This past fall, Lisa Miller, a senior administrative assistant in the Yale College Dean’s Office, received an unexpected e-mail in her inbox. With a subject line reading “SEXUAL ERUPTION,” the e-mail announced a surprise get-together for the Yale women’s rugby team that night.
Within 15 minutes, Miller replied. “Hello,” she wrote. “I don’t believe you intended this e-mail to go to me.”
The e-mail’s sender, Lucy Sorensen ’09, had accidentally written to the dean’s office employee instead of to her then-teammate, Lisa Miller ’09, assuming that the student’s e-mail address followed the standard email@example.com format used by most of the Yale community.
“It kind of speaks for itself,” Sorensen said of her mistake. “How would you feel if you sent an e-mail, a fairly innocent e-mail but with a subject like that, to the Dean’s Office?”
Not all such accidents are so egregious, but misdirected e-mails and mail packages are common occurrences for Elis with the same names — Elis who perpetually run the risk of having a private e-mail opened by someone else. In interviews, students said the mix-ups, often the result of an incorrect or forgotten middle initial, can cause everything from mild annoyance to downright embarrassment.
This kind of e-mail confusion is relatively routine, said Amy Davis, an assistant at Information Technology Services’ client accounts help desk. Although Yale automatically assigns all of its students, staff and faculty an e-mail address using their NetID, most people use the alternate — and more user-friendly — alias, which is usually a variant of firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first person to arrive at Yale is assigned the standard firstname.lastname address, the second with that name receives firstname.middleinitial.lastname and any others receive firstname.lastname.NetID, Davis explained.
If three or more people share the same name or an original account holder leaves Yale, ITS modifies their e-mail addresses using middle names or different combinations of first and last names, Davis said.
Most Elis simply deal with the accidental e-mails as they arise. For Patrick Ruwe ’83, a surgical consultant for the Yale Health Plan, having the same name as his son — Patrick Ruwe ’11, a defensive end on the football team — meant constantly forwarding e-mails to his son last year. The elder Ruwe’s e-mail address had been accidentally added to the team’s panlist.
Once last year, the younger Ruwe recounted, his father had to forward him an e-mail from a friend who was “pretty proud for not hooking up with some guy” after a Saturday night, he said. The subject of his father’s forwarded message: “Personal, please read.”
“So many people make the mistake,” the younger Ruwe said. “It was more annoying for him, but it’s not that bad ’cause it’s my dad and not, like, a dean of the school.”
But Yale College Dean Mary Miller herself frequently receives misdirected e-mails and packages. Her e-mail address was added to a Lanman-Wright Hall panlist last year, when Mary Miller ’11, who is known as M.C. among friends, moved into L-Dub as a Pierson freshman. Dean Miller also received several of M.C. Miller’s care packages, while M.C. Miller would frequently receive e-mails from Yale professors — a few of whose classes she had taken.
“One of the most confusing things is getting things and not knowing if they’re actually meant for you or not,” M.C. Miller said. “It can be awkward.”
When M.C. Miller found a package of yarn waiting for her in the mail around Valentine’s Day, she thought it might be an odd gift from her mother. Eventually realizing that it might be for Dean Miller, though, she passed the package on. (As master of Saybrook College, Dean Miller hosted a regular knitting club for Saybrugians.)
Occasionally, Davis said, members of the Yale community request for different aliases, using another variation of names registered in Yale Human Resources or the Registrar’s Office.
But even Davis herself, an ITS worker, sometimes has to pass on e-mails to Amy Davis, a nurse at University Health Services. Like nearly all of the nine Yalies interviewed, the two have developed an unspoken courtesy for each other, even though they have never met. At YUHS, Davis replies to all misdirected e-mails asking them to update their address books, while the other Davis simply passes them on.
“You have to pay attention to what you’re doing,” she said. “Don’t rely on your address books, and be careful what you send.”