A friend of mine is married to a man called Joseph. When I first met him, he introduced himself as Joseph and it’s never occurred to me to call him anything else. However, over dinner the other day, he shared with us that people often take the liberty of shortening his name to Joe or Joey, which drives him crazy. His own wife calls him Joseph, and he finds it presumptuous when near-strangers decide to give him a nickname that he doesn’t use or care for.
Long names can be tricky. Is William actually William, or does he go by Bill or Will? What about Richard, Robert, or Elizabeth? My own name is Margaret, but I prefer to use by the shorter version, Peggy. To avoid confusion I only use Peggy in my business correspondence, and nobody ever thinks to call me Margaret.
The standard rule of thumb is to use the name which the person used to identify himself. If you’re exchanging emails, look at the bottom to see how the person signed off. If Elizabeth wrote “Best, Liz,” use Liz. If not, stick to Elizabeth.
Using nicknames implies an intimacy that may not be appropriate for business relationships. It can also be irritating. If someone I didn’t know well started calling me Peg, I would be annoyed and feel compelled to correct them. I wouldn’t take the liberty of changing someone else’s name, so why should they change mine?