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Email Etiquette: Called by Name

Yesterday I got a question from Penelope, who would like to reply properly to the email she receives. Here is her inquiry:

I recently replied to an email sent to me from a Jeffrey. This person did not type his name at the bottom of his email. However, he did have an email signature block at the bottom with his full name, including the given name Jeffrey.

What is the correct way to respond to him? Should I use Jeff or Jeffrey?

Also, what if he did not have an email signature? What is the correct way to reply?

Penelope, life would be easier if people signed their email, but Jeffrey has given you the next best thing–a signature block. Since his name is Jeffrey, call him by that name–not Jeff. My husband is Michael, and he will never be a Mike, except to strangers and his mother. It is not a good idea to change people’s names.

Without a name or signature block, do not call the writer by name. As awkward as it may seem not to address the person, you can’t if he or she has not given you a name. Sometimes strangers write to me and do not include their names. I normally delete their messages or reply asking simply “Who are you?”

Using names goes both ways. This week I received two unsolicited emails from people looking for jobs. Neither one used my name or the name of my company in their message, although one wrote, “I am very interested in a position with your company,” and the other said, “I feel that my strengths and talents will be of value to your company.” Too bad neither one took the time to personalize the message in any way.

What’s in a name? To me, a lot. I am glad when people use my name, and I am delighted when they tell me theirs. I am disappointed when people subscribe to my e-newsletter and are afraid to use more than initials. It is just no fun to write to L. or S.


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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.