Calling someone by their name is considered the most basic form of respect, especially in the workplace.
If your name makes someone uncomfortable, do they have a right to call you something else?
If your name makes multiple colleagues uncomfortable, is it still reasonable to expect to be addressed formally?
Reddit user “bxhxjxnc” turned to the AITA (“Am I The A**hole?”) subReddit for their opinion after his colleagues refused to call him by his name.
“AITA for demanding my colleagues use my ‘offensive’ name?”
Before we get into the details of his dilemma, let’s talk about how AITA works.
First, the original poster (OP) shares their story as a post. Once they’re done telling their tale, other users cast votes and share their thoughts in the comments.
Voting options are simple:
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
Now that you know what you’re looking at, let’s get to the full story.
“I work for an international company with many different nationalities. Recently, I have been assigned to a mainly American team – which means I have to work weird hours due to time zones but I’m a single guy with no kids so I can work around that.”
“I live/work in Germany and prior to this team I only used English in writing and spoke German with everyone.”
“We had a couple of virtual meetings and I noticed some of the Americans mispronouncing my name – they called me Mr. Birch. So I corrected them.”
“My surname is Bič. It is a Czech noun meaning ‘a whip’ and happens to be pronounced just like ‘bitch.’ My name is not English and doesn’t have English meaning.”
“Well, turns out the Americans felt extremely awkward about calling me ‘Mr. Bitch’. Using first names is not our company policy due to different cultural customs.”
“For many (me included) using first names with very distant coworkers is not comfortable and the management ruled that using surnames and titles is much more suitable for professional environment.”
“I am aware that using first names is common in the USA, but the US office is just one of the branches. The company is international. I would be the only one addressed by my first name.”
“HR got in touch with me and I just stated that I don’t see a problem with my name.”
“I don’t feel insulted by being called ‘Mr Bitch’. That’s just how my name sounds. I mean, the German word for customer sounds like ‘c*nt’ in Czech; it’s just how it is with different languages.”
“Well, apparently the American group I’m working with is demanding a different representative. They also work from home and feel uncomfortable saying ‘curse words’ (my name) in front of their families.”
“I am not in trouble. HR cannot force me to use my first name or respond to Birch.”
“The company is just now in awkward place because the Americans don’t want to work with me because of my name, and the German office doesn’t have a replacement.”
“Due to the time zone issues, the German office is having problems finding a replacement for me. Nobody wants to work a 2am-7am office shift from home.”
“Management approached me asking to just accept being called Mr Birch, but honestly I am a bit offended. A coworker even suggested that I have grounds for discrimination complaint since the reason they don’t want to work with me is my Czech name.”
“Am I the a**hole for refusing to answer to a different name?”
Reddit was quick to reassure OP that he absolutely had a right to be called by his name.
“NTA There are plenty of American surnames that could be taken offensively (Butts, Dix, Weiner, etc) and no one asks them to go by a different name.”
“It’s common practice to close a door if you have a meeting while you’re working from home anyways. It should be pretty easy for your coworkers to call you by your last name without offending their families.” – QuixoticLogophile
“NTA. As an American I am rather frustrated by your story.”
“This is, in my mind, a perfect opportunity and example to teach any children or family that while a word might mean one thing in one country, it can often have an entirely different meaning in another.”
” ‘Yes, his name is Mr. Bitch, but it is spelled differently and it means ‘whip’, so his name is cool, and not associated with a female dog, or your Aunt Karen, because that is a different type and different word, even though they sound exactly the same’.” – TheBenLuby1
“It’s also a verb in Polish pronounced very much the same. I think it comes up in another language too, but it’s escaping me at the moment.”
“I would argue it’s not even a curse word, but a term that’s used as a slur.”
“Point is, it’s definitely infantile to be making a big deal about something in another language entirely. It obviously doesn’t have the same meaning. If you’re juvenile enough you need to have a laugh at it, do it in private and move on.”
“And if you’re having meetings in a family setting and you think they might overhear and you’re worried about it, then be an adult and talk to your children about it.”
“I’ve had to talk to my kids about the f bomb (What can I say, we really like listening to music). At 4 years old, they’re capable of knowing what they can and cannot say.”
“Definitely NTA. And hold your ground. It’s your name.” – tara_the_terrible
“If my primary school teacher, Miss Fricker, who then got married and changed her name to Mrs Buncombe which in our local accent was indistinguishable from ‘Mrs Bum Cum’ managed to teach a bunch of 11 year olds to use her name properly and without laughing twice over I am sure your dumbass colleagues can figure out how to say your name without blushing. NTA.” – robot-worgen
“This isn’t 1900s Ellis Island, run by ethnocentric people with hearing damage and limited literacy skills. They don’t get to ask you to change your name.”
“HR is borderline okay for making sure you understand that your name is a derogatory term in their language, to allow you the option of a pseudonym, but it’s wholly inappropriate for adults to be squeamish about using your given name. Coworkers need to get over it.” – awill237
But some people were convinced there was some room for compromise here.
“You take issue with the fact that your coworkers are uncomfortable using what sounds like a swear word, particularly those that are working from home with kids.”
“But then you turn around in the same breath and say that you’re not willing to use first names, because it culturally makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“So it’s okay for you to use your cultural comfort levels as a dictation of which words they can or cannot use? But you have a problem with them using their cultural comfort levels to dictate which words they are willing to use or not?” – amymae
“NAH. It sucks, but this is a cultural barrier that you’re never going to be able to overcome.”
“My friend (who is from a Spanish speaking country) worked in an Arabic speaking country for years, where his name sounds like the word for poop. He was frustrated by trying to go by his own name for over a year before he gave in and went by a slightly changed name.”
“I totally understand if you want to fight it but know that it’s never going to stop being an issue.” – Soulc4tcher
Reddit seems a little torn here. But ultimately Redditors decided the OP was not the a**hole.