‘Thanks, but…’

Q. A colleague said he received a gift, a nicely engraved pen. Unfortunately, his name was misspelled. He asked if he should mention the mistake when thanking the gift giver. My first inclination is to not mention the mistake. However, if this is from a business colleague, then wouldn’t it be kind to alert him as the vendor could have been careless? Do you think he should mention the mistake, and if so, should it be included in the Thank You card perhaps as a humorous note? I appreciate any advice you may have.

C. R., Seal Beach, CA

A. Your question is excellent, a real “between a rock and a hard place” one. Everyone can immediately perceive that this is an uncomfortable situation: Say something to the giver and risk embarrassing him; say nothing and have a gift with your name misspelled. Before making that choice, you could start with the vendor if you know who it is. My wife once received sheets incorrectly monogrammed that her mother ordered from Land’s End. A call to Land’s End ascertained the sheets had indeed been incorrectly monogrammed and new ones were sent. Problem solved. If you know who the engraver is and if he made an error doing the engraving (the order says “McGregor” while the pen says “MacGregor”), most likely he’ll make good. But any engraver may be able to fix the problem by buffing down the metal and re-engraving your name. It’s certainly worth asking, as it would avoid the more difficult choice of deciding whether or not to say anything to the giver.

If the engraving can’t be fixed, then the key to solving this problem is for your colleague to consider how his actions will affect the giver. From this point of view saying or doing nothing other than expressing his thanks may well be the best answer. Remember, it’s the thought behind the gift that matters most. Have your colleague answer this question: What would be the point of making the giver feel embarrassed?


If your colleague does decide to mention the error, he shouldn’t push to have the mistake corrected. “John, thank you so much for the thoughtful gift. I’ve enjoyed working with you this year and look forward to our continued friendship in the coming year. I do have a question for you. Could you let me know where you got the pen engraved? My name is spelled incorrectly, and I would like to see if they can adjust it.” The giver may well offer to take care of it. Your colleague should decide ahead of time if he will accept the giver’s offer if it is made.

On the other side of the coin, when giving engraved or monogrammed gifts, it pays to double-check the spelling of the recipients’ names before you give the gift.

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