothing wrong with Alexandria, other than the fact that it’s NOT HER NAME.

    3. BobcatBrah*

      I’ve been called Travis my whole life (it’s close, sort of). I just respond to it because it’s close enough. I’d only get irritated if it were somebody I had met more than once doing it.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      I have a very common name with two spellings and a coworker who has not been very nice to me during my employment who spells it the way I don’t every. single. time. she emails me. My name pops up correctly spelled in Outlook when you enter my email address, and it’s in my email signature on every email I ever send, but nonetheless she spells it wrong EVERY time! Meanwhile she has an unusual spelling of a common name and I take the extra half a second to make sure I’m spelling it right when I email her.

      I’m sure the truth is that she just has someone she’s close to who spells the name the other way and that’s what she’s used to, but she’s been unpleasant enough to me that I’ve kind of hit the Bitch Eating Crackers point with her so I do a little grumpy eye-twitch every time I see it.

      (Also the other day a recruiter was like ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU ANSWER MY EMAIL?’ and I said I hadn’t gotten it, and she insisted she’d sent it and forwarded it to me… with my email address misspelled in the original message. Uh huh. I hope her face was red.)

    5. Pixel*

      I have a family member who feels your pain. She ended up going by a nick name that circumvented the issue (i.e. “Dani” instead of continuously being called Danielle rather than Daniella). My own name is pronounced in a non-conventional way which can’t really be clear from the spelling, and it gets exhausting.

  29. Not Katherine*

    Names are a battle and I never feel like I am going to win the war. My name is Katharine and the amount of times I have to correct people is staggering. I tend to only be a stickler one stuff like medical records, my drivers license (took 3 times to get it right), my college diploma (only took 2 times) etc. I try to have my emails always be Klastname@ vs katharinelastname@ because I won’t get most my emails. I wish people would pay attention and not get so defensive if I have to correct it on something important. I won’t even talk about the coworkers who have been spelling my name wrong for 10+ years. Including HR on anything not payroll that has been pre-printed.

    1. Anon for this one*

      My in-laws have spelled my name wrong (with an I instead of a Y at the end) for decades. I don’t know why it’s so difficult. I want to start sticking an I at the end of all their names. “Oh, I thought this was a cute thing your family does.” No, I’m not bitter. :-/

      1. Cath in Canada*

        That might work… a colleague of mine kept calling another colleague Diana instead of Diane, despite constant reminders. She called him Martina instead of Martin in a meeting once, and suddenly he was finally able to remember her name!

      2. Trig*

        Bleeeech I am also a -y name, and my in-laws also regularly spelled it -i for the first six years of my relationship with their kid (though they seem to have figured it out finally).

        People also often spell it -ey, which doesn’t bother me as much as the -i . To me, names ending -i seem either too cutesy, like you have to dot it with a heart, or too much like a stripper’s pseudonym. No shade on cutesy people or strippers, but I am neither.

      3. EW*

        My in laws announced our marriage in their summer newsletter. Neither of us changed our names, and we tried to make that abundantly clear. It stuck! They got my first name wrong instead :) I think it was very much an autocorrect error, but I found it hilarious at the time.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I have given up on this battle, as a single-L Alison.

      My youngest niece once spelled my name as Allison rather than Alison. I pointed it out to her and now she gleefully addresses everything to me as Alllllllllison.

      1. ali*

        I get called Alison all the time because of my nickname. But I’m really just Alice. Yet people think I should spell my name “Allie”, which I just don’t understand.

      2. Hillary*

        I use it as a litmus test these days – if potential vendors can’t spell my name correctly, it’s a data point about how much attention they’re paying. A very small one, but it’s surprisingly telling.

        I have two Ls because my three-months-older cousin also has two Ls (in a different name). My mom thankfully thought through that our entire family would spell both our names wrong for eternity if she had two and I had one.

      3. Wendy Darling*

        At one point I worked with a Lyndsey, was friends with a Lindsey, and was seeing a therapist named Lindsay.

        I had the absolute worst time remembering who was which (I’ve probably got it wrong above tbh) and was HORRIBLE for misspelling their names. I felt a little bad. :( At least the one at work I could check from her email address!

        1. Drew*

          I once taught a summer school class that had a Michael-went-by-Mike, a Michael-went-by-Michael, a Michele-one-ell, and a Michelle-two-ell-who-went-by-Mikey…two of whom were siblings.

          I ended up making a seating chart with one in each corner.

          1. Chinook*

            All you were missing was a Michel (male version of Michelle) to fill the free space in the middle of the square!

      4. Lore*

        I’m a copy editor and I’ve given up trying to get people to spell my name correctly.

        First name is a common-ish version that’s more usually the male variant; last name is the least common of about five possible spellings. I actually use FirstNameMiddleName@gmail for my email address because it was just too difficult to get people to spell my last name right (and when I used to have an email for my theater company, it was FirstName@theater.org, and then we had a redirect on OtherSpelling@theater.org to make sure I got those emails too.

        In regular usage, it doesn’t bother me–but when coming from my colleagues, who a) are also copy editors, b) have worked with me for five years +, and c) can see the correct spelling in BOTH my email address and my signature…it grates a little. Still. I can’t win.

    3. squids*

      All three of my names are like this, with more common one-letter-different versions. I’ve had documentation where all were wrong at once. It’s fun!

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        My dad has a unisex name; his favorite piece of mis-addressed mail was (more or less) “Ms. Frist Assnem”.

      2. Pixel*

        I grew up with a long, obviously-immigrant last name. My father had a collection of the numerous ways official letters would mangle our name. I keep telling people I married my husband for his short, easy-to-spell last name.

    4. Sparkly Librarian*

      I have a name that is becoming slightly more common, especially for girls, but has been misspelled and mispronounced all my life. My parents liked the name, but I’ve met only 2 or 3 others in my life. Over the phone, I will introduce myself and hear back “Sparky”, “Spracky”, “Spelty”, “Parlie”, and all sorts of variants that are not really even close to my name. I make a point of pronouncing it clearly (and have excellent phone diction in general), so I don’t know why people can’t get it (or ask if they aren’t familiar with the name).

      The funny part is: I spent several years at a company where customer service agents had aliases, and I figured I could avoid the whole name kerfuffle by choosing something simpler. So I’d pick up the phone and say, “Thank you for calling Sprockets. This is Sally; how can I help you?” and hear back, “Hi, Allie!” or “Sandy?” or Silly or Savvy… every other call. I got used to (and I’m sure my coworker neighbors did, too) saying the opening spiel and following it with “Sally. S-A-L-L-Y.” after the next thing the customer said. I can’t even CHOOSE an easier name for myself!

      1. Commenter named Phoebe IRL*

        My name is really difficult to understand over the phone or in person. I have kind of a squeaky voice too which doesn’t help. People usually hear it as Stevie or “CB.” Also “Sibi” and occasionally Abbi or Katie. I usually follow up with ” . . . like on Friends” or immediately launch into spelling it if I’m giving it to someone who needs to type it in. I also always have to do military phonetic over the phone because P, E, B, E (and I have M and N, as well as E, T and P in my last name) are incredibly hard to distinguish. How much time in my life have I spent spelling my name out loud . . .

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I got a note once from a coworker asking me to call “Fibi.” I remarked that I didn’t know Phoebe spelled her name so… unusually. My coworker was surprised to hear that it was an actual name that had an actual common spelling. :-/ This was before Friends, obviously.

        2. FrequentLurker*

          “it’s P as in Phoebe, H as in hoebe, O as in oebe, E as in ebe, B as in bee-bee and E as in (In an Australian accent) ‘Ello there mate!'”
          Friends-Phoebe is awesome ;)

    5. Al Lo*

      I work with a Katherine, Catherine, Kathryn, Kathrin, Katheryne, Cathy, and Kathy. I work really hard to always spell them right, and, in fact, typically don’t use a last initial or last name in written notes about them to other people — I figure that everyone that we work with regularly should know how all the different names are spelled and which one each belongs to. New co-workers or outside contacts are different, but within the office? I damn well expect you to know the difference and get it right.

      1. NiceOrc*

        We have Jan, Jane and Jin in our office. People who are ringing us do not listen to the greeting!
        This is Jan.
        Oh good, Jane, I wanted to talk to you about (private matter)…
        This is Jin.
        Sorry who? I wanted Jin, is she there?
        Yes, this is Jin.
        No, I wanted Jin!

        1. Anonymous Coward*

          Ha! I vividly remember a customer call I took when I was new on the job. When I started as a temp, it was to fill one of the positions recently vacated through promotion or transfer. This guy with a thick Scottish accent called and asked to speak to Gel. (Huh?) I tawked to Gel last tyum. (Ummm… Joel? We don’t have anyone called Joel here.) Noo, JALL! (…) Jall! Luik Chek n Jall? (…Jill? OH! Jill doesn’t work for this department anymore, but let me see if I can pull up her notes from your last call.)

  30. BusSys*

    #1 — Definitely correct the person in the moment! It’s far less awkward for both parties long term, and especially when first meeting people can break the shortened name association in their memory more easily. I called a coworker Rob for a good month or 2 until someone else pointed out that he’s a Robert not a Rob; now I’m always careful to address people as their name displays and only shorten it if they give me cause to (eg an email or verbal indication that they’re Sue instead of Susan), so the correction helped me to be more mindful towards respecting people’s naming preferences in general!

    1. Drew*

      One of my coworkers has been aggressively nicknaming people (Lex for Alexis, not a real example) and we honestly thought he was a sexist jerk because he was only doing it to women until we heard him call William “Will” at one point (also not a real example) — William has NEVER gone by Will at work. So now we know he’s just a jerk.

      Some of us have started pushing back: “Did we hire a Will and no one told me?” and he is not taking it with particularly good grace.

