What’s in a name? The short answer is—everything. People (literally) take their names personally. Each of us is given a name by parents at a young age and really has no say in the matter. It is what it is, and we live with it. Of course, it is possible to pick up a nickname sometime between birth and adulthood. Hopefully, either a formal or informal name is not one which was bestowed upon us contrary to what would have been our better judgment.
Our name triggers an internal psychological mechanism which grabs our attention when we hear it. This happens either when we are communicating one-on-one or being called in a crowded mall. When we are in conversation with someone, using the other person’s name facilitates focus, connection and engagement.
There are several contexts in which someone’s name is going to be relevant within a job search or professional life. Here, I explore seven such applications.
(1) Pay attention to pronunciations, spelling, titles and gender: Not everyone has a simple name, especially in the melting pot of today’s workforce. You might need to verify with the person as to whether you are properly pronouncing his/her name or not. There is nothing that irks us more than hearing our name botched. So be sensitive to that when speaking to others. This applies to basic names as well as ethnically unusual ones. (In the Jewish community, we have plenty of those.) In written or digital correspondence, make sure that you spell first and last names correctly. As we know, seeing our names misspelled is equally annoying. Make sure that you use correct job titles and formal titles like Dr., Mr. or Ms. Finally, note that there are (shortened versions of) names like Chris, Pat, and Sam which could be either male or female. As such, knowing the gender of the other party will better inform your pronoun choices.
(2) First time caller...or even second: It is good form that unless the other party is already totally familiar to you, that you open the conversation by stating your name. If you need to ask for someone else at that number, clearly include that person’s name (and department) in your request. Never jump into the call with your “ask” before introducing yourself. Don’t expect “Caller ID” to do that work for you. The same thing holds true when leaving a voicemail message. Similarly, all emails should open with the person’s name at the top of the message. No “Hi,” “Wazzup,” “Hey,” or “Vuhs-tutzach?”—just simply the intended recipient’s name. I would go so far to recommend beginning most “reply to” emails with the person’s name and ending with your name. (It might not hurt to do this in texts too!) Doing this takes no more than a second longer, but it significantly enhances the tone of your message.
(3) Your Email Name: Job seekers often will stick with an email address previously used exclusively for personal use. Trust me. Emails received from strange names or nicknames will not exactly convey professionalism or show that you are a serious candidate for most job titles out there. In addition to having a neutral address, make sure that both your first and last name shows up in the “From” for messages you send to others so no one has to guess who you are.
(4) Name changers: The most common reason for changing a name is marital status. Marriage and divorce happen. Notify colleagues and official governmental entities of any changes in your name. On the other hand, allow for a reasonable “grace period” of an acceptable window for errors before you get ticked off. Be careful when addressing others. No woman who has gone through a nasty divorce wants to be reminded of her “ex.”
(5) Resume: Unless you have legally changed your name, the name that you have on your resume should ideally be the official name that appears on your birth certificate. If you do get hired, and have an unofficial name that is different from your official identity, this might create problems with employment paperwork. Name changers should especially pay attention to this. Also, inasmuch as your LinkedIn profile is really a digital resume, the same thing applies there.
(6) Interviews and seating charts: Hearing our names pronounced correctly is important to us. So, when in a job interview, consider the following tip. Beginning at least one answer to an interviewer’s question with his/her name will help you “connect.” Very often you will be interviewed by a panel of multiple people. Before the interview starts, if they have not already done so, ask the interviewers to introduce themselves and their titles. Quickly and discreetly, jot the names down as they appear in front of you. That way, you will be able to begin one or more of your answers with the questioner’s name.
(7) Don’t nick the name: After you have been around someone for a period of time, it might be acceptable to ascribe that person with a nickname. The name might be a shortened or other acceptable variation of one’s formal name (e.g., Jerry for Gerald) or one which is more easily pronounced name than an ethnically complicated name. Don’t assume. Ask the recipient whether he/she is okay with your using a name that is different from the official one. Certainly, if the other party uses it as the preferred name, that is okay. It goes without saying that assigning a nickname to someone that is disparaging, off-color, or otherwise harassing is off-limits. Such names should be avoided in front of the person or behind his/her back.
So, names are important in our communication, be it professional or everyday life. We hope that other people get our names right when using the spoken and written word. So we should all try to do the same for others.
Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D. is a commentator on issues related to careers, employment and job search. He leads a nonprofit organization, Joblink of Maryland, which supports the employment objectives of members of the Jewish community. [He has appeared recently on the Nachum Segal Network and other general media outlets. He studied in Yeshivas Ner Yisrael (B.T.L.) and earned his B.A. in Psychology from UMBC as well as his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Organizational Psychology from Wayne State University.]
By Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D.