That’s Not My Name!

My Name Is

Ever been called the wrong name or had it be spelt out incorrectly at work? Then these could be the reasons why…

For people who have names or surnames that delve on the unusual or complex side, the workplace environment can sometimes prove to be a tricky place. From misspelling someone’s name in an email due to autocorrect or to missing out important letters when speaking to someone in person, not addressing someone by their correct name can be a bugbear for many. And for those who are guilty of the mistake, it can soon turn good meaning communication into something a bit more awkward. Whilst this can usually be solved with name badges, it’s not always ideal to have one with you all the time.

My Name Is…

As a recent BBC article highlights, calling someone the wrong name or mispronouncing their name is more common that you’d expect. In fact, when Nana Marfo, a worker in the civil service began his new employment, he was subject to a strange informal change of name. Marfo comments that while some colleagues had managed to get it right, there were several that instead branded him with a new one.

“One day a client came to our department and started calling me ‘Nandos’. When I asked why he had called me that, he said that’s how my colleague had pronounced my name on the initial visit. At that point, I was beyond trying to correct people, and since then have been nicknamed ‘Nandos’.

Frustrated that people around him were unable to address him correctly, Marfo didn’t think it was worth taking it further with the company adding:

“I didn’t feel this situation was something higher management could correct.”

A Matter of Respect

Whilst Marfo unwillingly let his new nickname stick with him at work, Head of People at Smart Energy GB, Sorrel Shalet, doesn’t take the issue so lightly. In fact, according to Shalet, her first name has caused her the most issues when meeting with customers and clients.

“When I introduce myself, I often get ‘that’s OK’ as a response. They think I’ve said that I’m sorry. Usually it doesn’t bother me too much, but sometimes I tell the person, to help pronounce correctly, ‘My name rhymes with coral’. Using a familiar rhyming word usually does the trick.”

Sorrel believes however, that being called the wrong name is something that you should follow up if it’s causing you grief. “If someone get your name wrong in the workplace, I would speak to them about it. It’s likely they haven’t realised their mistake.” She also adds: “You could ask your manager or someone from the HR team to raise it informally with them on your behalf” if you don’t feel comfortable confronting anyone who gets your name wrong.

Power Play?

Often, these types of misnaming incidents are purely accidental, albeit embarrassing and potentially awkward. But is there another side to getting someone’s name wrong, particularly between a manager and an employee? It’s often been suggested that some managers might call an employee the wrong name at times on purpose, as a form of power play. The reaction they are hoping to receive from this is one of disappointment. Tactically, a manager might be hoping that this will encourage one of their workers to improve on their current efforts in order to gain the correct recognition from them.

Another theory surrounding not attributing someone with their correct name is one perhaps more relevant outside of the workplace. In fact, it might mean the total opposite of an aggressive play of power. Instead, it may mean you love that person. According to an American research study, 1,700 participants were asked if they have ever been misnamed or misnamed someone else. Following this, they were also asked what name they used instead and what relationship they were to that person.

The Scientific Reason

Their study indicated that misnaming is equally as common across all age groups. And when looking at things from a psychological standpoint, the research team further explains that this could be due to our likelihood to store all related people, things and places in something known as a ‘mental semantic network’.

“When we try to remember something, units in our semantic network are activated; when enough units relevant to a concept are activated, the information reaches a threshold, and we remember it. Through a process called ‘spreading activation’, other information related to a concept may also be activated – this may lead to errors if incorrect information reaches a threshold and is remembered, such as the name of a loved one.”

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Sam Rose

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