It’s David, not Dave. Why using a name correctly is more important than you may think

shallow focus photography of man in white shirt

As you know, I’m David Artiss. And David is the name I prefer to be called – not Dave. Growing up, my best friend was also a David. And everyone called him Dave, so it was a way of differentiating us. It didn’t help that we looked similar too.

I don’t mind if people do call me Dave, although I may silently judge them for doing so! I think it’s only polite to check with someone before making any assumptions about their name – I always say and write my name as David, so why would you think I’d prefer to be called Dave, unless you knew otherwise?

Over the years, at the company I used to work for, it kind of got out of hand. It started when I got a new manager and he learned that I preferred to be called David. Lots of people at the company called me Dave and when he caught them, he’d correct them often in front of me. It was pretty embarrassing. And, as a result, rumours started.

I was talking to somebody one time and they called me Dave. As soon as they did, they flinched and quickly corrected themself, before apologising for getting it  wrong. I said it was fine but his reaction seemed pretty extreme. It turned out that a rumour was going around that somebody had once called me Dave in a meeting and I stormed out in disgust. Needless to say, that never happened.

But, the thing is, this makes you acutely aware of how it affects others. Here’s another story from when I worked for the same company.

Someone new joined the team I was in from another area of the business. Everyone in the team called him Pete, as they’d heard other people call him that. However, the first opportunity I had to sit down and chat with him, I asked him what he’d prefer to be called. He said “Peter”. I was the only member of the team to call him Peter. 

Little things like that matter.

Names are important

Our name is important to us – it’s our identity. But it’s also the easiest way to upset someone, whether it’s a customer or just someone you’ve met.

Names can be a great tool

When communicating with someone using their name, particularly their given name, you can have a friendlier, more relaxed conversation. 

“Hey Steve, how’s it going?”

But what if they’ve not told you their name?

My first golden rule is always…

Don’t assume

Can we assume a name based on an email address, for example? Now, if it’s first name followed by a surname then, possibly. However, even then that doesn’t determine which is the right part of the name to use – in Japan, for example, they use surnames as their informal name.

I would regularly get tickets from a client. In this case he was based in UK, with a British name, and had the classic first name and surname layout on his email. He didn’t use his name on his ticket but, in this case, it was pretty safe to assume. However, it showed his first name as Stephen. Chances are that the only person who calls him Stephen is his mother and, probably, only when he’s in trouble. But because he’s used this in his email, you’re safe in the knowledge that he doesn’t mind to be called by this.

What you shouldn’t do is call him Steve. Because he may not be a Steve. Just as I’m not a Dave.

I replied, always calling him “Stephen”. In the end he eventually added his name to a ticket and called himself “Steve”. So that’s what I called him after that, knowing that was his preference.

If you’re not sure… don’t

If you have any doubts at all, don’t do it.

Let’s say we have a set of old fashioned scales which is used to measure how happy someone is. You can tip it slightly towards making them happier by using their name correctly. However, if you get it wrong, it will not only tip the other way but in a much, much bigger step too. So it’s more important to not get it wrong than to get it right.

Always spell it as they do

Shortening a name inappropriately is just one example but just spelling it incorrectly, or just not in the way that they like it to be, can be just as insulting.

Use of accents and non-English characters is a good example of this. Here are names of some VIP clients and colleagues. …

  • Stéphane
  • Guðmundur
  • Fränk

Some people think it’s fine to not use these characters.  As I said before, your name is your identity and it should matter to everyone else that it’s used correctly.

If you get it wrong – apologise

As I said before, your name is your identity and it should matter to everyone else that it’s used correctly.

But, mistakes happen, whether you’ve made an incorrect assumption or just made a typo. In this case, the fix is simple – apologise. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture and, I’ve found, you can repair the situation as if it had nothing happened.

For example, “I spelt your name wrong there – apologies for that.”

That’s all it needs.

Talk to me!

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