Section 2.5

Email Recipient Names

It is critical to get people’s names right in email salutations (for example, Dear Ms. Smith or Good morning, John). Below are some guidelines and cautionary notes about name etiquette in email.

  • Spelling. Spell the recipient’s name correctly. Triple-check unusual and unfamiliar names.
  • Form of first name. If you are addressing a person by first name, use the correct form of that name. Even if the person’s name happens to be a name that is often shortened, such as Michael, don’t automatically assume that that individual is in the habit of shortening it. Use Michael unless you come across concrete evidence that the person uses Mike. That evidence may come from sources such as the bottom of an email from him — if he signs off as Mike — or a voicemail message from him starting off, “Hi, this is Mike.” Once you learn that the recipient prefers the shortened form, you should use that version of the name.
  • Initials. Don’t address a person by his or her initials, unless you have specifically been told — by a reliable source! — that initials are how that person prefers to be addressed.
  • Mr. and Ms. When you address people by their surnames in a business setting, use Mr. for men and Ms. for women. If a woman specifically requests that you address her with Mrs. or Miss, however, you should honor her request.
  • Unknown gender. It is a challenge to send a formal email to a person whose gender you can’t determine from the name. How do you know whether to use Mr. or Ms.? Fortunately, you are not without recourse. First, you can call the general number for the person’s company and ask the operator whether the person is male or female. If for some reason that isn’t an option, try searching for the name on the Internet to see whether you can glean anything about the likely gender. If you immediately find a dozen men with that name, and no women, then you can probably assume your recipient is a man. Finally, if you are still unsure, you can as a last resort use the first and last name together, without a Mr. or Ms. — Dear Pat Lee, for example. This option is stylistically awkward, but is probably better than guessing. If you think a less formal greeting is appropriate, you can of course avoid the issue by writing Dear Pat instead.