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Zen Mama Wannabe » Blog Archive » Calling Grown-Ups by Their Last Names
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Calling Grown-Ups by Their Last Names

(This is the first – of hopefully many – in my “Do Your Kids…?”  –  a series of questions and topics that I’m eager to get more insight and guidance on.  Maybe you’re wondering some of these things too).


Do your kids call grown-ups by their last names??  And what do you do when seemingly EVERYONE around you does not??

From what I can tell, the ball is set into motion around 2 years of age, when your toddler first participates in various Mommy & Me classes where the teachers go by Miss Susie or Miss Ann.  Playgroups are more for the moms than the kids (and a much needed time too, I might add); you call your friends by their first names so that is what your child hears.  He or she then starts to put it all together, “That nice blond haired lady who always has goldfish to offer me…my buddy Zackary’s mom…my mom calls her Leigh.” and so the association goes. 

At this point, a friend of mine tried to do the ol’, “Ask Mrs. Woodman if you may have some more goldfish, dear,” and it went over like a lead balloon.  It felt too formal for this informal gathering of new moms and young kids, and it got complicated real fast when some of the moms had last names their kids couldn’t pronounce (heck, let’s be honest – I wasn’t sure how to say a few of them either)! 

The defining moment seems to be in Kindergarten, when all teachers go by Mrs. Whatever; it is what your school calls the parent volunteers and helpers that seem to set you off on one path or another.  At my son’s Kindergarten in Southern CA, I was called Mrs.  Ironically it was not even by my choice; I was so used to it the OTHER way, that Mrs. sounded funny to my ears.  But I’m a go with the flow Zen Mama Wannabe, so Mrs. I was. 

We moved to Northern CA when my son started 1st Grade.  Here, I am
called by my first name, just like all the other parents that volunteer in the class.  “Hey, my Au-Pair has the same name as you,” one
little girl proudly informed me.  Hmmm – not so sure about this now. 

When they are little, we’re just thrilled they are talking so any name
they spit out is an accomplishment. But as they get older, many of them
start saying your name with that twinge of “I’m seven and know it ALL
cuz I watch Hannah Montana” where you just want to eyeball them down
and say, ‘EXCUSE ME??!” 

I have one friend that feels the same as I do – another newbie to the
area that finds the informality lacking in respect.  Her boys ALWAYS
call me Mrs.  I keep telling them THEY can call me by my first name,
they are the ones that come over to my house, and have playdates with
my son; if ANYONE is calling me by my first name it should be them.
But no, they stick to the Mrs. 

So I did it too.  My kids now call grown-ups by their last names
(assuming we know their last name).  The response we’ve received has
been amazing.  I have had so many parents come up to me to tell me how
polite and endearing my son is.  One woman went on about how on a
playdate she told him he could call her by her first name and he said,
“If it’s all right with you, I’ll just call you Mrs. Wilder.”  She
practically swooned. 

Maybe we’re starting to see some value in this “old-fashion”
tradition.  We are parents, not playmates – perhaps it is time we got
treated as such.  What do you think? 

When my son did it in class to one of the parent volunteers, another
classmate said to him in that oh so snotty tone, “What?  You don’t even
remember her name??” My son replied without missing a beat, “No, I
remember. I was just using good manners.”  (Ah, this Zen Mama Wannabe
couldn’t say it better herself)!

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5 Responses to “Calling Grown-Ups by Their Last Names”

  1. callieandbatido Says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Ultimately I think it is a sign of respect to have our kids call other adults by their last names and certainly a sign of good manners.

  2. LarkLady Says:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    An interesting conundrum, the tension between good manners and comfortable familiarity! Sometimes I wish I lived in Iceland, where I understand everyone goes by their first names. But I live in sunny southern California, where I have to deal with the difficulties created by modern disparities in forms of address.

    Like the family we know where mom kept her pre-marriage last name and the kids have hyphenated surnames combining mom’s and dad’s… I sometimes wonder what those kids will do when THEY get married and have children! Mostly, I try to keep it all straight in my own head and hope the kids will manage to do the same. We live in a society where individualism is highly prized — and I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way… even if the cost is that tension you describe so well. You just do the best you can in this, as in the rest of life — and try to err on the side of formality and good manners in situations where there’s any doubt.

  3. tracysue Says:
    July 26th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    I use to worry about the same thing until a friend of mine gave her kids some great advice. She told them to always adress adults by their last name until they are invited to call them by their first. Problem solved!

  4. Anissa@Hope4Peyton Says:
    August 28th, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    We have always gone by the idea that if the kids don’t know them well, or if it’s a position of authority (teacher, sunday school, things of that nature) they use the Mr/Mrs. LastNAme route. If it’s a friend, they have to call them Mr/Mrs First/Name thing. I don’t know, but they are NEVER to just call them by their first name.

  5. Auntie Glo Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Here’s the thing!! I don’t allow my nieces and nephews to call me by my first name–I don’t care if they ARE 25yrs old–its a term of endearment and respect–which I love and I’ve earned!!

    Secondly—I really really don’t like children calling me by my first name. I think of myself as rather hip–trendy–certainly liberal—but I really don’t want children calling me Gloria. So what to call me you might ask???

    I live in the south–amoungst the alligators, HUGE bugs, snakes, 100% humidity and hillbillies. I make fun of the South ALL the time!! Having said that….the one thing that they did get right is children addressing their elders……

    I am introduced to every child as Miss Gloria. I like it. Its polite. When adults speak to children–the children respond with a yes and no maam. when I speak to store clerks or acquaintances its with yes and no maam or sir. I love that about the South. Start a tradition Zen Mama Wannabe–people will Thank-You for it—Its only strange the first time!!!

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