When to use nicknames, legal names

It’s not as obvious as it seems. Follow this guide on when to use a nickname, your legal name, tie your name to a degree, or even use the phonetic spelling.

You were anointed with a name when you born. But have you considered your “naming strategy” for your job search ? How do you handle a nickname? When do you tether your name to an advanced degree? Do you know whether to use a suffix? Or how to make a long or difficult-to-pronounce name more accessible?

It may seem obvious, but it’s not.

There needs to be a strategy behind everything you do in a job search — including how you expect others to refer to you. This will affect how you send an e-mail, leave a voice message and even what you name your resume file.

Common naming questions

The name on your resume does not necessarily need to be your legal name. I always ask people how their business cards are printed. How do you want people to know you professionally? This is very important. You want people to be comfortable and know what to call you on the first contact. This is part of the social graces that make communication easy. Here are some examples:





Advanced degrees

Now that you’ve got your basic naming strategy underway, here are a few guidelines to make sure it stays consistent in the following media:


It is very important that your e-mail easily tracks to your name. If not, you take a real chance of your e-correspondence going into spam. For example:

Personal affinities

Family names


Clever monikers

You can get e-mail addresses for no charge at Yahoo, Google, AOL, MSN, SBCglobal and others. But if you get a new address for a job search, be sure to check it frequently!


Your voicemail prompt should mention your name. Again, it seems easy, but many people don’t do so and I wouldn’t leave a confidential message if I’m not 100 percent sure I’ve reached the right person. Though using your current work phone as your contact number is not appropriate, if you are using a home phone as your contact number, make it professional (for example, no dogs barking in the background).

File names

Just like your e-mail address, it is very important to name your resume file clearly. Working with Ladders resume-writing service and other top executives over the past 10 years, I have seen hundreds of resumes that have “My Resume.doc” as the name. That is not helpful for someone managing a large database of candidate resumes. Here are some better examples:

Social-media profiles

Consider the name on your profile. If I can’t find James Smith on LinkedIn because your profile says Jim Smith, that can be a problem during your job search. You want to be consistent so people can find you.

Remember, every part of your job search needs to be strategic. Think about all the ways you present yourself. What do you want people to call you? How can you make it easy for people to understand your name? How do you clearly identify all documents you send to people?

It seems basic, but sometimes the most basic parts of a job search can be overlooked.

Irene Marshall Irene Marshall, MBA, PhD, is president of Tools for Transition. She has helped people get jobs for nine years, starting as a recruiter with Robert Half. She is a frequent public speaker in the San Francisco area on job search and career issues. She has more than 40 years of broad business experience. Her industry credentials include certifications as a professional resume writer, interview coach and career coach.