Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What do I call you?

So we have addressed this topic before to some extent, but here is a situation that a reader presented, then I will follow with my opinions:

"I had a somewhat awkward situation that I would be interested in hearing your opinion on. I was calling to RSVP to a high school friend's baby shower. I didn't know who I was calling (they only gave a number to RSVP to). When the someone answered the phone, I identified myself and said I was "RSVPing" to the shower. The women didn't recognize my last name and asked me how I knew this friend. I told her high school, at which the women exclaimed "OH, KATE! Of course! This is Clair, Susan's mom!" I felt a little uncomfortable because I had never addressed my friend's mother by her first name, only as Mrs. Smith. I realize that I'm now an adult, but at what point is it okay to address an adult by their first name? Do you continue to call all adults by Mr. or Mrs. until they give you permission? Do I only address people that way who are older than me? I feel like I'm at an awkward transition period. I don't want to be rude, but adults keep insiting I call them by their first name."

Dear Anonymous:

  • First of all, let's review that when writing an invitation of any kind, our names should appear, as well as our phone number to RSVP.  Here is some more useful information about "RSVPing" (I know it's not a real word).
  • Second, if you're married now and you are calling about any prior acquaintance, the chances of your calling someone who knows your maiden name better raise slightly.  I try to simply identify myself as Janine (maiden name) (married name), that helps cut down on the confusion.
  • Third and most importantly, I think this all has to do with a matter of comfort.  My mother has had a friend her entire life who we grew up calling Sam.  She was never "Mrs. Best" or any other title.  That was a special exception because of our family's close relationship.  However, now that I'm a grown woman with a family, I would always feel comfortable addressing other adults by their first name, after being prompted several times.  Sometimes it makes others around us feel more comfortable if we do so.  We have to take each situation and think about it individually.  Do all the kids in the neighborhood call me my special nickname that a few of the tender close children do in my life? No, but that's an individual situation.  I have nephews and nieces who call me that nickname too, and don't call me Aunt Janine.  I'm just fine with that, in fact, more comfortable with that as I know they are.  Here's some more about titles.  
Again, it's about what makes others feel more comfortable around you.  If it makes "Mrs. Smith" feel more comfortable for you to call her Claire, then call her Claire...if she's introduced herself as that and you're not sure, next time you see her, ask her, may I call you Claire?  Or you may simply go on calling her Mrs. Smith until (and if) she corrects you.  

I hope this helps, it's never a cut and dry thing, it's always looking at each situation and remembering to help those around you to feel comfortable and at ease in your presence, something we're all learning to do.


Heather said...

Great post!
I've wondered this a few times myself when I run into an old teacher of mine or a friend of my parents that I knew growing up.

Sometimes - I'm embarrassed to say - I don't even *know* their first name because I grew up calling them "Mr/Mrs. Such-and-Such".

I love your blog.

Jennifer and Jason Young said...

great tips! really loving your topics! xo