A reader writes:
One of my long-term staff has a common, easy-to-pronounce Indian name, but since well before I was hired, she was given a nickname: a westernised version of her name. We were chatting about my (slightly unusual) name one day, and she expressed that she hates the nickname, wishes people would just use her real name, and that she’s never felt confident asking people to do so. I offered, as her manager, to handle this for her, and she agreed, stating that she’d be grateful.
Responses were mixed but generally negative, and many of the team are refusing to call her anything but the nickname. The general consensus is that it’s “prettier” or that her name “isn’t very feminine.” When asked directly, she finds it difficult to be rude, so will only say that she prefers her full name. It’s now at the point where I’m having to inform my new senior manager that the nickname isn’t appropriate, because staff members have informed her that the nickname is preferred.
I had a conversation today with one team member about this, and she informed me that unless she’s told by the person with the nickname that she “only wants to be called by her other name,” she will continue to use the nickname when speaking about her to coworkers or clients, or directly to her. I feel that this is vastly inappropriate, but without my staff member having the confidence to address this more strongly, there doesn’t seem to be much I can do. That said, it seems disrespectful at the very least.
Should I push further on what, to most of the team, is a minor issue, or let it go and hope that my team member can stand up for herself?
This reminds me of last week’s letter from the manager whose employee was harassing a coworker about her prosthetic limb.
That manager needed to use her authority to put a stop to something offensive, and so do you. You don’t need to talk anyone into behaving respectfully; you need to tell them that it’s not optional.
Your staff members’ behavior here is, frankly, disgusting. They want to westernize someone’s name because her actual name isn’t “pretty” or “feminine” enough for them? No. That’s not an option, they’re being
offensive, and you need to require them to behave respectfully and not like the giant assholes they’re currently being.
Talk with each of the offenders individually and say this: “We’ve talked about this before and I erred in not being clear enough — Parvati’s name isn’t Polly; it’s Parvati. She’s asked that we use her correct name, and that’s what you need to call her going forward. I need you to be vigilant about respecting that request and calling her Parvati from now on.”
If you get any of this crap about “not unless she tells me herself that she only wants to be called by her real name,” stamp that out immediately. Say this: “No. I’m telling you clearly right now that she has asked to be called Parvati, and that I expect you to do that — and I expect you to do that without giving her any trouble about it. Can you agree to do that?”
You’re asking that last part — “can you agree to do that?” — because you want the person to commit to it here and now … and if they’re still reluctant, you want to find that out before you end the conversation.
But you absolutely, 100% need to do this. Your employee has told you very clearly that she prefers her given name, and you cannot allow her colleagues to decide to westernize her name for their own comfort. Get it stopped today. Seriously, this is horrible.
my employees refuse to call their coworker by her real name was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.