Why Am I Getting Email with the Right Email Address but the Wrong Name?

//
Leo, my email address is [something] @msn.com. But when a friend sends me an email, they say there is another name next to my email address. It’s very confusing. How can I find this fake name and how can change it to my real name? If you send me an email, you’ll find out what I mean.

Actually, if I send you an email, I probably won’t see what you mean because I don’t think the problem is at your end – or even a problem that you specifically can control.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Email addresses and names

We have to start by understanding how email addresses and names are used. When an email is addressed there are two parts:

  1. The actual email address, which is not optional, that specifies the actual recipient of the email.
  2. There’s also what’s called a “display name”, which is meant to be the human readable equivalent of name of that recipient. This part’s actually optional.

It’s perfectly valid to send email with only an email address.

So where does the display name come from? When you configure your email account in your email program, or when you set up your email account with an online service, you actually specify both your name and your email address:

Account Configuration

In some cases you may be given an email address, but you still specify your name.

Then when you send email, your email program puts those two together. It uses your name, and then typically follows that with your email address in angle brackets as the “from” line in the email that you send:

Ask Leo! Example Account <askleoexample@hotmail.com>

So in an outgoing email, you define what shows up in the From: line simply by how you’ve configured your email account.

The display name is actually completely ignored by the entire email system. It has nothing to do with getting your email from point A to point B; it’s just there kind of as a courtesy for the humans to be able to recognize an email sender or recipient without needing to know the specific email address.

Display names and address books

If you send someone email and they then add you to their contact list or address book, both the name and the email address are added. Sometimes email programs will even do this for you – adding the address book entry automatically.


there’s nothing that says the email address actually has to match the name.
When you send an email to someone that’s in your contact list, the email program typically does the same thing, kind of. It gets the email address, of course, from the contact list, and it also fetches the name that’s associated with that email address. It then formats the “To:” or the “Cc:” or the “Bcc:” line with the display name followed by the email address in angle brackets.

Now you may not always see this, because sometimes email programs will hide what they’re doing and show you only the display name. But here’s the key: since the display name is completely ignored by the email system, there’s nothing that says the email address actually has to match the name. You could go into your address book and change the name of one of your contacts to be “Santa Claus”, and that’s what would show as the display name when you send email to that email address.

This is true for most email programs, although the specifics of how you actually make this happen can vary a little bit.

Your friend’s address book

So one very strong possibility is that the friend who’s sending you email has you in his email address book with the wrong name. He needs to change his address book entry or perhaps clear his email program’s suggestions or auto-complete entries.

Now, how did you end up in his address book with the wrong name? It’s really hard to say, but I’ve got one hunch: spam.

Spammers fake the “From:” line all the time and in doing so, they typically mismatch the email addresses and the names. Look at your spam sometimes and you’ll see that the “From:” lines rarely have names that seem to match their email addresses.

So here’s my theory: your friend got some spam. That spam looked like it came from your email address, but with a different name. You had nothing to do with it; it was just spam. For one reason or another, your friend’s email program remembered it, either automatically adding it to his contact list or some kind of auto-complete or auto-suggestion list.

And he (or she) is the one that will need to clean it out.

37 comments on “Why Am I Getting Email with the Right Email Address but the Wrong Name?”

  1. mismatch,my main account is {email address removed},my recovery email is {email address removed}@yahoo.com.I can not get into my main account for days now,help

  2. Hi Leo,

    I realized that if someone sent me an email (work) via Gmail server, 90% chance that the name on the email will be showing one of my co-workers’ name. It doesn’t matter if that Co-worker has ever contacted the sender. However, I tried to send myself an email with my Gmail account and it shows the correct name. I’m so confused and I am afraid that the situation is get worse. Do you have any new solution on this matter?

