I live in the UK and I have a foreign name of the form

Abcd Efghjk

where both words and the space are part of my first name. Due to common UK standard everyone usually assumes either that Efghjkl is my surname or, more often, that Efghjkl is my middle name and proceeds to omit it.

I am fine when people omit it in speech, as Abcd is an acceptable shortening of my name, but I really detest it when I receive emails starting with

Dear Abcd,

instead of the appropriate

Dear Abcd Efghjkl,

I usually let it slide whenever I know this is a one off interaction and point it out at some point otherwise.

Lately I have been at times adding a remark at the end of my emails:

Just to let you know, my first name is Abcd Efghjkl, with the space. I know, it's crazy!

I would like suggestions on how to deal with this very common occurrence. I see two options, but feel free to add more.

  1. Keep such a message on a need-to basis, in which case I am looking for suggestions to make it more pleasant. Especially, I am not trying to make the other party feel guilty for the misspelling. I am not mad, this is a minor mistake and it's comprehensible given the running convention in the UK. Ideally, if there was a graphical/non-confrontational way to silently point this out, I would resort to that.

  2. Add a fixed message in my signature either with the same tone of the above or a little more formal. I am a little concerned that this might look odd and somewhat aggressive though.

Any suggestions?

PS: I write here as most of my daily contacts where this interaction happens are academics.

Edit: I am referring to my first name in the above, I do have a family name or surname as well, which in our notation and taking some suggestions from the answers, would be: MNOPQR.

  • 11
    In addition to your options: I have a similar problem, but culturally for me, it's also acceptable to omit the space and join the two names, which is what I do. I've also seen people add a dash in between to physically bind the names. I understand if neither of these are real solutions though. Oct 24, 2016 at 19:40
  • 4
    Some people change their name when they can't change the way others use it. Probably putting a dash between them is the least invasive response. Unless you want to do the Gell-Mann thing who did tell everybody how to pronounce his name (and also how to pronounce their own, for good measure :-). I am afraid, there are many people under the sun, you cannot educate them all. Making it easier for them to do what you think is right is your best bet. You might get away with a non-standard "underscore" sign between the names instead of the dash, in the hope they get the hint, or surround them by '.' Oct 24, 2016 at 20:56
  • 4
    One possibility is to have your email signature with the surname in all capitals: Abcd Efghjkl YYYYY. Oct 24, 2016 at 22:16
  • 5
    @MassimoOrtolano that was my first thought, but there is no standard convention to distinguish first and middle name from a two-name first name, which is the issue here. (Should you address John Paul SMITH as John, Paul, or John Paul?) Oct 24, 2016 at 23:23
  • 6
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about academia.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 26, 2016 at 12:08

4 Answers 4


You could modify your P.S. slightly, to make it easier for native English speakers to relate to. For example,

P.S. My name is spelled as two words that go together to make one name, similar to "Mary Ann" or "John Paul".

  • 1
    Even worded as nicely as possible, I wouldn't make this part of a permanent signature, though if your mail client allows you to choose a sig it would be a reasonable option to have on the list.
    – Chris H
    Oct 25, 2016 at 10:46
  • 1
    @ChrisH - Agreed, this should only be used when the other person is starting to get into a bad habit of writing your name wrong. You could put it in your clipboard manager, though. Three diag, Chris got me thinking about how to soften it -- you could insert "By the way" at the beginning. Oct 25, 2016 at 12:24

I would make a point of signing my emails Abcd Efghjkl. If they don't catch on after recieving your reply, add a friendly PS just as you have been doing. It's your name and you are completely justified in wanting it said properly.

  • 2
    Ah thanks, this is essentially what I am doing but no one seems to pick it up. I guess people might sign their emails with second names too.
    – Three Diag
    Oct 25, 2016 at 0:27
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    @ThreeDiag indeed this is a likely cause. Doing what this answer recommends in addition to doing what Massimo suggests in a comment for your prefabricated signature block could hep though. If I receive an email signed "Best regards, John Paul" and in the signature block it says "John Paul SMITH, Department of etc" this would strongly suggest to me that the person prefers to be addressed as John Paul.
    – quid
    Oct 25, 2016 at 0:34
  • 1
    @quid Maybe I'm not typical, but I would only look at how they sign their emails, and not read anything into a capitalization of a surname. I suspect the main problem is too many people don't pay attention to either signature.
    – Kimball
    Oct 25, 2016 at 2:01
  • @Kimball more people might pay attention to it in cases of doubt. If I get an email signed John Smith, I'll assume this is somebody with first name John and last name Smith and won't think twice about it. However, if I get one signed John Paul, I'll double check if this is a Mr. Paul known to his friends as John or rather John Paul SomeLastName.
    – quid
    Oct 25, 2016 at 10:02
  • The downside of this is that it's not uncommon to sign an email as "firstname surname". Even if the names in question are common in English, there are always cases like "Paul Simon" whe the surname looks like a first name. @quid's suggestion is probably best in terms of making the point but not asserting it too strongly.
    – Chris H
    Oct 25, 2016 at 10:45

The simplest solution is to add a hyphen between the two words: John-Paul. The hyphen indicates that your first name (or the meaning of the word in general) comes from the combined words, not from separate components. Modifying your name (yourself, your identity, etc) might be a wise choice to adapt to the environment. This will save you a lot of time and energy to educate people, not in email context, but also in paper.

However, if you really want to use the blank space instead of hyphen, in email context I would say that adding the PS automatically is a little bit redundancy for familiar contacts. I suggest you to have a text expanding program to mitigate the typing time.

  • 3
    A hyphen is suggested in the comments, and it sounds like the OP doesn't want to change their name, which I think is reasonable. If someone has a non-standard spelling of a name, and it commonly gets misspelt, we don't tell them they should change the way they spell their name.
    – Kimball
    Oct 26, 2016 at 12:00
  • 4
    @Kimball I know people who are hurt when their name is spelt wrongly, but who exhibit no particular attention in getting other people's name right. People get my name quite often got wrong; I find it easier (and actually more pleasant, and probably better manners) to overlook it. I went so far as to change the way it is represented, to make it easier for people without embarrassing them. Having an exotic name helps in standing out on paper, on papers, on talks, but in spoken or near-spoken (i.e. quick email) conversations, insisting on it, while being right in principle, complicates things. Oct 26, 2016 at 12:21

If you have a website or online profiles that people ever look at, you can put this information there in the section about you. This is a nice way to put the information out there without having to distract from conversations.

I did this to describe the pronunciation of my last name.

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