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Are You a Man or a Woman?

“Are you a man or a woman?” If your readers don’t know you, they may be asking that question. These days you may write to people around the world from many cultures, people who may not be able to identify your gender from your name.

Over the past month, people who signed up for my newsletter, Better Writing at Work, had the first (given) names below. Can you tell the men from the women?


I know I cannot be sure of their gender. I also know that my name, Lynn, can be both a man’s and a woman’s name.

To help people recognize your gender and address you correctly with the courtesy title Mr. or Ms. in formal communication, include a title in your typed signature. Mine would look like this:

(Ms.) Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Or add the title to your handwritten signature in a letter:

(Ms.) Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

If you prefer not to reveal your gender, do nothing, or use just your initials for your first and middle names.

L. Gaertner-Johnston

This post was inspired by a reader named Jazira from Singapore. Hmmm–do you think Jazira is a man or a woman?


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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.

3 comments on “Are You a Man or a Woman?”

  • Hi Lynn,

    I received a handwritten letter from the commander of the ROTC unit at the college I was enrolling in twenty years ago to let me know of the wonderful opportunites for women in the Naval ROTC program. Unfortuantely, I am a man. I was impressed he took the time to write the letter out in hand–so personal–yet, he might have checked my middle name which was printed on the envelope–Lawrence.

    I receive mail addressed to Ms. Robin Yim less frequently now; I wonder if businesses are avoiding the opportunity to offend since there is more diversity of names now.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Robin Yim

  • Robin, thanks for the memorable example. Like you, I am receiving fewer letters with the wrong title–in my case, to Mr. Lynn Gaertner. But since my marriage and hyphenated name, I get lots of solicitations to L.G. Johnston and Lynn Gaertner-Johns. At least you and I can recognize immediately when the writer doesn’t know us.

  • The word “gender” refers to written and spoken pronouns such as he/she, his/hers, etc.

    The word “sex” refers to whether someone is a man or woman.

Comments are closed.