Aside

Spelling Counts, Especially with Names

I started patronizing a different Starbucks. They always ask my name to put it on my cup. I get a lot of variations on the correct spelling. One day I simply told them how to spell it. Okay, it’s a cup of coffee, and all that matters is that I get my coffee, but still, it’s my name.

I chuckled when I saw this spelling of my name.

As someone who grew up reading and writing for newspapers, I always was told that spelling counts. As a result, I can’t stand a misspelled name. On a recent trip, I landed at a foreign airport and there was a sign with the most unique spelling of my name. Again, all that mattered was that someone was there to pick me up and take me to my hotel.

In writing, spelling counts. I used to teach news writing, and if a student spelled a person’s name incorrectly, I gave the student a zero on the assignment. Very few ever made the mistake again. My journalism teacher did the same in my class (fortunately, that was one error I did not make).

Apparently spelling names correctly is not easy for anyone. If you doubt this, check the corrections page of your newspaper. You will probably find a correction for a misspelled name at least once a week. The Poynter Institute last month reported that the Los Angeles Times ran a correction after misspelling Elliott Gould’s name in a caption. That was the 47th time since 1985 that the Times has referred to the actor as “Elliot” instead of “Elliott.”

What can you do to prevent misspelling a name? Here are a few tips:

Ask the person you are interviewing to spell their first and last name and provide you with their title. Even if you think the name is a common name, ask for the spelling. I recently worked with an “Alison” and an “Allison.” The second “l” made all the difference when assigning tasks.

Check the person’s name on the company email directory if you are working on an internal story. Of course, you are relying on the organization to have spelled all the names correctly.

Ask for the business card. Whenever possible, I get business cards because I have the person’s name and title in black and white. Plus, I have a phone number and email address if needed.

Ask the person to write the name down in your notebook. When I travel overseas on assignment, the names are quite tricky for me so I always hand over my tablet and pen and ask the person to write it. Then I write it in my handwriting and verify it with the person. I’ve learned that letters don’t always align when I get back home.

Taking the time to spell a person’s name correctly is a foundation of good writing. It’s worth the extra time.

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3 thoughts on “Spelling Counts, Especially with Names

  1. Gwendolynne Larson says:

    My journalism professor stressed that a person’s name is his most valuable possession and we owe it to him not to screw it up. If a name were misspelled in an assignment, you automatically lost 25 percent of the grade. I got caught once — Columbia for the country Colombia.

  2. I could find the story believable simply because I have had my first name misspelled at least hundreds of times in my lifetime. Amazing how many different ways people can spell Harriette. But what bothered me more was the miss use of the word “their” in this story! It was spelled “there!” Was spell check used? I NEVER use spell check for this very reason.

    • Thanks for catching that, Harriette. It was not supposed to be a “there” or a “their” but rather a “the.” And yes, I did proof, but, as we all know, these typos get past us, which is the point of the blog. Thanks for reading — and pointing out the error.

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