First vs. last name policies?

post by Mathieu Putz · 2021-09-11T10:37:41.874Z · EA · GW · 8 comments

This is a question post.

I was wondering what the norms are regarding whether to use people's first or last name. This is a mix between me not knowing what the norms are in English-speaking countries and not knowing what the norm is inside the EA community. I get the impression that first name is generally the way to go, but I'm very unsure about this. Here's an example of what I mean. 
Let's say I wanted to write an email to Rob Wiblin. I've never interacted with him (except maybe twitter replies), but I've listened to all the 80,000 hours episodes and feel like I know him. He also seems pretty down to Earth and approachable. Is "Hi Rob" appropriate? How about anyone else on the 80,000 hours team? "Hi Michelle" or "Hi Dr. Hutchinson"? 
If I were to write to Marc Lipsitch (who's been a guest on the 80k podcast, but is a Professor at Harvard), I would know to be formal (edit: not so sure anymore that this would be the right call), but for all the cases in between, I'm not sure.

Of course this is not about whether those people in particular would mind me calling them by their first name, but rather about what the right policy is in general.

I know that the standard advice is to use the last name and see whether they sign off with their first or something, but often this feels unnecessarily uptight. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

Answers

answer by Larks · 2021-09-11T13:52:10.834Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I essentially always just use first name, including CEOs or professors. I actually find it quite strange how insistent some otherwise extremely egalitarian people are on the use of professional titles as a mark of social status. 

For actual nobility I guess I might use titles.

comment by Mathieu Putz · 2021-09-11T17:28:25.654Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your answer! I agree it's strange that these kinds of formalities are still so much of a thing among otherwise egalitarian people.

answer by Khorton · 2021-09-11T11:17:30.027Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I normally go for first name, especially for casual down to earth people.

I feel Mr/Ms is for showing respect in a formal setting, like if I'm applying for a job at a traditional hierarchical organisation.

comment by Mathieu Putz · 2021-09-11T17:26:29.701Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! That's super helpful.

answer by Aaron Gertler · 2021-09-15T22:31:45.630Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I use first names for almost everyone, unless I have a sense that the person I'm writing to has a strong preference for formality. 

I settled on this partly because ~everyone who's ever written to me has signed the email with their first name. I thus infer that they'd be fine with me calling them by their first name, even if we haven't spoken before.

I also feel strange when people address me as "Mr. Gertler" in writing, and strongly prefer "Aaron" — and I'd guess that many other people feel the same way.

comment by Mathieu Putz · 2021-09-16T12:55:52.759Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for adding your opinion!

Yeah, coming from Luxembourg and studying in Germany, I do get the feeling that the norms differ here. I prefer first name norms though, so that's great :)

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comment by SamiM · 2021-09-11T12:28:21.859Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just a note, Michelle has a Ph.D. so in the formal message, "Dr." would be more appropriate than "Ms." People usually have their credentials on Linkedin, so that information might be easy to find.

Replies from: Mathieu Putz
comment by Mathieu Putz · 2021-09-11T17:30:14.793Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Right! Thanks, I've fixed it!