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Misnaming, revisited

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, short

A few weeks ago, I mused about ways in which people are misnamed. In that musing, I focused on issues in which someone knows someone else’s name but pronounces it wrong (e.g., pronouncing Jeff as Yeff), spells it wrong (e.g., Jacbosonn rather than Jacobsen [1] or Sarah rather than Sara), or inverts first and last name (e.g., addressing Sam Alexander as if their first name is Alex).

The Facebook responses that I received showed a lot of frustration at these issues, but also at the more extreme versions of misnaming, in which they get addressed by the wrong name or receive email that was not intended for them

Many folks get irritated when someone calls them a name other than their own. It may be the name of someone who looks like them [2]. It may be their dead name [3]. It may be the name of a relative. It may be a name that is not clearly associated with them.

Middle Son experiences that feeling with some regularity. For example, when he was elected as a senator, it was announced that Samuel Rebelsky is your senator from Smounker. He also gets email that is intended for me, and I sometimes get email that is intended for him [4]. Don’t worry; he usually forwards the email to me and then deletes it immediately. In cases in which it is a FERPA violation, he also notifies an appropriate person [5].

Middle is not the first person to get email intended for me; Eldest also got received email for me with some regularity. One of my favorite such instances was when there was a discussion of active bystander training [6] that I was attending. Jen Jacobsen sent out a message that said something like Don’t forget to attend the dissuasion of active bystander training. While he had no memory of agreeing to attend such a session, he is both a trained bystander and a trainer, and since he trusted Jen explicitly, he assumed that the email was intended for him and he showed up [7].

For some time, Mark French was likely the most common recipient of misaddressed email at Grinnell. His email was just [french] [8]. If I recall correctly, he got email intended for Chris French, Brigittine French [9], and the French Department [10].

I certainly fall into the category of those who don’t pay enough attention to their email autocomplete and therefore send messages to the wrong recipient. Like Middle, I’ve encountered times that I intend to send a message to myself but instead send it to another member of my family. I still don’t understand autocomplete in Apple Mail; even though I send email to myself more frequently than I sent email to any other members of my department, it rarely lists my name. One of my former advisees, named Michael, reminds me that I was too used to typing Mich to send email to Michelle and often ended up sending email to him instead. These days, I sometimes mix up the three Karlas to whom I often send email.

I’ll admit that I also fall into the category of misnamers [11]. There are students who have similar name patterns that I’ve inverted with some regularity, even when one graduated and the other hadn’t. I regularly used the same name for two of my research students, who did not look or act similarly. In the past, I’ve used a student’s dead name much more than they considered acceptable. For some reason, my brain can’t always pick the right name for someone. I know that I’m not alone in this. Strangely, I’m often able to describe them (e.g., CS major from Minnesota, plays Ultimate, studied abroad in India, TA for my 300-level course and CS major from Massachusetts, plays Ultimate, also doing education, studied abroad in Central or South America) even when I name people incorrectly.

It’s not fun to be misnamed. However, in most cases, the people doing the misnaming are not doing so intentionally; I expect that most people doing the misemailing aren’t doing so intentionally, either. I know it can be hard, but when you are misnamed, please take a deep breath, accept that it was likely unintentional, and correct the person gently.

However, if you get misdirected email that contains FERPA-protected information, make sure to report it to the College’s FERPA officer [12].

[1] In high school, I had a friend named Jenney, with the extra e. I’m not sure that anyone every spelled their name correctly. Their mother’s name also had an unusual spelling.

[2] Unfortunately, some people experience other peoples’ broad view of looks like you, such as has a similar skin color to you.

[3] For those not familiar with the terminology, the term dead name is often used to refer to someone’s previous name, most frequently when the name change has accompanied a gender change.

[4] I believe that there was at least one time when he sent me email that he wanted to send to himself. It’s the wonder of computer autocomplete.

[5] At times, I do so, too. In the rare times that he’s gotten info about one of my advisees, they’ve understood.

[6] Yes, active bystander is one of my favorite oxymorons.

[7] I did, too.

[8] It was before the days of everyone needs eight letters, except for high-level administrators. It was also not in the year of Let’s reveal students’ intended graduation year.

[9] I expect that Brigittine also finds that her name is regularly misspelled. I’ve known her for nearly two decades, and I’ll admit that I sometimes have to check to make sure that I’ve doubled the right letter.

[10] Now the Department of French and Arabic.

[11] More accurately, frequent misnamers.

[12] At Grinnell, that’s our Registrar.

Version 1.0 of 2019-12-29.