I occasionally deal with being mis-gendered as female by clients at work with whom I only ever correspond with through email. Since their only interaction with me is seeing my name, Alister, and the tone of my message, I'm actually somewhat confused about why this happens so often. (Is Alister sometimes mistaken as a traditionally female name??) I actually AM transgender, however, so I'm rather used to correcting people face to face, although it happens very infrequently now if I'm meeting with someone in person. The problem only seems to occur through email.

I've just had someone respond to an email with "yes ma'am" and don't know how, or if, I should correct her. Is there a professional way to bring this up, or should I just disregard it and hope that it doesn't cause problems down the road if, say, we have to have a phone call?

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    What do you prefer to be addressed as, in place of "ma'am"?
    – Masked Man
    Jan 12, 2017 at 17:34
  • As for the "Alister" question - "Aleister"-variants are not common male names either. Perhaps, with your spelling, they see more of a similarity to "Alice". Again, no one know WHO you are through an email, so it is probably an honest mistake. If you have a phone call with them, 1. they'll probably mostly be using "You" pronouns, and 2. they may hear their mistake in your voice and then you don't have to say anything.
    – user52991
    Jan 12, 2017 at 17:52
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    I identify as male so I would definitely prefer "sir" over "ma'am," although personally I feel a bit uncomfortable with how professional either are in the first place. Bizarrely, any time someone mis-remembers my name it ALWAYS turns into a form of Alexander, so at least with that mistake I'm assumed to be male. It might be that she's assuming a similarity to Alice or Alison or something along those lines.
    – Alister M
    Jan 12, 2017 at 18:07
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    I have been using my chosen name for 7 years now and do not want to go through the legal acrobatics of having to get it changed again. As easy as that fix sounds, it would cause way more problems than solving one that only happens maybe once every two months.
    – Alister M
    Jan 12, 2017 at 18:37
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    @kcm It's probably a regional thing. Alistair is a (male) Scottish name and it's not at all unusual to encounter it in the UK along with it's variants such as Alasdair, Alastair or Alister. Alister is probably a less common variant, although Alister Crowley is a famous bearer of that spelling! Jan 12, 2017 at 19:36

2 Answers 2


Is there a professional way to bring this up, or should I just disregard it and hope that it doesn't cause problems down the road if, say, we have to have a phone call?

Since it seems as if it was an honest mistake, it's best to assume positive intent and reply with a mild, polite correction.

Something simple like "Sorry, but I'm a {whatever gender you identify yourself as}" should suffice.

You could potentially avoid mistakes like this by prefacing your name with Mr. or Ms. (or whatever term you feel is appropriate) if you feel comfortable doing so.

Is Alister sometimes mistaken as a traditionally female name??

That surprises me a bit as well. I guess these days most names don't denote gender very strongly.

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    +1 for adding the title to your name. I think it could work well in a standard email signature so the information is always present.
    – David K
    Jan 12, 2017 at 18:05
  • We have standardized signatures that everyone at the company has to adhere to, so I don't think I could put Mr. in it. I just received an email from the same client in which she uses ma'am again, so I politely let her know that I'm actually male.
    – Alister M
    Jan 12, 2017 at 20:34

I would just blow it off. No one is dissing you by referring to you as female. They just don't know.

Probably the easiest thing to do is put "Mr. Alister Brown" as your signature to clarify. This will help people sort it out without being called out. I wouldn't directly mention it unless it was a prolonged pattern.

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    Even a signature doesn't get through to everyone. A woman wouldn't let me pick up my order because she hadn't authorized anyone else to pick it up--she was so fixated on the name being female she didn't look at the ID in her hand. Jan 14, 2017 at 1:19

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