Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Wednesday: What's in a name?

I love my name. My parents actually picked it from a magazine before I was born and thought it was so pretty.

What I don't love is when people misspell it — and believe me, this has happened more times than I can remember. When I was in kindergarten, the peer tutors in my class spelled it a million different ways and caused a mini identity crisis (seriously, a five-year-old has enough trouble trying to write her name without other people writing it wrong)! I've seen it as Lyndsey, Linzi, Lyndsee, Lynzie and Lindsey, just to name a few.

Ironically, my parents spelled my name in the traditional way, with an ay, and didn't Idahoify it (if you're from either Idaho or Utah, you know what I'm talking about). So I find it interesting that there are still people who spell my name wrong at work, even though it's written correctly in my email address.

You might be thinking, So what? If people have been spelling your name wrong since you were five years old, I think you can get over it. And you would be right. But here are a few reasons you should make sure to spell your friends' and co-workers names correctly, especially if they're hard to spell:
  • Spelling someone's name wrong shows that you're not paying attention to details. I have to admit, I get a little miffed when a doctor's office or our insurance company (true story) misspells my name on a document or claim, because it shows a lack of detail. But no one appreciates getting a letter or email from someone in too big of a hurry to write their name correctly.
  • Spelling a friend's name correctly (particularly a unique name) makes them feel special. I have a co-worker who spells her name Eleonore, and she was so flattered when I emailed her to clarify the spelling of both her first and last name (which is African and very difficult to spell). People take notice when you make an effort to write their name correctly, especially if it's often misspelled or they have to constantly repeat it to others.
  • Misspelling someone's name lowers your credibility. OK, this is more for you writers/journalists out there, but I had a college professor who would give us an automatic 10 percent deduction on papers and news stories if we misspelled someone's name. Why? Because if you spell a council member's name wrong in The New York Times, it's all anyone talks about — regardless of whether you wrote a Pulitzer-winning article. It was a lesson I learned quickly after I spelled actor Steve Carell's last name wrong in a lifestyle piece. :)
So, lest you think I am an expert at this, rest assured that I am not. There are people with traditional names like Jessica or Rachel that throw me for a loop with unexpected spellings. I even have a co-worker named Heide and have to remind myself not to misspell her name. But I have learned a few tips over the years that may help.
  • Ask people to spell their name when you first meet them. Obviously, you don't want to do this all the time because it would get annoying (and there are some names, like Bob, that are pretty hard to misspell). But if your acquaintance has a unique name or one with numerous spellings, just ask. I am always flattered when people ask me if I'm Lindsay-with-an-a or Lindsay-with-an-e because it means that they're considerate and will probably spell it right in the future. Bonus: This is a great way to remember someone's name if you struggle with that, and it can be a cool conversation-starter, too.
  • Make a mental note when you meet someone with a uniquely spelled name. As I mentioned before, sometimes you just have to memorize the spelling when you meet Heide or Trycen (yes, I know someone with this name) so that you don't spell the name wrong later. It might require saying a little phrase in your head, like Katherine-with-a-k (Anne of Green Gables fans, unite!), but it really helps.
  • Slow down when you're writing a letter or email and double-check name spelling. A few months ago, I had to completely redo a card I made because I spelled the recipient's name wrong — "Sherrie" with an ie instead of "Sherri." Sure, it was a tiny mistake. But since I know how frustrating it can be to have someone spell your name wrong, I actually pasted a new piece of paper over the inside of the card so I could rewrite the message, and the card ended up looking like crap. Bottom line: Pay attention the first time so you don't have to redo something or send out an email with a misspelled name that makes the recipient feel let down.
  • Don't be afraid to ask other people for help. If you're too chicken to ask your friend to remind you how to spell her name (which you shouldn't be; like I said, most people are flattered that you'd ask and love to talk about their names' origins), ask her boyfriend or her mom or someone close to her so you don't write "Happy birthday, Sarah!" on her cake and find out that it's actually spelled Sara.
  • Pay attention to names on social media. There's nothing more embarrassing than writing on someone's Facebook wall and realizing you spelled his name wrong when it was listed just an inch above your post on his profile. If you're in doubt about spelling, just take a few extra seconds to check out a friend's name and be sure you've typed it correctly.
  • Apologize once when you misspell someone's name — and then try hard not to do it again. Most people will forgive a misspelled name once or twice; it happens to everyone. But if you are consistently spelling a friend's name wrong, you'll hurt her feelings and lose a bit of her trust. The good news is, if you spell her name incorrectly once and she mentions it, you'll probably remember how to spell it in the future.
Do you have a unique or hard-to-spell name? What are your tips for spelling names correctly?


  1. Ha! Love your reasons....
    A few months ago, someone (in an email) said to me, "thank you, Jessica".
    I didn't bother reminding him that my name is Alex. I figured there were enough reminders...starting with my email address and ending with my signature block.
    It's funny (and sometimes annoying) when people don't take the time to look at the correct spelling...or the correct name... :)

  2. I love this post--mainly because my maiden name is Nielsen, and so I can totally empathize with constant misspellings!

  3. Very well done Lindsay! So true! I knew you would come out with an Anne of Green Gables reference somewhere in there ;) My name also has innumerable incorrect spellings...


Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.