People At My Job Keep Getting My Name Wrong. What Should I Do?


Story provided by FiveThirtyEight and written by Walt Hickey and Morgan Jerkins 

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s new advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice?

I have a compound name (let’s say it’s Cindy Lou, to hide my real identity). My parents have called me Cindy Lou since birth. My business cards, my professional email signature, even my email address is Cindy Lou. I have never, ever NOT been “Cindy Lou.” When someone calls me “Cindy,” it’s like they’re calling me an entirely different name — sometimes I don’t realize they’re even talking to me.

On occasion, I will meet someone who immediately calls me Cindy. More often, I will get an email from a professional contact calling me Cindy. I try to be polite when I correct others and tell them my name is Cindy Lou, but a) sometimes people tell me I am being “bitchy” and b) sometimes a correction doesn’t work the first time; this forces me to be more, well, “forceful.” I do not want to be bitchy, but I really do want people to call me by my name, especially in professional conversations in person and electronically. What is the best way to deal with this? — Cindy Lou

Morgan Jerkins: So I felt this question on both a spiritual and emotional level because my last name is Jerkins and, well, people mistake it for Jenkins a lot no matter how many times I sign my name as Morgan Jerkins.

Walt Hickey: In Cindy Lou’s case, I think a lot of it comes down to precisely how to build the world around her to ensure that people call her by her correct name. And it seems like she’s already gotten to the point where she’s emptied the tank. She’s got the email signature, business cards, the introduction — “Hi, I’m Cindy Lou.” She’s done everything that she herself can do.

Morgan: If Cindy Lou identifies as a woman, I think it’s pretty sexist for someone to say that it’s bitchy for someone to ask to be called by her own name.

Walt: Very much so, and it’s awful that she has to be as forceful as she says she needs to be to get it across. Part of me thinks an easy solution would be for her to just go by Cindy-Lou, as that hyphen is enough to whip even the most resistant folks up to snuff. That would pretty quickly solve the electronic issue, at least. But I also think she can ask her colleagues to do more to call her by her actual name in professional conversations.

Morgan: I agree. I feel like people don’t want to say her full name due to laziness. Or they may just not like the name and want to call her Cindy because to them, it sounds better.

Walt: If she were to ask one or two of her more trusted colleagues to be the ones to correct others, it could go a long way to adapting the culture, maybe? What do you think?

Morgan: I think she has to stand up for herself. She shouldn’t expect someone else to take up that labor because most likely she’s going to be more disappointed than anything else. I think she needs to tell people that it’s disrespectful to not call her by her name and that she would appreciate it if she’s called by her right name, that being Cindy Lou.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran on Oct. 25, 2016, and received 1,048 responses. We presented respondents with Cindy Lou’s letter and asked them what the best advice is given the situation. They were only allowed to choose one option.

The results:

  1. She should tell people that it’s disrespectful to not call her by her name, and that she would appreciate it if she’s called by her right name, that being Cindy Lou.


  2. She should enlist some help, and ask a favor from one or two of her more trusted colleagues to be the one to correct others.


  3. Rather than go by Cindy Lou, she should write it as Cindy-Lou.


  4. She should correct the person each time they get it wrong.


  5. None of the above is good advice in this situation.


Walt: This is a total rejection of my suggestion. I didn’t even outscore the “none of the above is good advice.” I want to see this by gender.

Call it out as disrespect 13%
Enlist help 14
Change to Cindy-Lou 20
Correct each time 31
None of the above 22

Morgan: Whoa. I am a bit stumped. I’m shocked that women were more likely to say that she should correct people because usually women are conditioned to be more passive and docile. I know I have been when people mistake me for “Miss Jenkins” and not “Miss Jerkins.” And more of them advocated for her to change her name to Cindy-Lou? Like, who wants to go through all of that? That’s even more labor.

Walt: I can see now that my thinking is just a product of my gender. Men are more likely to round up some folks from the office to try to “make it a thing” to call her Cindy Lou. Women are more likely to say she should correct it each and every time, so I imagine those strategies could each be used on men and women depending on who the major offenders are. How about age?

RESPONSE 18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
Call it out as disrespect 19%
Enlist help 15
Change to Cindy-Lou 33
Correct each time 24
None of the above 10

Walt: Oh my god, millennials are so plucky here. And also very, very willing to take the technocratic option that sacrifices some of her self-identity. Classic.

Morgan: I have to agree.

Walt: I personally think it is crazy that 33 percent of 18- to-29-year-olds would just start writing their name as Cindy-Lou. And the second-most-popular answer from people over the age of 45 is that none of this is the good way to handle this! What do you make of that?

Morgan: I’m perplexed. What else is there to do then? She should just take the disrespect?

Walt: We probably should have polled “she should just deal with it.” I’d be interested to see how many people thought about that.

Morgan: Yeah, I can’t think of another possible choice besides going by a different alias altogether.

Walt: That’s how I got my name, “Walter” — my name is actually Steve, but some very insistent middle-schoolers kept calling me the wrong name, and I never bothered to correct it.

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