Getting Names Right

The Vital Importance Thereof

people wearing nametags
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Be meticulous about getting people's names right, both the pronunciation and the spelling. It is not only a sign of proper respect, but it is also smart, and it can save you a lot of headaches down the line. Indeed, people whose names are often mangled by the lazy or the inattentive will respect you all the more when you make the effort to get them right. By doing so, you also will show yourself to be someone who pays close attention to detail.

Additionally, making a positive personal connection in this fashion is often a key element in successful networking.

The Biggest Name in Football:

As a second string linebacker with the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in the 1960s, Marty Schottenheimer was a bit taken aback when a teammate told him in earnest tones that he was "the biggest name in football." Never mind not being a star, Marty rarely got any playing time, so this comment puzzled him greatly.

Then it sunk in, and Marty got a good laugh at the comment. At a total of 14 letters, "Schottenheimer" indeed was a big name. It was so big that it could not fit across his shoulders on the back of his uniform. Instead, it wrapped around in an arc roughly from elbow to elbow. Such was one of numerous funny anecdotes told in the history of the American Football League as presented in the documentary series Full Color Football, which originally aired on Showtime in September and October of 2009 to celebrate the AFL’s 50th anniversary.

Happily, Marty put all that time on the sidelines to good use. He became a keen observer of the game and, though he never got especially far as a player, he later had a lengthy career as a head coach.

Assume Nothing With Short Names:

In a group specializing in management science, information technology, business economics and sales forecasting at the old Western Electric division of AT&T (the forerunner of what is now called Lucent-Alcatel; Western Electric later would be spun off from AT&T as Lucent Technologies in the 1990s, then acquired in the next decade by Alcatel of France), there was an analyst named Kim Horn.

Whenever she left a message on the telephone, she would always spell her name. Her closing mantra of "that's K-I-M, H-O-R-N" got her some good-natured ribbing from folks with much longer names.

Still, she was wise to leave nothing to chance. Though "Horn" was indeed the most likely spelling, her surname actually might be "Horne," never mind "Hoarn" or "Hoern," among numerous other possible variations. Better to be sure that the listener got the correct spelling, rather than simply assuming.

Case Study in Pronunciation Versus Spelling:

A manager in JPMorgan Chase was working with a consultant on management reporting and information technology issues. This manager was very cavalier about getting the spelling of people's names right, and assigned the consultant to track down someone at Oppenheimer Funds, then a third party vendor of retirement plans to business clients of the bank. The manager was looking for a man named Bill Schories, his surname being pronounced like "Shuh-REESE." The manager had met Schories but failed to get his business card.

Schories pronounced his name just like that of the dancer and actress Cyd Charisse, but no person with that spelling was in Oppenheimer’s directory.

When the consultant asked the Chase manager if she knew the spelling, her unprofessional reaction was to shrug and say that she did not know, and did not really care to know. Since no one would ever think that "Schories" was indeed the correct spelling for a name pronounced in this fashion, the manager's lack of attention to detail made the search a lot longer and more difficult than it need have been, delaying a key aspect of the project in the process.