My Convertible Life

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rules of the Name Game

Now and then, I write about something controversial here at My Convertible Life. Things like redshirting in kindergarten, voting against Amendment One, assigning students to public schools or pole-dancing on Sundays.

But after a serious discussion with our beach friends on Sunday night (what... you don't sit on the beach at night with your friends and discuss parenting rules?), I realized I may have missed weighing in on an even bigger, more controversial debate: what name children should use when addressing adults.

Among the group of about seven parents, we could not find consensus about whether to use Mr/Mrs Lastname or Mr/Ms Firstname or some combination of the two. And we may have been drinking a few mai tais, which probably clouded our capacity for agreement and raised the volume on our discussion.

So, like all good parents, I turned to Twitter and Facebook to crowd-source the answer. Here is what I learned:

  1. Lots of you have strong opinions about this issue. (Who knew?)
  2. There is no definitive answer.
Yeah. Not so helpful.

Given the clear gap in parenting guidelines, I'm going to invent my own based on the range of replies I got. You may now follow these rules and recommend them to your friends:
  1. It's never wrong for a kid to call an adult by Mr/Mrs Lastname. If you need an easy default, that's it. If your child says, "Mrs. Garbanzo, may I have a cookie?" she can always say, "What nice manners you have. Of course you may -- and please, just call me Ms. Lucy."
  2. It's easier to correct the formal to informal than the other way around. In the previous scenario, if your kid said, "Ms. Lucy, may I have a cookie?" she's going to feel bitchy having to say, "Yes, you may, but you have to call me Mrs. Garbanzo."
  3. If you live in the South, you have more leeway for using Mr/Ms Firstname. Most of my Facebook/Twitter experts seemed to feel that it's "both sweet and respectful" in a Southern kind of way.
  4. If you have close friends who know your kids well, you can use something less formal -- either Mr/Ms Firstname or Auntie/Uncle Firstname (although that can get confusing with your actual relatives) or even just using their first name. The only non-relative adults I called by their first names (to their faces) when I was a teen were my BFF's parents and my piano teachers.
  5. When in doubt, your children may refer to me as The Queen or Your Royal Highness. This goes for my own children as well.
In analyzing the debate, I observed two things:
  1. The rationale for using Mr/Ms Lastname seems to be respect -- that it's a way for children to respect adults and to recognize that they are expected to listen to the adults. This is certainly the case for calling your teachers (once you've graduated from preschool) by their surnames.
  2. The rationale for using using Mr/Ms Firstname is a little less clear. For some, it's probably just a general desire to be less formal -- calling a young mom Mrs. Garbanzo might have her checking over her shoulder for her mother-in-law. For others, it's a way to demystify names ahead of the shift when kids become adults themselves -- after you've spent 20 years calling someone Mrs. Garbanzo, it can be tough to start calling her Lucy even when you're more of a peer. I still have friends from high school whose parents I cannot bring myself to call by their first names, more than 20 years post-graduation.
Okay, so those are my rules. What are yours? 


  1. I now love the name Mrs. Garbanzo and from this point on I insist on being referred to as Mrs. Garbanzo. Even by my own kid and husband. Seriously, with close adult friends we say Mr/Mrs Firstname (because we are Southern) and everyone else it's Mr/Mrs Lastname (unless they specify something else).

  2. Never underestimate the joy of being called the name of a bean :)

  3. I still have former players calling me Coach Pomilio, or Coach, 12+ years later. Even after attending their weddings, college graduations, baby showers, mens league teammates, and even working with them. So it is difficult for people to make that switch as time goes on.

    I prefer my children use the Mr/Ms Lastname formality, unless told otherwise by the adult.

    Thought provoking...

  4. My neighbor has her kids call me Ms. Jennings and it makes me feel weird and formal I don't like it. Though I imagine her high school friends calling me Ms. Jennings, or maybe Mom like all my friends called me own mother growing up. Right now Anna still calls everyone "[Friend's Name] Mom".

    1. I have a double last name, so making little kids use that just seems excessively formal. Maybe when they're older, it won't seem so weird -- but I agree with you at least for now that it's more "adult" than I need to feel.


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