Stop Doing this Now and Stand Out

I swear I didn’t write this because my name is Deirdre.

I wrote this because I’m tired of seeing perfectly good leaders lose just a smidge of credibility by making the same, simple, indefensible mistake. Every day. Many times.

Allow me to begin with an example.

I’m currently coordinating a project that involves several partner organizations. One of the committee members is named Alan.

Last week I sent an email to the group on Alan’s behalf, and asked partners to respond.

Here’s what came back:

  • “Thanks so much for taking this on, Allen…I’m available next week.”
  • “Allan, please let me know how I can help. I’m up for anything.”
  • “AL – how great that you’re taking this piece on. Count me in!”

You might think you’ve got the point. Keep reading.

None of these responses was offensive. They were all quite positive, actually.


There’s absolutely no reason…none…as to why each person got Alan’s name wrong.

His name was in my email. It was spelled clearly.

And even though Alan probably didn’t care, that’s not what matters.

What matters…

  • …is that these three people reflected that they didn’t care enough to get it right.
  • …is that they reflected a lack of concentration, focus, and attention to detail.
  • …is that they showed a disregard for excellent communication.

It’s quite possible none of them meant it this way.

Doesn’t matter.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m sensitive. This is personal.

Yes, I happen to have a name that’s very difficult to spell. I’ve gotten all kinds of spellings throughout my life (My favorite? Deidriff. Came by fax. Don’t ask.)

I’ve gotten used to this. And I accept it.  I swear.

But at the same time the truth is I notice…when someone spells my name consistently wrong. And even more so when someone gets it consistently right.

Let me be clear…

This blog is not about the emails you get.

This is about the emails you send.

So all of you Bobs, Bills and Lisas who think this doesn’t apply to you? It does. (In fact, it applies to you even more since your sensitivity on this point is probably low.)

This is about breaking the bad habit of rushing through emails and assuming the name is spelled correctly…or thinking it doesn’t matter if you just get close.

Stop it.

Be intentional about what you reflect to others:

  • That you’re a leader
  • That you’re an excellent communicator
  • That you care

We all know that success is about relationships. Why would you not do everything you could to make sure each one is as solid as possible?

I’ve actually been involved in a string of emails – a half dozen or so – where I connected with a person, put my name at the bottom of each and every message, and each time it came back with my name right on top, spelled wrong.

Was I offended? No. But I did notice.

When I was an executive director I can’t tell you how many cover letters came in with my name spelled wrong.

Was I offended? No. But I did notice.

And this seemingly meaningless error told me all kinds of things about the person. Right or wrong, the resume went to the bottom of the pile.

Now…let’s be real.

We write many, many emails these days. And so misspelling will happen.

We’re also at a time when parents have gotten a bit more creative with names…

…and so misspellings will happen.

It’s life. It’s not tragic. (though I will tell you I’ve run across plenty of people who do get bugged by this…so beware)

For the most part, many of us have gotten used to having our name spelled incorrectly.

Which is why it’s something special when people get it right. Every time.

And why they stand out.

By the way, this same point applies when you refer to the person’s partner, child, pet or company name in your email. No excuses. No exceptions.

One more point on the name thing.

Skip the nicknames unless someone introduces themselves with it or signs their name that way first. Don’t assume William prefers Bill or Jolene prefers Jo.

We can say we’re leaders. We can say we’re good at what we do. We can say we can communicate it.

Then, we can blow it in the first line of an email.

Stop it.

If you’re working with a name that you’re unsure of, double-check it. If their name isn’t in front of you, google them, search out their linked-in profile, or double check an old email.

And if you deal with them a lot, put their name into your spell-check dictionary.

You’ve got something important to say. Make sure your message isn’t botched up because of a simple and avoidable mistake.

Communication is the name of every game.

