Outlook’s auto-complete feature saves typing when entering email addresses but it doesn’t always show the ones we expect. Combining it with Check Names usually gets us what we want.

The problem

Suppose I want to send a message to Bryn Hamilton. I enter ‘ha’ (the first two letters of his last name) in the To field.

What I get with auto-complete …

Outlook Auto Complete feature

If I then click Check Names (or press Ctrl+k) …

Outlook Check Names feature

What gives?

Two different lists are used:

Auto-complete. accesses the hidden “nickname list” that Outlook automatically adds to over time from email addresses that you have used (and it sometimes uses the Address Book). It’s a convenience feature to make it easier but it’s hard to predict and doesn’t always give us what we’re looking for (and it can get corrupted).

Check Names is a command you can click to check addresses you’ve entered. It uses your Address Book or Contact folders designated as Address Books. It’s actually just a manual way to invoke the “Auto Resolve” checking that goes on when Outlook actually sends the email.

Try it

It’s surprisingly helpful. In Outlook 2003, look for Outlook Check Names icon on the Message Toolbar. In Outlook 2007, it’s on the Message Ribbon and looks similar.

It’s especially helpful when entering multiple addresses and much faster than using the To/CC dialogs. For example, in the To field I could type campbell; hamil; hayes ;gupta and after pressing Ctrl+k I would immediately see all the addresses resolved. If choices need to be made, I’m prompted.


  1. Anna says:

    How do we switch on the ‘check names’ button if it doesn’t appear as standard?

  2. Anna says:

    Sorry – I forgot to mention it’s outlook 2003

  3. admin says:

    Hi Anna. Thanks for your question.

    I’m no longer using Outlook 2003, so can’t confirm this. However, I did some searching and it seems it’s in the same place as Outlook 2007:
    Tools menu | Options | Preferences tab | Email Options | Advanced Email Options … when there, ensure both “Automatic name checking” and “Suggest names when completing To, CC, and BCC” are checked. I’m hopeful that will make your button appear (pressing Ctrl+K is faster in any case).

    That said, I also found lots of complaints from people who said it wasn’t working. If the above doesn’t help, you could try web searching with these keywords: check names Outlook 2003.

    Best of luck with it. Tom

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