What’s in a Name


When I got married right after college, I immediately started a teaching job in a preschool program. At the time, they gave the teachers the choice of what they would like to be called by the students, whether they should primarily use our first or last name. Several of the teachers went by “Miss Lisa” or “Mr. Dan”. I, still getting used to a new last name, chose to go with Mrs. Haas. I needed to get used to hearing it, and, honestly, I had always called my teachers by their last names growing up.

Don’t Call Me “Ma’am.” Actually, Maybe Do. 

Over the years, I have come to realize that I have kind of an old-fashioned sense about what children should call adults. I always introduce any adult to my children using “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones”. Occasionally, the adult will tell my kids to call them by their first name. Truthfully, I just don’t get it. To me, having someone call me by my first name indicates that I am their equal, and, sorry, I don’t consider children to be my equal. I cringe when one of my children’s friends calls me “Tanya” without asking. I don’t understand their friends’ parents telling them “Just call me Sue”.  I also don’t understand adults who, when a child calls them “Sir” or “Ma’am” asks them not to do so because, I don’t know, it makes them feel old or something. Again, I think it blurs the lines as to the relationship between a child and an adult.

There have been times I have allowed kids under the age of 18 call me by my first name. When I directed a play for students age 12 – 20 last year, they asked what they should call me. I told them they could call me by either name since some of the cast members were actually adults, and the music director was going by his first name, so I didn’t want it to get confusing. Most of the younger ones, or the ones who had previously been my students used my last name, the rest either went with “Miss Tanya” or just Tanya. It was kind of a relaxed setting, so I didn’t really mind.

I will continue to encourage my children to call adults by their formal names though. I think that there is some evidence that there is a growing lack of proper respect of adults by children, and this casual familiarity doesn’t really help promote that. I have teachers from high school whom I still see on occasion, and no matter how many times they tell me I can call them by their first names, despite the fact that I graduated over 25 years ago, I find it very difficult to do so. I still have the type of respect for them that lends itself to addressing them is a more formal, respectful way.

I don’t fault adults who encourage children to use their first names, it is their prerogative to do so. I can’t help but wonder if the adults who choose to do this have some deep seeded need to be the child’s friend somehow, that they want to be liked and being on a first name basis lends itself to that. I do not need children to be my friends. I have plenty of friends who don’t have a curfew at night. I am not trying to be my own children’s friend, either. That’s not to say I don’t want to spend time with my children and enjoy their company, especially as they get older and more mature, but I’m certainly not going to suddenly tell them one day “Please, calling me Mom is so old-fashioned. Just call me Tanya.” I think children, no matter what age, need to hold onto a respect for their parents. I enjoy doing things with my own mother, but even now I am not going to suddenly start speaking to her or treating her like I would my peers. There are people I would tell off in an instant if I didn’t like what they had to say, including my own husband. I’m not going to do that with my parents. I honestly wouldn’t do that with any older members of my family or any adults with whom I interacted as a child such as former teachers or my friends’ parents.

But I digress. Teens and young adults today get a bad rap for being self-centered and disrespectful, and at times that can be true. There’s just this part of me that wonders if small signs of respect for authority, such as the use of a formal name over a casual first name relationship, using Sir and Ma’am and not being made to feel like it’s an insult, might curb that attitude just a bit.