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When They Misspell Your Name

Last week I led my first live online class, Email Intelligence. A participant asked what to do to make people spell her name correctly in email. As someone whose first and last names are often misspelled, I empathized. But I didn’t have a good suggestion for getting other people to change their behavior.

title graphic stating "what should you do when they misspell your name?"

Then yesterday someone I have known rather well for a couple of years spelled my name Lynne rather than Lynn in an email to me. Because it had happened before, I decided to take a small step. When I responded, I signed my name like this, with the parentheses included:

Lynn (without an e)

So if your name is misspelled, you might sign yourself:

Cyndy (with two ys)
Nathen (with an e)
Cathie (with a C and an ie)
Tony (with a y)
Marcia (with a cia)
Syd (with a y)
Kathryn (with an ryn)

I will pay attention to whether my friend spells my name correctly the next time she writes to me, and I will post a comment here.

Do you have ideas for getting people to spell your name correctly? How do you feel about my suggestion? Is it better to provide a correction or ignore the misspelling? What’s your view?

Lynn (without an e) Gaertner-Johnston (with a t)
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.

35 comments on “When They Misspell Your Name”

  • Hi, Lynn,

    Your note struck a chord with me. Today I received an email from a member of my extended family who has known me my whole life. And she misspelled my name in the email.

    It is an awkward issue to address directly. I like that your solution is subtle and indirect.

    Maybe I’ll sign my next email to my relative,

    Jean (save the “ne” for my last name) Moroney

  • Once my boss had an attorney’s office, not once, but twice correct the spelling of her last name. After she corrected it the second time they told her to stop changing it to the incorrect spelling! Not really helpful, but just a funny story about misspelled names.

  • Hi, Jean (save the “ne”). I like your idea. Suggesting that people save the “ne” for your last name is a memorable bit of advice. Let us know whether you get results.

  • Hi, Jade. I can’t believe the attorney changed your boss’s name to “correct” it! That’s the height of over-confidence. Thanks for sharing.

  • I always feel tempted to spell their name wrongly in the return email, but that would be petty and unprofessional (although quite satisfying).

    Clare Lynch (no “i” in either)

  • Hi Lynn,

    Both my family and married names trip people up. They are misspelled and mispronounced more often than I would like.

    I have chosen to ignore people’s mispronounciations unless they are particularly heinous.

    Regarding spelling: I just return the email or mail with the proper spelling and hope they notice.

    However, when people decide to call or write to “Pat,” which is my sister’s name, then I have a conversation with them.

    Sometimes it’s a no-win situation!

    Paula Tedford (rhymes with Bedford) Diaco (DEE-aco)

  • This is one of my biggest work pet peeves. I use an e-mail signature, and my name is spelled correctly in my e-mail address, but peope still spell my first name incorrectly within the body of the e-mail? It just seems extremely lazy and inconsiderate. If you were applying for a job, you would double-check to make sure that you spelled the contact person’s name correctly, so why not give your business contacts the same courtesy?

  • Hi, Lynn.

    Having someone misspell my name has never been an issue to me, I could not care less (maybe because my name is rather straightforward where I come from).

    However what really bugs me is when someone in my team misspells someone else’s name.

    I mean, the least I could expect from someone who is sending an email is to write the recipient’s name properly, even because you cannot send an email if you do not know the recipient’s email address which, in more than often in corporate environments is somehow linked to the actual name of the person.

    In other words, misspelling the recipient’s name could be either a sign of sloppiness or lack of attention problem and is very impolite. It could become a problem when dealing with Clients, also.

    Coodles to your blog, by the way.

    Kind regards,

    Rafael Martins

  • I made a choice to never take offense over misspelling, mispronunciations or even wrong names; all of which I experience regularly.

    Several years back, immediately after arriving to pick my daughter up from summer camp another 11 year old approached me. “Are you Annie’s mother?” she asked indignantly. “Yes, I am” I replied. “Annie has treated me rudely all week long!” she proclaimed. A brief investigation revealed that my daughter could not pronounce this young lady’s name. The girl’s mom told me that she has taught her daughter that it is okay to require others to say her name right and that to fail to do so is disrespect. My daughter felt totally whipped by the situation, she couldn’t get it right; she knew she would get accused of deliberate disrespect if she said it wrong. She did the only thing left to her – she avoided the other child.

    What a frivolous application for negative energy. These two girls could have enjoyed a week of fun and games together had there been grace or compromise applied. Instead, they warred. This other girl’s mother set her up to live a life at taking offense and creating chasms over a tiny thing instead of getting on with the important stuff – like how we are treating each other.

    When I get a note addressed to ‘Morine,’ I am grateful someone valued me enough to write me a note. When someone calls out “Hi Marlene, how are you?!,” I smile big and tell them how I am, and appreciate that they acknowledged me in a way that says – I like you.

    Offense is a choice, one I choose not to take and recommend others not take as well. It builds emotional barriers in places where goodness may grow if offenses were not applied.

    Extend grace, enjoy life more.



    Morine, Marlene, Murine, Mureen, Murine, Marine, Marla, Moreen, Manager, Mom… or as used by my parents; Maureen)

  • It doesn’t help that people are getting more and more creative with how they spell their children’s names. So where we used to have just ‘Michaela’, now we have ‘Mikayla’, Makaelah, ‘Mykaila, etc.

    In either a business or personal context, surely a gentle reminder about correct spellings must be welcome.

  • Very funny but useful tip.

    My name is spelled as Srikanth, and people from the north side of my country – India – write Srikanth as Shrikant. The next time some one misspells my name, I’m going to sign it like this:

    Srikanth (save the ‘h’ for the ending).

  • Lynn,

    People hate being corrected, and I think that’s an important side of this issue that I would like to see you address.

    I dislike it when people misspell my first name, but I don’t say anything if it happens in an email.

    I do go to great lengths to get the spelling corrected if my name is misspelled in public. And I correct people pleasantly and without making an issue of it if they’ve mispronounced my name in a public setting.

    If it’s at a speaking engagement or if it’s on a web site, it’s a consequential mistake. It affects my business image and reputation.

    But if it’s in a private email, I don’t think it’s worth taking offense. Would you correct someone who made some other misspelling in their email, or who forgot to say “thank you” when they should have? If not, then what do you gain by making an issue of the spelling of your name?

    Thanks for bringing up the issue, as I think it affects a lot of people.


  • Lynn,

    It does seem difficult when there are different ways to spell the same name (ie, Sara, Sarah… Lynn, Lynne) I make an effort to look it up before I write it.. in these days of internet and Facebook… you can always go an reference the spelling of that particulars persons spelling.

    Now… My name gets messed up often. I know that one doesn’t meet many people named Charlotte but it’s amusing how many people incorrectly spell in CharOlett. That’s not even attempting to sound it out… that’s kindergarten spelling right there. Char/lotte 2 syllables, yet they insist on adding an additional syllable. What gives?

    I expect my last name to get butchered but really, why do the people at the grocery store insist that they thank me by saying Ms Sa…uh..sala..fee uh? I know the store insists but it gets old.

    Great article, not sure what the solution is.. but thanks for letting me air that.

    Have a fabulous day!

    Charlotte (O comes after L) Salafia (rhymes with Mafia -it’s Italian)

  • Thanks, everyone, for the rich discussion. I appreciate the variety of reactions and concerns.

    Maureen, I am grateful for your reminder about extending grace. Your vivid story of your daughter and the missed opportunity for friendship is memorable.

    Marcia, thanks for asking me to address the issue of correcting people. You are right–people do not normally like to be corrected. At the same time, they want to communicate effectively with others. My idea of using “Lynn (without an e)” was to avoid telling the person directly that she had made a mistake. Rather it was to whisper “Here is how my name is spelled.” I would not whisper that message to someone I had never communicated with before, but my example was someone who has known me for years. I knew she would want to spell my name correctly.

    I can tell all of you that the person who originally misspelled my name has written to me twice since my subtle correction–each time with my name spelled correctly!

    Again, thanks for all your input.

  • Hi Lynn,

    I stumbled on your entry while looking for a way to subtly correct this myself.

    I feel Marcia makes a great point, but I guess for me, most of the misspellings (in the work environment) come from the same people. It’s repeated a good 15-20 times a day from each of them.

    When I send e-mails, the inbox tags them with the correct spelling, but I also sign it with my full name (Rebecca) as people tend to have little issues spelling that version correctly.

    These ones insist on using my shortened version, which is fine, but they always misspell it even though I’ve given them the opportunity (which others have opted to use I’ve noticed) to use my full name and avoid spelling issues.

    In the past I’ve tried simple misspellings back, just to see how they address it so I can find a way to respond. That method doesn’t work, as they never noticed or didn’t want to comment on it.

    Only one person has asked me if she spelt it right, which I kindly corrected her on, but no one else has done so going on 2 years now…

    I have a co-worker who has a commonly mis-pronounced name, also. The way we handle that is when someone comes into my office asking after her (note: she doesn’t do this, because we felt it would be better if it came from a third party), I simply say “Eliza? Oh! You mean Elisa! Yes, she’ll be back from her meeting at 11.”

    Mostly, they respond with “Yes, Elisa, that’s who I meant!”

    I really would like to try this method you have, but I’m not sure how it will be received. Also, to be honest, it would take a lot to get my name spelt correctly consistently since it has not been spelt right since I started using it way back in high school. Even my boyfriend misspells my name from time to time!

    I will definitely check in if I do use this to let you know how it works.


    Beki (No e, y, c, or kk).

  • lynn,
    thank you so much for this bit of advice. i, myself, am not very fond of people misspelling my name, and for people who don’t know me, i just accept it and move on (unless the new people become frequent correspondents). for frequent correspondents, however, i correct them, especially those who have worked with me for years. i try to do it subtly (i.e. i re-sign my name and bold/underline the bit that keeps getting misspelled)

    however, i work in an organization with another person who spells her name in this alternate fashion. sometimes, both of us are recipients to the same email because people are misspelling my name (or her name), we sometimes don’t know who is the actual intended recipient and who is just being kept in the loop. the spelling is how we know who the email is actually for.

    i’m going to try this more subtle approach and see if people pay attention.

    thanks for the tip

    rachel (with an “e”)
    or perhaps
    rachel (with an “e” not an “ae”)
    or perhaps
    rachel (with one “a” and one “e”)

  • Good Afternoon Lynn,

    Much like Beki, I too found your website in a Yahoo! search to find out the most business appropriate way to inform a client that they are spelling my name incorrectly. Not to give off bad karma but, I do have to disagree with some people who say that misspelling a name is not a big deal. I work in the health insurance industry and I have first hand for the past 7 years been experiancing people who’s insurance has been DENIED due to their name being spelled incorrectly. I’ve also experianced people’s insurance being denied due to the fact that they go by their middle name, or only use their first initial!

    Just like diet and a paycheck, consistency is key. I am extremely anal about my name being spelled correctly and have on many occasions corrected other people. Imagine having your license or your insurance card with your name spelled incorrectly?! I’ve had claims denied, I’ve been confused with a completely different person, and I want everyone to know that it is only going to get worse as you get older!!

    The most successful way I’ve communicated my frustration with someone depends on the person. If it is family or friends I flat out no holds barred say “my name is spelled J-a-i-m-e” while showing them what it is they spelled wrong (birthday card, etc.) But professionally is a whole different ball game. You need to put the kibash on this from the beginning. Most of the time I say (Just FYI, my first name is spelled Jaime. I blame my parents really 🙂 or (It’s not a big deal, but please note that my first name is spelled Jaime.)and my favorite (It’s acutally JaIMe, but it’s OK I’ve been called worse!)

    Either they will be offended or not. You can’t control it. One time I was dealing with a client who was going through the same experiance and we totally hit it off! Maybe people don’t have to be as anal about it like me, but just know that if it continues you might end up in a bad situation!

    Love your site!


  • Thanks for your interesting comments, Jaime. I am glad you mentioned the serious consequences of misspelled names.

    Here’s one for you: Our last name is rather long: Gaertner-Johnston. Our health care organization (HMO) cannot fit that many letters in their computer program, so to them we are Gaertner-Johnsto (omitting the final n). When my teenaged daughter showed up for an appointment and gave her correct name, they told her they had no record of her as a patient. Imagine denying medical care because the computer program does not have enough spaces! (Note: They did finally figure out who she was.)

    Good luck with your good fight!


  • Hello, Lynn – Like others in this post, I have been searching for a funny or polite way to correct friends and colleagues when they don’t spell my name correctly (primarily in emails). Since I am Lynne (with an e), I am really surprised so many people make the opposite mistake with you! I wish I could let it go but the problem has gotten much worse over the past several months, and and since I also sign my first name AND include a signature block under that in every email, it seems as though I’ve done everything possible to help them get it right. In other words, to me it appears incredibly lazy and thoughtless for people to get it wrong! So I’m still hoping someone can come up with a cute and non-confrontational way to correct in these situations. I do have a funny story – I joined a chorus with FIVE Lynn’s – we called ourselves the “Ly(i)n(n)(e)-tet since every single one of us spelled it differently!

    Thanks for listening!

    Lynne (with an e)

  • Hi, Lynne with an e. If you have opportunities to talk with the partners or peers, a conversation could make the message easier to share and receive:

    “Hi, Robert. . . . . I have been meaning to let you know about the spelling of my name. It’s L-y-n-n-e. I know some people who spell it the other way, but for some reasons my parents liked the longer version.”

    An innocent conversation on the topic might make the correct spelling more memorable.


  • HI Lynn,

    I really appreciated your article and the comments here. It inspired me to share a personal story of how spelling someone’s name correctly can indicate greater attention to detail.

    When I was getting married last year, we had a new organizer at the location who kept spelling my name wrong. After politely including the correct spelling of my name on many communications and her seeming indifference to getting it right (as well as getting all the details of reception wrong too), I finally said: “My name is spelled with an “e” at the end. It would go a long way with me to demonstrate that you are attentive to detail if you would spell my name correctly.”

    Turns out that she, too, was frustrated with people spelling/calling her by the wrong name and, after that conversation, every detail of the reception was spot-on.

    Details matter!

    Jenne (with an “e” since 1989!)

  • My name is Naomi but somehow my boss spells it naomiE in every single email and it bugs me a lot. I mean, all my pay checks, my work schedules, my employee ID card are spelled right so I was hoping he would make the effort to refer to these but I guess not. I even sign my name properly at the end of my emails (and even BOLD it!!) but it didn’t help. still naomi with an E ughhhh . Thank you Jenne for sharing your little trick, I am tempted to use it next time I communicate with my boss!

    Naomi (sans ”e” …also since 1989!)

  • Hello, Naomi (sans “e”). Since I am so often addressed in writing as “Lynne,” I can relate to your situation.

    Have you considered talking with your boss? Or adding an “e” to his name? (Just kidding about the second part.)


  • What advice do you have for someone who deliberately spells your name wrong in a program?

  • Hi, Lisa. That’s a tricky situation.

    If someone deliberately misspelled my name in a program, I would avoid working with him or her in the future. I hope that is an option for you.


  • @ Clare – petty and unprofessional, party of 1, here! I’m ashamed but also vindicated when I do this. I figure, if it comes up – I’ll be able to say “oh we both misspelled each other’s names – how about that?!” and play dumb – but then what if I’m called on it? If someone notices that they spelled my name wrong and apologizes, I’m happy but then I feel bad for having been “petty and unprofessional”. Yet, I’m irritated when someone is so lazy and careless as to spell my name wrong when it is clearly spelled out for them beforehand.

  • Hi, Nat. I do not think misspellings are normally the result of people being lazy and careless. I think people are often busy and stressed.

    I would not misspell someone’s name because he or she misspelled mine. I couldn’t force myself to purposely make that mistake.


  • hi my name is Angel. yes very easy and well know name but I often see ppl spell it wrong or say it wrong as well but ppl keep spelling it and say “Angle” I have told ppl when I introduce myself its Angel with a “el” at the end but they still get it wrong I find it very annoying. how can I have minimize this problem with my name ?

  • Hi, Angel. I am guessing you have had more misspellings of your name since people started typing from their smartphones. When they type a-n-g, the prominent suggestions are probably “angle and “angry.”

    I don’t have a better suggestion than the one above. Have you tried it?


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