Seeking witty rejoinders for when someone gets my name or pronouns wrong
December 16, 2015 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I've just come out as trans at work (like, yesterday) and I know that people are going to struggle with my name and pronouns for awhile, especially since I don't appear super masculine. I am sure that their slip ups won't be out of hostility. I'd like some ideas for jokey corrections that are still appropriate for a white collar workplace. (If "mistakes" persist I will get more serious, and management has my back on this.)

Very light joking and teasing are common within our team, which is overwhelmingly male and mostly consists of 4 different cultures (American, Indian, Filipino, British). So pop culture references and the like aren't going to work well. I need things that work in person, on the phone and in text.

My new name is Kevin, if that helps. My last name is staying the same.
posted by desjardins to Human Relations (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you could make it a game -- print out one of those signs similar to the "We have gone X days without accidents" signs that you see at construction sites. If the office makes it through a full couple days or so without slipups, you bring in donuts. If they are really struggling, you could measure in hours instead of days, just make it positive and achievable.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:07 AM on December 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have a name that gets mispronounced and sometimes convos go like this; (I pronounce my name eye-an, not ee-an. Thanks mom :/ )

Me: Hi my name is Ian.

Them: Brian?

Me: No, Ian.

Them: Ryan?

Me: Nope, Ian.

Them: OH! You mean Ian (ee-an)

Me: (now im annoyed) (face palm, friendly eyeroll) Did you really just correct the pronunciation of MY name?

I have had this exchange so many times I believe that most people are kinda in a foggy stupir and new info is hard to process on the fly and that causes people to say boneheaded things in the spur of the moment. Certainly no one was misgendering me, just struggling with a different pronunciation of the spelling of my name. so, I never have the added challenge of weighing/considering discrimination or bigotry or ignorance to the encounter.

So, my situation certainly isn't the same as yours, but maybe my answer can help in someway separate honest confusion/foggy headedness, from actual pigheaded jerky questioning. If that makes any sense.

posted by ian1977 at 8:12 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

If that annoying "where will you pee?" question comes up, there's always, "In a toilet, preferably."
posted by jillithd at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

I'm guessing, as you say, that these coworkers will be people just trying to retrain themselves, embarrass when they don't get it right. If someone is having an especially hard time of it, maybe something like video game references, like "extra bonus level difficult, I know!" will help folks feel more comfortable as they correct themselves.

If they don't notice they forgot, saying "ding!" in a non-confrontational way will help remind them. It's barely even ding training, just a brief reminder.
posted by ldthomps at 8:24 AM on December 16, 2015

I think you could probably get away with a packet of those red "Hello, my name is Kevin" stickers for a couple of weeks, which would be gently and supportively funny as you point to it wordlessly if/when they use the wrong name or pronoun.
posted by juniperesque at 8:30 AM on December 16, 2015 [22 favorites]

I was just going to say something similar to juniperesque. Use the Hi My Name Is nametag but write your old name in smaller letters, cross it out and write Kevin in bigger letters. It's kinda jokey and gives people a graceful out because maybe they misread your old name.

*Please don't do the "ding" thing; I'm one of many people who really, really hate that.
posted by kinetic at 8:34 AM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't interact with most of the people in person; in fact I've never met most of them. So nametags and signs won't work.
posted by desjardins at 8:42 AM on December 16, 2015

One of my partners is agender; we've been together about two and a half years. They present between male and female at various points but always want gender neutral pronouns. I still slip up sometimes and so do their dear friends that have known them for nearly a decade. One of their former partners came out as trans a few months ago - my partner still slips up sometimes with her name and pronouns.

My point is that even people with the very best intentions will still make mistakes - I know it's rough on you, but please try to keep the corrections friendly. My partner unfortunately can get nasty in correcting people, which can lead to social exclusion rather than fixing the problem. Gentle corrections have worked much better at accomplishing the goal.

