The Single Biggest Email Etiquette Mistake You Can Make

October 31, 2016

email etiquette mistake

For the most part, email, texting, and digital chat platforms like Slack have made business communication easier than ever. When you need something from a professional contact, you can make the request as fast as your fingers can type. Unfortunately, with speed comes the danger of making a big email etiquette mistake.

A common—and costly—error that arises is spelling your contact’s name incorrectly. Since it usually happens at the beginning of your email, it means that the recipient is already cringing before they’ve even gotten to the meat of your message.

“I only made a typo,” a serial name misspeller might protest. “Why should anyone take it so seriously?”

There are a few vital reasons to avoid making this specific email etiquette mistake, and not make it a habit to misspell names:

1) It shows a lack of attention to detail.

You might remember the story of how Van Halen’s tour rider demanded that there be no brown m&m’s backstage at the band’s concerts. They weren’t offended by the color brown—they just wanted to make sure that venues paid attention to every detail of their rider, because many of those “details” were strict requirements for safety.

The Van Halen story applies to all manifestations of attention to detail. If you begin your email by showing that you didn’t even read your contact’s name correctly, what else might you not have understood from previous communications? If the person you’re emailing is a client, can you afford to give them the impression that you’re careless with meaningful details? If they’re not, do you want to get in the habit of being slipshod with communication?

2) It shows that you don’t care about the person you’re emailing.

Not everyone is sensitive about this, it’s true—but just because you don’t think someone should be offended, that doesn’t mean they won’t be. When “Stephen” repeatedly gets emails from his boss greeting “Steven,” and “Kaitlyn” hears from a vendor who thinks she’s “Caitlin,” they begin to sense that these emailers aren’t all that concerned about them as individuals.

If you think that’s worthy of no more than an eyeroll, remember that those entering the workforce are becoming more and more individualistic. Identifying someone by the correct name is the bare minimum for showing that you recognize that person as an actual human, and not an automaton made to do others’ bidding.

An extra warning: As workplaces become more and more culturally diverse, this particular email etiquette mistake will only grow in gravity. Stephen-misspelled-Steven only feels personally offended, but to Aarav-misspelled-Arav or Hinata-misspelled-Hitana, repeated misspellings send a much more insensitive message.

3) You may be setting yourself up for a failure of memory.

The person you’re emailing now may well be someone you’ll need to email again in the future. The more often you misspell a name, the less likely you’ll be to remember it when you need it again. Perhaps it will be easy to find that person’s contact information again, but perhaps not. It’s not a risk you should be willing to take.

Remember, no one really cares how their name is spelled on a Starbucks cup—only that the barista gets the drink right. But when you’re in a business setting, coming across as competent, trustworthy and approachable matters. Getting your colleagues’ names correct is a crucial first step.


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About The Author

Janine Barlow is a Sales & Marketing Assistant with AMACOM Books, the publishing division of the American Management Association. In addition to her actual name, she is most frequently called Janice, Janie, and Jean.


  1. avatar

    I agree completely. I get that a lot. People often leave out the ‘U’ in my last name and I tend to focus so much on the fact they misspelled my name that I do not always receive the message like I should have received it. That, in my opinion, is one of the simplest things to do correctly. If you screw that up, then you’ve lost credibility. You will need to re-earn my respect.

  2. avatar

    Such an important article. Spelling errors are an easy way to ruin your reputation with a superior or a colleague. Not only do spelling and grammatical errors show a lack of caring, they also demonstrate a weak grasp on the English language. I still remember the last time I misspelled a contact’s name in an email. It haunts me to this day and I know I’ll never do it again!

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