  31. TransgenderProfessional*

    Regarding #4 – as a transgender person, I agree with much of what has been said about correcting himself, apologizing briefly and then moving on. When people apologize over and over, it just makes me feel uncomfortable, like I have to comfort them about it!

    However, what OP’s husband said about making it more awkward in case they didn’t notice is definitely wrong. They DID notice. I promise. I absolutely notice when someone uses the wrong pronouns for me 100% of the time – and it’s not a good feeling. I don’t get bent out of shape about it when I know it’s someone who just slipped up and isn’t trying to be a jerk about it. But I ALWAYS notice and it always feels like a little jab. The fact that he thinks they might not have noticed implies to me that he doesn’t realize how frustrating and hurtful it can be to be misgendered. If a coworker slipped up and referred to your husband as a woman, do you think he would notice? I suspect he would. Just food for thought!

    1. OP#4*

      Yeah, I told him I was pretty sure they noticed, and that’s why a quick apology would be better than trying to pretend he didn’t mess up.

    2. TootsNYC*

      hmmm. I said earlier that I probably wouldn’t bother with the words “I’m sorry I got your gender wrong,” and maybe at most a quick “her–sorry, his phone call” sort of thing. And instead just focus on getting it right as quickly as possible.

      This is making me rethink–I wouldn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. But I also don’t really want to make a big deal out of something that’s just an automatic thing, no intentional. Sometimes I think it makes things worse when you dwell on them.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        That’s why “her – whoops, sorry, HIS -” is a good response, IMHO. It acknowledges your mistake but doesn’t dwell on it. And it’s the same thing you’d do if you made any other blunder, like calling someone by the wrong name.

    3. fishy*

      Yes, I was going to say the same thing. If someone misgenders me, I may not say anything about it, but I definitely notice.

      For me being misgendered is kind of like someone stepping on my foot. If it happens once or twice, I know it’s just an accident and I won’t be angry or anything… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Meanwhile, if someone steps on my foot over and over, I’m going to start getting annoyed that they can’t be bothered to put any effort into avoiding hurting me.

  32. BobcatBrah*

    I have an issue with an employee’s last name. She files taxes under her married name, but her I9 documents are under her maiden name, because she never went and updated her name with immigration. She not to happy about it, because it will apparently throw her taxes off for next year, but corporate HR (in another state) basically told her to go update her name with immigration if she wants us to change her name on her work documents.

    Very messy, but she went ahead and applied for her citizenship instead.

      1. BobcatBrah*

        She lost her SS card when her purse was stolen a while back (who keeps documents like your SS card in a wallet? That lives in a safe place at my home), so she only had her residency card to provide for the I9, which was never updated after her marriage. It flagged as an I9 error when we entered her under the wrong name. I think we avoided paying any sort of fines (HR never made it clear to me). A marriage certificate isn’t an acceptable I9 document.

        Either way, she’s clearing it up with the government.

        1. Trig*

          When I had a green card I was told I had to KEEP IT ON ME AT ALL TIMES WHILE IN THE US.

          Um. I was 16. No. It lived at home in a safe place.

          They really do all they can to make immigrants nervous about losing their paperwork! I’m guessing she felt safer with it on her than in her home (what if someone breaks in? what if there’s a fire or flood? what if a cop stops me on the street and demands to see it!?)

  33. Big Red*

    #2- I run a camp in deep East Texas and several of my staff call me Miss Big Red Ma’am. Despite my assurances that Big Red is fine, or just Red, it’s a cultural thing down here and a show of respect. And it’s interesting to note that these staff are college age men. The women are just fine using my camp name. The South is behind in a lot of ways, but we have manners coming out of our ears.

    1. Emma*

      I don’t know that I find those kind of manners respectful, really, not when they make a point of emphasizing my gender and sometimes my age or class. I mean, I’m not going to rake someone over the coals for calling me Ma’am, or insisting on an honorific for me but not men, but I am definitely thinking uncharitable thoughts.

    2. Mona Lisa*

      Would you say that the person is still exhibiting good manners though if they refused to address you by the name you say you prefer (or if you’ve let them know that it bothers you)? In the case with my former co-worker above, several women had asked him to stop referring to them as Ms. FirstName, but he continued to do it anyway. I would say it’s actually bad manners to ignore the name a person has asked to be called, even if it doesn’t play into your regional preferences.

    3. OP #2*

      Yes, I can see that in the South–when in Rome, etc. But we aren’t in the South. Nobody does this here, except for this guy.

      1. Cookie*

        We might be talking about something his mother and entire family drilled into him…something that is very hard to change.

        1. Emma*

          But, y’know, if it’s something you’d work on changing if you moved to a different country, why wouldn’t you when you move to a different region with different norms?

          Or just maybe actually make that mental effort. It is nowhere near that hard to change how you generally address people, though of course there’d be the occasional slip-up. It’s really honestly no harder than remembering to address Joe by his last name at work or whatever.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It actually is a bit hard, because he’s been taught all his life that this is how he shows respect, and he does it without even thinking about it. To put it in context, if you moved to the South, how easy would it be for you to automatically start adding “Ms” to every woman’s first name?

            1. 21*

              I mean, it would be tough, yes, but I would put the work in and make the effort. Growing up, I never called any of my aunts and uncles Aunt Sue or Uncle Tom. They were just Sue or Tom. My parents never enforced calling them Aunt or Uncle, so I didn’t. When I married my husband, his aunt and uncle (who are like a second set of parents to him) are definitely Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred, and I learned to call them that, and now it’s second nature. Did I mess up a little at first? Sure, but I apologized, and then made a concerted effort to do it right next time. The guy in the letter doesn’t seem to even be making an effort to change.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                The OP hasn’t asked him to change. He has no idea he’s offending her. Hopefully, if she asks him to change, he will. And hopefully, if it takes him a little bit of time to break that habit, she’ll be patient.

              2. NPOQueen*

                It may seem easy, but as a black southerner who moved north, it really really isn’t. Teachers could rap you on the knuckles if you didn’t include a prefix when I was growing up, and that kind of stuff sticks with you. It was taught to me as a sign of respect, and though I’ve been out of the south for ten years, I still slip up sometimes, especially with older women. My mother would have snatched my ear if I did give women their due respect.

                If he says, “I look forward to working with you, Ms. Jane,” you can easily deflect it by responding, “Oh, you can just call me Jane. I look forward to working with you too.” If he looks like he’s making an effort and slips up every now and then, give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s trying. If he just ignores you, that’s a different issue (and also weird, as the Ms. is usually a sign of respect, and ignoring you is not respectful). Good luck OP, and I truly believe this comes from a place of respect, rather than one of assumed gender superiority.

        2. Big Red*

          Exactly! One of the young men is a recent college graduate whom I’ve been a reference for many times. I let him know that other bosses would take offense at the excessive manners and that his mother and grandmother would never know if he dropped them professionally. :-)

        3. Liv2read*

          Yes and one of the reason why they drilled it into him is that historically speaking black men and white women in the united states don’t have the best track record, a lot of black men have been unjustly accused of crimes because they were accused of violating white women. Speaking as a white woman who live in the South this type of speech can be an honorific but it can also be coded language that a black man uses to show that he isn’t a threat, and it is something that the family and community teaches him. It is a horrible thing that he had to learn and it isn’t fair to either of you since it traps you in a sexist system that you don’t like and traps him in a racist system that he doesn’t like.

        1. OP #2*

          I have been working in professional environments in the North since 1998 with a variety of people–from the south, from other countries, Black, Latino, Asian, White. I have never had anyone refer to me as Ms. FirstName. All. the. Time. In email, in person, when introducing me to a group to whom I was delivering a talk. But men are just FirstName when he speaks to or about them.

      2. Observer*

        Did you tell him what your preference is? This is what he is used to, and even if he realized that he’s doing things differently than erveryone else, he is unlikely to have any idea that you would be irked by it.

    4. 21*

      But manners are meant to make the other person feel comfortable. If they don’t feel comfortable with what you’re calling them, how is that exhibiting manners?

  34. Hotel GM Guy*

    I have Common Biblical Name, and my staff call me by the Spanish equivalent all the time. I think it’s a term of endearment. (Think Michael/Miguel, Joseph/Jose, Joshua/Josue)

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I love it when people pronounce my name as it sounds in Spanish! I honestly think it sounds so much nicer. :)

  35. Recruit-o-rama*

    Name issues are so funny! I named my son a name “like” Andy which is a nickname for Andrew, but literally since the day he was born he has gone by “AJ”.

    In first grade, his teacher said “I only use proper names” and called him Andrew and refused to even just call him Andy, the name on his birth certificate until I brought his birth certificate to the principle and told her in no uncertain terms that I found it totally unacceptable that a first grade teacher was essentially being a bully and refusing to call children by their preferred names. She called him AJ for the rest of the year.

    These days, he goes by either Andy or AJ, but all his really close friends call him AJ. I always wanted to call him AJ and am kicking myself for not just naming him that on his birth certificate.

    My daughter has a “boys name” like Alex. She very astutely told me that she feels it will work to her advantage when she applies for jobs. Unfortunately, she may be right.

    1. Pwyll*

      I know an Alexandra in a traditionally male industry whose resume states Alex for this exact reason (though she does, in fact, prefer to be called that). She’s said it works well for her.

    2. Anon for this one*

      My daughter has a “boys name” like Alex. She very astutely told me that she feels it will work to her advantage when she applies for jobs. Unfortunately, she may be right.

      Honestly, that came into play when we named our daughter Alexandra. I like that she has a pretty, traditionally feminine name if she wants to use it, and a gender-neutral name if she wants to use it.

    3. Pixel*

      Two giant thumbs down for Teacher! My kids’ amazing, fantastic, phenomenal kindergarten teacher asked each kid when she first met them how they would like her to call them. I wish I could have kept my kids in kindergarten with her until they were old enough for college.

