Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

August 03, 2016

What’s in a Name?

In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet professes her love for Romeo despite his rival house and name (Montague). “'Tis but thy name that is my enemy,” she declares.

Do you, like Juliet, care about others but regard their names as your enemies? Do you change people's names to suit your needs?
Or do you show respect by accepting and using the names of others?

For the past 25 years, I’ve taught business writing classes in more than a hundred organizations. I have seen many people’s names turned into something else purely for others' convenience. Consider these fictionalized examples:

  • People call Raadhak Agarwal “Red.” Yet they call his coworker Mary-Margaret by her full multisyllabic name. 
  • Clodovea Cepeda goes by “Clare,” a name her supervisor introduced because he couldn’t remember “Clodovea.”
  • Guiying Zhang became “Guy” because the name “Guiying” daunts her teammates and others.

Transforming Raadhak into Red, making Clodovea be Clare, and changing Guiying into a Guy despite her gender—that isn’t the way to create solid, respectful work relationships. 

I imagine that the people who love Raadhak, Clodovea, and Guiying call them by their true names. Why don’t the people who work with them do the same?

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the famous self-improvement and sales expert Dale Carnegie wrote, “Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” That approach seems the opposite of Juliet’s view in Romeo and Juliet. She asserts, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This one time I prefer Dale Carnegie's plain message to Shakespeare's elegance.  

What’s in a name? The opportunity to recognize, remember, and respect a person’s uniqueness. Let’s take that opportunity. No more calling James “Jimmy.” No more spelling Kathryn your way instead of hers. No more “Mo” for Mohammed.  

Will you join me?

Syntax Training

P.S. Order my book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Timeand I'll inscribe it using any name you prefer. I promise to write it your way. 

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