So, I am researching master courses opportunities on a university at a different country (Scotland) and I was talking to the course director via email, asking about the workload of the course and he suggested I talk to a student, and gave me her email.

When the director gave the student email, he just said "Try emailing Jo", followed by her email.

However, it sounds a little awkward to approach that person with an email starting like "Hey Jo" or "Dear Jo", given that "Jo" sounds like some sort of nickname.

"Jo" is, however, all the information I have about that person.

It might also be rude to somehow imply that Jo might be an informal name and it turns out to be an actual name, given that I don't even know where she is from.

How can I start my email?

  • Does the email address you were given give you any hints as to what the person's real name is? Jan 11, 2019 at 13:25
  • Are you able to email the course director to double-check?
    – user8671
    Jan 11, 2019 at 13:43
  • 2
    Why do you think Jo is a nickname? It's a common name.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 11, 2019 at 13:50
  • @RoryAlsop Jo might have just been a placeholder for the real name OP was given. The question is valid as in some names do sound like a nickname rather than a real name. Jan 11, 2019 at 13:51
  • 1
    @CrazyCucumber - sure. Your answer got my upvote anyway, but I was unsure
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 11, 2019 at 14:19

2 Answers 2


There are a few different ways you can go about doing this.

  1. Start the email with Hello Jo,. Jo could very well be just their nickname, but that is not for you to assume. The name you were given is Jo. Jo is all you know about the person.
  2. If you feel highly confident that their actual name is something longer than Jo, then you can either mention in the same email (or on your second email, after getting the reply to the first one) that the professor told you that their name was Jo and if it is OK if you call her by that. You could ask her if that is a nickname or the real name. Don't sound like you don't think Jo is a real name. It might very well just be her name and you might just be insulting her. Phrase your sentence like this:

    The professor told me to contact Jo, so I went with the assumption that Jo is your name. Is that OK or would you like me to address you as something else?

  3. If you don't want to do either of that, you could just start your email with Hello,. Hello is what you should use if you don't know who this email is supposed to be for. In a workplace environment, when I email a client or a support team or something, I just start my email with Hello. Then when they reply to my email, I get a "real person" attached to that email and I can go with that person for all my corresponding emails. Just start it with Hello and in their reply, watch for their signature or other clues to see how to address them in future emails. I would also take an extra step and mention that the professor told you to contact Jo. Like so:

    Blah blah and blah. I spoke to the professor regarding this and he asked me to contact Jo and gave me your email address.
    Blah blah and blah.

This will ensure that Jo knows that you are contacting them KNOWING THAT they are Jo.

Hope this helps.


If "Jo" is the only name that was given to you and that their email address does not allow you to retrieve their name, you could still send an email starting with

Dear Jo,

Upon recommendation from Course Director X., I'm contacting you today because [...]

and to avoid sounding rude by addressing them with what would appear later to be a nickname, you could join below your questions the email you received from the course director. This way, Jo will have not only the opportunity to know why you were advised to reach them, but also to see why you're calling them by Jo should this be a nickname.

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