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Missing "Miss" - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Missing "Miss"
In the course of a conversation about Potterverse etiquette over on SQ (kind of an off-shoot of characterization), we got talking about the use of first names betwee adults and children. I was never given much of a choice at work, because all of my colleagues introduce themselves to the kids by their first names, but honestly, I miss the chance to be Miss _______. I was always uncomfortable with adults who wanted me to use their first names when I was little--it creeped me out a little bit, honestly--so generally, if a friend's parent didn't explicitly instruct me to use a first name, it was Mrs. ____ or Mr. _____. And the ones who did explicitly instruct me otherwise tended to be, "Hi... er... I was just looking for ____." I always intended to be Miss or Mrs. So-and-so. But, alas, due to changing cultural mores to which I never agreed, I never got the chance.

No one ever calls me Miss _____. I was theoretically given a choice, but when all of the others are using their first names, and you're the only one who doesn't grant permission, then it's obviously breaking the social rule of the place. So instead, I feel just vaguely disrespected and grumpy.
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jennnlee From: jennnlee Date: August 19th, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love being Miss Jennifer. I was "Miss Jennifer" to a friend's children, and it charmed the heck out of me. Working in children's theatre one summer, all the adults were "Mr." and "Miss" _______. So I loved the kids running up to my husband (who was doing the sets) and calling him "Mister Morgan." To me it feels like a Southern thing, but that could be because I'm from the South. I think it's a perfect thing for kids to call adults they're not related to. It's not formal, yet shows respect.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
The kids in my jurisdiction are a bit old for the "Miss Firstname" formulation, but I do remember it from dim days of pre-school, so it's not purely a southern thing. Heck, my fourth grade teacher styled herself as Dr. Margaret.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 19th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's too bad. I was always raised to call adults Mrs. or Mr.-- even if they said, "Oh, call me by my first name," my parents would step in and say "Uh-uh, we're teaching our children to be respectful." All of which is just fine, except for the fact that now that I am old enough to call my friends'parents by their first names, it seems really weird. I can't picture calling them anything except Mr./Mrs. So-and-so. (One of my friends has always called my mom by her first name, and it always kinda bugged me.)
I do look forward to my future career as a teacher, because then I will definitely be Miss ____ (unless by some chance I am married before I begin teaching). I lament the growing use of Ms instead of Miss... I understand its usefulness for divorced women or other special situations, but I think it seems silly for young unmarried girls.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Ms." helps with avoiding guesswork when you're first meeting a woman, but if you want to be "Miss" or "Mrs.", then you can clarify that when you introduce yourself to students.

I don't care for "Ms." either, honestly; never have. It's become too widespread a practice to get huffy about, though, so if I'm ever in a scenario where I'm allowed to go by Miss Lastname, I'd just make sure to introduce myself as "Miss" instead.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: August 19th, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
You should have been born in my country!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
What country are you from again? :)
kittenblah From: kittenblah Date: August 19th, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I always did the same thing with friend's parents. Unless I know the adult as a fellow adult these days I still have issues with it. I still call over 90% of my lecturers by their title and surname. It just feels polite and respectful since I dont know them all that well.

Its a shame that the use of a person's title seems to be in the decline these days, it always just seemed to foster more respect in my opinion. Informality can be nice, but there are times and places. I sure as hell plan on being Dr. Taylor unless I build a rapport with the student and feel comfortable effectively allowing them to be an equal.

If you dont mind me asking, what age children do you work with?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I work with teenagers.

And yes, I think what makes me sad is that formality of all sorts is on the decline now. Is there no place left where it's okay to be respectful and serious?
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: August 19th, 2006 02:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here, if someone's older than you, you call them Miss (first name). At work, to my kids, I'm "Miss Amy." Even though I'm only six years older than some of them. And actually, when I was much younger and on a baby-sitting job, the mother instructed her kids to call me Miss Amy, and I was only twelve.

I think Miss ___ or Mr.____ or Mrs. ____ is a sign of respect. We address our students' parents by Mr. and Mrs. ____. First names are fine, but they're informal.

However, I do think so many people prefer so many things. My Drama instructor last semester refused to be called anything but "Laura." She said if we listed her as "Professor ____" or "Ms. ____" on a paper, she'd take points off, and I think she was half serious. On the other hand, I had another one that took offense to being called anything other than Dr. _______. So it is hard to know.

But if anything, take the risk of being too formal, IMO. I like being called "Miss Amy" or "Ma'am," though because I look younger than 21, I often still get honey. However, even with that... here in Maryland, "honey" is just used a lot.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
However, I do think so many people prefer so many things. My Drama instructor last semester refused to be called anything but "Laura." She said if we listed her as "Professor ____" or "Ms. ____" on a paper, she'd take points off, and I think she was half serious.

I'd think that could be reported for some variety of harassment. If everyone and his brother is going to be sued for sexual harassment, then I think we should add a category for social harassment--"Yes, Your Honor, she forced first names on me, despite the fact that I was horribly uncomfortable with it, and it made my classroom experience feel threatening..." Think it would fly?
sreya From: sreya Date: August 19th, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I had a discussion similar to this with someone at my law school this spring. In a somewhat professional environment like that, it bugs me when a professor calls on me by my first name. It's too personal and informal. I'd much rather be Miss/Ms _______, because then it's acknowledging me in my professional capacity. I love the older male professors who still do this. Some of the professors seem to fall into a middle ground - they use surnames without any sort of title, Mr or Miss/Ms/Mrs.

Of course, on the flip side, I've been mulling over the fact that in personal relationships it seems like we don't use first names enough.... phones are answered just "Hey, how are you?" because of caller id, etc. Names are falling more into an attention-getting range, instead of a way to connect with someone at all.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Professors... ah, my favorite problem children. I'd have loved to be Miss Lastname in college. It would have helped mark the transition between childhood and adulthood. Of course, it would be nice in high schools as well. Honestly, I can imagine a class behaving better for a teacher who addressed them thoughtfully and respectfully, anticipating the children's adulthood rather than the teacher trying to slide back down into childhood.

Where was I?

Well, one thing I can say--despite the fact that as a librarian, I let kids use my first name (largely because I was never given a choice, and yes, it means I have discipline problems), I utterly cringe when I see class come in where the kids use their teacher's first name. Those classes are almost always badly behaved.

Of course, on the flip side, I've been mulling over the fact that in personal relationships it seems like we don't use first names enough

Well, when your professors are on first name terms with you, it doesn't leave a lot of space to distinguish informality among friends.

But yes, phone manners are abysmal. Granted, if you're the one answering at home--as opposed to at work--you have no particular responsibility other than saying "hello" (don't want to identify yourself to a potential stalker), but if you're the one calling, is it that hard to say, "Hey, it's Bob... gotta minute?"
From: kristinholt Date: August 19th, 2006 02:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heaven above help the child that addresses me by just my first name! I'm Miss Holt or Miss Kristin unless you're old enough to vote. And my kids don't call anyone that's not related by anything other than Miss or Mrs. or Mr. It's a respect thing. I'm probably way too traditional for my own good, but there it is.

From: mbs_bookworm Date: August 19th, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, to me Miss + [Firstname] just sounds a bit odd to my ears. To adults, it was always Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss [Lastname] for me, and the habit is still ingrained that I sometimes fall back into addressing acquaintances as "Mrs. R", "Mrs. H", "Mrs. M", etc... And I'll probably never think of my old teachers as Linda, Roger, Gary, etc...
From: arclevel Date: August 19th, 2006 02:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
In college, I did TaeKwonDo for about a year and a half, and any time we were "active" -- that is, once practice, competition, etc, had officially begun, we were all Miss/Mr./Mrs. ________ -- or else "sir" or "ma'am". The rest of the time, we all referred to each other by our first names (except for Master H____, who was *always* Master H____ even if you had to swing by his school office or ran into him in the grocery store). Given that the age range of this group was 7 to 60s or so, this got pretty interesting. I got used to calling a 7-year old Ma'am and my best friend Miss W__. In fact, after I was a bridesmaid for her, I had no problem getting used to the fact that she was married, but a hard time calling her Mrs. K___. Additionally, we had an assistant dean in the group, so we were all on a first name basis with him if we ran into him elsewhere, but he was Mr. T___ in the group we actually knew him from. It's different than everyday life, of course, but if nothing else, I got very comfortable calling all sorts of people sir or ma'am as a sort of affectionate respect, and I'm equally comfortable being called ma'am, which many modern women really aren't.

I have a similar problem with friends' parents. If I run into the parents of my childhood friends, they're still Mr./Mrs., no problem. It's trickier when I didn't meet the friends until I was an adult and their parents don't specify what they prefer to be called. Usually in those cases, I also avoid calling them by name. :-)
a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: August 19th, 2006 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. I'll grant that I don't work with children, unless you count the occasional 17-year-old college freshman as a child, but I'm not a big fan of titles. I may feel differently about it when I'm officially "Dr." or "Professor," but I'd just as soon be called by my first name as "Ms." For one thing, most of them don't get it right, and either give me a phantom husband or call me "Miss" (which is at least accurate, but it sounds like it belongs on a dance card, not a syllabus). Perhaps I'm overly sensitive about this because I'm in a profession where women are regularly discriminated against because of marital status, but I don't think social titles like "Mrs." and "Miss" belong in the workplace at all.

Also, in my experience the respect argument doesn't really hold true. I give my students a choice -- they can call me "Ms. Rain" or "Firstname," whichever they're comfortable with -- but without exception, the minority who choose to address me by my first name have been perfectly polite and respectful, and generally among the strongest students in the class -- while the even smaller subset of students who positively ooze disrespect or try to play me invariably call me "Miss Rain" and "ma'am" in every other sentence. There's a vast middle ground -- most of them call me "Ms. Rain" or nothing at all, and do what they're supposed to do -- but the trend is definitely noticeable. I could put it down to several different factors -- maybe the ones with super-traditional upbringings are also more likely to have issues with young female grad students in a position of authority, or maybe being willing to call instructors by their first names is one of the differences between students in college mode and those in high school mode, or maybe it's just coincidence with a hefty dose of confirmation bias on my part. I don't know. I do feel reasonably confident that titles don't necessarily imply respect, though.
ashavah From: ashavah Date: August 19th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
As a college student who calls her professors by their first names and does very well in class, I suggest that it could be a sign of comfort with you and your teaching which reflects in good marks. I know that the comfort which allows me to feel OK calling professors by their first names greatly increases the amount I get out of classes and the professors' teaching. :-)
ashavah From: ashavah Date: August 19th, 2006 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is interesting, to me, because I do so many different things. When I was a kid, with the few exceptions fo people who specifically insisted on being called by their first name, by friends' parents were Mr. and Mrs. _____. My teachers were always Mr., Miss, Ms., or Mrs. _____ (I had the full range), or "Sir" or "Miss".

Even now that I'm aged 20 I still call my father's colleagues (he's a teacher) Mr., Mrs. or Miss ______.

But they're about the only ones. None of my professors insist on being Dr. _____ or Professor ______. In fact, some of them refuse to be that. But I think if someone did, they might have the same problem you do, that so few people insist on the formal title that they'd feel odd asking for it.

When I think about it, I tend to pretty much use whatever register a person wishes me to use with them. I don't see anything wrong with that. I certainly don't mean to be disrespectful by it.

But yes, as a kid, it was Title Lastname except in a very few exceptions.



akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: August 19th, 2006 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, in the Faroes, the practise of Mr/Mrs/Miss (harra/frú/frøkun), has long gone extinct, and when it excisted it was usually, say, ''Mr_First Name'', except if the person had a specific title. Today, we only use first names, but it's still considered respectful to call the elderly the formal ''tygum'' instead of the informal ''tú'' (just like the German ''Sie/Du'' and the Spanish ''Usted/tú'').
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Right--there's no longer any such distinction in English--there was once the family of "thees" and "thous" for informal address, but no longer; titles are the only way to distinguish between a formal relationship and an informal one.

It is recent enough that in my mother's childhood, it would have been unheard of for a child to address an adult by her first name, and relatives were generally given titles as well, which were permanent (Mom's older cousin, Doris, was a patient of hers, and was scandalized when Mom used her unadorned first name--she was instructed that it was to be the polite "Cousin Doris," if you please). By the time I was little, there was an obsession with seeming young and cool, so more and more adults insisted on going by their first names, doing it so aggressively that they basically painted anyone who didn't choose to do as a miserable fuddy-duddy who couldn't relate (so, the subtext whispers, don't even think about going against the grain!).

I strongly dislike this trend, and would like to reverse it, but I don't even know where to start, as I can't even seem to do it in the shape of my own life. (It's a general truism--when the culture in general is strict, people who don't want to be can be seen as flighty and fun; when the culture in general is permissive, people who don't want to be are only given the choice of looking like stuck-up bitches.)
kinderjedi From: kinderjedi Date: August 19th, 2006 03:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I prefer Miss also. When I worked with kids, I was Miss Amy, and sometimes my coworkers or friends, or my mom's friends, will call me that as well (sometimes teasingly). When I worked in a call center where we went by Title Lastname, I was very clear in being Miss ____. *shrugs* I feel pretty much the same as you- I don't generally like Ms for myself, though I can certainly see its usefulness in other cases. I prefer to be called Miss ____ by children and especially when I'm the customer, unless I've invited them to do otherwise. However, I still find it completely disconcerting to be called "ma'am" seriously.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 19th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm starting to get used to it, but it takes some time.
duncatra From: duncatra Date: August 19th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
It goes both ways. I met the kids of an online friend last year it it kind of freaked me out that they called me 'Miss Dunc'. (Literally, 'Miss Dunc,' which was freaking hilarious otherwise.)

I don't feel that old. Even though I actually remember when they were born...

I don't do much with kids, or have any RL friends that have them, so it rarely comes up. Honestly, I don't care either way. And at con, all the 'kids' are teenagers. Now if they started calling me 'Miss' that would be really weird...
ratcreature From: ratcreature Date: August 19th, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I totally agree that it would have been creepy to call adults by their first name. (With the exception of aunts and uncles and such.) Thankfully I don't recall any such offers from when I was a kid, certainly no teachers.

I mean, the only times any teacher ever offered us to call them by first name were a few who offered the mutual use of first names and informal you, once we were sixteen and they'd have switched to the formal you from the informal you when addressing us, as it isn't polite to just keep on using the informal address with young adults as you do with children, so the address between students and teachers changed in the year most turned sixteen. As a younger child it would have been a complete twilight zone experience to address any teacher without the formal you and last name and in some cases their titles if they had one (obviously the teachers with doctorates weren't addressed as "Herr/Frau ___" but as "Herr/Frau Dr. ___").
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