  36. TootsNYC*

    #1–you can always circle back to someone and ask them to use your full name.

    Just cast is as “them helping you establish the proper usage with the rest of the office.”
    Confide in them, noting that it’s a common thing for people to do, but that you really far prefer your full name, and would they help you retrain people, by themselves using the full name, and discreetly spreading the word to others?

  37. Annby*

    I have the opposite problem from #1. I have a fairly unusual, very obviously feminine given name, but I use a fairly unusual, gender-neutral nickname. I often have to explain the name I go by (or its spelling) by having a conversation like:
    “Hi, I’m Sam.”
    “No, Sam. It’s short for Samantha.”
    Almost invariably, I get the response “Oh, Samantha’s such a pretty name!” along with questions about why I don’t use it. Maybe 20% of people go on to call me the long version anyway, even after I say. “Yeah, I really like it, but not even my grandmother calls me that. I always go by Sam.” It really shouldn’t be this hard.

    1. Emma*

      With those 20% it’s a power trip or norm enforcement, plain and simple. I changed my entire name once (first, last, the whole shebang) and not for reasons of marriage, and while most people were fine and made an effort, a fair few refused, often because they “liked [my] old name better.” Great, it’s still not my name anymore and I didn’t ask you. It probably doesn’t help that my new name is gender-neutral and my old one was distinctly feminine, so I get more than a whiff of gender enforcement there.

      I figure people who refuse to use my correct name have shown me something important about themselves – namely, that they’re asshats best avoided for the sake of either my sanity or my vocal cords.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        That was my stepmother — she actually told me to my face that she found my new first name ugly, and that she wouldn’t use it. 100% power trip.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I agree that is a power/norm enforcement thing for some people. It’s not so much an issue now that I’m well over 30. But when I was in my 20s, I used to get people whining about my preference for my full first name a lot.

        Common comments were: “But that’s so FORMAL!” Or “I’ll just call you X.” Or “I’m just trying to be FRIENDLY…” Drove me nuts, because I think I knew, even back then, that it was a power thing for them. And that I’m now not getting this so much now that I’m not so young confirms that for me. Because I highly doubt that I just magically started running into fewer jerks! (And yes, I do consider trying to re-name me – when I’ve told you what I want to be called – to be a jerk move.)

        I don’t mind being asked “Do you go by X?” as much, although I still feel like “If I’d wanted you to call me X, I’d have asked you to call me X…”. Still, in that case, at least they’re asking my preference, and not just assuming.

      3. Julia*

        Yup. Same when they refuse to call you by name at all, like my colleague who only calls me “hey” and then gets mad when I don’t react. Only in front of our bosses does she use my name – which is why they don’t believe how cruel she is to me.

    2. Lissa*

      Are you me? I have exactly the same thing. I have an unusual, feminine, “pretty” first name that I would probably love if it wasn’t mine, but it unfortunately has bad bullying associations for me and I really don’t like it. My chosen nickname is a natural shortening of my first name, but people seem to be really annoyed by it. I recently got into it with a friend who MET me as ShortName but randomly decided to start introducing me as FullName because he didn’t realize I preferred shortName. Like, ok yes, we never had that conversation but you wouldn’t think I prefer the name that’s on my social media/email and that you were introduced to me as…? His defense was “I really like FullName.” Argh!

      1. Annby*

        I don’t *think* I’m you (unless I’m sleep-posting replies to myself), and I don’t have anything useful to say, but I have so much sympathy. This sounds so familiar, and SO annoying.

  38. Spooky*

    Okay, as you guys know, I am a copywriter, which means I think a lot about language. #4 hits on one of my biggest pet peeves. Please permit me a short(ish) rant.

    Gendered pronouns do more harm than good. We don’t really need them anymore. Right now, we have three singular pronouns: she, he, and the utterly dehumanizing it (“they” is still plural and, surprisingly, was not accepted as the gender-neutral singular in this summer’s AP Style Guide update). The way our current system is structured, pronouns are assigned to new acquaintances purely based on appearance. This leaves trans people with two options if they are misgendered: silently allow it, which is hurtful, or correct the person, which is uncomfortable.

    On the flip side, speakers who want to be considerate could begin a conversation by asking what pronoun the person prefers. But what if the person isn’t ready to have that conversation? Forcing them to have it (especially publically, or with someone they are just meeting for the first time) is awful. It’s the start of an incredibly personal conversation that they may not be prepared for. What if they have already made the transition, and are clearly trying to look like a specific gender? What if the person isn’t even trans, but simply looks androgynous? Unless we’re prepared to make it the norm to begin every acquaintance by asking for a preferred pronoun, the odds of seriously offending someone are too high, and offer little to no benefit.

    The suggested introduction of a trans-specific pronoun has many of the same problems (not to mention that it’s a verbal segregation and a qualifier that suggests the person is somehow less than the speaker). The same problem is true of a gender-neutral pronoun, which will only be applied to trans people.

    My suggestion: Get rid of gendered pronouns. Completely. We don’t need them.

    Now, I know there will be pushback from this. “Of course we need ‘she’ and ‘he,’ how else will we tell between a male and a female when we’re talking about a group?” But the answer is, of course, “the same way we talk about two men or two women in a group.” And we do that all the time. True, it can sometimes get a little muddy, but we all eventually figure it out.

    It’s just like gendered nouns. Lots of languages have them, but English doesn’t, because there’s no reason to have the moon be a lady or what have you. And I think that gendered pronouns no longer carry enough meaning to justify their existence, either. Official petition: introduce one human pronoun (such as the already-in-use “zhe” or “xe”) to oppose the non-human “it,” and no longer force trans people into such a messy, personal, and utterly unnecessary battle.

    Yes, it would be a dramatic change. But language is constantly changing anyway (to wit: the fact that English now has a specific word for tricking someone into watching a cheesy 80s music video by Rick Astley, or the fact that we now use “get” more often than “to be” in passive phrases like “he got fired”). There is no reason to force people to conform to language, especially simply because “that’s the way it’s always been”–language should conform to people, and it SHOULD be constantly evolving. At its core, language is a tool, and if there’s a way to make it function more efficiently, and to be more respectful of others, then I see no reason not to do it.

    Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. That is my rant. Thank you for indulging me.

    1. Mike C.*

      I agree with the sentiment but I always hated “zhe”, “xe”, “xir” and so on because in the English language there’s no clear way how those words should be pronounced. Those aren’t common letter combinations at all.

      Using “they” as a singular seems a lot easier to change and accomplishes the same thing.

      1. Spooky*

        And that would be fine with me. I don’t care what the chosen pronoun is so long as it’s implemented across the board and not applied solely to trans people, which is the current situation. That to me just prolongs the problem.

      2. Aurion*

        Particularly as “they” as singular is fairly common in casual English usage, and has been used since the 14th century according to Wikipedia. I wish formal English would catch up quicker to the casual usage.

        I speak Mandarin, and I’d instinctively use its pronunciation for anything like zhe and xir which may make things more difficult. I’m told those sounds are harder to pronounce.

      3. Emma*

        Not only that, but “they” as a gender-neutral singular is already long-established English, despite what some overzealous folks will tell you.

        I agree on those new gender-neutral pronouns, for the exact same reason. They really only work in a written environment, and despite the ubiquity of the internet, people do sometimes still actually speak to each other. The one that always drove me nuts was sie/hir, because for the life of me I can’t hear the difference between them and she/her.

      4. JOTeepe*

        Tell that to the AP … as well as the APA, the MLA, etc.
        (I agree with you, fwiw, however until the accepted style guides also agree to do this, it’s technically grammatically incorrect.)

        1. Spooky*

          I was STUNNED when the new AP guide came out this summer and did not recognize singular “they.” STUNNED.

          But, as I mentioned, unless we begin applying it to everyone, it has the same problems. Saying “he, she, and generic ‘other’ category” is a band-aid over a bullet hole. We’re trying to patch up a system which doesn’t work, and as I argue above, it seems like it would be more effective to replace the whole pronoun system.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Style guides typically reflect mainstream usage rather than leading on it. “They” and pronoun awareness in general still isn’t something that most people in the mainstream of the culture are sensitive to yet (which I think can be easy to forget if you work and live in circles that are).

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            And that’s why I’m not really a fan of the singular “they” in all contexts.* Because we do need a plural “they,” and if you use “they” to replace “he” and “she,” you’ve eliminated the plural version.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Not necessarily. There’s no reason “they” can’t be both singular and plural, with the singular/plural information supplied by context. The word “vous” in French can either be a formal form of address, or a plural if a group is being addressed.

              There are also examples in English – not pronouns, but the words “deer,” “moose,” and “aircraft” are all both singular and plural, and knowing whether the speaker/writer is referring to one or a group is in the context.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                I am reminded of the story of the farmer who read an article about his county extension office about using a mongoose to rid your farm of snakes, and offering the critters to anyone who requested them. He sat down and wrote “please send me two mongooses,” decided that looked wrong and wrote “please send me two mongeese,” decided that looked wrong and wrote “please send me a mongoose, and while you’re at it, send me another one as well.”

                Point being, if my mom says “your friend Jane called and they’re not meeting for dinner after all,” I don’t want to figure out from the context if that means only Jane, or everyone who was supposed to meet. “Vous” is more comparable to “you” than to “they.” And “you” also invites confusion by being both singular and plural. Do we need more of that? No, we do not.

              2. girlonfire*

                There’s also the singular and plural pronoun “you” in English!

                Seriously, insisting “they” must be singular is a shibboleth with no basis in actual English usage or grammar. Singular “they” predates the “rule” that “they” must be plural. It’s time to embrace it in earnest!

            2. paul*

              I will go to the barricades to have y’all recognized as a perfectly logical way to recognize/address a group.