Is your workplace culture so casual that wearing a nametag with Kevin on it would look really out of place? Names occupy a weird place in the brain - I know personally I can remember tremendous amounts of information about a person but struggle to remember names to the degree I've had problems remembering people like my boss or roommate's names and once I've managed to associate a name with someone, it's really hard to update that. A visual cue might help with people like me.
posted by Candleman at 8:43 AM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Congratulations desjardins!
posted by latkes at 8:50 AM on December 16, 2015 [90 favorites]

I think if I were to mistakenly misgender a colleague, and they were to gently correct me on it, I would be somewhat embarrassed and very apologetic. I would be really embarrassed to discover that I had misgendered a colleague and they didn't correct me, to avoid awkwardness, or whatever. So my advice would be to be really (annoyingly) consistent with correcting people, even if it is just a quick "you mean 'his'" or "I'm Kevin". I know that seems to put a lot of the emotional labor on you, but as you say, people most likely will be putting effort into remembering the correct pronouns, but they will occasionally slip up. You might also engage in a little positive reinforcement when possible. In a jokey environment, this could take the form of something like, "Steve, you know I'm Kevin now, right? Dave calls me Kevin and he can barely remember his kids' names." This will make Dave feel good about the emotional labor he is doing to get it right.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Congratulations on coming out at work! For myself, the easiest thing to do is simply correct them and keep the conversation moving, even if it means a little steamrolling over their (sometimes embarrassingly and frustratingly effusive apologies--not just an oops, sorry CarrionComfort). Usually just the word itself will do: "he," "him," "Kevin;" you don't even need to use a complete sentence.

But if you want a more joke-y tone, you could go with a quiz/game "Bzzt! Wrong name! Try again--you get two more tries!" Or a baseball-ish: "Steeerike one! Two more tries on the correct pronoun!"
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am pretty quick with new names* but for some reason it takes me much longer to permanently fix a pronoun, whereas my husband is faster on the turnaround, and I find his friendly but commentary-free corrections are the most graceful and embarrass me the least. (*However I will randomly call people who have never changed their name the wrong name, which is just a brain-farty thing I do sometimes**, but he will smoothly interject the right one.)

I think the nametag ("Kevin - he/him") is great in part because many people are visual learners. Put a smiley face on it if you have to.

Ding training is for people who are being shitty to you. If you're going to take the more generous stance that people are just having to rewire a brain mapping, I would say you'll foster more good will by being going low key and friendly about it so you don't end up with people walking around feeling like shit because they got it wrong once and they think you think they're assholes for it.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2015

My godchild prefers gender neutral pronouns, we try, but dang it, it's not intuitive! I realize it almost immediately and apologize and correct myself.

Please realize that most folks want to honor your request and that mistakes will be made. The name can and should be pleasantly reiterated, 'it's Kevin now.' Pronouns are trickier. If someone biffs it repeatedly, just say, "he."

I don't know that jokey is where you want to be with this, patient, kind and tolerant will work better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

I feel like a more trans-focussed message board would have *much* better answers for you. I'm not trans, and I'm not sure if any of the other responders are either. You are not the first person to do this, and there's probably really great advice out there already.

However, based on my experience with trans people coming out in the workplace, someone else needs to do this for you. The manager at work should tell everyone you interact with in the company (including clients you deal with) that you are now a man, and will be known as Kevin. If they have any questions, they can ask that person, and you won't need to deal with this.

I imagine that for yourself, you should be sure not to apologize, don't banter about it, just say it. Sign your name for a few weeks as "Kevin, previously known as XX." Then, in 2 weeks, just sign it Kevin.

I have a feeling that people will know better than to joke about something like this.

Congratulations, Kevin, on this big step in your life. I hope everything works out really well for you.
posted by tk at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

The ** from my comment above is that I stopped using my first name and started using my middle when I was 19, and now I'm 43 and some people still use the wrong name - including the person who does HR paperwork stuff in my company and occasionally spaces and calls me my first name that is still on all my official paperwork, even though he himself also goes by his middle name. Brains are weird.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, as you indicate that there's lots of non-face to face interaction, can you use IM more often in place of voice conversations? I assume that your chat client has Kevin now, so perhaps that will help update people mentally.
posted by Candleman at 9:09 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Congrats! If you've never met most of your coworkers and don't work in the same office, do you perhaps meet on Slack? Technology may have an answer in the form of Slackbot triggers, e.g. old name => "I think you mean Kevin." In my experience Slackbot triggers are extremely nonconfrontational (it's only a bot!) and also extremely annoying, so people learn quickly how to avoid setting them off.
posted by babelfish at 9:11 AM on December 16, 2015 [8 favorites]

on conference calls if someone says "and [old name] will be emailing the updated deck out by end of business friday," i think a "kevin here - yep, i'll be getting that out hopefully friday morning by certainly by friday afternoon." it corrects them (and gives a reminder to the others on the call) without actually directing it at them.
posted by nadawi at 9:27 AM on December 16, 2015 [17 favorites]

If someone calls you by the name your parents gave you, if you can say it in a semi joking way, I would say, "Who is [old name]? Oh! you mean Kevin."

I am not sure this situation calls for a joking response even if the team usually sort of teases each other, but it also should not be ignored. I think the proper response will evolve organically. You will learn, after trying a few things, what works best in your work environment.

Fwiw, even in your home office, I think the name tag idea is just off, but I hate wearing nametags under any circumstance.

(on preview, what nadawi said too)
posted by AugustWest at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2015

I'm not trans & have a very confrontational approach to life so these may not work for you, but I've worked in male dominated fields with Aussies & POMs & humor is often the best way to handle things they find confrontational, BUT again I am not trans so I'd suggest asking this question on a board/subreddit with people with real life experiences to go off should be your first step before you do anything else.

Having said that some ideas & depending on your relationship with your work colleagues, I'd just go "Try again" in a joking tone when they get your name it wrong face to face. To my way of thinking you get them using the right name & the pronouns will follow.

In email etc I'd make sure to change your work email to your new name if you can & to maybe politely add a not to the end of emails that address you with the wrong name. Possibly something along the lines of "Hey you might want to update your contact list I now go by Kevin now, my new email is" then you aren't blaming them so much as their contact list. Jokes are harder to make in writing so I'd just stick to polite & gentle there.
posted by wwax at 9:30 AM on December 16, 2015

I can see how not being there in person adds a layer of difficulty. It's easy for us to say "just interject 'he' when someone slips up" but what do you do when you get a page-long project update email that has a list of action items including "get all requests to the IT office by Thursday, desjardins is out on Friday." It's more complicated. Do you reply all or just the sender? Do you say “Are you aware that I go by Kevin now?”, or “Please call me Kevin.” or “oops, I think you meant Kevin!” or "Did you mean me? -Kevin"? (and it depends on the person/situation) Is one pronoun slip worth sending an email over? (yes, I’d like to think so, but if you choose to ignore something you didn’t catch till later, or that would derail a discussion, or you know this person generally gets it right but just slipped up, it’s your choice, and either way can be fine.) Is “Please reply to Kevin by Thursday, a she’ll be out on Friday” obviously a typo? Yes, pretty likely, may depend on the sender. Is it worth pointing out? Yes, go ahead.

I do think that the more concise you are about it, the less of a big deal it is. You say “On line 3, I think you meant Kevin.” And they say “OMG, that’s my mistake, I’m so sorry, I know about your trans thing and I just wasn’t thinking, I’m so embarrassed, I can’t believe I did that ~~freakout!!~~ “ because that’s what people do when they’re embarrassed. And you just email back “Thanks! -K”. When people flip out about their mistakes, avoid the temptation to tell them “that’s okay”, or one of the other platitudes we use without thinking about it, when what you want to tell them is “thanks for fixing it”.
posted by aimedwander at 9:30 AM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd ensure IT changes your email address or alias to reflect the name change and perhaps "signing" any email/IM correspondence with "-Kevin" just to help remind people?

I realize there's no joke in there, was just trying to think of ways to remind people gently.
posted by kuanes at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Humor is incredibly hard in writing, especially when there are diverse backgrounds. I am a jokey person, but in public forums I generally try to be as straight shooting as possible **or** strongly signal in some way that this is not a serious comment. Otherwise, it leads to too many misunderstandings and sometimes drama.

