The typical workplace today contains more cultures than ever before. Whether generational, religious, gender, regional or other cultural distinction teams are more diverse than ever. One impact this has had is the way we refer ro each other. Nicknames, first names, last names and titles are treated differently by various cultures.
How you address someone in a different culture can be a relationship bridge or bridge burner. Referring to somebody using the wrong naming convention can show you as an uncaring, disrespectful, or uneducated person. The question mainly centers on whether or not you should use one's first name or last name.
Generational cultures have distinctly different views. For the Builder generation last names should be used when referring to one's elders, superiors, for people in special positions such as teachers or police officers.
Many Baby Boomers expect the same as it is considered a sign of respect. However Generation X and Generation Y prefer first names. A manager, supervisor, or teacher requiring the younger generations to address them by last name will lose respect.
Regional cultures also placed different emphasis on the use of first and last names. First names are so important in Iceland the phone book is alphabetized by the first name. In Africa, first names are used as a sign of respect. Dr. Kofi Annorh would properly be referred to as Dr. Kofi, not Dr. Annorh.
Other regional cultures prefer to focus on last names which quickly identify a family or heritage. Many oriental cultures are so focused on the last name that is given first when addressing someone In China, the last name is spoken first, followed by the "first" name. For instance, Chen Yung Po would be Mr. Chen.
In many cultures switching from last and first name is a significant event. Normally the elder will make the offer to switch to first names by saying, “you may call me ----“. In Germany and Poland this rite of passage and is marked by clasping arms and downing a ceremonial drink.
Titles are often as important, if not more important, as the name itself. This is because titles are descriptive in many relationship-intensive cultures they want to know as much about you as quickly as possible. In Austria when people ask, “How shall I call you,” they don't want to know your title.
© Max Impact, used with permission.
Additional Diversity Resources
- Culture Bridges are a look at the contents of the character within each of us. Information is contained on more than 20 different categories of culture.
- Cultural Faux Pas is an interesting quiz about marketing mistakes made by others.
- Culture Quizzes allow you to test your cultural IQ with fun and informative quizzes.
Diversity by the numbers
- “Three Cups of Tea”: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
- “35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say”: Surprising Things We Say That Widen the Diversity Gap.
- “50 Activities” for Promoting Communication and Understanding at Work: The Diversity Training Activity Book
Other articles and white papers of interest: