Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Name Game - Navigating Names and Nicknames in the Office

Angela – Angie            Thomas – Tom           Chinyere – Chinny

Yoshikazu – Yoshi       Katherine –Kate          Daniel – Dan

Ask. If you are uncertain, ask the person how to pronounce his or her name.

Ask. If the person’s name has a common abbreviation, ask if it’s okay to use it. Do not impose nicknames because the person’s name is hard to pronounce. If you can say the name of your favorite athlete (Ndamukong Suh, Fernandinho, Anna Kournikova), you can learn the name of a person you see every day.

Ask again. Probably one of the more awkward moments when dealing with names is forgetting either the person’s name preference or pronunciation, but the most awkward is to repeatedly pronounce the person’s name wrong. Asking again for confirmation is the way to go.

A few best practices

In e-mail, I use the person’s whole name, unless she signs her e-mail response as a nickname.  In person, I listen to the way people introduce themselves and follow suit. Generally, with anyone’s name, I repeat it back to them to confirm the pronunciation. When preparing for a call, I  either call the person's secretary and ask to be put through to voicemail or just ask the secretary.

Diversity Break-out

Especially amongst my Black and Brown friends, there seems to be a certain political element to names in the office. I’ve heard countless stories of being called by the name of another person of the same race who works in the office. I’ve also heard stories of brutal “Starbucks-esque” name butchery. My international friends also frequently complain of the burden of involuntary nicknames.

There are two ways to deal with this problem. The first would be to repeatedly correct people – EVERY TIME. I have a friend who is so burdened by this problem, that I have taken up her cause and will correct anyone who speaks her name incorrectly in my presence. The second would be to accept the fact that in Corporate America, people take short cuts at every turn. In this mode of thinking, a functional nickname may help you get ahead. It helps others around you feel relaxed when speaking to you or about you. We picked professions that require us to do certain things to put others at ease. Though we are tirelessly working to shift the baseline, there are times when we accommodate to get ahead.

What happens to your name when you go to work?

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