Hi Duana!

First-time writer, long-time reader. I believe you are the perfect person to help solve my voicemail dilemma as I am not sure which name to use. It’s currently automated, but I would like to use something more personalized. I go by Ali with friends but Alison at work. I like Ali, but I feel that Alison has more weight to it in the workplace (feel free to correct any misconceptions).

While I currently don’t receive many work related calls, I am in the process of finding and applying for another job and anticipate I will be receiving more. I also know from previous experience people become confused when they hear me address myself as Ali or Alison when they’ve called me by the other name.

With that said, which name would you recommend I address myself as in my voicemail greeting?

Thanks much!



I meannnnn …I am caught here. Because on the one hand I completely understand this question and where you’re coming from, but on the other, I hate voicemail. 

I hate leaving people messages, I hate listening to the ones that other people leave for me, and I even resent the little ‘voice notes’ that people text you now. I am a youth – except that while I value text and email I still will talk on the phone (if it’s been prearranged, obviously) rather than listen to voicemail. 

However, this is a red herring because your question is about the formality of a full name or not, and that applies in email, when you’re introducing yourself and, yes, when people are calling you for a job, and leaving a damn voicemail. Gah. 

On the surface of your question I don’t think there’s any particular reason people should get confused with Ali for Alison, but I do think that when your nickname has a sound that doesn’t necessarily come up in your formal name it can make people wonder if they heard you right – kind of like Nat for Natalie or Gigi for Georgia; they end in different sounds, whereas, say, Cait for Caitlin makes a little more ‘logical’ sense. Fundamentally that’s their own problem, but when you’re trying to get to a familiar place with someone you want to hire you, it can be a different story. 

I think the bigger issue here is that you worry that there might be something that seems less friendly or warm about Alison, and that’s where I disagree – correspondingly, there’s nothing unprofessional about Ali at all, if it was the name you went by all the time. I think the reason you’re getting tangled up in this right now is that in instituting “Alison-but-call-me-Ali” you risk either apologizing for having a formal name, i.e. ‘don’t worry I’m not that formal HAHAHA’, or else trying to create a false intimacy before it happens naturally. 

In short, I think you should use Alison, with no sense that there’s anything too formal or too ‘unlike you’ about it – and then, on subsequent meetings, you can invite people to use it by introducing yourself that way, which lets them know there’s a casual informal relationship between you. People tend to assume they can say Jen or Mike or Steve, regardless of whether Jennifer or Michael or Steven has suggested they do so – but other, less-common nicknames tend to feel like a much more intimate choice unless they’re invited to do so …and that’s on you! 

If you’d said you didn’t like the name, that every time people call you Alison you were looking over your shoulder to someone else, I’d tell you to be Ali all the time and make no apologies about it, but I think what you’re really asking is whether or when it’s okay to be Alison, and I want you to feel like it’s absolutely okay to wear it as often as you like, without feeling like it’s impersonal or cold – and maybe finding more about it to like while you’re up. 

I hope this helps, and also that you find a new way to appreciate that Alison is a great name in and of itself – especially since I suspect you’ll find, too, that if you don’t offer the ‘escape hatch’ of a nickname, that people will warm up to ‘Alison’, as well they should! 

Good luck on the job hunt – and let us know!