What to Do When People Get Your Name Wrong

Is your life one constant blooper reel of people constantly misspelling and misspeaking your name? It’s one thing when someone on the street gets it wrong in passing — you probably won’t see them again. It’s another when professionals you regularly deal with get it completely wrong all the time. Eventually, they settle for just calling you “you.”

“Hey, you! How’s it hanging, buddy?” they start saying. After years of hearing this tactic, you won’t let anyone get away with being clever. The ones who keep failing at your name get some credit, because at least they keep trying.

You can only grit your teeth politely for so long. When people fail to put together a few letters, it makes you feel smaller than the length of those letters. It hurts, even when you’ve gotten used to it.

You shouldn’t have to get used to it. Here’s what to do when people get your name wrong.

Go With Phonetics

During meetings, talks and workshops, you can preempt misspelling mistakes by writing your name out and put a nail in the coffin of misspeaking by verbally sounding it out — or at least try. It still goes in one ear and out the other, but not as often.

Insert a phonetic spelling of your name into your email signature, such as Sigh-Oh-Wren for Sioryn. This approach will help others adjust to your name if it’s not typical to where you’re working and living or a little too modern for folks. It’s stealthy and direct enough to work!

Take the strategy viral, and insert the phonetic spelling of your name on your social media profiles. On Twitter, Iva Dixit, social media coordinator of The New Yorker, put phonetics in her handle this way: “It’s pronounced Dixit as in Fix-it; the Iva as in Gen-eva. No relation to Madhuri.” A little humor goes a long way.

Keep Being Straightforward

Repeating yourself is exhausting, but it’s more tiring and annoying to take the passive approach constantly. You tried politely correcting with a soft voice, but people just keep missing your proper name. You tried ignoring it, and of course, nothing changes. So, stop worrying about how you come across, and be straightforward. It’s likely humiliating to the person who continually gets your name wrong, too.

If you keep it brief and use a professional tone, you won’t come off sounding like a jerk. However, you also need to consider your relationship with the person and how they would feel if you corrected them in public. Fifty-five percent of individuals identify with what they do and will take their mistake seriously as a reflection of themselves when you correct them. So, try pulling the person aside first.

“Earlier, you referred to me as Bob. I want to make sure you know I actually go by Rob.”

Focus on the mistake, but don’t phrase it as if you’re blaming — or shaming — someone with phrases like “You made the mistake of…” Many people will accept constructive criticism mindfully. Unfortunately, not all people are self-reflective or considerate of such necessary nuances as names and language.

Instead, try something like “My name often gets confused with Katrina, but it’s actually Karina.”

Sometimes, you may have to commit a social faux pas and interrupt someone. Do it anyway. People often respect those in leadership positions for being to-the-point and forthright, so if you’re looking to climb the ladder, better start practicing now.

Don’t be afraid to interject with “It’s Karina. Sorry to interrupt! Please keep going.”

These three tactics won’t stop people from getting your name wrong, but they offer tools that tackle different types of personalities and learning styles. The quiet folks who are visual learners and need repetition can check your social media and email signatures.

The unaware can get a polite to-the-point update in a private conversation — or by being interrupted. You can also have a little fun by referring to yourself in “I” statements or the third person if you’re feeling extra eccentric one day.

Refer to Yourself

This approach may raise a few eyebrows, but most will shrug it off and learn. The clever, good-humored folks at in your life will laugh along with you.

Why not have a little fun when correcting others? You’re not being malicious, just potentially coming off as a very eccentric individual.

Say someone asks you something like: “Well, how did you decide to become a lion trainer and marketing director?”

You say, “One day, a rogue lion found its way into the office, and someone was bound to get bitten. So, I thought to myself, Sioryn (said correctly), you can either tame this lion and rise to the occasion, or die. Obviously, I made a new friend.”

If you’re a jokester, you can try referring to yourself in the third person, but the latter approach is probably the best — hopefully, without the lions.

Whatever approach you take, it’s time to reclaim your name!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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