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Why I Use Your Name

Dear Reader,

If I knew your name, I would use it–either with the greeting “Dear” or in the first sentence of any message I write to you.

The same would be true if I phoned you. I would say hello and use your name in the first words out of my mouth: “Hi Tim! This is Lynn” or “Good morning, Barbara. This is Lynn Gaertner-Johnston.” If you did not answer and I left a recorded phone message, I would certainly use your name in the message.

I would use your name because I am writing or talking to you–not to anyone else. I want to recognize you as an individual and let you know that I know who you are. You are not some random email address or phone number, not just one stop on my journey through a list of a thousand names. You are special.

It goes both ways. If you were to write or phone me, I would appreciate being called by my name. Hearing or seeing my name makes me feel as though you have contacted me–not just anyone in a directory. Being an informal American, I prefer “Lynn” to “Ms. Gaertner-Johnston,” but I respond positively to both.

Yes, I like using names and having mine used. That is why I was surprised in a seminar I led for a sophisticated Seattle company last week. After reading one of my email tips about using the reader’s name, an attendee asked, “Why would you use the reader’s name? They know who they are. It’s right there in their email address.” The question was echoed by others.

Several people seemed to view the use of the reader’s name as unnecessary and wordy. Some said they would use the reader’s name in their first email but not in replies or extended email exchanges.

It may be a question of style. My style is to connect with you, the reader. My goal is to communicate your value and individuality. By using your name, I attempt to do that.

What do you think? I wish I could call you by name, but for now “Reader” is the best I can offer.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Why I Use Your Name”

  • Everything I’ve ever read or heard about this says that a person’s name is important to them, and they love to hear someone say it, or read. It helps establish a human connection, and isn’t that what writing or speaking should be about?

    I don’t remember to do it as often as I should, but, Lynn, I think you’re on the right track.

  • Lynn

    Standard practice here seems to be to start off with the name of the addressee in the first email, but it tends to be overlooked when one email turns into an e-conversation.

    Emails addressed to a group of people is a different scenario. In some cases, it might be good to focus the attention of those directly addressed to a required action. What should one do when sending a note to three people (A,B and C), and copied to three others (D,E and F)? Dear A, B and C?

  • Christopher, yes, if we are writing to A, B, and C (with copies to D, E, and F), we write “Dear A, B, and C.” We do not greet D, E, and F because we are not writing to them. This practice is the same as with business letters.

    I’ve seen a problem arise when we send copies to people who actually should be primary recipients. Then we wonder why they didn’t respond or take action.

    On your other point, people in my writing classes have echoed your experience–they start out using names and then drop them as the e-conversation unfolds. This approach makes sense. I might throw in a name now and then anyway, particularly with a thank you, as in “Thanks, Christopher.”

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