I often wonder if I am unfriendly, or out of step with the times (well, yes, duh), or spoiled by working in a job (and area) where people seem to want to use a title with last name, so that I am accustomed to be addressed as Ms, Dr, or Professor Hull. And then I run across posts like this one, and I realize that I may be out of place, but I am not alone:


Every time I go to the gym and some teenager who just started working there yesterday scans my card and says “Have a good workout, Eleanor,” I grit my teeth and say thank you. But what runs through my head is “We have not met, and I am old enough to be your mother. That’s ‘Ms Hull’ to you.”

I also remind myself that they mean to be friendly, that their bosses probably encourage this name use to make a good impression on clients, and that this first-naming seems to be the custom of the country. In other words, I spend a lot of time and mental energy on reminding myself of the culture in which I live. Like someone who lives in a foreign country. Why is it so hard to assimilate?

5 thoughts on “Familiarity breeds

  1. Heh, we grew up in a Mrs. /Mr. Lastname culture, but then moved to a Miz/Mr. Firstname/Ma’am/Sir culture, and have also lived in a Firstname culture. When in Rome, eh?

  2. I started at HU with students calling me by my first name and friending me on FB. I quickly learned that I couldn’t stand so much familiarity and I set up strict boundaries — no first name and no FB until graduation. Students took advantage of the familiarity, but also, once I started teaching 200 students a semester in Humanities, it became clear there needed to be some respect and some authority.

    It’s funny how much my idealization of my career fails to live up to the reality. I wanted to be the cool teacher, but now I’m the intimidating, hard teacher. I don’t mind, actually.

  3. I wish I lived in a Firstname culture, because honestly, the “Miss Firstname / Ma’am / Sir” stuff that nicoleandmaggie alludes to drives me absolutely nuts, and it also drives me nuts that people who are university staff and in my own age range or older insist on calling me “Dr. Porpentine” even when I’ve been signing all my communications with them “Fretful.” I’m never sure whether this is meant to be a subtle hint that I should be calling them “Ms. Lastname,” or whether they grew up being told never to call a white person by their first name, and it makes me feel all kinds of guiltybadwrong either way.

    1. The staff calls me by my first name, but *only when nobody else is listening*. Only in the past few years have I realized I should also be doing Ms. Lastname for them when students are present. On emails I just don’t put in a greeting (!)

  4. My first year here, students would address emails to me as “Hi, Susan”, and I was WTF? I’m 30+ years your senior and I have not given you permission to call me Susan! I’ve now learned, and my syllabus says Professor. . .

    I’m less bothered being first named at places like the gym, or the Comcast employee who cut my bill by 25% today. But at the doctor’s office, I really resent when I’m half naked and some nurse or medical assistant calls me Susan. The hospital I liked best when my husband was ill wa sthe one where every patient was addressed as “Mr”, “Ms, “Dr”, “Professor”. When you’re wearing a hospital gown, everything that increases dignity is good.

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