              1. Florida*

                +1000 for that. I use “y’all” to mean “all of you” all the time, even professionally.

                In the Deep South, however, no respectable person would address a group with “y’all”. The plural form is “all y’all”.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Now, that’s kind of sloppy. A small group is “y’all” and a larger group is “all y’all.” (And only on television does a Southerner call a single person “y’all.” On television shows written by Yankees.)

            3. Editor*

              Well, English already co-opted you, which was plural, to replace thee. Do you have problems with “you” being both singular and plural?

            1. DArcy*

              Indeed. It’s acceptable to use “they” as a non-gender-specific term for a generic person or for a person who has not expressed a specific pronoun preference, but it’s never acceptable to use “they” *instead of* the pronoun that someone has asked you to use for them.

              1. EW*

                Yeah, this is where it falls apart for me. If we call everyone they, people who want to be called he or she are not being called the preferred pronoun. It would need to be so ubiquitous that everyone went by they all the time, and I feel the ship has passed for that to happen.

                1. DArcy*

                  True, but unless we completely restructure English grammar to not use gendered pronouns at all, it’s vastly preferable to use singular “they” as the generic and as a default assumption for people of unknown pronoun, rather than male-as-generic-and-default.

        2. Florida*

          Merriam Webster Dictionary recognizes “they” as singular, non-gender. I realize that you have to use the appropriate style guide for your profession, but at least one language reference book has it right.

    2. CanadianKat*

      Languages do change, but they change slowly, and from bottom-up rather than top-down. In other words, feel free to use “zhe” or “xe”, but be prepared for pushback. If it catches on – great. But it won’t catch on fast.

      The ubiquity of gender pronouns is not just a language quirk – it’s a fundamental part of our culture. (All cultures that I’m familiar with.) When we meet a person, one of the first things we notice is whether they’re male or female. That’s just the way it is, and I’d argue that it’s built into our biology, which is why when we can’t figure out if a person is male or female, it throws us off.

      Don’t mistake me, I’m all in favour of making non-gender conforming people as comfortable and as integrated into society as possible, but this shouldn’t extend to everybody going through the mental acrobatics that the language change you propose would entail.

      I don’t see what’s wrong with people deciding what gender they are going by, and asking people to address them that way. If they’re “agendered/asexual” – pick one gender and tell me what it is. If you have an androgynous look – either be prepared to correct people when they get it wrong, or see if you can look more like the gender you want to be called.

      If you ask me to call you a zir/them/etc., I’ll probably just avoid you, sorry. Your gender is not my business, – don’t make it my business.

      Is that homophobic/transphobic/etc.?

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Yeah, kind of. I’m pretty rigid about language stuff (see my feelings about singular “they” above), but some people actually are agender or non-binary, meaning they don’t identify as male or female. When you say, “I’ll probably just avoid you, sorry,” you’re saying that you don’t want to be around those people, which doesn’t really contribute to people’s comfort or integration into society. You’re also acting like your investment in the gender binary is more important than addressing other people in a way that’s consistent with their identity.

        So this seems like it would be worth reexamining for you. You don’t have to call everyone by a gender-neutral pronoun (nor should you, since most people identify as either male or female), but for some people, gender-neutral pronouns are going to be part of addressing them respectfully.

        1. CanadianKat*

          Ok, interesting, I’ll read it.

          It just seems to me that insisting on gender neutral is involving others in someone’s very personal life, drawing attention to something that shouldn’t be anyone’s business.

          I wouldn’t be avoiding the person for being who they are, but rather for just acting odd. Sort of like if somebody insisted on being called Mr. Jane (rather just putting it in an email as an indicator) or Lord Commander Jane. I have no issue with calling you Jane, and referring to you as “he”. But why insist on constanly drawing attention to being different?

          1. Z*

            But as you talk about, we’ve culturally made other people’s gender our business. Someone correcting you on theirs isn’t necessarily making a scene, they’re just correcting you (probably/hopefully gently).

            It’s the same if you ask a woman who was recently married how her husband is and she corrects you and says “wife”. She’s not making her life your business, she’s just correcting an assumption you had.

            People being different than you and mentioning it doesn’t mean they are trying to draw attention to themselves. It means they’re different from you and it’s ok for them to acknowledge and mention that difference, especially when the situation warrants it.

          2. Aurion*

            That’s not comparable though. Mr is an honourific, and Lord Commander is a title or rank; both of them can be jarring if someone insists on using one in an environment that usually goes without. If I call everyone in my office Bill, Zack, Lucy, and Sarah, it sounds really weird if Josh insists on being called “Mr Smith”, because it sounds deferential. I swear there was an AAM letter some time back about a new employee wanting to be called Ms Smith when everyone goes by their first names, and a lot of people found that weird, because it’s using a deferential formality when everyone goes without.

            But calling a person by their chosen name is the same as me calling Susan “Susan”. Using their preferred pronouns is the same as me using “she” for Susan. I am not being overly deferential to this person, I am just offering them the same courtesy as I do any other person.

            As a person with a commonly misspelled name, I do expect people to get my name wrong, and I correct them. But I’m not about to get a legal name change just because people can’t spell. And if people who have known me for a long time still constantly spell it wrong, it is disrespectful. Sames goes for this situation.

            Also, asexual is lack of sexual attraction, not about the gender binary.

          3. a different Vicki*

            Would it be “calling attention to being different” if a coworker of yours pointed out that her correct pronoun was “she” rather than “he”? It’s that level of misgendering, and even if you don’t intend to hurt the person, you’re doing so. Get off their foot, don’t expect them to apologize for saying “ouch” when you stepped on them, and maybe think about why you’re standing on their foot and not mine.

          4. Turtle Candle*

            Well–because telling someone who identifies as neither male nor female that they need to pick a gendered pronoun is incorrect?

            I mean, the “drawing attention to being different”–I am in an industry that is far more heavily male than female, although less so now than ten or twenty years ago. I am different, I “act odd” simply because there are a lot more men than women in my industry, and I am a woman. But I wouldn’t think much of the argument that I should go by “Mr. Turtle” so as to not draw attention to my differences, you know? And for people who are not male nor female, both “Ms” and “Mr” can be just as wrong as “Mr” is to me.

          5. CanadianKat*

            Ok, a blanket statement that I would ignore somebody was way too harsh. I’ve now realized that, and I apologize.

            What I meant is that somebody insisting that they be referred to as zhi/xe/etc. would likely come across as pretentious. And I do usually avoid pretentious people.

            If somebody is genuinely distressed at having to be put into one of the binary genders, I’ll try to understand if they want to be referred to in a gender-neutral way. (I think “they” would be the least language-disruptive way of doing it.)

            However, I don’t think I would be able to stop thinking of them as a he or a she. Especially since I regularly use two languages other than English, – would this person also tell me how to translate this grammar into those? And it may not be as easy as changing a couple of pronouns, – you may also have to change suffixes/endings of verbs, adjectives, etc.

            Again, I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone. My belief is that one of the ways to deal with prejudice is to discuss the thoughts and beliefs that some people may find offensive with those people, so that both have a better understanding.

            PS. Agreed, “calling attention to being different” was not the right expression. What I meant is requiring very unusual treatment. Not saying people should hide their differences, but making people speak someone else’s invented language can be a bit much. Calling someone their choice of “he” or “she” is not comparable, – you would just set your mind to think “Ok, this is a woman, even if they don’t look entirely typical.”

            For what it’s worth, all of this is totally theoretical to me. I haven’t yet met any trans or non-standard gender people (that I know of).

            1. Turanga Leela*

              I appreciate your candor here, and I get where you’re coming from. The neutral pronouns can feel a bit precious and fussy, since none of them has caught on yet (and I agree, “they” is by far the easiest). I think the key is just to remember that it all comes from people’s real need to have pronouns that reflect who they are.

      2. Leatherwings*

        Yes, this is transphobic and you need to readjust your thinking on it. That whole “gender isn’t my business, I’ll avoid you if you use x pronoun thing? Literal definition of transphobia. Shakespeare used singular they in his writing, so it’s not like there’s no precedent for this stuff.

        And the only way language changes to accomodate people and make them comfortable is by people adopting it. Imagine using the N word because language hadn’t changed to make it unacceptable yet. That’s not a good excuse. Pronouns are not built into our biology. Please do some reading on this subject, and I mean that kindly.

      3. Sue Wilson*

        The ubiquity of gender pronouns is not just a language quirk – it’s a fundamental part of our culture. (All cultures that I’m familiar with.) When we meet a person, one of the first things we notice is whether they’re male or female. That’s just the way it is, and I’d argue that it’s built into our biology, which is why when we can’t figure out if a person is male or female, it throws us off.
        Your gender is not my business, – don’t make it my business.

        are extremely contradictory sentiments. You really can’t say, “Of course we are nosy about people’s gender” and say “Don’t tell me your gender, I don’t want to know” which you’ve said would apply only to non-binary folk/trans people without seeming like you’re just uncomfortable with trans and non-binary folk rather than because you have some consistent philosophy of gender and gender pronouns.

      4. Aces High*

        Yes, this is a very transphobic attitude. Just reading this made my skin crawl.

        And asexuality has absolutely nothing to do with gender, so please do not conflate it with being agender.

      5. CanadianKat*

        I’m sorry, I now realize that was I wrote was hurtful.

        I guess I’m just having trouble getting around the whole gender identity thing. In the link that someone posted above, lots of people discuss how one of the things that bothers them with the binary system is that people expect you behave in certain ways. And that I disagree with. Where people are afraid of doing womanhood wrong because they “drive a pickup truck [and] work with power equipment all the time” or where “Oh, I’m a boy because I play sports,” or, “Oh, I’m a girl, and that means I like pink.” My thinking is you’re a boy/girl because you do/don’t have a Y chromosome and corresponding anatomy. (Yes, I realize even that is not always straightforward, – but I’m talking about cases where it is.)