    Thanks,
    Anthony

    • I think the problem has to do with Google+.. Gmail has this annoying habit of looking up connected profiles in Google+ to try and display a more personalised experience for users. However if the Google+ and Gmail profiles are messed up, which can easily happen in a google apps environment (especially when accounts are renamed/ reassigned after people leave). Really sticky gmail issue that I haven’t found a solution for yet.

    • What I did was to go into the Gmail contacts and delete the unwanted name that is appearing as the sender’s name. Just as explained above, it’s probably happening because the Google + uses one of your contacts as a follower.

  3. I started running into this problem recently and just never really sat down to think how annoying it was until I tried to find a solution. The problem is that my kid’s school has a general email account to send to. Anything you want, to ask how your kid is doing or to tell them that your kid is going to be sick. Within the last few months, when I type in their email address from gmail’s webpage I get some random person’s name. Someone I’ve never met or contacted but Google+ is telling me that the school’s email address is assigned to this person. I tried multiple things today to try and un-attach this person from my kid’s school but gmail won’t let me because it’s a Google+ feature. One that I didn’t ask to be turned on and one that I can’t turn off. So now when I email my kid’s school I get some random guys name as to who it’s going to and now when the school emails me to remind me of holidays or calls me to pick up my kid, I get this random guy’s name on my phone. I wish there was a way to turn this feature off or at least correct it but from the random things I’ve found there is no fix. If anyone knows the problem I’m talking about and how to fix it, that would be great.

    Thank you.

  4. There is a solution which it worked for me. The bug its there in your Gmail contacts

    Open your gmail account> on top of the search bar type the email id which you get the other user name. When you type you will find that the email id was correct but the name appears others. Click enter

    Under the search bar you will find the name which is a google+ and at the end of the name you can find a small arrow pointed downwards > click on it> Edit contact details>

    You will be redirected to Google contacts just change the unknown name to your name or delete the email or delete the contact and save changes.

    • You are brilliant! Now I am able also to seem brilliant as I have applied your simple and effective fix to my dad’s gmail account! Thanks!

    • Seriously this just worked for me and i’ve been trying to figure this out for months!! I got this email address from a co-worker who moved up in the organization. So it’s been frustrating and annoying to have people sending me emails intended for him. THANK YOU

  5. My friend sent emails from aol.com to me at btinternation.com. When I reply her name is changed in the ” To” box to wrong first name but her surname. She has not been receiving me replies. What is happening and how can we solve it please?
    Thank you.

  6. Yeah, your advice is not exactly helpful… I have an outlook account with a name, lets call it “abc” and for some reason it keeps updating my outlook emails with my google account name. So instead of sending an email from out look that says abc, the name becomes xyz.

  7. When I receive an email on my iMac from “Bill Jones” it shows up in my inbox as being from “Mary Smith.” When I see it on my iPad it shows up correctly. Why??

  8. Well I faced something new today, email was correct but display name was wrong. I checked with the recipient and everything was fine at his end. So I had to see what was wrong at my end. Simple but effective solution:

    Enter email address in a new email –> right click on the email address after entering the email address in the ‘to’ field. –> Open outlook properties –> Change display name –> Hit okay –> Send a test email to the same recipient.

    *Unless you send a test email the changes would not take place.

  9. Leo, I see one important misapprehension in your article.
    You point out quite correctly, that the entire e-mail system outside of our own provider takes no notice of the “display name”, and the party at the other end can attach any display name they want, to an email they send in reply.

    IMPORTANT POINT THOUGH: necessarily my own mail service holds my contact list and of course my own e-mail address, and includes the display name that I TOLD THEM TO use.
    Therefore my server is totally capable of looking at the received email address, looking at my addr and contacts, and appending the display name that I GAVE THEM in the first place.
    So ALL our mail SERVERS ARE FAILING to tell me who that email is from, using the display name I gave them.
    Currently we see this causes users everywhere confusion and can easily result in our sending replies etc to the wrong people because we didn’t check the underlying real email; do we remember which is Joe Blow’s correct current un-spammed email?

    Leo, can you help with a groundswell to beat on all the email providers to fix this obvious (though ignored) bug?
    THANK YOU,
    John

  10. An email I wrote went to the recipients bearing my email address, but with a completely different friend’s name as the sender. Everything I wrote at that point bore my email address but my friend Kathy’s name. After investigation, I found that her email, too, was suddenly going out in my name. I looked at my gmail account and found her name was in my name box. She found my name was in her account’s name box at her end. We each changed our account names back to the original correct ones, and changed our passwords. The problem was corrected. The whole thing took place within an hour from start to finish. I could not imagine why it happened, except that perhaps our accounts were hacked and this was a prank. Is that the likely explanation? Should I be looking for more damage?

  11. Each time I send emails, when I check messages sent, except my own name, the name Larry appears
    next to my email address, …it happens with each email. so I know it’s not happening at the other end.

  12. Hi, I receive emails from groupon but I noticed about a month ago their emails started coming through with named with ‘*********’ and more recently that’s now changed to looking like it is coming from my child’s schools parentmail account- can I do anything? TIA

  13. My email I’d {removed}@gmail.com. but when I open log in for my I’d page but It tells wrong user name or password but mails are got by me

  14. My mail box was clean and no problems. Now I get email that is addressed to another name. No one I know. Does not appear to be anyone on my friends list. It is fake advertisements that looks real clearly wanting you to click on it and lead to trouble. There is writing in foreign language and the time it arrives in box is not correct. It may be AM here and the mail shows PM. I have tried to block but the same keeps appearing in other names. Is this my problem also. What about the foreign language and time.?

  15. I have a problem to remove a false e mail since 3 years come and goes occasionally
    Interfire when sending don know what to do Help. ?

    • How is that email returning? On an email program of on the email website? What do you mean by false email?

  16. I am an e-mail customer and keep having and e-mail that I sent to <{removed}@yahoo.com – I get the following every day – "Message from yahoo.com.
    Unable to deliver message to the following address(es).

    :
    This user doesn’t have a yahoo.com account ({removed}@yahoo.com) [0]
    It is obvious that I made an error in the above address by accidentally sticking in the “k”.

    Can you please stop sending this to me every day !!

    Thank you,

    Albert Needham

  17. I never sent an e mail, I told them and spelt my name over the phone, they sent me an e mail with my name incorrectly spelt this was done on purpose, but why does the system allow it?

    • Sounds like the person who you spoke to made a typo in entering your name. I don’t believe they would do it on purpose. If you mean the email system, it has no way of verifying whether the information is correct. If you mean the company which sent the email, they only know what the person on the phone entered into the system.

  18. my name is santhosh s kumar. in the profile the name is displayed correctly for my account {removed}@hotmail.com. But…when I send an email a wrong name appears at the other end…and also at the right hand top of my email window.

    • Read the article you are commenting on. It answers your question. And never post your email address on a public format. It is an invitation to spam.

  19. Hello, I have a dilemma. I work for ABC company. We have a client (DEF) who has hundreds of employees that I email on a daily basis. About a year ago, employees from DEF started showing a different display name associated with my email address when they send me emails. I’ve checked my display name in my Outlook and it is correct. They check my contact info in their Outlook and it’s the wrong one. They edit it and put my name in it and it fixes it moving forward, but when I exchange new emails with other DEF employees for the first time who don’t have me saved as a contact yet, they show the wrong display name when they email me. What’s very strange is that this only happens with DEF company and no other outside companies. What’s even MORE strange is that the display name DEF company is showing is my teenage son’s name???? He has no affiliation with either company, he’s in high school. I had both my and DEF’s IT departments investigate and they can’t help me. Any advice? So frustrating. I have to try to explain bewildered DEF employees almost daily why my son’s name is showing up when they start typing my name to send me an email.

    • I have a very similar problem with Outlook and with an entire company who have my name wrong, and each new person who emails me from that company the same thing happens.

Leave a reply: