Getting Names Right


There was a Michael on my team whom people often called Mike. There was a Tina who preferred that to her full name of Christina. And now there’s a Stephen whom people have called everything from Steven to Stephan.

As a colleague, I feel a responsibility to help others get these names right. That includes the pronunciation and the preferred form. Michael doesn’t go by Mike. Tina doesn’t want to be called Christina. And I assume Stephen would like to hear his name pronounced the right way.

Why is this so important?

Keith Rollag shares some interesting reasons in his book, What To Do When You’re New.

He cites Dale Carnegie, who once said, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

And psychologist Gordon W. Allport wrote that, “The most important anchorage to our self-identity through life remains our name. One’s name, though only a symbol, is closely tied to one’s self-esteem as it is to one’s sense of self-identity.”

Rollag goes on to write that, “People are flattered when you remember their names, which creates something persuasion researchers call a ‘complimentary perception.'”

And he says that scientists have found that “we subconsciously prefer words containing the letters of our own name and even selectively pursue careers that sound like our own name (e.g., a disproportionate number of people named Dennis become dentists).”

Who knew? Perhaps this partly explains why, as a Caroline, I became a communicator.

Here are 3 ways to make sure you get names right:

Ask. When you meet someone new, ask for any clarification you need on their name. Did you pronounce it correctly? Do they go by a nickname? This repetition of their name will also help you remember it, according to Rollag’s chapter on remembering names.

Check. When sending an email or communicating via social media, check the correct spelling of someone’s name against their email address, social handle or signature line. And if you make a mistake, as I’ve done in transposing a first and last name, be quick to apologize and correct the error.

Model. If you’re in a meeting or on a call where someone is mispronouncing another person’s name, use that person’s name correctly during the course of the meeting. If that doesn’t work, you can let the person know one on one after the meeting wraps up.

How do you get names right?

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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