31 October 2012

Just another sign that I'm getting all old and matronly

But I’m also curious as to whether this is a rural Midwestern phenomenon, or indicative of a wider cultural trend.

When we vicared out on the East Coast, yea those many years ago, my husband was Vicar Lastname, and I was Mrs. Lastname. At the time, this felt a little funny to me, because I felt very young, and also because I was still fairly new at being Mrs. Lastname. But it also felt appropriate, because I did some substitute teaching at the church’s school. 

Fast forward to my husband’s first Call. We arrived with a six-week-old, so the question of how our kid(s) would address people was initially moot, but I noticed that kids tended to Firstname adults, even those old enough to be their grandparents. My husband was Pastor Lastname, and I was Firstname. There weren’t zillions of “youth” running around, and I didn’t have much interaction with them, and I still felt young and quite inexperienced at pastoral wifery, so I didn’t think much of being Firstnamed. 

Then our kids started getting old enough to talk. (This took quite some time, as our firstborn was a conscientious speech dissenter for nearly three years, and it was nearly another two years after that before he’d condescend to speak to people in public.) We decided to establish a policy of using “titles of respect,” as the good ol’ grammar books call them. While there are a few people who so persistently Firstnamed themselves that we just let our kids Firstname them, our kids address most adults as Mr.-, Mrs.-, Pastor-, Dr.-, etc., -Lastname. 

Fast forward to my husband’s present call. There are lots of “youth” running around, and I have more interaction with them. My husband is still Pastor Lastname, and I am again Firstname, as are most other adults. Even in Little League, our kid was the only one to Coach Lastname his coach; the other kids called him by his first name. I dunno; this just isn’t how I was brought up (see how old and matronly I’m getting?!). I would never have dreamed of Firstnaming my Sunday School teachers, or even the “cool” youth director at the church we attended when I was in middle school. I still think of my high school friends’ parents as Mr. and Mrs. Lastname. 

I stand firmly by our decision to make our kids the “weird” ones who don’t Firstname everybody; and many people (older folks at church especially) seem to appreciate it.* It’s kind of funny when my third-grader Mrs. Lastnames someone in the same interaction that her preschooler Firstnames me. Generally speaking, I have enough things in life to fret about without being annoyed by a knee-high rugrat presuming upon the use of my first name, but there are times when I do feel that Firstnaming does convey, even facilitate, a certain lack of respect (see? Old and matronly again). 

For instance, a certain neighborhood waif often drifts over to play with our kids. It’s fairly apparent that the poor child has received little guidance from her parents in many regards, and I find myself in the unasked-for and frankly undesirable position of having to be quite firm with her regarding the rules while she is on our grounds and the times at which she must depart said grounds. In such a case, I do find it quite annoying to be Firstnamed by someone who has yet to attain a decade of life, and I wonder whether this reluctant job of mine might be easier, were we not assumed to be on a Firstname basis. (My husband corrects her when he hears her Firstname me, but how can you fight a town-wide trend? All the other kids Firstname me, and to insist otherwise, when people older and wiser are Firstnamed, would seem pretty snobbish.)

Anyway. Just wondering if this is a small-town phenomenon or if the whole dang culture of our country has gone this way. 

*I know some people who have their kids Miss/Miz Firstname people, which seems to me to have a charming Southern touch to it, and to be a mannerly alternative in some cases to Mrs. Lastnaming, as well as a good solution to the sometimes-sticky issue of How to Address High Schoolers and College Students.

20 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I was definitely brought up with the Mr./Mrs. Lastname respect thing. I distinctly remember my dad drilling this into our heads, though I recall that my parents did let up on this a bit as we grew older. Which is why I asked just about everyone my children come into contact with on a regular basis what they would prefer to be called. Unanimously, regardless of age or "position", they told me that my children may call them by their Firstname! I have even been discouraged from the Mrs. Lastname a time or two. I haven't fought the trend, though I do insist on it with people we dont' know well or who aren't our friends. I'm a bit flabbergasted like you, but then again, I'm in the Midwest small town with you, so I can't say if it's just cultural.

Megan said...

