Do You Take “Assumptive Name Privileges”?

by Paul Castain on November 16, 2011

An “Assumptive Name Privilege” is taken any time you assume that you know, definitively, what someone wants to be called.

Meanwhile you haven’t been told, nor have you asked.

It occurs when you turn a Katherine into a “Kathy” or “Kat”

Perhaps a Robert into a “Rob” “Robbie” or “R to the O to the B to the E to the R to the T”

And morphing a Richard into a “Dick” is just asking for trouble!

This is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”


Because if I call Katherine “Kat” but she prefers Katherine, I just went all informal on Katherine and struck out.

If I go all formal and meanwhile she’s “Miss Casual ‘Kat’” then I just struck out.

Oh and thanks to several creative folks who like to trip up the world, what if she pronounces it “Kathereeeeeeeen” or something. Then I really strike out.

Actually I put that one on her . . . tripping me up like that! As if I don’t have enough things to make me look like an idiot.

So what’s an aspiring rock star to do?

First and foremost, you must never make an assumption. Doing so makes an ass of u and mption. To that end . . .

1)   If you’re calling a prospect, consider calling their direct line during off hours. Hopefully you get their voice mail and it clears it all up.

2)   When you receive an email from someone, take a minute to scroll down and see how they sign off. This works brilliantly with social networking invites too by the way.

3)   Ask . . .  But Take Ownership Of The Awkwardness. If you feel funny asking what someone prefers to be called, put it on you. Example “Forgive me if this is a silly question, but your name is important to me. Do you prefer to be called Deborah?” Now if they respond with “What? How the hell do you assume ‘Deborah’ when my name is Thomas?” either run away really fast or learn to fake a heart attack.

You need to do your part too!

Make sure you make it easy for others to call you by your preferred name by . . .

Signing off that way on emails, invites etc

Using that name on your voice mail

Consider your nick name in quotes on your business card, social networking profile etc.

Dale Carnegie once said that “the sweetest sound, in any language is the sound of one’s own name”

It’s always that much sweeter when we get it right

So please allow me to practice what I preach by signing off with my preferred name . . .

“P to the A to the U to the L” or simply

“The Artist Formerly Known As ‘Uncle Paul’”


Today’s News If you find value in this blog and would like to know all the cool ways we could work together, check this out!

  • Adam

    Great post Paul, I think this challenges many of us quite frequently. As for emails I usually refer to a person with their sign-off name vs their full name if it is different.

    Otherwise I typically use their full name and will straight up ask if they prefer A or B or sometimes C.

    A little side note: I was attending an event on the weekend and the person with whom I was speaking needed my name to fill out a form. I gave them Adam and they asked “Traditional spelling?” — I really had to bite my tongue, I almost legit LOLed. However, I am still curious what the non-traditional spelling is!

  • paulcastain

    Ha . . . I believe the non traditional spelling of Adam is ekle

  • paulcastain

    Damn . . . I tried to cut and past some symbols and it didn’t work.

    Hate when an attempt to be funny backfires :)

  • Debra Rayborn

    Love this post Paul.  I learned to ask a long time ago by finding out the hard way.  A lot of Richards don’t like being called – well you know.

  • paulcastain

    Thanks Debra!

    I made “The Richard Faux Pas” recently too but the dude’s name was John. He didn’t appreciate my rebuttal which was “I’m awfully sorry but you look like a . . .” :)

  • Michael Musolf

    Good post. Drives me crazy when I introduce myself as Michael and am immediately called Mike. When it doubt ask what their preference is.

  • Jacob Yount

    As a “Jacob”, you learn that your 2nd name is “Jake”…very few if any questions asked.  Funny post, Pizzaul!

  • Jon Herman


    I was just speaking about this yesterday again and laughed when I saw this today. A very common one I run into is converting Andrew to Andy, be careful with that one :P. Personally, I am now very careful with names, but could care less how people brutalize Jon into John, Jonathan, etc. I only care on legal docs and just make a mental note that this person is not detail oriented enough in certain areas or just does not care about me enough and adjust accordingly.

  • paulcastain

    I hear ya Michael.

    For years it annoyed me to no end when some people defaulted to calling me “Paulie”

    I’m OK with it now. At least my therapist seems to agree :)

    Thanks Michael!

  • paulcastain

    “Pizzaul” was my maiden name Jacob :)

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Hope all is well in China my friend!

  • Debbie

    Good thoughts – thanks for sharing.  I also check the voice message.  I have messed up when only an email address and not sure what is the first name and what is the last.  My apologies, any suggestions?


