Nixing Nicknames?


    How do you get your project manager at work to use your preferred nickname and not your full name, especially since he uses his nickname all the time, even when he signs emails? You’d think if anyone would get it, he would.

    Dear Miriam,

    How do I get my project manager, whose name is in the system at work as James but who introduces himself as Jimmy, signs his emails as Jimmy and whom everyone calls Jimmy, to use my preferred nickname and to stop calling me by my full name? You’d think he’d get it…


    Dear Nick,

    What, that's not how you signed your letter? Oh, sorry.

    Have you tried to talk to him about your name preference? If you have already, then he’s not paying attention, or he doesn’t see the parallels between his preferences and yours or he’s so self-centered that he doesn’t think other people’s preferences matter. It’s also possible that he’s just really bad with names, which is a skill in which some people are deficient, and despite their best intentions, they just can’t remember what to call people.

    Regardless of the reason, or, if you’ve never addressed the issue directly, it’s time to share your preferences assertively. Next time you have a one-on-one meeting with your project manager, say to him professionally and directly, “Please call me Ben. I prefer it to my full name. It’s what everyone calls me, and I’d appreciate it if you’d call me that, too.” Don’t make any reference to his nickname or to his past offenses. Say your piece and move on with the meeting. If, during the meeting, he calls you Benjamin, simply follow up by saying, “Ben.” Hopefully by the end of the meeting, he’ll catch on.

    If he doesn’t, or if, following this meeting, he reverts back to his old ways, you’ll need to decide how much you want to press the issue. Of course you want to be comfortable at work, but you also don’t want Jimmy to think of you as overly critical or fixated on what he might see as a minor semantic issue, as this could ultimately affect your success in your job.

    An acquaintance of mine always calls my husband “Dave.” (His name is Marc.) I corrected him the first few times it happened and finally decided that it just wasn’t worth going through the routine of correction and apology. In this situation, the acquaintance wasn’t regularly interacting with Marc, so Marc wasn’t directly bothered by it, whereas Jimmy is someone with whom you presumably need to interact a lot, not to mention someone to whom you report. Ultimately, you need to balance your name preferences with your other measurements for success at work.  You can either continue to correct him, or you can smile and nod, then walk away and whisper, “Ben,” under your breath.

    Be well,