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On my Apple OS X system, the Microsoft Outlook 2016 and also Apple Mail clients display the name next to the FROM address for incoming emails. I notice that it's not always the same name I have listed for that address in the Addressbook, and even more weirdly, I've seen it listed in my Inbox multiple different ways (e.g., with different capitalization for example) for emails coming from exactly the same email account (I've seen examples especially coming from specific Gmail and Comcast addresses, with emails arriving within hours of each other, sitting in my Inbox with the same from addresses but differently displayed from names). Can someone explain how this works - where do email clients get the string they want to display as the name?

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The name is displayed in the way it is stored in the sender's address book, or how the sender has chosen to format it.

If an e-mail is address simply to someone@domain.web then e-mail clients will normally display the entry in the local address book. However, the sender can add a name to the e-mail address, such as "The person I want" <someone@domain.web> and this name will be displayed in the client.

The addressee can be entered from the address book, or typed manually. This is quite useful, especially if several people share an address, eg "husband" <someone@domain.web> or "wife" <someone@domain.web>.

Searches for e-mails from or to specific addresses will normally take into account both the name and the address.

I don't normally use AppleMail as a client, but this can be done on any client, though the precise syntax of the composite address could vary.

  • that is very interesting; I get emails from a gmail account that is automated - it's used to send notifications to me via SMTP from a couple of applications that run in background. Does that account automatically have an addressbook? How can it send emails just hours apart that show up in my client Inbox with differently-capitalized user names? I also have a person with a Comcast email address whose emails say they come from "Comcast" - is there anything I can do on my end to make this display his name instead? – Mike Levin Nov 6 '16 at 14:41
  • As far as I know, all Gmail accounts have address books, but they will be empty unless you create or import entries or synchronise with another account. I'm not sure what you mean by automated, unless it's an account that you set for sending messages from your client background applications, in which case it is up to these e-mail-generating applications to format the target address and decide how the name should appear at the recipient. As for the Comcast account, if this is how he has formatted his source / reply information, I don't know AppleMail well enough to say if you can override it. – AFH Nov 6 '16 at 22:38
  • "automated" simply means, I use this account as outgoing email from a couple of pieces of software that send notifications by smtp. I understand that those applications should format the address, but here's the crazy part: I've seen multiple emails, coming from the same application, in my inbox, being displayed with different From names (but with same address of course). Moreover, it looks different depending on which client machine I'm looking at email from, which makes me think it's not all about how it's sent but also something on the Mail client side that decides. – Mike Levin Dec 4 '16 at 10:23
  • It is indeed the mail client which determines the format in which e-mail addresses are presented. In fact Thunderbird (which I use) allows you to decide the format yourself, on a message-by-message basis (though I don't use this this). Since Thunderbird is cross-platform, you can check on the different platforms by importing the relevant messages. – AFH Dec 4 '16 at 19:05

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