Author Topic: Gender-unclear names?  (Read 5012 times)

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cwm

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Gender-unclear names?
« on: May 17, 2013, 01:09:58 PM »
So I currently work in a job where I deal with a lot of files from a lot of people. I also email the people who referred those people to our company with weekly emails.

Frequently I come across names that are gender-neutral (Alex, Erin, Chris, etc.) and with several names that are of ethnicities where I can't discern gender readily. It's impractical in my emails to keep referring to the client's name or to not use gender pronouns, but at the point where I deal with the file, frequently there's nothing in the file giving me any clues either.

Is it wrong of me to make a best guess? Usually when I have made mistakes in the past, the referring client will correct me gently, which I have no problem with when I make a mistake like this, but I don't want people to think that I'm not even trying to get correct gender with their clients that they're sending us and expecting our company to provide equal service to.

camlan

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2013, 01:14:15 PM »
My first inclination would be to solve the problem at its source. Is there any way you can get the clients to give you gender information on all these people when they send the information the first time? If there's a form they are filling out, could a gender question be added to the form? Or in some other way, could you get that information?

That's a lot easier on you than side-stepping the issue, having to word emails carefully, or possibly upset a client.

If you can't work out a way to just get the information you need automatically, I'd just shoot off a quick email to the client. "Thanks for sending along the information on Alex Smith. Can you tell me if it is Mr. or Ms. Smith, so that I can start processing the file? Thanks!"
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!” –Audrey Hepburn


DottyG

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2013, 02:03:37 PM »
Quote
If you can't work out a way to just get the information you need automatically, I'd just shoot off a quick email to the client. "Thanks for sending along the information on Alex Smith. Can you tell me if it is Mr. or Ms. Smith, so that I can start processing the file? Thanks!"

I like this. I think that people who have gender-unclear names are probably not that unused to having the question asked.


Lynn2000

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2013, 02:14:31 PM »
Do you need to know the gender for a processing purpose, or just to make your narrative emails less awkward? Like, does it really matter for your job if Chris Smith is male or female, or do you just want to avoid writing, "We can provide him/her with XYZ services, if s/he completes ABC forms..."

In some places/industries asking about someone's gender and/or marking it down on their file (as the OP would have to as it sounds like there are too many to just remember) is illegal/otherwise not allowed. So if the only consequence is awkward him/her, s/he emails, I would just be awkward; and if the response indicates a gender ("Mr. Smith told me...") the OP could mark it down in the file, if that's allowed. If it really matters for the job (like, say, calculating medical insurance rates), I think it should be on the initial form/application. Etiquette-wise I don't think it's rude to do him/her, s/he if you aren't sure.
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wolfie

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2013, 02:30:21 PM »
So I currently work in a job where I deal with a lot of files from a lot of people. I also email the people who referred those people to our company with weekly emails.

Frequently I come across names that are gender-neutral (Alex, Erin, Chris, etc.) and with several names that are of ethnicities where I can't discern gender readily. It's impractical in my emails to keep referring to the client's name or to not use gender pronouns, but at the point where I deal with the file, frequently there's nothing in the file giving me any clues either.

Is it wrong of me to make a best guess? Usually when I have made mistakes in the past, the referring client will correct me gently, which I have no problem with when I make a mistake like this, but I don't want people to think that I'm not even trying to get correct gender with their clients that they're sending us and expecting our company to provide equal service to.

I note that you included Erin as gender-neutral. Erin is usually a woman, if it is spelled Aaron then it is usually a man.

cwm

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2013, 03:24:40 PM »
Where I work, we actually aren't able to ask for their gender. It's a federally protected status for the sake of my work.

And to be clear, I'm not the one contacting the members directly, I'm contacting the clients who referred them to us, and someone else is contacting them. I'm just in an assistant/admin position. It's not terribly important to my emails, I'm just trying to avoid awkward phrasing.

Wolfie, Erin is usually the female spelling and Aaron is usually the male, but I've met several male Erins. Not many, just enough to make me hesitate about assigning gender pronouns.

I think I'll go back to the emails and start reviewing where I could use the s/he or him/her. I had honestly got so caught up in trying to avoid pronouns I had forgotten that it was an option.

wolfie

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2013, 03:30:27 PM »
Where I work, we actually aren't able to ask for their gender. It's a federally protected status for the sake of my work.

And to be clear, I'm not the one contacting the members directly, I'm contacting the clients who referred them to us, and someone else is contacting them. I'm just in an assistant/admin position. It's not terribly important to my emails, I'm just trying to avoid awkward phrasing.

Wolfie, Erin is usually the female spelling and Aaron is usually the male, but I've met several male Erins. Not many, just enough to make me hesitate about assigning gender pronouns.

I think I'll go back to the emails and start reviewing where I could use the s/he or him/her. I had honestly got so caught up in trying to avoid pronouns I had forgotten that it was an option.

Really? I have never heard of a female Erin. I wonder if the parents didn't know that Aaron was spelled differently. I can see why you would be hesitant now! I would be too if I were you.

lmyrs

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2013, 03:36:04 PM »
Yah, I know a number of male Erins and some female Aryns or Arryns. Erin has often been considered the "female" version, but its origins are Irish so if there is Irish ancestry in the family, they'll be Erin regardless of gender.

Venus193

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2013, 03:40:48 PM »
I hate gender-ambiguous names with a passion.  Years ago I came back from lunch to a message from a magazine production manager with the name "Toni (?)" written on the pink message slip.  The receptionist could not tell whether the person was male or female.

I called and after a five-minute conversation I couldn't tell.  Nor could I think of any polite way to find ask.  I had no idea how to address the memo I had to write.  Fortunately, my production manager knew because of past dealings with her.

redcat

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2013, 03:46:15 PM »
Just curious, when you talk about Erin and Aaron being the male and female versions of the name, are you pronouncing them the same?  Because I pronounce them differently.  Similar, but clearly different.

Moray

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2013, 04:22:18 PM »
I hate gender-ambiguous names with a passion.  Years ago I came back from lunch to a message from a magazine production manager with the name "Toni (?)" written on the pink message slip.  The receptionist could not tell whether the person was male or female.

I called and after a five-minute conversation I couldn't tell.  Nor could I think of any polite way to find ask.  I had no idea how to address the memo I had to write.  Fortunately, my production manager knew because of past dealings with her.

You address it to "Toni Johnson", or "Dear Toni"...I just can't understand the hatred of perfectly lovely names because of some weird societal expectation that a person's gender is required for business corrospondence.
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turnip

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2013, 05:13:21 PM »
It's a bit SS to think that people should shape their names in such a way that their gender is apparent to you.   Having worked with many foreign names, I don't ever expect to be able to deduce someone's gender from their name.

I think you work around it.   Address things to the first name. Use 'their' as a singular, though grammar snobs will wince.    You are a lot safer with some awkward grammar than making a 'best guess' and being wrong. 

Moray

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2013, 05:15:40 PM »
That's a very good point, turnip! In this global marketplace, I frequently run across names where I honestly and truly have no idea as to the gender and I've found it doesn't matter even a little :)
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WillyNilly

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2013, 06:01:13 PM »
Can you use "he/she" in your writing?  Basically just don't pick and use both?

Just curious, when you talk about Erin and Aaron being the male and female versions of the name, are you pronouncing them the same?  Because I pronounce them differently.  Similar, but clearly different.

yeah I was wondering why these two names were being lumped together. They are pronounced differently! Erin has an "err" sound, like as in "to err is human..." or error. Aaron has an "aar" sound like "baron" or aerospace.

BTW add me into the group that has never heard of "Erin" being a male name, (or anything other then Irish).


CluelessBride

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Re: Gender-unclear names?
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2013, 06:13:38 PM »
I know you can't ask for a gender, but can you ask for a preferred title? I feel like most forms I fill out have a spot to indicate your preference (Miss, Ms, Mrs, Mr, Dr).