Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Importance of a Name - Why We Need to Get it Right

Many of you may assume this post has to do with naming characters, but it doesn’t. Today I want to share about the importance of names in the context of the business end of writing.

So many times writers agonize over naming characters within their manuscripts, but don’t get the name of the editor they’re querying correct. Or they try to network with someone and get his or her name wrong. This is a HUGE mistake. Sure, this person will remember you, but chances are it’ll be in a negative way. Names are critical when you’re interacting with people.

Some of us have difficult and ambiguous names – like mine. When I was the Managing Editor for Centered Magazine I constantly had writers querying me—Mr. Eddie Melson or worse Mr. Eddie Nelson. My first impulse with those queries was to hit the delete button and that’s usually what I did. Why? Because their lack attention made me think if they couldn’t get my name right, they probably had a lot of other mistakes in their writing.

Writing is a highly competitive business. Don’t start out with strikes against you just because you didn’t bother to double check the spelling of someone’s name. When I was first starting out, I remember getting a lead from John Riddle, an instructor at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. As I carefully copied down the information of whom to query he made a comment I’ll never forget. “Be sure you spell the editor’s name correctly. She won’t even open your email if her name is misspelled.” That advice was golden and I’ve never forgotten it!

A lot of this business involves referrals and leads from other writers, so networking is critical. Because of that it’s also important to make certain you get the name correct when you’re posting a comment on someone’s blog or sending them an email. I read a blog last week, written by a blogger named Kathy and the first comment posted was addressed to Katy. Big mistake. It could have been a typo, but it also could mean the person commenting wasn’t paying attention. Either way, it leaves a poor impression—not just to the blogger, but to anyone who reads that blog.

Here are some things I do to help me slow down and make certain I’m getting the name correct.

  • Write it Down – I keep a scratch pad next to my computer and I always write down the name of the person I’m referring to. Writing it in longhand somehow helps engage my brain and acts as a way to double check my accuracy.
  • Check the Gender – so many names can be either masculine or feminine. Most websites and blogs have pictures (Centered Magazine had pictures of everyone on staff making it easy to see that I’m a woman) so I try to check that way. If it’s a blog and there’s no picture, I look at previous comments to see how most people have referred to the person – male or female.
  • Add to My Contacts – if I’m going to make a comment on someone’s blog or query an editor, I add them to my contacts list. This helps me find them again without searching the Internet and it gives me another way to double check their name.
Words are our business—and that includes names—so when we write, we need to be accurate and diligent.

What are some ways you ensure your accuracy? Has anyone ever misspelled your name? How did you feel?


  1. Edie,
    Because I have a name that can be spelled multiple ways, and pronounced multiple ways, it is often misspelled or mispronounced. So yes, I can identify with what you're saying.

    As a result, I am always careful to spell names correctly. If I am unsure of the pronunciation of a name, I'll politely ask. I'd hate to call on someone and pronounce their name wrong...

  2. Good comment, Alycia! I forgot to mention pronunciation.