There are plenty of ways to politely request that the person you speak with on the phone identifies themselves. It might feel awkward at first if you have never done it before, but we have the perfect courtesy phrases and tricks to make sure you can get a name without offending anyone’s sensibilities.
Always be polite even in casual personal conversations. Use “please”, and “thank you” and never demand an answer.
Bluntly asking for a name is usually considered quite rude, so you want to approach it from a position of sharing information rather than demanding it.
There are several ways in which you can accomplish this task. Questioning them either directly or indirectly is usually the best course of action.
When it comes to phone etiquette, you want to keep in mind the words you are saying and how you are saying them. Speaking too quickly or too loud can turn callers off while talking too quietly or slowly can make it difficult for them to hear or understand you.
You want to be confident without being condescending and express interest without appearing disingenuous. Multiple studies by Stanford University have shown that using a moderate tone creates the best results when communicating over the phone.
If you received a text message from an unknown person, check out this article on how you can find out who the sender is.
Most situations where you need to know someone’s name over the phone will require only respectfully asking them. This courtesy of exchanging names is expected in most phone interactions. The main benefit of direct questions is how you can use them to create a rapport with your caller.
However, your tone, cadence, and volume will be much more critical when asking direct questions.
The more self-assured you sound, the easier it will be to get an answer.
Here are a few direct questions for business calls that you can ask at the start of your phone call:
“Thank you for calling [insert name of business] may I please have your name?”
“Good [Morning/Evening/Afternoon]. This is [insert business or name] how may I assist you today?” [wait for response] “Perfect, I would love to take care of that for you immediately, but first, I will need your name.”
“I want to make certain we have the right spelling for your name in our records. Would you please spell out your full name for me real quick?“
You can get away with being much blunter in casual conversations. These are some direct questions for personal or informal calls.
“I apologize, could you repeat your name again? My phone cut out for a moment, and I think I may have missed it.”
“Hello, this is [your name], can I ask who is calling?”
Sometimes it is considered unprofessional to ask who someone is directly or maybe you have known them for years by either their first or last name and now feel embarrassed to ask for their full name.
Whatever the reason for the discomfort in phrasing the questions directly, there are ways to get around it. Indirect or implied requests are an excellent way to steer the conversation where you need it to go.
It is best to stick with highly polite direct questions for professional calls, while implied questions are fine for less formal occasions.
Indirect questions during personal or informal calls are often more in the tone of voice and more extended, expectant silences than in the word choice itself. But here are a few examples.
“It’s nice to speak with you. My name is [your name].” [wait for response]
“I’m sorry I did not catch your name.”
“I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.”
Tailoring Your Request for Specific Situations
The way that you approach asking for information will naturally vary depending on how comfortable you feel with the other person on the phone and the level of professionalism expected.
You will need to tailor your request for their name to fit whatever situation you find yourself in, including coming into a group call late after the greetings have already been dispensed.
In some cases, it may also be appropriate to ask the person which personal pronoun to use for the salutation.
A business call with a potential client or employer is already a tense and incredibly formal conversation. Adding in the necessity of gathering information from them that you should probably already know before the phone call can feel overwhelming, but there are some effortless ways to word a request that makes it seem natural and unerringly polite.
Answering Calls from Unknown Callers
In most workplaces that receive frequent calls from unknown callers then you probably have a script of some sort to make sure there is both consistency and ease of conversation.
For example, answering with some variation of “Thank you for calling Business Name. This is Tricia, may I ask who is calling?“ is a pretty standard opener for receptionists and contractors.
This makes sure all relevant information is presented immediately and a name is requested. You can write a script for yourself using the examples listed in the first section above.
Instigating Calls to Unknown Callers
Like answering calls from unknown callers, making cold calls usually comes with some script with questions included to help you find out the person’s identity. These can consist of lines like:
“Hello, my name is Tricia and I am calling from Business Name. Who am I speaking with?“
“Good Morning, my name is Tricia, and I work for Business Name. Can I please get your name?”.
It’s also polite to leave a message if you were not able to reach the person.
Asking for a Name Mid-Way Through a Call
If you do not already know the identity of the person you are talking to on the phone, then the longer the conversation goes on, the less natural it sounds to bring it up.
When possible, avoid this by simply asking for their name immediately upon opening up a dialog with them.
If you absolutely must ask someone for their name mid-conversation, then it is best to treat it as if they have already done so, and you merely forgot.
“I’m sorry, I forgot, what was your full name again?”
“I apologize. It seems that I have forgotten your name. Could you please give it again?”
These are usually the easiest ones to navigate when asking for someone’s name because you typically have some form of relationship with the person on the line.
In casual conversation, it is not considered rude to politely but bluntly ask for a name.
For example, if you are talking to a friend and need their full name, you can ask something along the same lines as
“I’m sorry, I never caught your last name”
“I’m sorry, I forgot your last name.”
If you are not the call host and introductions were made before joining the call, you will want to wait for a natural lull in the conversation.
Ideally, you will use these lines when it is your turn to share your information or if there is a question-and-answer period.
“My name is [your name], and I apologize, but due to my tardiness, I missed the introductions. Could we please reintroduce ourselves, so I know who I am speaking with?”
“This is [insert name]. Could I please get the names of everyone else sharing this call for my records?“
If you are hosting a multi-person call, you can try several ways to ask everyone to identify themselves.
“Welcome to the call, everyone, my name is [your name],” leave an expectant pause for them to add their names to the group greeting.
“Good [Morning/Evening/Afternoon]. My name is [your name]. If everyone could please introduce yourselves before we get started, that would be greatly appreciated.“
You want to make sure everyone is logged into the call before you start introductions; otherwise, you will need to keep repeating them for every new person who joins the call.
Video Calls and Body Language
Video calls are a whole new animal.
The etiquette is not entirely cemented yet because of how unique this technology is and how quickly it has taken over recently as a primary form of communication.
In these calls, your body language must match the words and tone that you are using to communicate.
If you are sitting with your arms crossed over your chest, shutting them out visually while asking them to supply you with their name, it might make them hesitant.
You want to keep your body language opened and relaxed, arms at your sides, hands away from your face, and looking straight at the camera. Smiling is best, but if you are nervous or have an awkward conversation, keep a neutral expression.
The actual way in which you ask for their name will be the same as with any other type of telecommunication, so we will not include specific phrases here.
This is simply a reminder that video conferencing requires an additional level of focus to make sure you are presenting a cohesive appearance that matches your tone.
Luckily, for most video call apps and sites, there is a feature where people can list their names.
You can list yours before coming into the call, which then might prompt them to register their own. You can also use the lack of a name tag on the call as an excuse to work the question into the conversation.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.