For as long as I can remember, everyone has called me Jessie. Jessie Bear, Messy Jessie, Jessie Poo—I’ve heard it all. It started as a family nickname, but it became embedded as my identity throughout grade school and stuck around like an annoying commercial jingle.
And it never bothered me—at least, not until I entered the workforce.
Suddenly, it seemed a bit awkward to have my boss and co-workers calling me what my parents had called me as a child. In fact, it gave me a bit of a professional identity complex—I started wondering if my lifelong nickname was a little childish for work, and if I’d be taken more seriously if I went by my formal name in business settings.
So I decided to morph my professional persona into Jessica, and reserve Jessie for only the people I’m closest to. It seemed like such a slight change at first (it is only a few letters)—but I realized that it’s not easy to change the way people have referred to you (and how you’ve referred to yourself!) for years. Would I need a flashing marquee? Skywriting? A billboard?
The good news is—it wasn’t quite that extreme. But if you’re feeling stuck, here’s how I did it.
Lead by Example
You have to commit to the change first—so lead by example and introduce yourself by your “new” name. Update your email signature, business cards, office nametag, and any other places you’re identified in print around the office. And any time you meet new people, answer the phone, or otherwise verbally refer to yourself, always use your new name. These verbal and visual cues will help others recognize that you’re serious about the change.
Have a Social Presence
In the world of social media, sites link and feed off of one another, so having your “new” name updated across the board is key. To minimize confusion and make sure your old contacts can still find you, you can modify the way your name appears to include both your names for a transition period (or permanently). For example, Facebook lets you include a middle name in your personal info, which can be repurposed to display the nickname you previously used—i.e., Jessica (Jessie) Taylor. If your organization has a social network or LinkedIn group, make sure your display name is updated there, too.
Be a Stickler
If you see your name printed incorrectly on meeting agendas, memos, or other widely distributed documents, approach the people who drafted them to request a name change in any future versions. The author probably just wasn’t aware of your new preference, but don’t let it slide—use it as an opportunity to reinforce your commitment to your new moniker. In the same vein, if someone verbally refers to you by your old nickname, casually remind him or her that you prefer your professional name: “Hey, I know it probably sounds silly, but I’m trying to stop using my nickname at work. Would you mind calling me Jessica?”
There also may be people in your life who naturally overlap the boundaries of your professional and personal worlds (i.e., co-workers who are close friends), and that’s OK! It’s usually not too much of a stretch to have them switch gears depending on the setting you’re in. It might take these folks a little extra time to adapt and consistently remember to make the distinction, but gentle reminders can be helpful—especially before big meetings or work events, where using the right name is essential.
Your professional identity is a pretty big deal—it’s how people get to know you and it will follow you wherever you go. So if you’re not happy with the one you have now, don’t be afraid to change it. It took me the better part of a month to galvanize my co-workers into calling me by my “proper name,” but I’m definitely glad I made the effort. Just stick to it, and you’ll slowly find that others will do the same.