What’s in a nickname? Apparently, a lot.

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who is lizI’m not sure if you all keep up with the minutiae of politics–or, more accurately, political gossip. The stuff that doesn’t really affect your daily life. If you don’t, you’re missing out on some great lessons in life. Sure, unearthed e-mails between bickering Washington staffers isn’t on par with whether or not the stimulus plan will create new jobs…but it’s still fun. It’s like US Weekly for politicos.

Last week, e-mails from the scheduling assistant of Rep. Jim McDermot popped up on political blogs. Big whoop, right? Well, it’s noteworthy because apparently this assistant, Elizabeth Becton, does not like to be referred to as Liz. AT. ALL.

Here’s a summary of what happened:

1. Another assistant sent Becton an e-mail referring to her as Elizabeth. He [not sure of the gender, but we'll go with he] didn’t hear back.
2. He sends a follow-up, referring to Becton as Liz. Eek!
3. Becton responds, “Who’s Liz?”
4. Then for 17 additional e-mails, Becton lectured him on the use of nicknames and familiarity in Washington.
5. The blogosphere caught wind of it and, well, laughter ensued.

You can read the e-mails here.(Politico)

The ordeal is funny, frightening and bizarre. But it’s also a learning experience for several reasons.

  1. Being informal in an e-mail isn’t so bad. After all, wouldn’t you rather receive a “Hi!” e-mail than one that begins “Salutations” or “To Whom It May Concern.” As long as the content is professional and courteous, I prefer a casual correspondence.
  2. But don’t assume anyone goes by a nickname. James isn’t necessarily Jimmy. Catherine isn’t automatically Cate or Cat. Some people don’t care. Some do (obviously). Maybe they go by a full name to avoid confusion or they just really hate nicknames. Whatever it is, at least be familiar with someone before assuming their nickname.
  3. Curt e-mail replies are never welcome. The “Who’s Liz?” reply was just snarky for the sake of it. She could’ve answered the assistant’s question and included a p.s. of “I’d prefer if you called me Elizabeth” or something tactful.
  4. If you made a workplace snafu and realize your  mistake, apologize for it. Like the assistant did.
  5. If someone apologizes to you and it seems heartfelt and the transgression wasn’t that grave, by all means accept it and move on.
  6. As you’ll note in the last e-mail of the chain, Liz -I mean Becton- reprimands the assistant for calling while she was away. Calling someone if they haven’t replied to your e-mail for a few minutes is annoying. Calling to settle an issue and avoid, oh, I don’t know, a 19 e-mail correspondence is not a bad idea.
  7. Generally speaking, I’d avoid lecturing someone who’s not your subordinate (and even if they are, be considerate). The last e-mail where Becton wags her finger at the assistant is downright rude. Granted, that’s the last in a long line of other offenses.

See, you don’t need School House Rock to learn something from Capitol Hill!

You can even see Keith Olbermann’s staff reenact the whole exchange here. (Politico and MSNBC)

19 Comments
  1. My full name is Katharine. The only nickname I have ever (or will ever) go by is Katie. I really do not appreciate the myriad nicknames other people come up with for me (most commonly Kate or Kathy), and I feel that if you do use any other name for me than the one I’ve given you, it’s out of either laziness or lack of respect for my preferences–not a sign of our coziness. If you were cozy with me, you’d know I hate being called anything other than my own name. I think particularly when older men attempt to shorten my name, it bothers me more because it comes off as infantilizing. For instance, calling someone who is named Susan, “Susie.” Some people just think the nicknames sound childish.

    Either way, you wouldn’t call someone who’s named Mary, “Lisa” all the time, so why would you call someone named Elizabeth, “Liz”? It’s not her name. The end.

  2. On an additional note, I think it’s weird that anyone’s assistant would refer to a grown woman in a social setting by anything other than Ms. Insert-last-name-here. Unless you’ve been told otherwise by that person, I just think it’s disrespectful. Granted, I was raised in a very etiquette-conscious southern culture, but…

    Anyhow. Names are a big deal to me. :)

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