Q: My job responsibilities have grown, and I find myself in more Zoom calls with senior colleagues I’ve never met. A lot of people find my name hard to pronounce, so I make a point to introduce myself clearly when I enter the Zoom room.
More often than not, people don’t remember, and they botch my name. This didn’t happen in in-person meetings as much because people would make eye contact instead of attempting my name. It’s infuriating and brings back a lot of memories from school, when teachers could never pronounce my name. Should I interrupt these colleagues and tell them how to say it correctly? — Elaheh Nozari, New York
A: In her poem “Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a professor, implores her new students not to be afraid of her brown skin or her long name. She writes, “I know the panic of too many consonants rubbed up against each other, no room for vowels to fan some air into the room of a box marked Instructor.” She expresses real empathy while making it clear they should not fear the ways in which she is different. I admire her ability to extend such kindness. I don’t possess that kind of grace. People constantly add an extra n to my name and it irks me and I am not shy about making my irritation known. This, however, is not that.
There is a peculiar American resistance to the unfamiliar. As you well know, people will mispronounce your name, shorten it, bestow an Americanized nickname upon you without your consent, and act aggrieved when you expect the dignity of being called by your proper name, with the proper pronunciation.
Names are important. Your colleagues reveal themselves when they don’t extend you the courtesy of pronouncing your name properly, or asking for guidance. Yes, you can interrupt them. It’s frustrating that you are put in the uncomfortable position of having to do this, but they are the problem, not you.
You can call me …
Q: I’m a 25-year-old, nonbinary lesbian. I got a new job in early December and decided to slap my pronouns (they/them) on my résumé, along with the fact that I taught a “gender and pronouns in the workplace” workshop at my former job. My boss ensured that my pronouns were respected and asked if I was comfortable conducting the workshop with my new colleagues. I’m very passionate about the education of LGBTQ+ issues and practices, and was equal parts relieved and enthralled that my new gig supported these efforts, too.
Everyone at work knows me as Ali. As I’ve gotten more comfortable with my friends and family referring to me as “Al,” I’ve struggled with how to approach this at my job. I don’t want to “other” myself even further. Every time I come up with some semblance of a solution, I feel more apprehension than confidence.
How do I tell my colleagues about my new name in a professional way? — Al R., Boston
A: Thus far, your employer has been inclusive and supportive, as it should be. There’s no reason to believe sharing your preferred name will be handled otherwise. Your apprehension is entirely understandable, given the bigotries of this world, but I would simply send an email to your colleagues saying you prefer to be called Al. You don’t need to explain yourself unless you would like to.
It’s an eminently reasonable request. Your preferred name, the name that best fits who you are, matters. At the same time, update everything you want to reflect your preferred name, like your resume and your email signature. If your name forms part of your work email address, ask your employer to change that, too. Best of luck, Al!
The cantor can’t
Q: I am a new rabbi at a synagogue where the only other clergy is a cantor who has been there for many years. Congregants love the cantor for his voice and charm, but I dislike him for his absence at meetings, his tardiness and his lack of communication on major issues. It makes the work environment tense.
Every synagogue president since his arrival has given him a slap on the wrist for his performance, but he has kept his job through numerous contract negotiations.
Is it wrong to make a big stink, to remind the lay leadership that we are not a welfare organization paying big money to someone who does little work? Or do I swallow it, realize that no work situation is perfect, and take advantage of the fact that, without his effort or presence, I have the ability to lead the congregation, and those who know will know? — Anonymous
A: It’s hilarious to learn that spiritual leaders have the same petty office dramas the rest of us do. I am not entirely sure how synagogue hierarchies work, but … you’re the rabbi. You have some influence. It’s fair to bring up the cantor’s lack of professionalism with the lay leadership. It’s fair to hold the cantor accountable for his mistakes and work with him on an improvement plan. He is not the only charming cantor with a great voice, but clearly his relationship with the congregation is important and should be preserved if at all possible.
You may well have to suck it up and learn to work with the cantor. That said, you’re a man of God. I would like you to reflect on the use of the phrase “welfare organization” and the idea that social welfare is paying someone “big money” to do very little work. I am sure you are familiar with tzedakah. The Talmud says charity is equal in importance to all the other commandments combined, so I am dismayed by your attitude toward “welfare.” Our unconscious biases reveal themselves in the most unexpected ways. You can be frustrated that your synagogue is paying someone to do no work, but that has nothing to do with welfare and the ethical obligations we have to one another — nothing at all.
Q: I’m a new graduate and job hunting. I’ve had a frustrating experience at numerous companies: After an interview, I always ask what to expect next and send follow-up thank-you emails, sometimes with a job-related question, and then I never hear from the hiring manager. I’ll do a second follow-up after a week (or whenever the we’ll-get-back-to-you-by date has passed) and get silence. Is this ghosting professional? Is a straight-up rejection too much to ask? — Anonymous, California
A: Bad communication is never professional. Hiring managers are inundated by applications. Or they don’t think it is their responsibility to respond to rejected candidates. Or who knows. You deserve a response, but you are not guaranteed one. There is nothing you can do to avoid this. It’s them, not you.
A rejection is not too much to ask for. Your real lament is that in the deafening silence, you’re left holding on to hope and reading invisible tea leaves thinking there is a chance, however slim, that you might get the job. That’s agonizing, because you exhaust yourself trying to talk yourself out of hope while clinging to it for dear life. I wish companies were more thoughtful. In the meantime, keep putting yourself out there. I hope you find an amazing job, and soon.