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Don't fail at the name game


Pharmaceutical Representative

The name is perhaps a person's most valuable possession.

"A good name is better than riches"

– Cervantes

The name is perhaps a person's most valuable possession. It helps carry on a family line, is used in formal and informal gatherings, and, hopefully, conjures up a good image each time it's spoken.

Is it any wonder then that people can get upset when their name is mispronounced, misspelled, abbreviated or – perhaps worse yet – forgotten?

Business encounters are no different than everyday life. A person's name is their prized possession. It represents a reputation and is a calling card of sorts. There are points of protocol to follow when it comes to using a person's name in business – whether client or prospect, vendor or coworker.

Remembering the rules of the name game can help you win in the end.


Never assume you've guessed the person's nickname, or that it's OK to use one if you do know it. Some people only have their closest friends and family use nicknames.

Along the same lines, never shorten a person's name if the option exists. For example, don't call someone named Richard "Dick," or "Rick" unless they have specifically asked you to do so. A woman named Elizabeth also shouldn't be called "Liz" unless she asks you to do so.

I've seen business cards that have a preferred nickname in quote marks or parentheses in the middle of a formal name. If you see this, you have been given permission to use their nickname. Otherwise, wait for their cue. If the person doesn't say, "Please call me Jim," then continue to call him James.

Of course, it's always a good idea to ask, "What do you prefer to be called?"

Telephone name tips

As a caller on the phone, do you use a person's first and/or last name when asking to speak to him or her? What about when making a sales phone call – does the caller need to give his or her first and last name?

Telephone Selling Report newsletter (go to www.businessbyphone.com for more information) has the answer to both questions. An article in this publication suggests that people use both first and last names if they are making cold calls or calls to those who don't know them very well. "This builds your credibility and professionalism, and eases any skepticism that might be present," the article states.

If you have an established relationship with a client or vendor, using your last name is not necessary. You can also say something like "Hi Jim. It's Miriam at Brody Communications." Always go into the call assuming the person answering the phone does NOT know your name or voice – especially if your name is not unusual. There aren't as many Miriams out there as Steves or Jims.

First or last name?

Don't be too informal or casual if you know the person's first name. It may be OK to say it once – figure out the context of the call and how you learned the proper name. Listen to the other person's cues. Don't call her "Ms. Brody" if she said Marjorie.

The Telephone Selling Report suggests:

Pay particular attention to how people answer their phones. If the person says, "Hi, this is Joe," responding with "Hello Mr. Smith, this is…" is too formal.

Use your gut. If the person on the other end has a warm and engaging personality from the beginning of the call, you could get away with using their first name.

Only use first names if the permission is implied or stated. The safest way is to ask. Say "By the way, please call me Frank. May I call you Jane?"

If you're the caller making a sales call, it also is extremely helpful to get the administrative assistant's or gatekeeper's name. Then, the next time you call, you can say something like "Hi, is this Anne Marie?" It starts the conversation out on a good note and makes this person more receptive to helping you.


What if, despite your best efforts, you can't remember the person who's calling you? You can't always blame the computer – "Darn, my system is slow. I can't seem to get to your listing here in my database. How do you spell that last name again?" This excuse may backfire if the person's last name is Jones – after all, how else could you spell this common last name?

Consider asking the caller who's only provided a proper name for his or her company name. This may help jar your memory for recalling the last name, or at least aid your finding the person in the database under a company name.

Face to face introductions

Despite your best efforts, there will be times when you simply cannot remember someone's name when making a face-to-face introduction. What should you do?

The clever way would be to introduce the person whose name you know. Say, "I don't believe you've met Marjorie Brody, have you?" This will almost always result in the third person making a comment like, "No. We've never met. My name is Frank Jones."

If no one introduces you to an unfamiliar person, it's OK to take the initiative. Extend your hand as you say, "My name is Marjorie Brody. I don't believe we've met." If the person doesn't say his or her name, then add "and your name is?"

The best approach is to be honest. Tell the person you're sorry, but you need a reminder.

Inject some humor into what could be an awkward situation.

I like to say, "I'm having another senior moment, can you tell me your name again, please?" This almost always gets a laugh and, of course, the person's name.

If you follow the rules of meeting and greeting, have creativity, charm and a lot of tact, you, too, can win at the name game. PR

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