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How do I control the names displayed in my inbox?

How can I change the display name of an email in Outlook 2003 inbox? So, for
example, if “joe@aol.com” sends me an email, my inbox may display, in the
“from” column, “Joe Smith”. But, with the same email address, it might display
just “Joe”. Same issue with non-AOL emails. One of my main clients has both an
AOL and non-AOL address he uses, and his two email addresses show up as five
different people in my inbox, in various forms (“joe”, “joe smith”,
“joe.smith@work.com”, etc.).

I’d like to change the display names of the two email addresses so they are
the same (e.g., “Joe Smith”), and thus would sort and group together when I
choose to sort by “from”.

The short answer is that as the recipient of an email you can’t.

The longer answer is that the name (formally, the “display name”) that gets
displayed along with or instead of an email address is controlled by the
sender’s email program. You can control how your name appears on outgoing
email, and even how other people’s names appear on outgoing email, but
on email you receive, editing the name isn’t really an option.

I’ll show you one example of exactly where the sender configures that, and
then also explain why even if your sender uses the exact same name everywhere,
your email program may still not sort as you describe.

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First, I need to review one concept with you.

While we normally think of email addresses as a single thing, in fact many email programs, and in fact the email protocol, split them into two parts:

  • The email address: someone@somerandomservice.com for example. This is, of course, required as it defines the exact recipient of the email.

  • The recipient’s name: Leo Notenboom for example. This is just used for display purposes, hence it’s called the “Display Name”. It’s optional, but when present is simply meant as a more readable and often more meaningful description that corresponds to the email address.

In fact, you’ll often see email address in email headers looking something like this:

From: Leo Notenboom <someone@somerandomservice.com>
To: Santa Clause <someoneelse@somerandomservice.com>

Thus both the optional display name and actual email address are included.

You decide what your email program will use when you set up your email account in that program.

Here’s a typical account creation dialog – this one from Outlook 2007 – that is used when you set up a new email account in your email program:

Account Setup Dialog showing Display Name and Email Address

There’s something important to note about this: “Your Name” in this example is the Display Name, and can be anything you want.

That’s important when you realize spammers and scammers do it all the time:

From: Paypal Customer Service <definitely-not-paypal@somerandomservice.com>

They do this because email programs don’t all agree on what to display. In the list of emails in an inbox they can choose to display:

  • the display name
  • the email name
  • both

Displaying only the display name is quite common, and thus in my made up scammer example above you’d see only “Paypal Customer Service” when in fact the email address associated with the message isn’t related to Paypal at all. The scammers are hoping you don’t pay close attention when you look at the full message where both are typically displayed.

And that leads us to the sorting problem.

Just like there’s no agreement on what to display, there’s even more confusion on how to sort.

An email program might decide to:

  • Display the display name, and sort the list by that Display Name. (Most programs operate this way, and it’s what you’ve assumed in your question.

  • Display the email address, and sort the list by email address.

  • Display the display name and sort by email address. Or other odd combinations thereof.

Most of the time you’d be fine – Outlook for example uses and sorts by the Display Name. Other email programs will vary.

And while you can control how your email address and display name look in the inboxes of others, you typically can’t control how theirs appears in yours.

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9 comments on “How do I control the names displayed in my inbox?”

  1. So, I take it, then, that if your sender used AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Outlook or OE as mail senders…
    Then you would have to ask your sender to configure his own address book references to himself, so that they all read the same… and he’d have to get his ISP to configure his ISP address the same way….
    As in:
    FIRST NAME: John
    LAST NAME: Doe
    NICK NAME: JohnDoe
    MAIL ADDRESS: John.Doe@Xmail.com
    And then, then perhaps, his “split email personas” would unite?
    Of course, you still would get 1 message from AOL, one from GMAIL, one from Hotmail, whatever he used as a sender.
    Sounds like a lot of work for the sender.
    Could the recipient not set up some sort of “Mail Handling Rule”, where if the email is from this sender, they all go to a certain folder called, say “JOHNNY”?
    is in:
    IF [sender=] john@gmail.com, johndoe@aol.com, doejohn@ISPmail.com, johnny@hotmail.com THEN [move to =] FOLDER “JOHNNY”
    Note that the above is a very generic rule, the specifics for your email program WILL differ.
    Pierre

    Reply
  2. I agree with Pierre and, in fact, have my email set up that way. It’s an easy process with Outlook Express and requires no programming or scripting skills.

    Simply create the desired folder in the inbox, then use the menu item Tools/Message Rules/Mail to place email from ‘so-and-so’ to folder ‘so-and-so’.
    SYPN.com

    Reply
  3. Thunderbird has a setting for senders that are in your address book you can override the email’s display name and get it to display the name that Thunderbird has saved in your address book. Since each contact can have multiple email addresses, both email addresses for the same person would show under the same name with this option enabled.

    Reply
  4. As a sender, my work email is my whole name. My personal emails are set as First Name & Last Initial, First Initial & Last Name, and First Name only. Four different display names for the same person.

    Reply
  5. Can anyone help.. In my outlook express , i got two mails from a sender . one with the sender’s name the other with his email id in mail box.. is this the sender’s email header setting or outlook setting issue of sender or receiver..

    Reply
  6. My husband and my son have the same name. We call my son by his middle name and that’s the way he appears in my contact list but his outgoing mail uses his first name. This causes both my husband and son’s email to intermix in my inbox. Can I create a custom rule to change the display name on emails from my son’s accounts?

    It would depend on the email program you’re using, which you haven’t specified, but in general – no.

    Leo
    24-Aug-2012
    Reply
  7. I am having the same issue. I received emails, to use this as an example, from johndoe@example.com but when it displays his name, I get it as John Doe or Doe, John. I have access to this other person’s computer and their outlook. So where in their settings do I go to change this so it only comes in as John Doe?

    Reply

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