I have to interview several candidates which come from different cultures and backgrounds, some of these cultures have their names on the CV as:

Forename Surname

Others use:

Surname Forename

Sometimes, this can make it tricky to work out which name to use when sending emails to contact them. I generally use Dear Ms/Mr Surname but I've had several candidates where I couldn't work out what their surname was. Generally I tend to look them up on LinkedIn as, that uses a standard format. But they often don't have a LinkedIn profile. Are there any other methods to work out which is the correct name to use? Do I just apologise in advance stating I'm unable to work out which is their surname?

  • 7
    Fun fact: In the USA, there are many more Kent Clarks than Clark Kents. – gnasher729 Nov 4 '19 at 9:12
  • 1
    That's a job for your HR screener or your receptionist to scribble down what that person should be called on their resume. Are you that person, or just the hiring manager? – Stephan Branczyk Nov 4 '19 at 9:34
  • 3
    I've never seen "Surname Forename", I've seen "Surname, Forename". If someone writes "Surname Forename" or"Forename, Surname" they messed up and I will call them the wrong thing. What cultures are we talking about? – Nathan Cooper Nov 4 '19 at 10:17
  • 1
    @NathanCooper French, German, English, Russian, Arabic, etc. Generally most countries around the EU or who are looking to get a job within the EU. See here for all the iterations that can exist – Draken Nov 4 '19 at 10:20
  • 1
    Sometimes the surname is written in all caps for emphasis that it is a surname. Other than this I don't see the problem. If I addressed you as Mr. Draken for example, then all sorts of mistakes are possible anyway (maybe you're not a Mister, etc.), but I suspect you will not be offended or you would politely correct me. – Brandin Nov 4 '19 at 11:20

I have this problem sometimes and what I do is go check a names database and match the name to the gender to the country of origin. I usually know at least one piece of information.

This is an example for my name: http://www.namepedia.org/en/firstname/Viorel/ . Although that method is fairly accurate, sometimes, people have last names that are usually first names - I think mixing those up should be considered a honest mistake.

What I also do is try to push a first-name-basis and sign my emails with "Thank you, Viorel" in the hopes they do the same.

| improve this answer | |
  • And bingo, the name I was looking for was a slavic one and it located it straight away. Now I know the order. They had used Surname Firstname without capitalising the surname nor using commas. Thanks for the name database recommendation! – Draken Nov 4 '19 at 16:01

My two cents: Use the same format as in the CV for the initial communication. No one should have objection for the same representation as of theirs.

Once the communication progresses, you can ask them about which is the first name (given name) and which part is the surname (family name).

That said, have a chat with the people in charge of the company portal, and ask them to provide separate fields of First name and Last name, or, process the entered information properly - whichever is applicable.

| improve this answer | |
  • My thought exactly. If they apply via a portal this problem can be solved with two seperate fields. – user180146 Nov 4 '19 at 10:04
  • 1
    That drops the formal version of writing in English: If your relationship with the reader is formal, use their family name. As for the portal, you're assuming people have understood which field is for which. French use Nom and Prenom, English use Name and surname, it can all get very confusing for non native speakers which field is which. – Draken Nov 4 '19 at 10:04
  • 2
    @Draken IMHO it's not a rule, per se. For the initial communication, use the full name, like Dear Haridas Pal or Dear Pal Haridas. Once you have established a communication, and identified whether it's a Mr. or Ms. (or Mrs.), and asked the surname, you can refer as Mr. Pal (according to the formal rule you mentioned) – Sourav Ghosh Nov 4 '19 at 10:10
  • @Draken and for the confusion part: with the help of translation services, I don;t feel it's too difficult for someone to figure out which is which. No process ever guarantees 100% solution, but it can greatly help reduce the confusion you're having now. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 4 '19 at 10:26
  • 2
    Don't ask for separate first name and last name fields - it excludes people from some cultures. uxmovement.com/forms/why-your-form-only-needs-one-name-field It's as bad as just slapping Ms/Mr on the front and assuming that covers everyone. – Robin Bennett Nov 4 '19 at 11:25

Off the top of my head. "First Last", or "First, Last" both make sense to me and have low ambiguity, with the former being what I'd use. Though, that's only useful for constructing a CV, not reading it.

However, first and last names (or given/family) aren't a universal concept everywhere. (e.g. in some Asian languages, they go in the other order) In a lot of cases you can guess, or learn which is which from references on the CV, like if they linked a site they have their identity on.

Ideally, "full name" and "short name" should be what you get from someone to identify them. But everyone's system makes perfect sense to them, so there's little reason to change.

To more directly answer your question though. I have never seen "LastName FirstName" without the comma, or the other way with it. (though, where I live, peoples' surnames are not easily confused with forenames)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    The french will often do SURNAME firstname on their CV with their surname in all capitals. However, I've also received CVs where both names where in capitals, due to formatting choices, and little to no indication which is first and which is last – Draken Nov 4 '19 at 10:48
  • 1
    @Draken: right. The right order should be firstname ("prenom", litterally what's come before the name) surname, it is common in formal settings to use the SURNAME firstname format. I don't know why (and I am French), but I guess it is some old administrative rule. This was driving my Latin teacher mad. – Taladris Nov 4 '19 at 11:48
  • Is that a common format there? Like taught in schools common? If you've got to take multiple countries into account, without some form of accurate reference, I don't see this being a thing that can be generalized. – bobsburner Nov 4 '19 at 11:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .