What did you call me?

Published 6th July 2011
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If you’ve ever made a faux pas with someone’s name, you’ll know that it can be a tricky business. Even just in your own country, there is the difficult question of familiarity – do you just use their first name, or their title and surname (and if so, which)? When speaking to people of different nationalities, this minefield becomes a lot more perilous! Though most people would be nice enough to forgive the mistake of a foreigner, it’s always a good idea to get these things right, or you could risk leaving them with a very bad impression of you.

Sometimes, unisex names can leave you guessing at which title to use for a person – are they a Mr or a Ms? (I’m not even getting into the Mrs/Miss/Ms thing, that’s enough to fill another blog entirely.) But when you don’t know which names correspond to which gender, it’s even more difficult. It’s fairly safe to say that in the UK you would know that someone called Lauren was a girl, but I have received the odd email addressing me as ‘Mr’. Personally, I’m not too bothered by this, because I know it can be difficult to judge sometimes. But there are some occasions when making this distinction and getting it right could be vitally important, such as in business, when first impressions count for a lot. So my advice would be to do some research before you put your foot in it!

Consider for a moment that many of the world’s languages have gender agreement in adjectives. If you are replying to the person’s letter or email, you can use this to tell you. However, if you’re the first to write, and you get it wrong all the way through your message, it could ruin the beginnings of a professional relationship.

The main point I’m trying to make here is how important it is to research your contacts – it isn’t hard to find out whether a certain person’s name is a female or male name, and the correct title to use. Luckily, we can take the guesswork out of emailing people abroad, and can translate e-mails or letters, whether business or personal, and can advise you of any cultural implications your letter may have.Si alguna vez has metido la pata con el nombre de alguien, sabrás que puede ser una situación algo delicada. Incluso en tu propio país, uno se encuentra con la cuestión de la confianza, y surge la duda de cómo tratar a una persona, de usted o de tú, llamarla por su nombre o bien utilizar Sr / Sra seguido del apellido. El asunto se complica aún más si se trata de personas de diferente nacionalidad. A pesar de que la mayoría de la gente suele ser amable y comprender los errores que pueda cometer un extranjero, nunca está de más aprender cómo hacer las cosas bien. De lo contrario, corres el riesgo de causar una mala impresión.

En ocasiones, los nombres unisex llevan a uno a tener que adivinar el sexo de esa persona, ¿será Sr o Sra? (Y no vamos a entrar en la cuestión Srta/Sra, pues eso nos llevaría otro blog entero). Cuando no conoces qué nombres corresponden a qué géneros, es todavía más difícil. En el Reino Unido, se sabe generalmente que una persona llamada Lauren es una chica; sin embargo hace poco recibí un curioso email en el que se dirigían a mí como “Sr”. Esto es algo que personalmente no me molesta demasiado, ya que entiendo que alguien pueda confundirse, pero hay determinadas ocasiones en las que el hecho de realizar correctamente está distinción puede tener una importancia vital, por ejemplo en un entorno de negocios, donde la primera impresión es esencial. Por esta razón, mi consejo es siempre investigar un poco para evitar meter la pata.

Ten en cuenta que los sustantivos de muchas lenguas concuerdan en género con los adjetivos que les acompañan. Así, al responder a una carta o correo electrónico, puedes basarte en el original para obtener estos datos sobre el remitente. Sin embargo, si tú eres primero en escribir y te diriges al destinatario de manera errónea a lo largo de todo el mensaje, puedes estropear el comienzo de una relación profesional.

Lo que trato de demostrar con esto es la importancia que tiene documentarte sobre tus contactos. Puede resultar complicado averiguar si un nombre es masculio o femenino, y elegir la forma apropiada de tratamiento hacia una persona. Afortunadamente, nosotros podemos ahorrarte este trabajo, traducir tus emails o cartas, y aconsejarte sobre las posibles implicaciones culturales que tu escrito pueda contener.

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