        I shouldn’t have to question gender identity because I’m a girl and like power tools, contact sports, hate dresses, or pink. You can wear men’s clothes and enjoy typically male activities and still be a woman. The same should apply to a man who wants to wear make-up, etc.

        What I would, personally, prefer is for parents and caregivers to stop giving kids so much gender-directon (games, toys, etc.). Then we wouldn’t have as much of an issue with enjoying activities, etc. of the “wrong” gender. As in – why condition girls to like pink so much? Why boy-bicycles and girl-bicycles? Girl legos? I would prefer gender neutral everything. (ALL my toys were gender neutral when growing up, – and pencils, and backpacks.)

        1. Rey*

          Not to divert the thread, but being trans usually includes gender dysphoria, which is the sense that your physical body does not match the gender inside your brain. It’s more than just ‘I don’t like pink’ or ‘I like trucks’, although cultural idea of gender may play into it as well. Girls are allowed to like trucks or work construction, and boys are allowed to like pink, but transgender people look in the mirror and are struck with the awkward sensation that the face and body reflected is not what they expect to feel. A trans man may feel they should not have and do not want breasts and/or the genitals they have, they may wish for facial hair. A trans woman may feel similarly distressed by the lack of feminine body features, and feel a schism between who they feel they are every time they have to shave their face. Being transgender goes far deeper than just liking the ‘wrong’ things as assigned arbitrarily by society.

      6. General Ginger*

        If they’re “agendered/asexual” – pick one gender and tell me what it is.

        Maybe I’m not understanding your statement correctly, but they did pick one, and told you what it was (agender, nonbinary, neutrois, etc). You’re just asking them to do it again, and to pick a gender they don’t identify as, to boot.

  39. Mike C.*

    With regards to #3, please feel free to change up your name. There are tons and tons of studies showing how resumes with names linked to minority groups are often passed over* and you aren’t being dishonest in any way.

  40. Peggy (OP #5)*

    Thanks for the input, everyone! I did end up going with the Margaret (Peggy) Smith business card format. My boss agreed that was the best approach, and I think it looks fine. I actually requested an email that started with “p” rather than “m” when I started here, and the tech people balked, so this was my best option.

    I also have extensive experience with #1 (Dear Maggie…) and it’s so annoying. Just…don’t do that! Don’t presume to shorten someone’s name without being invited to do so! Gah. I’m happy to be called “Margaret”; I’m happy to be called “Peggy;” but I am not, and never have been, Maggie. Maggie is a fine name. It is just not MY name.

    1. Mom*

      Except for the fact that my sister would not be on this blog this is her. Her full name is Margaret Mary and goes by Peggy and really was annoyed when the song Maggie May came out.

  41. Cassandra Lease*

    Long-time reader, first-time commentator. Just to weigh in on the pronoun issue and give my personal perspective as a trans woman: everyone makes mistakes. Even my late mother, who was wonderfully supportive of me from the moment I began my transition, needed some time to get used to it. I don’t mind an honest mistake followed by an apology and correction. Does it make me cringe? Sure. But a simple mistake is much more forgivable than continuing to use the wrong pronouns after you’ve been brought up to speed, or taking me for a drag queen (nope, this is who I am, and when I’m gussied up I’m just gussied up, not doing anything performative), or any number of other persistent aggressions from the micro to the macro. So if it KEEPS happening I might have an issue, but if you goof up once in a while and immediately apologize, don’t sweat it.

    Someone above mentioned pronoun badges, which can be a bit awkward in everyday situations, but can be a valuable tool at conventions, conferences, mixers or in any other situation where you’d wear name badges, particularly for non-binary people. I highly recommend them where practical. When pronoun badges aren’t practical, I’d start by addressing people as they seem to present, apologizing and asking politely if you’re not sure which pronouns to use, and of course doing your best to remember and respect whatever pronouns people personally ask you to use. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, but an apology and an effort to do better genuinely does go a long way.

    1. Pickle*

      May I ask a follow-up question? I’m often unsure whether it’s OK to ask someone’s preferred pronoun if it’s not in a space where that’s the norm. I love being at conferences and spaces where it’s considered good form to ask everyone/include it on name tags, but when I’m in a space where that’s not the case, I don’t always think of asking unless the person is in some way visibly gender non-conforming, and I worry that it’s to come off as calling attention to their GNC or trans identity when they might not want that. I tend to just awkwardly avoid using pronouns when that’s the case. Do you think it’s better to ask?

      Thanks for offering your perspective!

      1. Z*

        (Different trans person) if you ask in public it will definitely call attention to the GNC/trans status, which could go badly. I would avoid asking in public unless you’re willing to ask everyone in the room. Here are some alternatives I would suggest instead:

        1) Offer your own pronouns without prompting. (“I”m pickle and I use ___ and ___”). This is especially good for public, but either way makes it clear you understand why someone might want to share pronouns and offers that person the space to do so with you then or later.

        2) Discretely ask in private. I would use a similar script to above–state your pronouns and then ask about theirs, and make it part of a larger conversation or else it could feel very “I noticed you look ‘wrong’ and want to find out about it.”

        3) Ask someone who knows them well. I work in an office with three office and for one coworker who works elsewhere and I’d never interacted with I–within the space of a week–three sets of pronouns. I reached out to someone on my team who knew her better and asked what I should use.

        4) Avoid gendered language / watch their reactions. See what other people call them and see how they react to it (if they are out and/or have requested an “unusual” set of pronouns that are being ignored they may react to that even if they don’t say something). Get to know them over time.

        5) Context clues. This is very ymmv, but it’s totally reasonable to go by context clues, especially for trans women who are far more likely to be aggressively misgendered regardless of what they do. If a person is wearing more traditional “feminine” clothing and/or make-up, regardless of how you read their body/gender, erring on the side of a “she” is safe and fine, even if it turns out that person is a “he” or “she”.

        This is an article that seems relevant to your (and others here) about the pitfalls of those preferred pronoun go-arounds: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/opinion/pronoun-privilege.html?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=0

        1. BookCocoon*

          This is really helpful, thank you. I came back to look for responses because I’ve had this same question.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Thanks for asking–I’ve wondered this too. Apart from certain specific communities where saying “X pronouns please” is normalized (for everyone, cis and trans and genderqueer and all), I’ve never been sure whether asking someone (discreetly, of course) would be a sensitive thing to do, or offensive because I’m basically flagging “you don’t pass.” I’m happy to be corrected, but it’s never been clear to me whether (when I can’t avoid using a pronoun) I should take a stab at guessing, use ‘they,’ or ask–and what is likely to be most offensive or hurtful.

  42. StephThePM*

    I wanted to comment on #3. I’m not sure how much work experience she has, but something to consider for resumes would be “Susan (Smith) Fayad.” I know it looks long, but you also want to prevent a situation where someone who knows you gets your resume or contacts someone for a reference …and they don’t recognize that it’s you! Something to consider. Then, take advice to “correct your legal name” at a later time.

    Good luck in your job search, and congrats on your recent marriage.

      1. Trig*

        I would also be confused about whether the “Smith” was a last name or their preferred name. (My resume says “LegalName (CommonName) Lastname”, because I go by CommonName.)

      2. putyourphonedown*

        Thank you! People are talking about #3 like “here’s what you could do to help successfully obscure the fact that you’re related to Muslims” without even paying lip service to the horrifying reality of anti-Muslim bias in hiring. I totally get that the LW framed this as an experiment to see if they would indeed get more interviews if they dropped the Arab last name, but if that’s truly their intent, why are most comments ignoring the big Islamophobic elephant in the room?

        1. LabTech*

          Yeaaaaa, it was upsetting to only see this addressed this far down. As a Muslim chemist with a distinctly Arab name, I have to wonder how much this contributed to my 9 months of unemployment and extreme difficulty in job-searching (on top of the already difficult job searching climate).

        2. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

          Thank you for this. I’m honestly appalled that so many commenters seem to be coming at this from the approach of “Oh yeah it’s totally normal that people won’t want to hire Muslims, so here’s what to do!” Frankly, unless it’s truly dire straits, I don’t think anyone should change their name to make it more likely that they’ll be hired. I’m Indian-American, and would never want to work for someone who would reject me outright unless I Anglicized my name.

          1. Nomie*

            Yeah, I have a Hispanic last name (my family is Spanish) and I’m sure I’ve missed opportunities because of anti-Latinx bias, but this is my name and I’m not going to obscure it.

  43. Kristine*

    I have like…the opposite question of #2. I’ve been called Miss Kristine my entire life. My family members, teachers, coaches, husband, friends, etc have always addressed me as that rather than just as Kristine. It’s so much a thing that even in past jobs I had bosses call me Miss Kristine before I even mentioned that’s what other people called me (people say I look like a kindergarten teacher so it’s a natural inclination).

    I’ve been in my new job for a month now and this has never come up in conversation. Would it be weird to ask people to call me Miss Kristine? It’s not like there’s an issue with just calling me Kristine, but it sounds weird to my ear because I’m so used to hearing the Miss before it.

    1. Emma*

      (Family members and friends? Interesting, I’m not used to that variant.)

      I’d honestly consider it kind of rude, unless everyone else is going by an honorific + name and you’re not. With a lot of places, there are unspoken rules behind honorific use (maybe only senior people are called that way, whatever), but also, it feels kind of like you’re insisting you’re worth more respect than they’re showing you. I’m biased, though, because the only people I’ve met in person who insist on an honorific are jerks, to be honest, who wanted to make it clear they were better than me. Not that that’s what you’re doing, but maybe keep in mind that it could sound like it to some people if you insist.

    2. CanadianKat*

      Yeah, that would be odd, unless you’re in a cultural environment where it is common. Or an actual kindergarten teacher :)

  44. JOTeepe*

    As someone who legally hyphens, I’ve run into both #3 and #5. I’ve been slowly transitioning from First Maiden to First Maiden Married to First Married. (I decided to go by First Married treating Maiden as a middle name professionally, though legally it’s hyphened … a very unwieldy hyphen combo at that!) I’ve simply structured my resume and email signature as such & stated my preference when setting up new email accounts at jobs. It hasn’t been an issue. My married name is both far less common as well as shorter than my maiden name, which, I find, is better for personal branding. The slow transition also allowed for those who knew me professionally before I got married to get used to the new nomenclature.

    As for #1, I also have an easily shortened first name. I actually don’t mind being referred to by the one syllable nickname, however there is another diminutive of my name that is like *nails on a chalkboard* to my ears. (For example, Kate vs. Katie.) Most of the time people ask me what I prefer, and I’ll tell them (I introduce with my full name with new people, and answer the phone as such as well), and emphatically address I do not like the diminutive. If someone is unfortunate enough to refer to me by the dreaded nickname, I usually make a joke about it, “Everyone gets one chance calling me that before heads roll!” (I do take note of my audience when I say this, too, mind you.) Obviously, heads don’t really roll, though I do try my best to stem that as quickly as possible.

  45. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: I realize this doesn’t quite solve the problem, but is there another nickname you’d prefer? Sometimes it’s more effective to say “please call me Rob instead of Bob” or “ya know, I prefer Ray to Rach” than to quash the nicknames altogether, especially if the broader office culture has everyone going by a nickname. Obviously it’s up to you but it’s just a weird quirk of logic that it’s easier to swap in a new nickname than it is to request a perceived “upgrade” in formality.

    1. Drew*

      Or people could just use the OP’s preferred name. If I’m William and you call me “Will” and I protest, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be happy with “Liam” instead.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        I think it’s worth addressing how this fits into the broader office culture. If someone requests nomenclature that indicates they’re more respected or afforded more formality than everyone else, that doesn’t read well. It’s just a bad fit.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Wait. Are you saying someone who doesn’t use a nickname is requesting nomenclature that indicates they’re more respected? Just because they prefer to be called William instead of Will?

  46. JustAnotherLibrarian*

    #2- Maybe this is just me, but I kinda feel for the guy.

    When I moved to the South, I got used to being called Miss (first name) and my student assistants don’t do it to male colleagues, but I’ve adapted and while I ask them to just call me my first name, they don’t always do it.

    This used to drive me nuts until I realized that since my first four years of working life, I worked for a State Legislature and I got in the habit of calling everyone “sir” or “ma’am”. Now, in the South, no one has ever corrected me, but when I was on the West Coast I had several people get very upset when I called them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. I tried and tried to stop doing it, but to this day I can’t seem to lose that verbal tick.

    So, I would say something to your worker, but don’t be surprised if it takes some time. It is a sign of respect in the South and as he gets to know you, he may loosen up. A lot of my Student Assistants do.

  47. QualityControlFreak*

    I have an agender adult child who prefers they/them pronouns. It’s made me realize how gendered everything is in our society. That binary model is hardwired in. When they were born, the doctor said “you have a son.” It’s been extremely difficult for me to process that they are not my son, that their preferred name is not the one I gave them (which has a great deal of meaning to me), and to remember to use they/them/their pronouns, which to me feel plural. I absolutely see my child as a complete person, worthy of my respect and love. I’m not lazy and I’m really trying, which they acknowledge and appreciate. But I mess up. I don’t always get it right. I usually just correct and move on, and that seems to work for both of us.

  48. Perpetuum Mobile*

    #3. We’ve got a new person on our team a year ago. He came in with a somewhat Arabic last name – just one word, “So and so” – but as we are in a huge metropolitan city, it wasn’t anything out of ordinary. Especially as we all work for a company that does business internationally. It’s only half a year or so later that some hr-related document sent to the whole team listed him as “First name Al So and so”. Obviously he dropped “Al” when he joined except for the HR documentation. Again, no biggie but an indication that yes, people do it and it’s just fine.

  49. CanadianKat*

    #5 – At my job, my email is psmith@, and so is my login for almost everything, except one antiquated program where usernames are created based on the HR database listing legal names (so it’s msmith). Hardly anybody at work even knows that my legal name is Margaret. Since it’s not a name I want anybody to call me by, it doesn’t go on business cards or anywhere else, other than some HR forms.

  50. It's Ms Hyphenated LastName*

    1 and 2.

    I think while both are likely a habit, it doesn’t make them less rude. Especially if continued after being corrected.

    1: it’s a name, ignoring a preference or specifically stating you don’t care for their own preference is rude. I firmly is a case where you shouldn’t “apologize”. My name is Catherine. Oh well every one I know goes by Cathy! Ah, well, that must make it a little difficult for you to remember, but I prefer to only be called Catherine.

    It’s expected to readjust yourself is someone transitions and is rude to use the updated information, no difference here.

    2: No. I have to disagree with AMA. I don’t CARE what part of the US you’re from, it’s no longer OK to treat people differently, just because it’s habit. He’s treating women different that men. It’s not ok, has personally made me feel “less than” the men and frankly it’s just unnecessary and clunky.

    Harold, are you aware you call all women Ms. Janet, but not men? Likely he will say it’s how he was raised, or a habit. Well, Harold it’s uncomfortable to be treated differently than John, just because my name is Jane. Please consider this in the future.

    How’s your day going, Ms. Jane? Hey Harold! Please remember, I’m Just Janet. Don’t wait for it to become a topic, just continue on My day has been great! I’m loving the all the sunshine and it never hurts to to have the project going to smoothly! How about you?

  51. Pwyll*

    Ugh, name problems. In my last HR job we constantly had this problem because the CEO had pre-conceived notions as to what a “professional” name was. For example, he insisted on calling our employees Billy and Katie, Bill and Kate. Problem is (having seen their birth certificates for the I-9), their official real names were actually Billie and Katie. No amount of convincing boss that he needed to actually use their real names worked until our employee Peggy told him, “You know my real name is Margaret, right? Why can I use Peggy and be professional but Katie has to use a name that isn’t even hers?” Then he sorta grudgingly went with it.

    1. Miaw*

      I know a senior, professional woman named Peachie. Yes. That’s her legal name. You boss can’t expect to change that to “Peach”, I suppose. :)

  52. Jessica*

    It’s funny how so many of us have different name-related issues at work! As you can see, my name is extremely common, so my primary challenge is how to distinguish myself from all the other Jessicas at my company. It’s made doubly confusing by the fact that my boss is also named Jessica, so I can’t even use “Jessica in Dept. X” as my unique identifier.

    Also, I’m Jessica at work and Jess with friends and family, which creates another interesting dynamic as there can be a point where my relationship with a colleague is strong enough that it feels weird for them to call me Jessica and not Jess. That said, anyone that calls me Jessie is going to get shut down immediately, particularly as it seems that only older men with a desire to infantilize younger women attempt it.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      My family calls me the nickname of my middle name, which rhymes with the nick of my first name. I’m glad that I happen to not be bothered by nicknames, since having two rhyming nicks gets REAL HILARIOUS (not really) when your stupid friends get drunk on the weekends.

    2. BookCocoon*

      Another Jessica here with the same exact thing. My husband and friends call me Jess (which I never introduce myself as, it just ends up happening that way, and it’s fine), and a lot of them are also my colleagues (long story), so when we get a new coworker sometimes they introduce me with, “And this is Jess.” I always feel awkward correcting them because, yes, that’s what they call me, but it’s not at all how I think of myself. And NEVER Jessie. NEVER.

  53. overcaffeinatedqueer*

    The Ms. thing is probably just southern-ism, especially if Jane is older and/or the only older, senior in rank female at work.

    My parents moved to the Gulf Coast, and their new neighbors have kids 7, 5, and 4. They just love my mom’s dog, so every day it is “Miss Maureen! Can Rosie come play?”

    However, the employee is not a child, so telling him, “just Jane, thanks,” should be respected. But, Southern people are taught the “Miss” thing from when they can talk, so don’t expect him to change overnight.

    1. OP #2*

      If he’s southern, he has no accent whatsoever. And FWIW, I’m in my 30’s and my workplace is quite female-dominated.

  54. PennyLane*

    #5–please have them change your email address if you never go by your given name. I had an intern who interviewed and filled out his paperwork with one name, but told us on his first day he went by his middle name in “real life” (example: interviewed as PJ, then told us on his first day he went by Marshall). For some reason his email change didn’t happen while he was there (which was only four weeks), but it was really confusing to everyone who tried to email him, and couldn’t figure out why Marshall Jones wasn’t in the email system.

    1. Alton*

      Unfortunately, how easy this is depends a lot on the workplace.

      The university I work at has a firm policy that your official name in the system has to match what’s on your social security card, and you can only update your e-mail if you submit proof of a legal name change. It’s enough of a process that I have some coworkers who changed their last names when they got married but still have their maiden names in their e-mail addresses. It can be confusing, and I have had people get my e-mail address wrong or have a hard time finding it. But right now there isn’t much of a system in place to honor people’s preferred names.

  55. overcaffeinatedqueer*

    Also, I don’t get mad when people assume my spouse is male; it’s how they react when they find out she’s a woman that matters. That said, I usually don’t get to the point since I am pretty open.

    That said, for one temporary job I was told “you may have downtime and can talk to others, but do not discuss religion, politics, or sexual orientation issues.” This was only in paperwork and I didn’t feel okay coming out before hiring, so I couldn’t ask “I won’t debate others, but can I at least exist as queer at work?”

    1. Sofia*

      What do you mean with people react? Personally, in my culture it isn’t common so I am always a bit shocked (for lack of a better word) when someone mentions they are gay or lesbian. That doesn’t mean I have a problem with it or that I am against it, but my reaction shows on my face that I am shocked and I would never want to hurt anyone or have them think I disapprove. I hope this makes sense and I am not trying to be judgmental or anything just want some feedback

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think that’s probably not ideal, in the same way it wouldn’t be ideal if you looked shocked that someone was married to someone of another race. Can you work on reprogramming your brain to remember that a sizable portion of the population is gay (10% used to be the figure, but that’s been challenged recently)?

            1. Maeve*

              If someone was visibly shocked or surprised when I talked about dating women, I would assume that was not a safe person to be around. Which would probably not be ideal in a professional setting.

              1. Sofia*

                That is what I am trying to avoid! It helps to hear your perspective because it makes me realize that it is hurtful or rude and even if the person doesn’t directly tell me something doesn’t mean they aren’t upset or angry.

                1. ZVA*

                  Yeah, people aren’t likely to tell you they’re offended or hurt by your surprise—if this happened to me, I probably wouldn’t say anything, but I would definitely take note and I might be wary around that person in future…

                  I think you’re surprised to find out someone is gay or lesbian because you’re assuming everyone is straight until they explicitly tell you otherwise. If you can stop assuming that, the better off you’ll be—that way, when you find out someone is gay, lesbian, trans, or whatever else, it will feel like just another interesting piece of info about them and not so much of a shock. It can be hard to retrain your brain like that, but it’s definitely possible!

                2. Sofia*

                  Yes, I think you are right that I assume everyone is straight. Thank you so much for the tip – it is always better not to assume!

      2. overcaffeinatedqueer*

        I think it’s fine to look surprised or stumble a bit. Just try not to look upset, and don’t let it derail the conversation at hand by apologizing a lot or getting on how you’re a good ally. Similarly to misgendering, the best thing is either to not say anything about it and refer correctly to my spouse from there on, or briefly go- “okay, sorry for assuming- what about those teapot reports?”

        1. Sofia*

          Yes, that’s what I mostly do. I tend to try to overcorrect. It makes sense the best way to handle it is to briefly apologize and move on.

          1. Lissa*

            Weird suggestion, but have you thought of trying to consume more media with LGBT perspectives? I thought it might help you just to get over the immediate “blink..what..wait?” reaction when you hear “Lucy’s wife” or “Jason’s boyfriend” to normalize it a bit. I feel like most people do react with surprise to things that are unfamiliar to them but can get past that pretty quickly with increased familiarity so it just becomes part of normal! (which is another reason why representation is so important but I digress!)

            I’m bi, but only recently encountered genderqueer folk, and had to do some pronoun practise but now it is pretty natural for me, though I still slip occasionally in my head. Just a thought.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              This is great advice. If something surprises you because it’s not common in your experience, one solution is to broaden your experience. Reading books or watching TV shows or movies by or about LGBT people (or other groups, if your issue is elsewhere) is a great way to help normalize it–with the added advantage that you can practice without hurting people: if someone comes out as gay in a TV series and you make Shocked Face, they can’t see you and feel hurt.

              1. Sofia*

                Thank you for suggestions I will try that! It is unfamiliar to me, but I love movies and and reading so that sounds like a great idea! Any suggestions?

                1. overcaffeinatedqueer*

                  For LGBT movies, try “Milk” and “The Dallas Buyer’s Club.” They’re good, based on truth, movies about the first gay elected official and about the AIDS crisis. “The Danish Girl” is about the first gender surgery in the world, and won awards, too.

                  “The L word” and “The Fosters” are great TV with a queer focus, too. The Fosters is about a two-mom family. I love it. :)

  56. NPOQueen*

    OP2, as a Southern black woman, this is fairly common to add a prefix to names, especially for people of a certain age. You don’t see it so much with the younger generation, but I think I caught the tail-end of it (I’m 30). I did it when I first started working at 17, and I had multiple co-workers gently pull me aside and say that the Mr or Ms was not necessary. That said, it is a bit strange that he’s not doing the same thing to men, but without knowing your coworker’s age or the age of the men he’s addressing, I can’t say anything with certainty.

    Either way, I’d say don’t take it as an offense, but don’t feel hesitant to correct it either. For me, it was ingrained at a very young age that all adults needed a prefix, and when working, your seniors need a prefix. It took me years to break the habit and I still slip up every now and then.

  57. Persephone Mulberry*

    I once had a newly-hired manager just up and out of the blue start calling me by a nickname that I don’t use. I can’t remember if I actually asked him not to do that or if I just side-eyed him really hard one day, but it only lasted about two weeks and then he went back to using my actual name.

  58. Not Jen*

    LW1: I have a variation of this problem – my full name is one most people would consider a nickname (think Jen), but you not believe the number of people I have encountered who want to call me “Jenny.” This is a huge pet peeve of mine, partly because I hate the irrationality of making my one-syllable name unnecessarily longer, and partly because as a 20-something woman I worry that this makes my name sound “girlier” in a male dominated field. I’ve been working on developing an even toned response I can say when people call me Jenny – i.e. “I actually prefer just Jen, thanks!” – as opposed to the cranky “That’s not my name!” I used to snap out as an angsty teenager. I’m also learning to choose my battles. As much as it annoys me that several members of our board continue to call me Jenny, correcting them more than once is simply not worth the risk of offending them. I hope you have better luck!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      None of my business, but “I prefer Jen” makes it sound like Jenny is your name, but you go by a nickname. Saying (in a non-cranky way) “Actually, Jen is my full name” might be more successful.

    2. Temperance*

      My first name is a Kardashian-style K monstrosity, which I’m fine with and answer to because it’s my name. My family has always called me an ugly nickname of it (Chrissy), which is sooooo not me. When I hear it, I cringe.

  59. PK*

    When I changed departments and locations, everyone at the new location suddenly started calling me the shortened version of my name. I corrected for a little bit but felt like I was fighting against the current over something that really didn’t mean much to me. In the end, I gave up and it’s grown on me a bit now.

    When it comes to pronouns, I’d do the same thing that I’d do in any situation of an incorrect pronoun (trans or not). A quick “Oops…He” and move right along. It’s not an offense worthy of punishing yourself over and I doubt that folks think it was intentional if you are reasonable about it.

  60. BookCocoon*

    My husband has had the opposite problem to #1… He uses his full name and nickname (think Patrick and Pat) interchangeably in the sense that he says he doesn’t have a preference, uses Patrick on his business card, but literally everyone calls him Pat. Except. The president calls him Patrick, which is fine and doesn’t sound that weird coming from the president of the organization. But after his boss overheard this, he starting calling him Patrick after calling him Pat for years — and he still refers to him as Pat to everyone else. It comes across as a weird, pretentious thing, and my husband doesn’t know a good way to be like, “No, seriously, just call me Pat like you used to.”

  61. Greg*

    I will never understand the fact that I have to fight with “adults” over the right to be called by my own goddammed name. I’m so tired of it. I like my name. I didn’t survive the endless onslaught of crapheads in gradeschool and highschool to let other people define me anymore. So when I tell you to call me by my name please give me the basic human dignity of calling me by my name.

  62. kylo ren*

    Gah, this. My first name is female in some cultures, male in others and unisex in some. My parents chose the Americanized pronunciation, though my mom has confessed in later years that she prefers the more British pronunciation (think “Cara” that sounds like “care” versus “Cara” that sounds like “car”), which I overwhelmingly prefer too. I feel like it’s too late to change that now — perhaps I will just have to move abroad to take care of that issue.

    I also work in an administrative position in a school, and the students keep calling me Mrs. Ren. I’m Ms. Ren. If I get married I do not plan on changing my name. Some of the students have taken to calling me Kylo instead of Ms. Ren altogether, which I find highly inappropriate yet I have no idea how to instigate that change, either.

    1. namegame*

      I think you and I probably have the same first name, haha. My parents intended for my name to use the “car” or “star” pronunciation, but to further complicate things:

      1) I live in Texas, where my first name can also be a Latino surname as well as a female, male, or unisex first name.

      2) In Texas, and in other southern states to the east of me, the plus-one-letter name that is very similar to mine is pronounced virtually the same as my name. Almost everyone spells my name as the one-letter-plus name, which is NOT THE SAME NAME. Even when my email signature has my first name right there for reference. It’s so tiresome to correct people I have worked with for three years.

      3) In other parts of the US (northeast, midwest, and west) that same other plus-one-letter name is pronounced closer to “Cora.” People from those regions always pronounce my name correctly.

      I have had people here in Texas (and other southern states) argue with me that I should use the “care” version because of how it is spelled, or that I am spelling my name wrong.

  63. Rey*

    Weighing in on the gender pronouns, I’d say that apologizing and correcting yourself in the moment is far more likely to be read as ‘oops, accident!’ than taking no notice of the mistake, which could be misinterpreted as deliberate. If somebody uses correct pronouns most of the time and slips occasionally, and makes a brief apology- but not a big deal over it, that’s pretty clearly somebody who is genuinely trying.

    Some people are more sensitive than others, but I’d hope most transgender people recognize that everyone is human and there’s a big difference between brief mistakes and intentional misgendering.

    As an interesting side note, I work with somebody who is Filipino and from the outset wondered why she was so inconsistent with gender labels for EVERYONE. Then I learned that Tagalong has no gender pronouns, so even though she speaks English fluently and knows the difference, when she’s not thinking about it then those labels are just kind of meaningless in her mind. I know she doesn’t intentionally misgender me, because she does it to absolutely everyone by accident all the time.

    1. SS*

      I had the exact same experience when I worked with a Filipina woman, I always suspected that must be the reason. Weirdly, though, she seemed to ALWAYS use “he” for women and “she” for men.

  64. Q*

    OP #1: If it were me I would tell those people “Whoever told you to call me Liz is not your friend.” Then I would start an email flamewar with them.

