A name is a very personal piece of our identity. How you treat another’s name can either endear or alienate them. Are you offending friends, colleagues, or customers?
Even if there are elements of the name our parents gave us we’re not particularly crazy about – for instance, my middle name, Ray, is the same as my father’s, but I don’t generally use it, preferring the initial “R” instead – we are still fond of our name; I am still Stephen Ray Clark. It is a part of who we are and, for most, there is only one way they wish to be addressed when you call their name.
Are you paying attention?
For some, there is pretty much only one way to pronounce, spell, or render their name. For instance, Mary is always Mary. Adam is always Adam. These are names that really don’t have a nickname, per se.
Other names, such as mine, Stephen, can be both nicked and variantly spelled: Steven, Steve, Stephan, Stefan, Esteban, Steverino, etc. When I worked at AT&T, there was a senior manager who, bafflingly, insisted on calling me “Stereophonic,” even after I asked him, more than once, not to. I did not care for the man.
Robert can be Rob or Bob or Bobby. John can be Jack (which I’ve never understood) or Johnny. Anastasia can be Ann or Anne or Ana or Anna or Stasia or Stacy.
I prefer to be called Stephen (with the “ph” pronounced as a “v”). In writing my full name, I prefer Stephen R. Clark.
Whenever I get a telemarketing call and they ask for “Stefan,” no matter how friendly and familiar the caller is trying to be, I know right away they are a telemarketer (although it always amazes that anyone would pronounce “Stephen” as “Stefan”).
But, what amazes – and annoys – me even more is when anyone who knows me persists in calling me “Steve.”
Today, I was at a conference full of business communicators; people who should pay attention and be aware of certain nuance; such as how someone introduces them self. Without exception, I always say, “I’m Stephen.” It is absolutely stunning to me when the person to whom I am speaking replies, “Hi, Steve!” That happened today a few times.
When the person is someone I most likely won’t ever see again, I’ll let it go, even though I don’t like it. But with those whom I work or have regular interaction, I’ll gently point out that I prefer “Stephen.” And a few continue to call me “Steve.” Huh?
One of the reasons I prefer Stephen is because my mother insisted that I go by Stephen, not Steve, or any other variant. Using Stephen is, in a sense, a small way I honor the memory of my mother.
To reinforce this, I introduce myself as Stephen, I sign documents with Stephen R. Clark, my email signature includes my first name, “Stephen,” and my full name, “Stephen R. Clark.” I never, never, never write Steve or introduce myself as Steve. Ever!
I pointed this out once to a vendor. He immediately and properly responded, “I really should pay more attention to how my customers refer to themselves!” And ever since, he refers to me as Stephen. That’s as it should be. I like this vendor!
I try to pay attention to how those around me refer to themselves, and, if I encounter an unusual name or spelling, I’ll ask them to clarify the pronunciation. Sometimes I need to ask more than once. They don’t mind.
They don’t mind because a name is very personal!
Making sure that I’m pronouncing a name correctly or using the variant an individual prefers demonstrates that I care about and respect that person. Persisting in mispronouncing a name or using a variant they do not like signals disrespect and disregard.
There are some who persist in calling me “Steve” who I know are just not paying attention; that’s annoying. There are others who seem to be intentionally (for reasons I cannot fathom) referring to me as Steve. Maybe it’s a power thing.
When dealing with customers, this can be costly. If someone goes to the trouble to point out to you that you are not pronouncing their name they way they prefer, you need to pay attention and make an effort to get their name right!
What’s in a name? Everything! The next time you meet someone new, LISTEN to how they introduce themselves, and SAY IT BACK THE SAME WAY! If someone overcomes the discomfort and awkwardness to correct you when you call them Sue and they prefer Susan, PAY ATTENTION!
Referring to a person the way they wish to be referred to shows that you care and respect them. Would you want to be treated any less?
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a person’s name is personal. Not acknowledging how a person prefers to be addressed makes you a thorn in their side.
“Hi! My name is Stephen. And you are?”