We are in small town very close to big city on the west coast. I grew up in the suburbs of Portlandia. My dad insisted on Mr./Mrs Lastname and on more then one occasion got called out in public by others for it. I struggle because I want my kids to Mr./ Mrs. Lastname but it actually OFFENDS even many of the older generation out here. My kids often hear, "No that was my dad, I'm Firstname" The last time this was told to my daughter it was by an 80 year old. So no, not cultural small town Midwest, actually I think it's one of the many imports from the coasts.

Rebekah said...

American stupidity knows no region. Our kids get it drilled into them that Firstnaming any grownup, even those Firstnamed by other kids, is not something we do, regardless of what any grownup who isn't us tells them.

mz said...

At DD's preschool, the kids address their teachers as Mrs. Lastname. It is a cooperative school requiring parents to help in the classroom one day per month and the teacher usually addresses us as Mrs. Lastname when speaking to the children. When the moms refer to one another when speaking to their kids it is usually " so and so's mom". I think we moms are a bit confused as to how best have our kids address other parents because the standard overall has been lost. For instance, in any non school activity, (ballet/gymnastics/ etc) the teachers introduce themselves as Miss Firstname, even if they have long since left missishness behind. I think the intent is to make it less formal for the kids and thereby make the activity more appealing. At church we use Mr./Mrs. Lastname when talking about other people to DD. Our pastor's wife is Mrs. Lastname, and one of the very dear older ladies has claimed an honorary Auntie Firstname title. Among our close friends outside of church we have another set of circumstances. We have two sets of friends (on the Hispanic side) that are honorary tias and tios to our kids. My best friend from college and I are comfortable with each of our kids firstnaming the other, again a sort of informal aunthood without the title. As I am an only child it is kind of nice to have those extensions. I think the relationship is a defining factor for me, but in general I try to encourage the Mr./Mrs. Lastname when in doubt. I guess the demographic here is Midwestern major metropolitan area.

Shannon @ Some Fine Taters said...

Actually, the Miss/Mrs/Ms Firstname phenomena is derived from the way "respected" hired (or owned) help was addressed, and I find it distasteful in the extreme, in spite of the wild popularity.

etem said...

I live in The south, and the ms/mr first name is the norm. And we are the only white family in the area. I think I'll probably not call it distasteful, even though thats not how I grew up.

Reb. Mary said...

Shannon, I hadn't really considered that aspect of M/M Firstname's provenance. Hmm. According to the few people I know with Southern roots/connections, it seems to have become, as etem said, a norm for what is considered respectful address in certain regions. Obviously there will be some variant of personal tastes on this issue as well ;)

Reb. Mary said...

I've stopped asking people what they want my kids to call them because almost everyone goes ahead and Firstnames themselves. Our default is M/M Lastname. If someone says, "Oh, he can call me Firstname," I do a lighthearted deflection. If the person persists insistently to the point the resisting would seem rude on side or the other :P, we eventually give up, but there are surprisingly few who have fallen into that category.

MZ, honorary relations are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful to have, and deserve special consideration ;)

Rebekah, >>not something we do, regardless of what any grownup who isn't us tells them.<< This is just great parenting advice in general ;)

lisa said...

Growing up all of our parents went by their first names only.

Down South I was always "Mizz Lisa". I agree with Shannon on the origins and ETEM on the current usage. Folks were acknowledging my authoritative rank in situations even though I was of "big kid" age.

Here in the Midwest I am Mrs. Lastname. My kids call people Mr./Mrs. Lastname. (Unless we're back Down South visiting, then it's Miss. Firstname and Mr. Lastname - ahh . . . sexism, alive and well in the South and my heart).

FUNNY STORY:
This Summer we're at the local pool in a neighbouring small town. A little stranger girl comes up to my daughter and asks for her name. They chat and go play. Then the little girl comes up to me and asks me for my name. I tell her "Mrs. Lastname". She then clarifies, "No, no. I meant your real name." I say, "I don't allow children to call me by my first name. I'm Mrs. Lastname." She looks perplexed. She asks, "Why? Are you a teacher?" I reply, "No. I am a MOMMY." (I said it in capital letters, just like that). She then quietly meanders over to my daughter and in whispers extracts my given name. (Why on earth is this important? Weird.) Anyway, I hear my daughter say, "Lisa". A few minutes later stranger girl returns to my side triumphantly and says, "Your name is Lisa." (I apparently am Rumpelstiltskin). To which I replied, "I told you I don't allow children to address me by my first name. You went and asked my daughter and that was rude." The little girl was shocked and skulked (swam) off.