Another thing about written messages is that most people mentally superimpose the tone in their head on what they have written and, unless you use a lot of italics, bolding and Smiley's to signal tone, written text lacks vocal tone. So remarks that work fine when made verbally because you can give it a warm friendly tone in your voice can really come across as harsh in writing and really bomb.

So, I think I would do all in my power to translate the name badge idea into the written environment. I would try to change whatever visible labels the email and text messaging programs have, intro myself upfront if possible with "Kevin here" type statements and be careful about humor. My experience is that a hot button topic of this sort is rather hard to joke about and have it not sound like passive-aggressive, toxic behavior, especially in writing. A lot of really toxic people say awful things and then go "Just joking!" When people take offense. So I try hard to be careful with humor in writing.

I don't know how casual or formal your office is. I am wondering if it would be easier to go by Mr. LastName. It would correct the gender but not be a new name. Or sign things with Kevin LastName to help people make the mental connection that Kevin is desjardins. Because part of this has nothing to do with the gender issue. If you weren't trans and legally changed your name or started going by your middle name instead of your first name you would face some of the same issues with training people to call you by New Name. (I know because I used to go my first name. I now go by my middle name. My mother still calls me by my first name. My sister took a long time to adjust.)

Congrats! And best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:35 AM on December 16, 2015

"Kevin, like Kevin Bacon/Spacey" (even if they're from other cultures, a lot of people might know one or both of those references, and the Americans and Brits almost certainly would. And getting part of the team to remember to use the right name might help with the rest.)

"Kevin, like seven/heaven"

"Kevin, as in Kevin the Konsultant" [substitute some word related to your role]

"Think Special-K" (for the Americans)

Do you communicate with them through text or voice?

Even if you don't have a joke, you can just say "It's Kevin now" with a smile/emoji/whatever and I think that would do the job of making your point in a friendly way. You can also outsource the problem to them: tell them "Yeah, it's Kevin now. I wanted to find an easy way to help people remember, like a mnemonic or rhyme, but I couldn't think of a good one." Someone might end up having suggestions, or they could start discussing it among themselves, which at any rate might help your new name sink in.
posted by trig at 10:56 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, when someone remembers your name/pronouns, you might say "Thanks for remembering to call me ___, it means a lot to me" at the end of the conversation or email. I think I'd pay extra attention to continuing to use the right references if someone had already complimented me on doing it well.
posted by trig at 11:03 AM on December 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

First, congratulations on coming out at work!

I am awful with names, and I think that most of us who have that problem probably do try to make sure we don't make embarrassing mistakes. Hopefully you won't run into this problem too often.

For whatever it's worth, as someone who is shy IRL, I also personally far prefer the quiet, kind and patient approach to being publicly called out with a joke. Gentle corrections are incredibly embarrassing and would work wonders for me -- far more than dinging me even jokingly in public.

I do agree with the earlier suggestion to change your work email, voicemail and signature to reflect your name change. It's the sort of thing I would personally look at to help me remember someone's name.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

The good news is, maybe it's the HR hammer hanging over everyone's heads, but I didn't find it to be a big problem. The bad news is outsourcing and prepping something like wit is pretty tricky! In case it helps, here's everything that I encountered in the workplace:

In email, I'd just reply like nothing happened and make sure my email signature was in the reply. Both times, they immediately replied with an (over-) apology. Some folks had trouble with nicknames, in which case I would reply to just that person in a separate email, something like "Ha, only my mom calls me that, and she only does it to drive me crazy."

Real-time text stuff, you can get away with a lot by appending a smiley: "So glad [old name] volunteered to do that for me. Now I can leave early today! ;)" Or, "Sorry, did you mean me? :)" The nice thing about text is that you don't have to be as witty if you're decent with words but just not that fast under pressure (like me).