Stand out by making sure yours gets it right.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

12 thoughts on “Stop Doing this Now and Stand Out

  1. Love this! SO true. And I’d like to add one thing, representing the hard-to-pronounce crowd… if you’re not sure how to pronounce my name, ask me. Even if you’ve asked me once or twice before. I don’t take offense that you didn’t remember, I appreciate that you care enough to work to get it right. Because I’m not expecting you to remember how to say Chapin. If I wasn’t Chapin, I probably wouldn’t!


  2. Karla Olson says:

    Music to my ears! You put it so well, Deidriff . . . I mean Deirdre.

    Email exacerbates this with its sense of quick communication. But it is out there for a long time, so slow down and pay attention to the details.

  3. Patty Costa says:

    Such a very important point Deirdre. A person’s name is his most personal possession. Thanks for good advice.

  4. Malia Mullen says:

    I LOVE this!! I can’t tell you how many times I get “Maria” when my name is in my e-mail address above and my signature below. What it comes down to is laziness and carelessness. And frankly, I DO care! I like my name. Use it! I go out of my way to ensure that before I send out an e-mail that I’ve correctly spelled the persons name. It takes me 2 seconds, which means it would take you 2 seconds to make sure you’ve put an L not an R in my name!

  5. Matthew says:

    I want to shout this blog from the rooftops! I can’t count how many times this issue has come up in our office. I’ve actually made a game out of seeing how many times a person will choose to ignore that I sign my emails with my full name, Matthew, and take the liberty to call me Matt. You’re absolutely right – it’s sheer laziness, inattention to detail, and just bad business. Great post!

  6. Excellent post DeeDee (just kidding….)

  7. Bonny says:


    Love this (as a Bonny and not a BONNIE!). I think it is a symptom of a larger problem. You allude to the heart of what is wrong (see below)–I think we are in the midst of a transition for non-profit governance and how non-profit leaders lead. The economy is going to force us to do this better. Cheers!

    •…is that these three people reflected that they didn’t care enough to get it right.
    •…is that they reflected a lack of concentration, focus, and attention to detail.
    •…is that they showed a disregard for excellent communication.

  8. Good point! Being named Paola makes my name memorable – but it is often spelled or pronounced wrong….”pay-oh-la” is one of the funniest I’ve gotten. And, thank you for the comment regarding nicknames. There isn’t a nickname for Paola, yet some people insist on calling me “Pao,” haha, even after I sign my name Paola or tell them there isn’t a nickname for my name… I just smile each time they call me Pao, oh well 🙂

  9. Ok now….! Be honest! How many of you went back to scan emails you have had with Deirdre, or anyone else who does not carry the name Bob, Tom or Lisa, for that matter? 🙂 I know I did and yes I have to admit. I am guilty. Thank you for raising this because it is indeed very important. You would think that I would be more sensitive to this issue given my last name – Jaramillo – pronounced – Ha ra me jo.

  10. njr724 says:

    It’s just as important to refer to the person you address by his or her name as they identify it. My name is Norma Jean, not Norma. It doesn’t matter how many times I correct some people, they consistently call me Norma. If they can’t be bothered to refer to me by the name I prefer, don’t bother referring to me at all. This is especially true of business people. If you can’t be bothered to refer to me appropriately, I can’t be bothered to give you my business. Yes, it is a sore point…I don’t mind correcting once or twice, but after that, it becomes an embarrassment to both of us.

  11. Jami B says:

    Totally agree with this! 99% of the time people spell my name Jamie even if I tell them its spelled Jami. Half of my extended family members have been spelling it wrong my entire life. If you spell it wrong it tells me you don’t care to ask how its spelled, you weren’t listening when I spelled it for you, or you’re assuming how its spelled and we all know what that makes you. AND I have noticed that people with very common name spellings are generally to blame for this. Because I have a different spelled name I take the time to listen and figure out how other names are spelled. It’s real simple and doesn’t take much time. It proves you care, have listening skills, and are genuinely concerned. Very good job skills!!

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