A potential coworker of mine is from a Latin country, and has a full (?) name with 4 words. The first word sounds like a first(=given) name, the last word sounds like a last(=family) name. The middle two I'm not sure.

I remember several people from Latin countries (well, celebrities really) who had longer names they shortened, or use some other kind of short name. But - how am I supposed to address my coworker? That is, assuming I'm not as formal as using Mr./Ms. LastName? Should I just use the first word? The first two words? The whole thing?

Of course I could ask them, but it's a bit awkward and I'd like to start out with a reasonable default assumption.

  • 5
    Possibly relevant: Spanish naming customs. Note in particular "There are times when it is impossible, by inspection of a name, to correctly analyse it." Oct 12, 2017 at 22:20
  • 1
    @PhilipKendall An excellent point which translates universally. The idea that there is a naming standard within which everyone fits, or even the majority, is an illusion. It's especially apparent in software development where it regularly prevents people from filling out forms correctly. For some interesting reading to this effect, read kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/…
    – Cronax
    Oct 13, 2017 at 10:54
  • its usually the paternal (first) last name
    – atxgis
    Oct 13, 2017 at 19:00
  • Well, as someone with four names, I can tell you, the best thing is just ask, everybody calls me "Moriano" as my full name is too long, and I found that pretty much everyone can pronounce that correctly (not the case with my first name "Juan" which seems to be a bit tricky for English speakers). Just ask :) Dec 14, 2018 at 3:42
  • To be fair the Spanish J is a bit tricky, although I find r/rr much harder, (e.g. I can pronounce my friend Javi's name no problem but when I try to distinguish in sentences between "but" and "dog" they don't know which one I mean except for context). I consciously avoid words with r's in :) But yes I would also ask, some Spanish people I knoww are known by one of the family names or as a common nickname (that English speakers wouldn't know).
    – adamcooney
    Dec 14, 2018 at 11:56

1 Answer 1


But - how am I supposed to address him/her?

The only way to know for sure what this person prefers to be addressed as is to ask them. Asking them is the most effective sure fire way to not make a mistake and embarrass yourself or potentially offend the person.

Most likely they will appreciate the fact you were courteous enough to ask.

The other approach you could take is to listen and see how they introduce themselves.

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    Walk up to them and say "Hi, I'm Bob." Then try to shake their hands. Most people would respond with how they like to be addressed. e.g. "Hi Bob, I'm Alice The First."
    – NotMe
    Oct 13, 2017 at 21:00

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