Very rarely people would get seriously tripped up. Weird stuff like, "She [meaning me] has to restart his [meaning mine] machine." I was just so confused that I let it go and and gave them points for trying, but the gentle ribbing would practically write itself.

I found Skype to be the hardest place to manage when someone made a mistake, because all you have is a tinny rendition of your voice, which makes joking (or interjecting at all) a lot harder. One time during a group call a coworker used the wrong pronoun a few times in a row, and there was enough latency that trying to jump in would have been messy. Fortunately, my line manager was running the meeting, and he handled it like a champ. I definitely wouldn't have felt comfortable drawing attention to myself or spending time on a joke with so many people on the call (even though it was super casual). Much of the time in a group setting, someone else would speak up on my behalf before I even had a chance to realize what had happened.

I kept a couple super terrible puns on my old name in my pocket, but I never had a chance to use them. Like, the kind that would get old fast. If you're so lucky, now's your chance to reclaim the things kids said to torment you in elementary school.
posted by WCWedin at 3:56 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I go by First Middle, and people always call me First at the start. Hell, I've been working at my current place for 2 years and people still slip up.

The only thing that seems to make it stick is when a coworker or three corrects them for me. It is great that management has your back and can help out with that aspect of it.

Congrats, Kevin!
posted by sadmadglad at 7:09 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Congrats, Kevin -- that's great news!

I know you are looking for a humorous way to do this, but I'm going to strongly discourage that, for a very practical reason. Being consistent is hands down the best way to deal with pronoun corrections. There are going to be moments when you really don't feel like being witty, and if you try it will come across as bitter. Sticking with a matter-of-fact correction will make it easier to keep a consistent tone over time and across platforms. (I like Ruthless Bunny's suggestions best.)

It'll help if you put your pronouns in your email signature. Here's what the top of my work email signature looks like:

Firstname Lastname (pronouns: he/him)
Job Title
Department Name

Just be sure to include your signature in every single email you send, just below your input (not way down at the bottom). It may seem like overkill, but the more times it gets in front of a person's eyes, the more likely it'll get to their brain.
posted by zebra at 7:52 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Something along the lines of "Psst! I'm a 'he'!" in a sly sort of manner could go over well.
posted by Toddles at 8:45 PM on December 16, 2015

I was married to a trans person for many years. One thing they mentioned is that they far, FAR preferred when I would correct people, as it generally led to people being less embarrassed (since it wasn't the person who they'd wronged telling them) and therefore not over-apologizing. It might also have been kind of like peer pressure? "Look, I can call them by their right name/pronoun, so can you!"

At any rate, I wonder if you have a friend at work (or management, since you say they've got your back) who would be willing to step in every time they notice a mistake. Maybe ask this person specifically if they'd do this favor for you, at least for the first couple of weeks/months. I think people will probably respond better to someone else correcting them.

Congrats on coming out at work! I hope everything just keeps getting better and better for you :)
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 11:29 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm trans. I asked people at my job to use they pronouns for me right when I started there in the spring, but I also recently changed my name and have had to let everyone know (and correct them) about that.

I am fortunate to have a boss who, while not especially knowledgeable about trans stuff, has been super helpful. If you feel comfortable doing so, I would strongly recommend enlisting a supervisor or other co-worker to send an email around about your name change and to be deputized to gently correct people when they mess up.

It is such a stressful thing to do, even in great circumstances, and having another person do that work has made a HUGE difference for me.

posted by ITheCosmos at 6:18 AM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: I've been completely out at work for 5 days now. Two people (out of about 50 that I've spoken to/emailed with) have gotten my name wrong, and were instantly apologetic when corrected. So... thanks for all your answers, but I guess I could've used my weekly AskMe on a "should I eat it" or "what was that song" question instead. :)
posted by desjardins at 1:08 PM on December 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Has anyone called you "Kev" yet? That is when you know they are no longer thinking about what to call you and are now at a level they are shortening your name even without asking because that is what people do.

So glad to hear things have gone well so far. Oh, I think the song you are looking for is "Eat it" by weird Al (nee Beat It).
posted by AugustWest at 6:06 AM on December 24, 2015

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