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IT Department Pet Peeve

This question is just fluff, but, hey, it's the weekend.  When I started off programming in 1989 I worked at a small software company, and people addressed me by my last name.  Later I took a job at a large software company and people again called me by my last name.  Now I work in a Fortune 200 company, and in IT rather than working on software which gets sold.  People here insist on calling me by my first name, which I'm uncomfortable with, and even worse, they insist on calling me 'Robert' instead of 'Bob'. 

This seems like a stupid, leucocratic, politically correct mandate from some corporate HR type.  I always thought that this first name business was for the touchy-feeling sales & marketing folks - not engineers.  Am I right, or do all companies nowadays wanna pretend they're your buddy by being on a phony first name basis?  Just my pet peeve.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

I think you're being a little overly sensitive.  At my workplace, everyone except physicians are addressed by their first name.  There aren't any HR drones here, so that's clearly not the source of it.  Now that I think about it a  little more, I can't remember ever working anywhere where people didn't address each other by their first names.

Matt Latourette
Saturday, October 4, 2003

Hm... I think you shuld have some fun with it. When they call you "Robert", just smile and say "Mr. Jones, Bob is a little informal for me, just call me Mr. Smith."

If you play it right, you could develop a reputation as being the quirky formal guy, which people will take to mean you must be a mysterious and elusive genius.

Once they get used to that one, bring in a few more one by one -- perhaps install a shoe rack in your office with 9 pairs of shoes and insist that folks entering your office remove their shoes. This particular example I learned from a guy who used this method to get big raises and be considered indispensable. It's all part of the magic.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, October 4, 2003

I hadn't given this much thought... maybe it is a "culture" thing, which may explain why I haven't thought about it.  I guess that would be equally true.

I see it this way.  Your name is your identity, and unless you just want to disappear as an individual into the herd, you decide what you want to be called.

I go by Joe.  Whenever I answer the phone at work, it's always with "This is Joe".  Period.  Only at one place I worked (way in the past), was there a "rule" to answer the work phone with a specific phrase, and I always broke that rule.  It was too long for me.

Unfortunately my email address was set up prior to me starting this position as "Joseph".  That does confuse some people when they look for Joe.

With a name like Robert/Bob there may be another aspect since it is a common name.  On this project we have eight different people with Robert/Bob.  It can get very confusing on a conference call.

Joe AA
Saturday, October 4, 2003

Probably could get an answer out of google, but I'm here now, so oh well.

What's the ratio of unique last names to first names? Anybody have any idea?

Saturday, October 4, 2003

This fascinates me, as I have never worked in a workplace where people were addressed by their last names (apart from "frat" type 'Forbsey!' variations). Do people really work in workplaces where people address each other as Mr. Surname? That sounds absurd.

Dennis Forbes
Saturday, October 4, 2003

I generally try to go by "Philo"


Saturday, October 4, 2003

Hm how odd. I've worked at places with 30, 200, 2000 and 30,000 employees  and never once have I encountered a culture where they called people by their last name.

le bob
Saturday, October 4, 2003

At a school maybe? Teachers are addressed by students as Mr. Surname,  but by other teachers as FirstName. Except in Boston Public when they are in trouble.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

It's not so uncommon.

Doctor Smithson, patient to see you!

Would Mr. Peabody please step to the front desk?

Senator Goodfellow is a lunatic!

Also, in many asian cultures people are called by their surnames, even informally. This sometimes carries over to the west -- I have several asian friends whom I address by their surname, as does everyone who knows them. Most don't realize it's a surname though.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, October 4, 2003

I often feel a little funny addressing people who are much more senior than me by their first names. I typically try to compensate by addressing them as Sir or Ma'am when it fits the conversation.

I'm another vote for a return to more formality in the workplace. I've been interviewing lately, and I find it a bit bizarre to be addressing my prospective boss by his first name, 5 seconds after I'm introduced to him.

Rob VH
Saturday, October 4, 2003

bob's experience seems unusual.  To make matters more complicated he doesn't tell us what country he is located in and whether he prefers to be addessed as "Mr. Surname" or just "Surname".

I've been in the software business since well before 1989.  People who would be considered colleagues, which usually meant all company employees, used first names.  Anyone who insisted on being referred to as "Mr. Surname" would be considered an oddity.

As a fan of Sir A. C. Doyle I have thought it an interesting characteristic of those times that his main characters refer to each other as "Watson" and "Holmes" rather than by first name, even though they were close friends.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

Don't know if this applies to you or not, but it could actually be a directive from HR with at least a basis in a good reason.

My business partner used to work for a hospital in IT support.  They went out of their way at the hospital to refer to their IT staff by their first names.  Why?  Because users did not like submiting requests to the IT support email or phone number and waiting in the queue.  To get around this they would look up the IT guy that last helped them in the company directory, (by their last name of course), and call him or email him directly.  Most IT support guys were too nice to force people to go into the queue, they'd just help the people out as they called.  This wreaked havoc with the scheduling and prioritizing system that was in place to support the 2000 or so users.  So they started a policy of identifying people only by their first names.

Like i said, may not apply to your company, but it is a posssiblity.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

I generally prefer to be called by my first name, but for some reason people insist on calling me Major Dick, even though I'm not in the Army and my first name isn't even Richard!

Sunday, October 5, 2003

Using first names in business is an American business practise that has passed over the Atlantic. I suspect the change in Britain came in the late 70's early 80's.

Travel a bit and things get interesting; the Spanish commonly use the surname without any title rpeceding, which is certainly considered  very ill-mannered in the UK (the "Watson"/"Holmes" form of address comes from English public and prep schools, andi is a rarity now, particulary as the upper class now think it's cool to try and imitate a barrow-boy). They also commonly prefix the first name with "Don" (the Catalans use "Senyor") so you get addressed as Mr. Stephen or even Mr. Stevey. The Arabs also do the same in English, so when the students ask for their teacher you haven't the least idea who they are talking about.

Anyway we all ought to be thankful we don't work at a Call Centre where we find we have to answer to entirely imaginary names, often from a completely different language and culture.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 5, 2003

An anecdote: A major exec in my really big company upon meeting folks or speaking to a group would always begin very sincerely with, "Please call me Earl."

Sunday, October 5, 2003

I met Larry Wall once.  Called him "Mr. Wall"

He responded by saying something like "No one has called that since high school" --- or something like that.

I thought it was odd, because the geek-leadership-culture of the Open Source Movement forced him to be that modest.  The guy's a hero.  I shouldn't be "bad" because I tried to show him a little respect - especially when I was adressing him totally out of the blue at a conference.


But, dude ... I met Larry Wall.  That was like, cool and stuff. :-)


Matt H.
Sunday, October 5, 2003

Who the hell is Larry Wall

Monday, October 6, 2003

You can get around the many Roberts problem by requiring all employees to rename themselves if there would be a name collision.

For example, the second Robert could become Fritz. When you finally do hire a Fritz, they will have to rename themselves (perhaps as Robert, if the first Robert has left).

Gustavo W.
Monday, October 6, 2003

I have a friend who's name is Robert. He doesn't go by Rob, Bob, or anything else and hates it when people assume it's Bob.

I always assumed that people changed from calling people Mr. soandso to Joe in the 70's. My mother who was working then often complained about being called by her first name.

Monday, October 6, 2003

I have that problem all the time.  My name is Christopher, but people who don't even know me will use Chris.  It drives me a bit nutty, but life's too short to try to convince people to use your name correctly. 

christopher baus (tahoe, nv)
Monday, October 6, 2003


That's not a bad plan but a better plan wuld be to require that everyone go by the name of Priscilla. That way, everyone's treated the same and there's no discrimination. Would solve a lot of workplace politics problems.

Tony Chang
Monday, October 6, 2003

I hate it when people call me by my last night. If you can't call me 'Jack' call me 'Sir' or 'Master'.

Mr Jack
Tuesday, October 7, 2003

"Who the hell is Larry Wall "

The inventor of Perl.

Mark Hoffman
Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Hm. A propos of nothing, when I was in junior school there was a girl in my class called Tina. I later found out that her full name was Constantina.

Then we both went to the same secondary school, and I saw her name on the class list as "Constance". I can't believe that a teenage girl would have volunteered to be called "Constance".

Here's what I think happened: knowing her class teacher, she probably refused to call her Tina but insisted on Constance as a compromise - I'm not calling you by the name you want, but at least I'm not calling you by your full name.

No, I can't prove it, but it was consistent with the way that teacher thought, and I would bet money that this is exactly what happened.

Fernanda Stickpot
Thursday, October 9, 2003

What an Odd topic!?

I have always been Matt no matter what company I work for.

Matt W
Tuesday, June 8, 2004

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