What’s In A Name?

Growing up, my parents were kind of formal people. In some ways. When it came to things like friends coming over… they were really relaxed and would let whoever come over whenever. In the types of friends and activities I was involved in… again, they were fine with whatever I chose, just as long as they knew who I was with and where and what time I’d be home.

In other ways, my parents were very formal. You could not call our house after 9 pm because my parents were asleep in bed, and if anyone called, it meant someone had died. We were allowed to go to or have sleepovers, but pretty much only on Friday nights. NEVER on a school night, and ALMOST NEVER before church. We were to dress a certain way (no looking sloppy, and definitely dress up for church!!), act a certain way (always polite), and talk a certain way (again, curteous and polite). The biggest way my parents were formal is what we, as kids, were allowed to call adults.

Obviously we called our parents Mom and Dad. Our grandparents were all Grandma So-and-do or whatever, and aunts and uncles were always Aunt Marisa and Uncle Tony. Never just Marisa or Tony. Our parents’ closest friends were known to us as Aunt This or Uncle That. Our friends parents were to be called Mr. and Mrs. Whatever. At church, my Young Women leaders went by their first names to the other girls, but I still had to call them Sister Whatever. People from church were always Brother or Sister Whatever. No first names. It was considered inappropriate by my parents for children (even 18 year old “children”) to address an adult by their first name.

In fact, I had to make sure to introduce my mom in such a way that my friends would know my parents’ position on this: “This is my mom, Mrs. B—-“. She was never called Valerie by my friends. Sooooo not allowed.

I think my parents really liked it when we moved to the South and where people are a bit more formal in how they address adults. When you answered a question, it was “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am”. If there was an adult that you may have been more familiar with, we refered to them as “Miss Lucinda” (that was my color guard coach, in fact, which was wierd because her husband was my band teacher, so he was still Mr. C—-, but she was Miss Lucinda, not Mrs. C—–).

When I got married, I didn’t know what to call my in-laws for the longest time. I would avoid calling them anything. I felt uncomfortable calling them by their first names, but to call them Mr. and Mrs. S—- was just too formal! I already had two sets of parents, so Mom and Dad didn’t seem like an option. It was probably in the second year or so before I could start calling my in-laws by their names. I’m still uncomfortable with it (thanks to this upbringing), but it gets easier each year.

To this day, I don’t know what to call anyone who is significantly older than me. At church I use the old standby: “hello, Brother Smith! How are you today?” However, I get confused, especially with people Mr. Universe works with. They are collegues, so does that mean first names are okay? But the teacher in the next classroom is older than my mom, so I guess I’ll stick with Mrs. Jones.

You see my dilemna? Maybe I’ll just call everyone Bob, regardless of who they are. That way, there will be no problems in MY side of the arena.


10 responses to “What’s In A Name?

  1. I totally understand your dilemma. With my in-laws, I would wait until they were looking at me to address them. Eventually I just got used to using their first names, now it is second hat to me. As for people at church, we have a couple in our ward I have known since I was a little kid. He worked with my dad in stake callings and so I always knew them as Brother and Sister G____. Now Sister G____ asks me to call her by her first name and quit being so formal. This has been a three year struggle for me. Now her kids call me Brother S______, and it bugs me, especially the one I took an Institute class with. So it has now become a complete circle with someone else calling me by a formal title and me feeling that it is a bit odd.
    So my advice, follow Mr. Universe’s lead. If he uses Mrs. Jones first name, go with it. Your all grown up now!!

  2. I have this problem too, because my parents were very formal. When I visited my uncle in England when I was 21, he got upset with me for calling him Uncle, but it was very difficult for me to call him by his first name.

  3. It’s a confusing thing, the formality thing. Some people are formal, others are informal. So it’s really about how they see it, which is why it’s tricky.

    You know, even without a particuarly formal upbringing, I’m uncomfortable introducing my parents by their given names to my friends. It’s so weird hearing them referred to as such. On top of that, they’re both teachers who in their classrooms go by Mr and Mrs so-and-so (point of clarification: in my high school, we called many of our teachers by their first names; I believe it’s an Acadian thing).

    It’s almost worse when it’s left undefined, but awkward as ass to actually sit there and define it.

  4. We were very formal in this way growing up, but I guess the difference happened when I became an “adult.” It was rather like a right of passage being able now to even call people older than me by their first names. The change mainly happened after we were married and then when we had children and all of a sudden I realized that we were kinda on the same plain of adulthood as everyone else.

    Is it really weird learning to call you best friend’s mom from highschool by her first name? You bethcha, but as an adult I am able to be friends with her now rather than the little kid. There are still a few people that I am very formal with, mainly people that I knew from before I “grew up” that I haven’t gotten to know on a personal level (old teachers, etc.). And I am still very respectful using mam and sir and Mr. and Mrs, etc. if introduced that way. But people like to hear their name, it means you care to get to know them.

  5. It always kind of bugged mom that I didn’t follow her rules on names. I called my YW leaders by their first names, for the most part. Sunday school teachers were first names, mostly to bother them actually. Tougher times are like these: In our ward in Richmond, one of the bishopric dudes was Brother Holdaway. He’s wicked cool. Anyway, he went off to Harvard to get his MBA. A year later I moved to Boston, and now call him Shane. Same with the other married couples I know from church. They aren’t all that much older than me, and usually no older than, say, you or my other siblings, so its weird to use last names.

  6. When we were first married, I didn’t know what to call my in-laws either. One time I tried calling my husband’s mother by her first name and she corrected me… “dear, you are part of our family now, you can call me Mom”. I was totally glad for the direction as to what they would like to be called. They are Mom and Dad (insert last name here), it worked out great for us.

    As for the rest, I agree with what has been said, you are grown up now! Go ahead and use first names 😛

  7. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days now. ANd you know what we had some formality too!

    No phone calls after 8pm unless it was an emergency.

    And because both sets of grandparents were referred to as grandma and grandpa we inserted last names after each (mostly when referring to them) and with that my aunts and uncles were aunt (first name here) and cousins were that way too, but mostly when referring to them when talking with someone else.

    I still don’t know what to call my in-laws. It’s been nearly 7 years and I feel like I should be able to call them “mom” and “dad”. But when talking to them in person it’s their first names, but when referring to them it’s mom and dad. Weird? I don’t know. I’ll get comfortable with it eventually.

    Do what feels comfortable to you, you’re find the medium that you like the best eventually. Just remember that you’re an adult, you get to create the rules as you go now. 🙂

  8. And all this time I thought I was the only dysfunctional one when it came to inlaws.

    Seven years down the line and there’s still akwardness. As we were the first married there was no precident, and my husband asked his parents what they would like me to call them. They gave the worst answer, “whatever she feels comfortable with.”

    I usually do the “wait until they’re looking at me” thing, which I hate. So I tried calling them Mom and Dad after we lived with them for a summer between schools, but we all silently seemed uncomfortable with that. So sometimes in reference I’ll use their first names.

    Things got more complicated as SIL #1 doesn’t seem to know what to call them, either –as far as I can tell. SIL #2 has started calling them by their first names, which I think I’m going to start doing. Or just resort to Nona and Granddaddy.

    To make matters worse, when the one is talking to me in reference to the other, sometimes they’ll use Mom and Dad, and sometimes they’ll use their first names.

    We could really have used a definitive answer during the wedding festivities! Even my mother has commented, “I notice you don’t know what to call them.”

  9. I understand your dilemma too. It hasn’t really been an issue with my in-laws. Especially with L.’s stepmom since he calls her by her first name also. (I need to come up with a Mr. (insert nickname here) for my hubby.)

    The should-I-call-them-by-their-first-name-or-not dilemma has mostly been at the school since I’ve been working as a substitute there. Some of the teachers I have become friends with and they started calling me by my first name instead of Mrs. B_____. So it just sort of seemed natural to call them by their first name. I’m even on a first name basis with the principal! (That really felt weird at first). And he’s not just Mr. P_____. He earned his doctorate degree 2 years ago and even the sign on his office door read “Dr. P_____”. I’m sure there won’t be too much calling me by my last name this coming school year since I’ll actually be a member of the staff and not a substitute.

  10. I’m sorry to have caused you so much problem with names, but in my defense:

    I was raised that way.

    I still do not know what to call my moher-in-law. I do not know what my son-in-law #1 would feel most comfortable calling me–tho first name only makes sence with my husband, so I guess using my first name is fine, too… but I have to honestly admit that I feel awkward being called by my first name by girls younger than my oldest children!

    So, Mr. Universe can call me Mom [like his other in-lawa do] or he can call me V______ or he can call me Grandma around the kids [I call my m-in- law ‘grandmother] It is a less formal world than when I grew up. In some ways this can be good, and others less so. I think that so long as one is polite, it is not so very importand what form of adress is used.

    As far as husbands’ colleagues: follow husband’s lead. As far as M-in-L, you tell me! As far as you who are Sariah’s friends of her age who talk to me, Allrie will do just fine! [how’s that for a compromise?]

    [Oh, and I still don’t use the first names of those who are a generation older than I!]

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