Say My Name, Say My Name, Say My Name (Correctly!)


I’m a 25-year-old, nonbinary lesbian. I got a new job in early December, and decided to slap my pronouns (they/them) on my résumé, along with the fact that I taught a “gender and pronouns in the workplace” workshop at my former job. My boss ensured that my pronouns were respected, and asked if I was comfortable conducting the workshop with my new colleagues. I’m very passionate about the education of L.G.B.T.Q.+ issues and practices, and was equal parts relieved and enthralled that my new gig supported these efforts, too.

Everyone at work knows me as Ali. As I’ve gotten more comfortable with my friends and family referring to me as “Al,” I’ve struggled with how to approach this at my job. I don’t want to “other” myself even further. Every time I come up with some semblance of a solution, I feel more apprehension than confidence.

How do I tell my colleagues about my new name in a professional way?

— Al R., Boston

Thus far, your employer has been inclusive and supportive, as it should be. There’s no reason to believe sharing your preferred name will be handled otherwise. Your apprehension is entirely understandable, given the bigotries of this world, but I would simply send an email to your colleagues saying you prefer to be called Al. You don’t need to explain yourself unless you would like to. It’s an eminently reasonable request. Your preferred name, the name that best fits who you are, matters. At the same time, update everything you want to reflect your preferred name, like your résumé and your email signature. If your name forms part of your work email address, ask your employer to change that, too. Best of luck, Al!


I am a new rabbi at a synagogue where the only other clergy is a cantor who has been there for many years. Congregants love the cantor for his voice and charm, but I dislike him for his absence at meetings, his tardiness and his lack of communication on major issues. It makes the work environment tense.

Every synagogue president since his arrival has given him a slap on the wrist for his performance, but he has kept his job through numerous contract negotiations. Is it wrong to make a big stink, to remind the lay leadership that we are not a welfare organization paying big money to someone who does little work? Or do I swallow it, realize that no work situation is perfect, and take advantage of the fact that, without his effort or presence, I have the ability to lead the congregation, and those who know will know?

— Anonymous

It’s hilarious to learn that spiritual leaders have the same petty office dramas the rest of us do. I am not entirely sure how synagogue hierarchies work, but … you’re the rabbi. You have some influence. It’s fair to bring up the cantor’s lack of professionalism with the lay leadership. It’s fair to hold the cantor accountable for his mistakes and work with him on an improvement plan. He is not the only charming cantor with a great voice, but clearly his relationship with the congregation is important and should be preserved if at all possible.

You may well have to suck it up and learn to work with the cantor. That said, you’re a man of God. I would like you to reflect on the use of the phrase “welfare organization” and the idea that social welfare is paying someone “big money” to do very little work. I am sure you are familiar with tzedakah. The Talmud says charity is equal in importance to all the other commandments combined, so I am dismayed by your attitude toward “welfare.” Our unconscious biases reveal themselves in the most unexpected ways. You can be frustrated that your synagogue is paying someone to do no work, but that has nothing to do with welfare and the ethical obligations we have to one another — nothing at all.

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