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    Chairwoman or chairperson? Depends on preference

    Janet Yellen is now the head person at the 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?

    This question has arisen with other high profile women. The best resolution is for the executive to express her choice and her organization to publicize it so there is no ambiguity.

    That’s exactly what the Federal Reserve did. Yellen’s preference: chair. While it’s not the most important decision she will make in her tenure, it does matter because it allows people to address her correctly from the start.


    As important as it was for the Fed 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. People’s names and titles matter, and when they are misspelled or mispronounced people notice, and they really don’t appreciate it.

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    Recently, I came within a hair’s breadth of making just such a faux pas. I researched a blog item about Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York carefully and even included a link in my blog to a New York Daily News article about him eating pizza. Without realizing it, I misspelled his name.

    Fortunately, an editor at saw the mistake and corrected it for me. She e-mailed to let me know about the misspelling.

    So while mistakes can and do happen, take the time 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 to confirm both spelling and pronunciation.

    This is particularly important when going for a job interview. If an applicant gets the interviewer’s name correct while her competition doesn’t, it will be noted. Finally, don’t automatically rely on your contact management system to have a person’s name entered correctly. Take the time to double check.

    E-mail questions about business etiquette to