How Should Children Address Adults?
The first-name vs. last-name argument.
“Alex, please say hello to Mr. Henry and Miss Julia…”
Ugh. As I tried to teach a lesson in good manners to my soon-to-be four-year-old, I realized with horror that I’d just made my two friends sound like, respectively, an aging barber from Brooklyn and a schoolmarm from Little House on the Prairie.
To be honest, I’ve felt the same way whenever a child has addressed me as “Miss Jenny,” a title that evokes the image of a 70-year-old woman sipping lemonade on a porch right after the War of 1812 ended. “Ms. Jennifer” is even worse. Now, I’m in a leotard with a 1950s hairdo, teaching a bunch of young girls how to do ballet movements at the “barre.”
Merde. Isn’t there a better way for children to address adults?
When I was young, I addressed other parents quite formally, putting a “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before the appropriate surname. Nowadays, we don’t seem to do that anymore. My son addresses all of his teachers at daycare as “Ms. Patty” or “Mr. Jeff.” Introducing other adults as “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith” might confuse him, wouldn’t it?
It makes me want to throw all stately titles out the door and just teach my son to address people—all people—by their first names, unless it’s a family member, like a grandmother or uncle.
Is that reasonable, or just bad manners? I thought I might consult a few Judith Martins (and some other moms) to find out. San Diego mom Staci Torgeson shares my sentiments about formal titles for adults.
“I don’t want my kid’s friends calling me Miss Staci (I’m not a preschool teacher), and Mrs. Torgeson just doesn’t sound or feel right either,” she said. “When I hear that, I feel like I’m a middle-aged housewife in the 1950’s that should be smoking a cigarette, wearing an apron and vacuuming the house. I prefer to be called by my first name.”
Some etiquette experts disagree with that approach. “Adults should always be treated with respect and seen as an authority figure, not a best friend,” said Dannie G. Fowler, etiquette consultant and owner of The Etiquette School of Florida. “Adding a prefix helps to set an adult apart.”