  • Tetcheson

    Nice.  Found out the hard way that Germans (and possibly other Europeans) in position of authority may prefer to be addressed as “Mr. So and so” instead of by their first name until you have had a chance to get to know them. 

  • Susan Alexander

    I’m so glad to see a post on this, Paul.  I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’m the only one who cares about this.  Guess not.  Good to know.  My name is Susan and I always introduce myself as that.  It gets instantly under my skin when someone goes right away to “Sue.” It suggests to me right off the bat that they’re the sort of person who’s not really listening, or who has that ubiquitous knack for processing what’s been said into something different – something they’re comfortable with.

    Which is to say, in the context of sales, that I know right away they’re not someone I’m going to buy something from.  :-)

  • Edward (Eddie) Rowan

    Another great post Uncle Paul, In conversation I also try to get the correct spelling of the person’s name so I don’t offend when sending a letter/emai to Steven instead of Stephen.

  • paulcastain

    Thanks Eddie (I’m assuming that’s cool because of the way you have it in parenthesis) You raise a much needed point and quite frankly I’ve butchered that one myself!

    Well done!

    Thanks for stopping by and contributing!

  • paulcastain

    Well stated Susan (imagine if I had just called you “Sue” :)  ) 

    We often underestimate the importance of one’s name.

    BTW . . . loved the youtube video you sent me on this. Still tapping  my foot to it :)

    Thanks again Susan!

  • paulcastain

    Now there’s one that I was taught as a youngin and got away from because I felt it was too formal.

    Great point Mr Etcheson :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • paulcastain

    I just flat out ask because the awkwardness of asking pales in comparison to calling Anders Frank “Anders” when it was Frank Anders all along.

    Thanks for contributing to our discussion Debbie!

  • paulcastain

    I’ve been guilty of taking assumptive name privileges on all of the examples you provided Jon!

    Thanks for stopping by and have a great Thursday!

  • Daniel “discount code”

    Do you prefer “Uncle”, or “Paul” : )

  • paulcastain

    Great point Howard.

    Many years ago, my Dad taught me that you can’t go wrong starting out with respect.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • paulcastain

    HA . . . I go by both aliases :)

  • Jennifer Norene

    I use the formal name until I know otherwise. Good post – thanks. 

  • Erik Wolterink

    Especially Germans ‘in authority’ can indeed be quite annoyed if you do not use “Herr….” of “Frau…..”. You can only use their first names after you’ve been invited to do so. The invitation will contain the name you ‘are allowed’ to use.

  • Scott Metteauer

    Good discussion, My name is pretty standard and when people call me Scotty it is usually when we become more than acquaintances. It’s funny how I don’t mind if I really like the person…

  • Dave Bowers

    I’m reminded of a guy I worked for 20 years ago. When addressing someone with a difficult or “exotic” name, he would pause for a fraction odf a second before saying it. He always had the correct pronunciation and the pause generally left the impression that he was a bit peeved at having to work to pronounce the name correctly.

  • paulcastain

    I like the idea of pausing like that Dave.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing that!

  • paulcastain

    That’s a great line Kimberly :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • paulcastain

    Great point Scott . . . we need to earn that right!

  • paulcastain

    Better safe than sorry Jennifer . . . Great point!

    Thank you for taking the time to contribute!

  • Marc Zazeela

    How lucky to have a four letter first name, like Marc or Paul.  Removes the  mystery immediately.  And, as you mention, folks like to hear their own names when they addressed and pronounced as they prefer.

    Also, asking them for their preference is deferring to their authority.  Also, something that folks like.  I always ask and often the answer can be revealing and lead to further conversation.

  • @sandyhubbard

    The other extreme is when peope try to formalize a name. My cousin Abbey is not Abigal; my buddy Jamie is not James; and though I am Sandra, only my dad calls me that. I guess you’d call that presumptive formalificationism.

  • Don Andersen

    Great post, Obi Wan:-) Funny, I just had this conversation with a friend of mine. I always ask how they’d like to be addressed. Learned it a long time ago from my father. If I’m meeting in person for the first time I say, “What a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Castain. Do you prefer to be addressed as Mr. Castain?” BAM! There are many ways to address it but you get the picture. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people assume. Bad move.

    Thanks for keeping it real, Uncle Paul!!!

  • paulcastain

    Smart advice from your dad Don.

    You really can’t go wrong taking a safe, respectful route like that.

    Thank you for stopping by my friend!

Previous post:

Next post: