What’s in a Title?

Janet Yellen is now the head person at the nation’s Federal Reserve. No surprise there. Her confirmation was pretty well-assured. What is equally unsurprising is the question that arose: Just how will she be addressed–Chair, Chairwoman, Chairman or Chairperson? There is no sure-bet standard answer. This question has arisen with other high profile women as well. The best resolution is for the woman executive to express her desire and for her organization to publicize that choice so there is no ambiguity.

That’s exactly what the Federal Reserve has done. A news item in the Moneyline section of Wednesday’s USA Today is where I learned her preference: Chair. Yellen is Chair, not Chairman or Chairwoman or even Chairperson, of the Federal Reserve. While it’s not the most important decision she’ll make in her tenure at the Federal Reserve, it does matter because it allows people at the Federal Reserve to address her correctly from the start.

As important as it was for The Federal Reserve to publicize how to refer to Yellen, it’s equally important for people writing or referring to her to get her name and title correct. Reporters and others writing about her or referring to her should take care to get her name and title correct. People’s names and title matter, and when they are misspelled or mispronounced people notice, and they really don’t appreciate it. They and the people who read or hear your gaffe will let you know.

Recently, I came within a hair’s breadth of making just such a faux pas. I researched a blog about New York mayor de Blasio carefully and even included a link in my blog to a New York Daily News article about him eating pizza. Without realizing it or catching it in proofreading, I misspelled his name. Fortunately, an editor at saw the mistake and corrected it for me. She emailed to let me know about the misspelling for future reference. I was relieved when I opened the blog to fix it and saw that she had already done so.


So, while mistakes can and do happen, take the time to try to find out not only how to spell a person’s name correctly, but also how to pronounce it correctly. Call the person’s office confirm both spelling and pronunciation. This is particularly important when going for a job interview. If the applicant gets the interviewer’s name correctly while her competition doesn’t, it will be noted by the interviewer. Finally, don’t automatically rely on your contact management system to have a person’s name entered correctly. Take the time to double check.

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