The Name Game

by Idaho Dad on August 31, 2011

We’ve always danced around the issue of how our children should address our adult friends.

Of course I’d prefer the kids use a formal title, like “Mrs. Rowling,” but at some point when we weren’t paying attention our friends’ kids started calling us by our first names.

So I confused my kids by saying they should call certain adults by their first name because their kids do that to us.

And, well, it’s all a big mess now, and the issue has been ignored rather than fixed.

I could just insist on my kids always being polite and formal with everyone over the age of 18, but that might put them far out of step with society.

I might even run the risk of our friends thinking we’re teaching our kids to feel superior to their kids by using the seemingly old fashioned titles of “Mr.” and “Mrs.”

This all came up in my mind again recently with my son’s Boy Scout troop. It’s an informal one, which is good. Some structure, but nothing like the military mindset I’ve seen in other troops. What I don’t like is the insistence of all the adult leaders to have the boys address them by their first names.

It feels ever so slightly disrespectful.

And it also feels like the boys aren’t quite as willing to recognize the authority of the adult leaders during meetings and troop outings.

Back in my day, if we called our Scoutmaster by his first name, we were on KP duty. Or worse, latrine duty.

I hate to have my kids feel like the odd ones out, but I think I’m going to start insisting that they stop referring to adults by their first name.

Who knows, maybe it will start a new trend.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dan August 31, 2011 at 11:22 pm

In my view, calling adults by their first name is perfectly fine, and can break down the barriers of communication and reduce the intimidation of talking to adults. especially for shy kids.

My friends used to be taught by my father in school, and even now have trouble referring to him as anything othe than Mr Hughes. While that’s appropriate for school, the hangover is still there 20 years later. I’d not like to think that hangover would still be there for my children and our family friends.

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2 Idaho Dad August 31, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Thanks for the comment, Dan. I’m hoping I get a number of opinions about this, because I’d really like to hear what others think. I mean, maybe I’m just old-fashioned about this. Or maybe I’m just wrong. I’m open to a change of mind based on arguments such as yours.

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3 Father of Five September 1, 2011 at 5:02 am

Great post. I too struggle with the same thoughts. I have always wanted my kids to refer to adults as “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, or “Miss”.

But because so few kids this day and age do, it’s the ADULTS that say “you don’t have to be so formal, call me _________.” (Their first name).

It is an odd sort of mix indeed…

And now, I have a high schoolers – They refer to their teachers by “Mr. B” or “Mrs. H” – or, even worse – by just their last names… “Can you beleive all the homework Johnson gave us today?”

Our Troop tries to have the kids address the leadership by “Scoutmaster ______ (last name). It stays for a while then sort of fades away. About once a year we have a meeting where we re-address it and the cycle starts all over again.

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4 Mike D. September 1, 2011 at 8:32 am

I teach my kids to address adults by Mr. and Mrs. Some of our close friends go by their first name since our kids see them so much and their kids do the same with us. This was the way I was brought up and it worked for me…. Bottom line is respect regardless of how they address the person.

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5 Marcia Bohn September 1, 2011 at 11:37 am

I think it depends on how close you are with the family/person/person(s) you are talking about. I have three very close friends who I grew up with and it would just be weird for my kids to call them “Mrs. so and so” I have them call them Aunt Crystal, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Niecey….likewise Uncle so and so for the hubbies. Now, there are a few people who I didn’t grow up with who the kids see all the time (neighbors, school moms, etc.) they go by their first names. Then there is always “Miss insert first name” or “Mr. insert first name”. I felt weird recently when I went to the zoo with my friend, Stacie, who I know from work, and her daughter called me Mrs. Bohn instead of Marcia. I mean, I don’t see her daughter that much, but it made me feel OLD and I didn’t like it. I do however, feel teachers, or scoutmasters, etc. deserve the title, Mrs, ms, miss, etc. They are in a position of authority. I don’t know. It is a hard question.

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6 Katrina September 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I wonder if some of the difference is regional. Where I grew up in the South, all my peers called adults Mr. and Mrs., and said Ma’am and Sir whenever talking to them. (I was well into my twenties before I felt comfortable abandoning this habit, and still stumble on it when addressing elderly people.)

When we visited my mom’s family up North, I think we gave the mistaken impression that our “yes, sir”s and “no, ma’am”s were a way of smarting off.

After marriage, I moved with my husband to the West coast, and then to the Northwest, and found that the whole sir/ma’am/Mr./Mrs. thing was nearly nonexistent. While we haven’t made a big deal out of it to our kids, I still refer to most adults as Mr. and Mrs. when talking to them, although we have a circle of close friends that they call by their first names, and it would be downright weird and awkward if they didn’t.

That didn’t clear anything up, did it? :)

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7 Fairly Odd Mother September 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I grew up calling all the adults I know “Mr” and “Mrs” but for some reason, never started that with my kids. They call almost all of our friends (and many of their friends’ parents) by their first name. . .BUT, somewhere along the line, I started referring to certain adults by “Miss” or “Mr”, probably b/c of some of the classes they took with “Mr. Rick” or “Miss Lisa”. It’s only a few people, and I have a really haphazard way of deciding who needs to have the title in front of their name. It’s probably really clear to my kids too. (not!) With new adults, I usually ask them how they want to be called and most ask that my kids call them by their first name. So, hopefully we aren’t stepping on too many toes.

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8 Amy September 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Our rule is Mr or Mrs Unless they say “you can call me…” or “please call me…” I also have a very low tolerance for Miss (insert first name here) or Mr (insert first here) Mr. Jim or Miss Amy–really makes me crazy!!

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9 Victoria September 21, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I am probably an odd one but it makes me uncomfortable to be addressed as Mrs. by children of friends or someone I otherwise don’t have a “professional” relationship with. Kids that I’m introduced to for some “professional” reason, like their parents hired me as an attorney or something is fine. So a teacher IMO should be introduced as Ms. X. Though I think just last name is also perfectly acceptable if it’s not to their face.

Part of it is that I hate “Mrs.” and don’t want to contradict the parents by telling them – “You should only ever use Ms. unless you know a woman indicates a different title”. Part of it is that in the lizard part of my brain, the same part that in some people hears and feels disrespect in first names, I feel (and I know it’s not true – it’s just my feeling) that it’s creepy.

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