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My lawyer delegated a college student in her office to act as my PA for a few hours yesterday. He was very helpful, and we got a lot done. Several times, I called him Michael, which I thought was his name. When I e-mailed my thanks to the lawyer, she said that she was glad Mitchell worked out.

Oops! I know what I have to do: apologize when I see him next (which will be soon) without making a big production of it.

And he should have corrected me the first time I made the mistake, but he is young and wants to make a good impression for the firm and for himself -- which he did.

I wouldn't have felt the least awkward about being corrected, and I don't feel the least bit awkward at having to apologize. Someone in my age group (retirement) and culture (middle class, DC area) would have been quick to correct me, either at work or in a social setting, with no awkwardness.

This question is really: would correcting me have seemed like a big deal to him, or was this mistake of mine so minor that he didn't think it worth mentioning?

Answers to this question will help me in understanding and interacting better with people much younger than I am -- which I increasingly have to do.

And, yes, I need to pay more attention when I am introduced to junior staff!

Addendum in response to comment: the lawyer introduced him to me a couple of weeks ago, and I next saw him when he arrived at my house, at which point I said "Hello, Michael."

  • I'd say this depends on several things. Did you have contact with Mitchell before he worked yesterday? Who told you his name, him or your lawyer? If he had already told you his name before the first time you made a misstep, he might have been more intimidated than if he hadn't. – HDE 226868 Aug 4 '17 at 21:40
  • Could you add why you believe age is a factor? Would it be different if reversed? I think it is more relevant to consider who is the customer. – user3169 Aug 4 '17 at 23:01
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    Next time (as in any professional service) get a business card up front. I do this as routine since I have a poor memory for names (though my memory otherwise is fine). – user3169 Aug 4 '17 at 23:05
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    @user3169 Far different. The older person has seen it all, many times over. I would not hesitate to correct someone who got my name wrong. (People get my last name wrong all the time.) There is also the assumption, which is often correct, that older is more senior in the hierarchy, however unstated. At least, if the older person is not over the hill. – user1760 Aug 4 '17 at 23:08
  • <comment removed> If you have an answer, please post it below. Comments do not have the features needed to properly vet what we say here, so just answering in comments starts to defeat the purpose of having this as a Stack Exchange site in the first place. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Aug 5 '17 at 14:18
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I am a young professional and I can share my opinion on this. There is a saying that customer is king, and on top of you being the customer, you are senior to him. If I were in his position, I would absolutely not correct you unless I know we will work together more in the future. What goes through my head is that first I want to please my client (you already mentioned this in your OP), secondly I respect my elders and will feel intimidated to correct you.

I also have a solution to these kind of problems, I use it regularly when interacting with new names. For every person, whether they are child or grandmas, I make it a point to always confirm their names in the beginning and end of the conversation. I am sure you being experienced, have some similar routine for new names, but this one works well for me.

Also in my perspective, you should apologize to Michael. I would definitely appreciate it, especially coming from the customer/senior professional. But I wouldn't hold it against you if you didn't apologize either, I would understand.

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    Thanks for your perspective. I definitely will apologize -- I wouldn't dream of not apologizing! – user1760 Aug 5 '17 at 1:50
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I think it really depends on the person. People mispronounce my last name all the time. It doesn't bother me at all so I don't correct them but if they ask, I will tell them. I know others of varying ages, especially those from outside the US (Indian, Hispanic, etc.), that have their names mispronounced (butchered in some cases) regularly and it doesn't bother them either. I don't know why Mitchell didn't correct you or if it bothered him or not. The only way to really know is to ask him.

In this particular case, the next time I saw Mitchell I would just say something like, "I recently realized I've been calling you Michael instead of Mitchell all this time. I apologize. Please correct me if I call you by the wrong name again." I would add some mild joke, if appropriate, like, "I prefer to call people by their given name instead of one I gave them... laugh."

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My name starts with N V Z and A. I always prefer Z (my family calls me by that).

