Service of Honorifics

February 26th, 2024

Categories: Greeting, Honorific, Name

Dog Aging Project Chief Veterinary Officer Kate Creevy, DVM, is looking for people to contribute to valuable research into prolonging dogs’ lives by signing them up. Super Pet Expo visitors at the New Jersey Convention Center, Edison, March 1-3, can see presentations by Dr. Creevy who will share highlights of preliminary findings based on 47,000 four legged participants. Her goal: 100,000.

I’m a huge “All Creatures Great and Small” fan as I’ve mentioned here before. I read all the books when they came out and devoured the first TV series in the late 1970s. When this season’s last episode of the current production ended, I thought about what good friends the housekeeper Mrs. Hall and vet Mr. Farnon are and how, after all they have been through together, they maintain the formalities of addressing one another as Mrs. and Mr.–true to the period. The series takes place in the mid-1930s.

After decades living across the hall my parents’ next-door neighbor remained Mr. Schechter and my father Mr. Reiss. At the time, I wondered about it. Everyone called Mr. Schechter’s wife Missy, the name I’d given her when small in my attempt to pronounce Mrs. Schechter.

I called my parents’ friends Ellie and Ed, Alice and Larry, Alice and Charles, etc. My youngest aunt eventually succeeded in prying me away from calling her Aunt.

At my first job out of college at Dun & Bradstreet there was a clerk who was much older than any of us or our bosses. We called our bosses by their first names but I could not bring myself to call him by his although I was told it was OK. He had gray hair.

In North Dakota where I lived as an Air Force wife, I became close to a local family. I was in my early 20s. I never called Mr. McNabb anything else although others did. He owned a secondhand furniture shop. He was my parents’ age.

My mother was called Mrs. Reiss by most and she corrected nurses who’d call her Ruth.  

I suspect most doctors like to be called “Dr. XYZ,” and not Sally or Sam.

I’m still in touch with students I mentored years ago. One, now a father of two with a prestigious job, still calls me Ms. Byington.

Door staff at my apartment call me Jeanne or Jeanne-Marie [!]; porters and maintenance men greet me with ma’am or just say “hello” or “how are you?” and smile.

I scheduled interviews with students recently and signed the email Jeanne Byington. “Hello Jeanne Byington,” and “Hi Ms. Byington” was how two of the students responded. A high school senior dodged the issue and wrote “Good evening!”

The countless fundraising letters I get dive right in with my full name minus honorific.

Do you care if someone calls you by your first name? Do you prefer Ms., Mrs., Mr. or Mx?

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8 Responses to “Service of Honorifics”

  1. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook

    Loretta is fine with me,….with little ones through them becoming adults I respect whatever their parents have taught them,…for instance I have a friend whose daughter is now 14. When she was learning to talk or even younger he would refer to me, when speaking to her, as Miss Loretta. To this day she still calls me that. When my kids were growing up, I had a different last name than they did. I found it easier for them, and their friends, to call me by my first name rather than the awkwardness of them forgetting my last name and mistakenly calling me by my former name. It would not have mattered to me, but kids sometimes “back in the day” would feel uncomfortable.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Loretta,

    I’m happy with what others call me. I think most want to make me happy and don’t mean to offend.

  3. TC Said:

    WELL NOW, JEANNE, YOU RAISE AN INTERESTING SUBJECT ABOUT ONE’S VIEW OF USING FIRST NAMES. GROWING UP, I FOLLOWED TRADITIONAL COURTESY OF ADDRESSING ALL ADULTS OR THOSE OLDER BY FULL TITLE. CLOSE RELATIVES WERE CALLED UNCLE, AUNT, GR’M OR GR’D. ON REACHING 21 OR THEREABOUTS THE SYSTEM CHANGED ONLY A BIT—DROPPING AUNT, UNCLE, & COUSIN FOR FIRST NAMES. GRAN OR GRANDAD OR SOME EQUIVALENT NICKNAME HELD ON. NICKNAMES IN GENERAL WERE BY INVITE OR CLOSE FRIENDSHIP. NOWADAYS, USING FIRST/NICK NAMES IS AN ASSUMED PRIVILEGE EVEN WITH TOTAL STRANGERS. AND THIS I MAY FEEL SOME CONTEMPT FOR AS A BREACH OF FAMILIARITY. BUT I ADMIT TO BEING HARD WIRED TO CUSTOMS AND COURTESIES OF OLD AGE.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    TC,

    Like you, when young, I was careful to address adults who were strangers–and teachers at school–by full title.

    Nicknames are an interesting subject. I think a person should be invited to use one although if you are introduced to Jo-Jo or Mopsy, how are you to know their name is Joanne or Josephine or Naomi?

    Familiarity is an issue that comes up infrequently today I suspect. However, if I ran a restaurant, for example, I’d suggest to the host/hostess that they use Mr. or Ms. unless otherwise instructed by the guest.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Just the other day I had to return a phone call from a fellow committee members wife. She did not leave a name, and my only clue came from Caller ID. If the title “Mrs.” hadn’t been available, what then? I like titles, but don’t cringe if called by my first name. In many cases it gives a sense of belonging, so why complain?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I just remembered a story. Mom had a friend, a new widow, who had been married to a wealthy man. She could have bought herself anything but asked for this as a birthday gift: stationery with her first and last name. She had always been Mrs. XYZ. Her husband had been well known in their world. She wanted to have something that represented herself.

  7. Martha Tepper Takayama Said:

    I tend to err on the side of formality. I don’t always respond to people in writing or on the phone on a first name basis. I try to do what I think seems most fitting given the person’s title or position and the nature of the interaction. I feel wistful and a little sad when addressed as Miss Martha or Mrs. Martha respectfully, but seemingly unnecessarily deferential whether due to age or perceived social status! I don’t really mind if I am addressed by my first name except when it is by unlikeable strangers. If I have to deal with someone really unpleasant, I may refer to myself as Mrs. Takayama just to create distance.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I haven’t been called Miss Jeanne. Maybe it’s a New England thing though it sounds southern. Some administrators at doctors’ offices refer to me as Ms. Byington when sending me an email.

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