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A Friendly Failure–Called by the Wrong Name

I just read an email exchange between a manager and a consultant who is hoping to work for the manager.

The manager’s name is Susan. The consultant addressed her as Sue.

Friendly failures like these get noticed much more than a tiny typo such as "you" for "your." Susan recognizes her own name–and the wrong name–in an instant. The same is true for my husband, Michael, who is often addressed as Mike. Michael is not a Mike.

Before clicking Send on an email, check to see how the individual signs his or her name. Remember: Just because your brother is Bob or Rob or Robby, doesn’t mean every Robert is the same.

Lynn (not Lynne)
Syntax Training

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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.

10 comments on “A Friendly Failure–Called by the Wrong Name”

  • Similar things can happen with unusual names, too. My first name (and last, for that matter) are unusual. Sometimes when I introduce myself and say that my name is “Alfredo,” people say, “That’s an interesting name. So what do you go by?”

    “Actually, I go by ‘Alfredo.'”

    “Not ‘Al’ or something like that?”

    I’d like to think that I would be fine with being called just about anything, but there’s probably a little shock whenever someone calls me by something other than my actual name.

  • Alfredo, thank you for bringing up that angle. I don’t know whether what you describe is a peculiarly American characteristic, but it’s an annoying one.

    I have recently become friends with an Iranian woman named Sarvar who is now living in Seattle. Before she moved here, the people in her first U.S. city insisted on calling her Sally.

    I believe we should always honor someone’s name–not change it to suit ourselves.

  • My pet peeve is when people drop the e off of my name – Anne. It happens all the time, even among friends (I did threaten my friend Doug that I was going to address him as Dug if he kept dropping my e).

    However, what I find particularly comical but yet annoying is when I go through the effort to check on the correct spelling of a person’s name who is from a country outside the United States where I struggle to know which is their first name and which is their last and then the reply comes back, “Dear Ann”.

    That’s when I continue our communications with, “by the way, my name has an e at the end of it.” Most people then remember, perhaps apologize and many even introduce me as “Anne with an e”. I do feel fond of those people since they’ve made an effort to show me respect.

  • It really does come across as careless and disrespectful when a fellow professional spells your name wrong. But to willfully shorten someone’s name is just plain rude!

    Thankfully, it’s quite hard to shorten a monosyllabic name like mine. But I can relate to the other posters’ comments, having spent most of my professional life seething at seeing “i”s put in both my first name and my last name.

    Now, having recently married but not changed my last name, I’m having to explain to people that I am not Mrs Pollack (or even Pollock), but still Dr Lynch!

  • Sometimes when I try to shorten someone’s name, it’s an effort at establishing rapport. Saying Ed vs. Edward seems to be more friendly. Of course any Edward living in America has been called Ed before. I don’t see why it would be considered offensive when you’re just trying to be friendly. It’s a common custom in our culture.

  • Hi, Der. If someone’s name is Edward, calling him Ed is not necessarily friendly. It could be plain wrong.

    I mentioned my husband, Michael. He has never been–and will never be–a Mike. If you call him Mike, rather than appearing warm and friendly, you are revealing that you are a stranger.

    I’m sorry, De, but I can’t agree with your perspective.

  • Hi Lynette, I don’t think “Der” or “De” are common abbreviations for Derek. Thanks for your reply.

  • My name is repeatedly misspelled by my own colleagues, people with whom I have worked for over a year.

    I don’t mean in my company. I mean people on my own ‘team.’

  • Hi, Kathryn. If you are the only Kathryn they write to, you might have them set up an autocorrect entry in Microsoft Office. Then, if they type Katherine or Catherine, it can automatically be changed. Of course, this approach will not work if they also write to Katherines and Catherines.

    Good luck!


  • Derek, thanks for your message to Lynette. I loved it and got a hearty laugh out of it. Keep up your good sense of humor.


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