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Mr. Or Ms.? How To Handle Unisex Names In the Internet Age

I opened an email from a public relations rep the other day and was going to read it. Then I realized that the sender had addressed me as "Mr./Ms. [surname]" and I stopped reading.

Like anyone who goes by a unisex name and happens to get email, I've dealt with many people over the years who mistake my gender. After all, "Chris" can swing either way. And so they guess. Incorrectly. Of course, they do have a 50/50 chance of being right, which betters the odds considerably.

However, it's Murphy's Law of the business world that if you try to guess someone's gender while composing an email, then you're almost certain to choose the wrong one.

I think being addressed as "Mr./Ms. [surname]" is my all-time favorite of the gender-guessing wars, because it's just so damn lazy. It's almost as if the sender is saying: I don't know what the hell gender you are based on your first name and doing a quick Google search to find out is too much work for me, and so I'll let you assign your own gender, okay? I've included both "Mr." and "Ms." prefixes for your convenience. Please take me seriously. Hmm. I'm sure that your email is accurate, and well-researched.

Another favorite of mine is "Dear [surname]," which bypasses prefixes entirely and makes the sender sound like a very abrupt junk mailer shouting, "Hey, you!" from a passing car window. One word: Mulva.

In the social media age, there's simply no excuse for failing to note someone's gender correctly. Google can usually locate these details in about .000003 seconds on a company webpage, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, college reunion photos, whatever. In instances where you don't know whether Taylor is a boy or a girl, it's best not to guess. If after a quick search you still can't determine how to address someone, then simply address the person by his or her first name. Our work culture is getting informal enough thanks to social media that most email recipients outside of a hiring manager or senior management won't bat an eye.

And when you speak to "Taylor" in person or on the phone for the first time, please don't say: "I have to confess, your name made me assume you'd be [the other gender]." This happens to me all the time, and it can be sort of awkward on occasion. Yes, I'm a Christine instead of a Christopher. Surprise!

The problems surrounding unisex names in the Internet age won't go away, either. In fact, they could get worse. A quick scan of the most popular baby names of 2012 hints at problems to come for the future workforce. From Harper to Brooklyn to Jessica Simpson's new baby girl Maxwell, the names new parents are choosing could force their kids to correct people for decades to come. I already feel sorry for them.

This blog post goes out to all the "Chris"s of the world, as well as to all the Pats, Jans, Leslies, Lynns, Marions, Alexes, Camerons, Hunters, and Caseys. I feel your name pain.

To everyone else, I suggest that when faced with a total stranger's unisex name, please take a few seconds to do some online research before hitting send, because people like it when you take the time to address them correctly. In other words, never let them see you guess. It's a sign of respect and thoroughness on your part, as well as an indication that you would like to be taken seriously. Otherwise, you just might find yourself having to man up and admit your mistakes.


  1. There are plenty of people who will be listed as a contact, even a hiring position, who do not show up on google, recently promoted managers being one example. So considering how strongly you feel about this, could you give advice on how to address people when that's the case?

  2. If you can't find out the person's gender via a quick Google search, then I would suggest making a quick call to the company to ask the receptionist if VP of Sales Chris Smith is male or female. You wouldn't be the first to ask, and asking before contacting would make you look diligent, and thorough. No one would fault you for doing your homework, and it could save you an apology down the line.

    Well, that would be my advice, anyway. Hope this helps, and thanks for commenting.

  3. Good Post. truly It takes such a lot time to push and find traffic from social media, the matter is it ne'er consistent. we must always take into account Organic searches whereas victimization social name and obtaining links from smart social networks like Google and will not simply provide some traffic however conjointly smart links to diary.


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