  65. EddieSherbert*

    This is a great one! I like to se all the weird ways work can interact with people’s names (or do things that seem outside the social norm with people’s names?). I think Alison’s advice across the board is great.

    I recently had someone with the same name start in my office… and they put her in the cube next to me (Why??). Our name doesn’t have a nickname version, and neither of us have other nicknames.

    So anyways, that’s been interesting. We’re getting a variation of:
    Being called by our full names (Eddie Sherbert and Eddie Potter).
    Being called by our departments (Teapot Eddie and Coffeepot Eddie).
    Being called by our last names (Sherbert and Potter).
    Being called by nicknames for our last names (Sherbs and Potts). (Huh?)
    Being called Eddie 1.0 (one point oh) and Eddie 2.0. (What?!)

    Really hoping that settles down ASAP…

    1. Just call me Chris*

      I’ve dealt with this one. Way back in my retail days, there were three of us named Chris. We started by using last names, but two of the three of us had very hard to pronounce last names, so that didn’t work. We ended up being called Chris with the beard (me), Chris with the dreads, and Chris with the boobs.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, I get that going by looks seems obvious, but that can be awkward (or rude! “Chris with the boobs?!”)… thank goodness that hasn’t worked here (probably more by luck than any effort by our coworkers – we are both boobed, shorted haired and with glasses).

    2. Jillociraptor*

      We have the same situation in one of our departments, and the two, we’ll call them Jeans, proactively decided to be known as “Jean” and “Young Jean” or “Little Jean.” Every time their department head refers to her as such everyone cringes because it sounds so weird and condescending, but it is how she insists on being distinguished from other Jean.

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        When I was in high school, another student transferred in who had the same unusual name as I do. She had a very unpleasant personality and tried to insert herself into our insular friend group to little avail. I swear I did NOT instigate this, but she became casually known as “Bad Sparkly”.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I was the only Rusty in my small department for years. Then we hired another, younger Rusty and I started being called Rusty S., which made me feel like I was back in grade school. But it was better than being Old Rusty.

    1. Headachey*

      I don’t think it does! It’s actually a very traditional English name from when names were derived from occupations (others would be Baker, Chandler, Cooper, etc.). I read #3 to use Christian to distinguish Smith as an English/European name, not specifically a particular religion. Of course, Al-Fayad isn’t a Muslim name, but Arabic.

      First names are sometimes referred to as Christian names,though – I think because some Christians formally receive their names when they’re baptised (at least those denominations that practice infant baptism).

  66. Electrical Engineer, or not*

    Hello… long time listener, first time caller.

    Regarding “Ms. FirstName,” I think this might be a southern thing. I knew an older lady who was universally known to her friends and family (except her kids) as Miss Erma. Then again, I am a Yankee despite living in Virginia, so what do I know.

    On another note, I am one more Chris. Among one certain group of friends, three of us are named Chris while the fourth is not. The fourth one has been known to say “Chris, get me a beer,” followed by a chorus of “which one,” and a reply of “it doesn’t matter.”

  67. Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy*

    Reading the comments for #4 reminded me of the time shortly after I was promoted when I asked one of my new direct reports “What does your husband do?” She froze and paused for such a long time, I actually had the thought, “Oh my God, her husband works for the CIA and she can’t tell me what he does! (I obviously watch too many spy movies.) Then she finally answered, “My wife is a teacher.” I assumed her spouse was male, which I shouldn’t have, but she didn’t hold it against me; I later learned she didn’t discuss her private life with many people at work. We got along really well and I eventually told her about thinking she was going to tell me her husband was a spy in that moment, and we had a good laugh.

  68. S*

    #1 – I have definitely been inadvertently guilty of this, I’m sure, and I do try to refer to people how they want to be referred to! But with very common nicknames (Jon for Jonathan, Tom for Thomas),

    #5 – We have a relatively new hire at my workplace who goes by his middle name… and yet opted to keep his email and everything under his legal first name. I think he thought that it would be a hassle for the company to change everything, but it really wouldn’t have been (and as a brand new hire it would have been the easiest to fix from the start!) It’s annoying, because it makes it difficult for people to address you how you want to be addressed.

    Related to both, another coworker of mine… I’m not sure how you pronounce her name, since she seems to accept people pronouncing it in multple different ways. Again, I think she doesn’t want to make people feel bad, but really, it’s reasonable to except people you work with regularly to figure out how to pronounce your name. And for both of those coworkers, I definitely find it annoying – just tell me what your name is and how you want to pronounce it! The ambiguity they’ve created by trying to be accomodating it way worse than a few initial corrections.

  69. Honeybee*

    OP #2 – Dollars to donuts this is cultural, due to African American culture and/or Southern culture. I’m black and so is my husband, and we both grew up in the South, although he spent a lot more of his formative years there than I did (he moved to Atlanta when he was 5; I was 12 when I moved there). We currently live in the Pacific Northwest. He still uses Mr. and Ms. a lot with peers and colleagues in both verbal and written communication. I keep gently insisting that he excise it from his language because it’s really odd, especially here, but it’s such a deeply ingrained part of how he was raised that he finds it difficult (also he’s stubborn and doesn’t believe me when I tell him that it sounds weird).

    OP #3 – I use my original/”maiden” name professionally, and it’s the name that’s on my resume, business cards, etc. I do pretty much exactly what Alison suggested; once I got hired, I just mentioned “By the way, my legal last name is Smith.” Usually HR knows what to do at that point. (Related to #5, I work at one of those oddly rigid places that bases your email address on your legal name, and my email address is a shortened amalgamation of my first and last name – so Jane Smith becomes jasmit@mycompany.com. But since I go by Jane Johnson, I have to explain relatively frequently why my email doesn’t make any sense.

  70. Sue Wilson*

    #2: No, I don’t think this is culture. I grew up black and in the South, and while the honorifics were considered important, at no point was it suggested that it was only for women.

    That said, OP, are you sure he didn’t start calling the men “Mr. _____” and they already corrected him? Especially if there aren’t that many men anyway.

  71. J*

    #2 — I was born in the North and moved to the South in middle school (also I’m white, other comm enters seem to think that’s relevant). Calling folks by “Ms./Mr. Firstname” seems to be a way here of saying “We-Are-On-Friendly-Terms-However-I-Am-Trying-To-Show-You-Respect.” Confused the hell out of me at first. That said it was used for both genders.

    It may not have occurred to the individual in question that this is a “diminutive” form of addressing someone, and to be honest I’m not sure if it’s considered diminutive everywhere.

  72. KimberlyR*

    I am always called Kim instead of Kimberly and I hate it!
    “Hello, my name is Kimberly. Nice to meet you.”
    “Hello Kim”
    Gah! Why is it that difficult? I also hate when people say, “Can I call you Kim?” Well, you could have if I had introduced myself that way. But since I didn’t, no you can’t. Because I don’t like that name.

    And don’t ever call me Kimmy. I have ONE friend that does it, and she’s the only one who is allowed to.

  73. Laura*

    I had a professor for a senior level course that insisted we call his first name. His reasoning was that next year we would be expected to call people older than us that way rather than the Mr or Mrs we were used to with teachers.
    It was never a thing for my parents so that call someone Ms. Lastname always seemed odd to me. Like at home, my 4th grade teacher was Jill if my parents asked about my day, the school would have had a fit if I did it there.

  74. KimberlyR*

    Also, regarding the Ms. thing-
    I am white and was born and raised (and still currently reside) in the Deep South. I almost always default to calling older women Ms., especially African-American women. I just knew so many growing up that were always referred to as Ms. Ruth or Ms. Lucy that I default to that. I will with older white women as well, sometimes. But not as often. However, I don’t do this at work, only in social settings. I feel like it would be weird in my workplace to call people by different addresses.

  75. Unegen*

    Well, this is the first time I’ve heard of a last name being Christian or Muslim or whatever. Last names don’t work like that. It might be a *Western* or *European* last name, but it’s unlikely it actually signals a religion.

    The example you gave was Smith. Smith isn’t a “Christian” name. It’s a job name. It means one of your ancestors was a blacksmith, goldsmith, etc….or that they emigrated to the US and were given a name that sounded less like whatever ethnicity was politically unpopular at the time.

    1. LabTech*

      She didn’t refer to the name as “Christian” or “Muslim,” but did mention her husband is Muslim. And that’s a relevant point because even though you are technically correct about race and language being a distinct issue from religion, it’s a moot point with the current political climate that treats Islam and Middle Eastern culture and language interchangeably – and heavily vilifies both. In other words, even though the heritage and religion are distinct, many people (and consequently many employers) won’t make that distinction.

      Or, more concisely, the point you made isn’t the main problem here.

  76. Tavie*

    Re: #5 – I use a diminutive name (Tavie) in my everyday life but sign my checks, fill out paperwork, etc, with my full first name (Octavia)

    My email address is ophillips@companyname.com but I just put in my email signature “Octavia (Tavie) Phillips” and it really seems to help.

    I’ll cheerfully answer to both names. I just really like it when people I don’t interact with a lot in person notice the diminutive and remember to address me that way by email. (In person everyone calls me Tavie.)

  77. Rachel*

    My first name is Rachel. I absolutely loathe when people call me Rach, except my mom. It’s not even a common name to shorten so it feels way too intimate in an icky way when someone I’ve just met tries to be buddy buddy with me and call me that. Ugh

  78. Alex*

    My partner’s transgender and sometimes gets mis-gendered at work. From conversations with her, the most useful response would be to acknowledge the error as close to the time and do your best never to do it again. e.g. “Sorry I misgendered you earlier, I’ll do better in future”.

    It’s a really big deal.

    I’d add that if you ever hear another colleague misgendering your colleague, having a quiet word probably wouldn’t go astray.

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