In a global company, I often need to address someone in another country without knowing his/her gender in emails with a third person or with a group of people. It's awkward and inefficient to spell his/her name every time in reference of this person, especially if it's a long name. The only solution seems to find out the person's gender after all.

If I have to do so, using emails only,

  1. Should I ask someone who knows him/her or should I ask the person directly? Personally I feel awful to approach the person with this kind of questions.
  2. How should the question be worded to be appropriate? Examples?

Please indicate the culture background of the answer if you don't mind.

  • 2
    Related: Addressing someone with a known name and unknown gender.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 17:58
  • Doesn't always work but, googling the first name will often tell you. Failing that take the domain from the email address and see if their website has employee profiles.
    – Robb
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 18:25
  • Reading the title of the question before seeing the full text of the question, I imagined this was referring to a face to face social situation. This makes the question somewhat different, but perhaps even more interesting.
    – user597
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 23:48
  • I did read the related post indicated by RedDwight, but it's a different one and doesn't solve my problem.
    – genesco
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 0:10
  • 1
    @Robb, in our company online directory, employee photos are optional and some people never bother to share their pictures.
    – genesco
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 0:27

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't beat around the bush. You can ask directly. Maybe a polite way to put the question: "I'm sorry, but I'm unfamiliar with the name Xiao Yi. Is it mister or miss?"


The best way to be delicate in such a situation is to express your intention and admit ignorance. "I would like to use a proper form of address, but I don't know if your name indicates a male or female person."


"Pardon my ignorance, but what form of address should I use with that name, Mr. of Ms.?"

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