Taking names: Ghosts of perceived slights in the workplace

Taking names: Ghosts of perceived slights in the workplace

Back on March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry stated for the world to eventually hear “give me liberty or give me death.” From 1775 onwards, those strong powerful words echo and carry an immense weight to this day.  It captures the American spirit and reverberates through many of our bones; especially during very heated political seasons. Nowadays, of course, there really is not much of a non-heated political season. C’est la vie for once upon a time politics was about inspirational discourse. Or so many historians say. Furthermore, nowadays there is the habitual game of political name-calling. Last year for example, Republican Nancy Mace called her fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham a “Nancy Boy” on her twitter feed.  I actually have no idea what a Nancy Boy is but it sounds southern and it sounds like it was meant to be an insult. It seems these days if we can’t inspire we just resort to name-calling. It’s like we are in a perpetual school yard shouting match. As we tire of name-calling politics we could just propose the MTV solution to picking our leaders and just have them fight it out in a cage match.



Recently, a book was released about Hillary Clinton hoping to shed light on her as a person and leader.  The book entitled “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton” is the usual type of book that is released in the midst of a political jockeying season in the US. The headlines and apparent take-away message is that the Clintons engage in the practice of taking names.   For everyday purposes, that phrase simply means “to write somebody’s name down”, presumably for some kind of punishment later on for a perceived wrongdoing or slight. Apparently, the Clintons have been noting for decades now which individual has not been on their side (or for that matter switched sides). They have a list and apparently they check it many times especially when individuals need something.  The Clintons are the master of the name taking domain.


Should we be shocked at this practice of name taking? Have you been to an office lately? Taking names is the game du jour in many workplaces. In particular, you see many leaders creating lists. I have been in meetings where two leaders cannot even talk to each other civilly because one perceived a slight from the other over a decade ago.  The slight may have been that one didn’t pass the butter during a business dinner meeting.   I am not joking about this type of grudge. It happens on a fairly frequent basis in the workfield.


I am fairly sure Bill Gates must have been on Steve Jobs’ list and the same goes with Jay Leno and David Letterman.  The View Co-Host Jenny McCarthy recently joked that she knew she was on Oprah Winfrey’s sh*t list. Such a statement produced a mega pop culture storm to which Oprah responded by noting she had no such list. Really?  I laugh a deep laugh at that one. I would like to meet the individual that believes that Oprah really has no such list. See, here is the thing. With power, or perceived power, there is almost always a list of those individuals that somehow did one wrong.


Think about it. When someone wins an Oscar Award that person inevitably says “I want to thank the Academy, and those that helped me yada yada yada….”  The underlying thought that many put out there (and that many of us receive) is that the Oscar winner also wants to state “I would like to say to those that didn’t help me Na na na na na na na na…”  Maybe I am wrong. Nonetheless I will double down on my assertion that the act of taking names in the workforce is a real phenomenon.


Recently I have heard from many line staff across the country that they understand that in order to indeed reach a world without AIDS, organizations and communities need to work with each other.  Resources and ideas need to be shared and diffused so as to reach the marginalized communities.  However, many of these very line staff note that there are barriers to working with other organizations, namely that of their leader prohibiting such collaborations.  One individual in a recent meeting noted that their boss just didn’t want them to partner with this other organization because the leader of said organization had slighted her boss many years ago.  Her boss had taken names and was passing it onto the next generation.  In the small dusty spot in the corner office oftentimes lays a list.  Don’t be afraid to pick it up and give it a gander.


Sometimes such a names list is justified and at other times it is just petty. A true leader will know when to discern pettiness from justifiable name taking. Yes, I will state it again-there are justifiable times for taking names.  Part of the etymology (and history) of taking names comes from the act of taking names when navy men went ashore. However, there are those that take names and pass the name on like a love note in fifth grade.  Such sad individuals mistakenly believe that by passing their list around they appear powerful instead of the petty fool that they actually are.



My name has been put on such lists; oftentimes for very petty slights.  One time, a man wrote a letter “naming me” because I didn’t hug him hello. I kid you not. First off, that is a really ludicrous slight in a business world. Second, that person didn’t deserve a hug, obviously. Third, by making his names list so public he came off pretty much like a dummy that could not be taken seriously. You never want people to know why certain names appear on a list. Here is a word of advice, when you take names keep the rationale to yourself otherwise the list loses its power. Seriously.


If I see you and I don’t hug you: go ahead take my name.  I shall have the last laugh. I will maintain my name by virtue of my actual meaningful actions and not by the ghosts of perceived slights.



Inspired by the Weekly Challenge of: Power of Names



P.S. Have you ever seen the television Family Guy? There is an episode in which this very name taking task occurs, I recommend watching it for a silly laugh next time you are faced with name taking in the workplace.









1 reply »

  1. Doesn’t everybody have a list, powerful or not? Just seems like human nature to me. Politicians just seems to take everything to the extreme in pettiness.
    And yes, take it from me, “Nancy Boy” is certainly meant to be an insult.


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