A new employee just came on board, and their lack of understanding of the English language has been a bit of a hurdle. This has become apparent in the handle/username they chose for our chat system (named Slack), based on their name, which has an... unfortunate slang meaning in English.

The slack handle was "poonPounder."

So I'm in a PC pickle to not infringe on their culture but also address the offensive name. Would it be offensive/unethical to explain to them that the name is offensive and ask them to change it? My concern is that this would come off as insensitive to the language barrier and their culture.

And I am pointing this out, because knowing this Stack Exchange, this is different than the offensive bumper sticker question in that the tables are turned and it is an employee of mine with the offensive content, not myself.


I addressed the issue to the employee in the manner jimm101 described. The employee smiled, nodded and went back to work. They are yet to change the handle, but I'll give it some time.


It has been a few hours, I went over again to explain that it has this meaning that is really not appropriate. They just smiled and nodded. Then I asked another employee who speaks this employee's native language to explain, the employee with the bad Slack handle apologized thoroughly, changed it, but I don't think they understood the part that was the issue. Simply, they kept the word that is an issue and changed the word "pounder" to 'panda".


I asked the other employee who was able to translate to explain which word was the issue, while the employee with the bad handle seemed embarrassed, they were happy to oblige. Definitely was a language barrier issue, but problem solved.

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    If you want to discuss this post, then use The Workplace Chat. That's what it's for. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 18:58
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    This question is being discussed on meta and if you want to discuss the "should we be allowed to post whatever comments we want without them being deleted?" question, do so there. Comments are not for meta discussions about the site, that's the point of meta sites.
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 19:47
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    Additionally, clarifications and responses to questions belong as edits into the question. Either the OP or others can do this.
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


Let them know right away that this handle has an "unintended" meaning that is not flattering, and that it should be changed right away. It's not necessary to go into details.

This is like telling someone they have spinach in their teeth. It's not comfortable, but if it were you, you'd want to know.

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    +1 the fewer the details, the better. If he's causing trouble, you're not playing into it, if not, you're saving him embarrassment. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 15:01
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    And if you feel uncomfortable explaining the meaning - you may want to just suggest that he google any user name that he is considering, spelling it out as it would appear if one were reading the words in an English sentence. I actually tested this process with poonpounder, and the results were immediate and clear. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 15:06
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    @RobertDundon I agree with you, but I'd rather use "unwise" than "offensive".
    – Crowley
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 15:07
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    We have a non-english employee here as well... Talking about nicknames, She suggested we call one of our coworkers "T-Bag"... after some character on a TV show she saw. Much unexpected laughter was had... and some red faced blushing after some explanation. It wasn't intentional and she learned. Similar instances with different terms (some leading to "Um... please google that (and not on a work computer)")
    – WernerCD
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 18:03
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    @WernerCD: Assuming that was a reference to T-Bag on Prison Break, that's hardly complimentary to begin with.... T-Bag being a violent, one-armed, paedophile prison escapee and all that. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 12:12

Another approach you could use if you feel unable to approach him directly is to ask all employees to have a username in a specific format (first initial.surname P.Pounder T.Brink J.Quick)

This will not single him out so no discrimination can be claimed, it improves the identification of users and it avoids the possibility of future employees having inappropriate usernames and needing to be spoken to.

Even if an offensive word remains in a username, nobody can attribute it to malice (since everyone is subject the same emotionless requirement).

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    This way, you can easily get the oposite - some people get really naughty screennames which they didn't pick and they don't want them. I know of such case. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 21:28
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    This is a terrible if not the worst solution that has more holes then the current system. I have worked for places that have had multiple people with the same name. for example John Smith to fix this they added a sequential number at the end, but this resulted in a lot of mail, some confidential or extremely urgent, going to the wrong John, most going to the plain johnsmith@... and some going to a John that no longer worked for the company.
    – rom016
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 10:57
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    My brother's email address does not have a dot - his name is Sam Hitchin.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 0:37
  • @rom016: Note that the answerer is talking about nicknames in a specific format, and lists "P.Pounder" as an example. Assuming that Pounder is not the real surname of the OP's colleague, it seems like everyone is still supposed to pick their handle, so duplicate (real) names would not be an issue. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 20:26
  • @O.R.Mapper please note it is quite common for people from east Asia to adopt a name in English (even if they are not going to be moving to an English speaking country) and from personal experiences it is seen as quite insulting to insist of using their native language name when speaking English, part of this, i assume, is due to those who speak English natively not being able to pronounce it properly. I can not comment about any other cultures and I may have over generalized, this is from both first hand experience and talking to people from east Asia Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 11:10

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