In each of the eight schools I've attended, the names I'm stuck with are different: A, Z, NV, NVZ, AZ, etc. If it's a name that's already caught on, then I will just keep it as it is.

If it's somebody that I'm meeting for the first time, maybe I will introduce myself saying, "I'm N V Z A, but you can call me Z".

If it's someone like you, older than me, who called me by another name instead of Z, I wouldn't make a big deal of it. Although, I'd appreciate it if you call me by Z next time we meet. And I wouldn't want an apology, because I consider this a very normal sort of confusion I expect from people regarding my name.

If you had used some other name completely outside of the four options, I would not mind that as well. A lot of people pronounce Z as S in my name. It's fine too.

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It is definitely not minor, the most beautiful word to anyone is their own name; so there is no doubt that this bothered Mitchell. In my experience, people don't correct each other when someone calls them by the wrong name. I would suspect it is because the person knows it bothers them, but also knows it really shouldn't bother them that much because it's not a big deal. Also, if anyone has called someone by the wrong name they probably won't correct someone they are not comfortable with because they know that it will embarrass them.

I personally would not apologize, just start calling him by his correct name.

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Since you asked how it felt to be on the other side, I thought I'd give you the point of view of someone who's been in this position.

I'm support staff for a bunch of scientists at a major state university. The person who did my job before me had a similar name to me. I have never met her (she was gone for a year before I started) but one of the scientists has pretty consistently called me "Chris" (her name was Christine). Not always, I think. He knows that it's not my name, so it's not quite the same situation... perhaps it is worse. I'm probably 10 years his junior and, while I don't work for him directly, I see him on a daily basis.

In general, he does it on his way home. "Have a good weekend, Chris". Most of the time he doesn't address me by name.

At first I assumed that I was misunderstanding him. That lasted the first couple of times. Eventually... after several months... it became clear that he probably just hadn't assimilated that he was saying the wrong name.

Today I corrected him. He was standing and talking near my desk with our project manager and I was occasionally joining in the conversation. They both started heading out. He said "Have a good weekend, Chris" and I said, simply and without any sort of inflection, "Catherine". He stopped, did a double take and finally realized what he'd done... and probably had been doing for a while... and apologized.

And that was it.


The fact that this PA didn't correct you (to me) says something but it doesn't mean you can use it to understand how he felt. All you can really know is that, in your interactions, he wasn't interested in correcting you but you can't know whether it is because he doesn't care or simply didn't want to make you uncomfortable.

I am pretty non-confrontational. I would rather sidestep an argument than cause one... and this isn't even the sort of thing that would cause an argument... If I had been calling someone the wrong name for months I would have been mortified, so confronting him, to me, meant that I'd embarrass him. I was happier, for a time, to assume that I was hearing wrong than that he was calling me someone else's name.

Not everyone is like me. I'm very particular about my name. This is generally due to the fact I have a name that gets spelled about 50 different ways and it's rare that anyone gets it "right". So, even despite this, I didn't say anything. Some people don't care or they just assume it's better to leave a good impression than to speak up and cause them to lose face somehow.


So, to answer your question

This question is really: would correcting me have seemed like a big deal to him, or was this mistake of mine so minor that he didn't think it worth mentioning?

There's no way to know. Probably a little bit of both. If he's trying to make a good impression because you might hire him full time or he can use you as a reference, it may be better for him to let his boss do what she did. Correct you in a passive way by asking "How did Mitchell do?" It's completely possible that he texted your lawyer after he left and said "It went great but he called me Michael the entire time".

DC is a scary place with some very influential people. I lived there for a year before I decided it wasn't for me. You never know who you're going to be working with when you're there or how they're going to react - or overreact to things.

What can you do in the future? Get their name in writing. If you can't pronounce it, ask. If you see Mitchell again, tell him that you misheard his name and encourage him to speak up in the future.

In closing, all I can say is this:

Call me anything you want as long as it's not "Late for dinner".

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