I will add that for the rest of our time at the pool I was polite to the poor child and, after twenty minutes of sulky orbiting, she ended up following me around like a puppy dog and asked when she'd be seeing us again as we packed up to leave.

I think I only like that story because I got to be mean in it and it still turned out ok. :D

Reb. Mary said...

I really <3 that funny story ;D

Grownups getting to be grownups...wow.

Rebekah said...

Oh yeah--and if we've learned anything from Jane Austen, isn't it that the first daughter is Miss Lastname and the subsequents are Miss Firstname? (Miss Dashwood, Miss Marianne, and Miss Margaret)

Reb. Mary said...

Haha I was actually thinking after I posted how much simpler titles of respect were in Austen's day. Well, kind of.

Miz M said...

I kind of love the Miz/Mr. Firstname down here in the dirty south. It bridges the gap perfectly for those in-betweeners who haven't quite achieved Mr./Mrs. Lastname. (Like the 16 year old sweetie pies who teach preschool Sunday School :)

Cathy said...

"not something we do, regardless of what any grownup who isn't us tells them" Of course I love that. Also, anything that helps to establish that adults and children are NOT equals and peers is good. I think children addressing or referring to adults as Mr/Mrs/Miss/Aunt/Uncle helps with that. Sometimes there are special relationship reasons that first names get used, but in general titles show respect, and that's a good thing.

Leah said...

A few years ago my husband decided to start requiring our children to address married adults as Mr. and Mrs. Lastname. It is taking some getting used to by all of us. But I think it has been so good for our children's reverence awareness, helping them recognize that they are in no way on the same level as adults. (especially married ones :). It is good, considering that most of these adults they now address as Mr. and Mrs. Lastname are people they have known their entire lives (many as singles before they were married) and could easily have become over familiar with.

Anonymous said...


I will add that for the rest of our time at the pool I was polite to the poor child and, after twenty minutes of sulky orbiting, she ended up following me around like a puppy dog and asked when she'd be seeing us again as we packed up to leave.



You know, you really did her a favor by explaining to her what is correct and how she should do it correctly. Thanks for being an adult.

Consecutive Odds said...

We generally insist upon a title when addressing adults, even if they prefer "first name." For adults our children are close to, Godparents or my husband or my close friends, we use "Aunty" or "Uncle." And we address all adult family members by their relationship "Cousin" firstname, and the like.

We make sure there is a title because as we interact with others in the military; rank is always involved, and you never address someone of higher rank by their first names, even if you are just family. And, here's one for you... my husband (enlisted) has the same last name as a senior officer; and they are in the same unit. Further, due to the sensibilities of this unit, my husband's position, etc., I am now addressed strictly as Mrs. Lastname; unless the other Mrs. Lastname is around. And then, we are addressed as "Mrs. Rank Lastname."

Regardless, we always tell the kids, "If you aren't sure after being introduced, it never hurts to just say, 'Ma'am' or 'Sir.'"

Christine said...

It's all Firstnames here in my Southern neck of the woods. My daughter's preschool teachers are Miss Firstname, the soccer coaches are Coach Firstname, the grandfatherly men at church are Mr. Firstname. Practically the only person at church who gets a last name is our pastor.

I think it happens because adults Firstname each other all the time, and that's what the kids hear. It used to be that even adults didn't Firstname anyone without permission, and permission was only granted once a friendship was established.

lisa said...

"It used to be that even adults didn't Firstname anyone without permission, and permission was only granted once a friendship was established."

Boy, wouldn't this save us all a lot of problems and awkward conversations :)

Anonymous said...

"*I know some people who have their kids Miss/Miz Firstname people,"


This is generally only for very young children like 2 or 3 years old. They graduate from that when they to PreK or Kindergarten and use Miss/Mrs./Mr. Smith etc.