I vividly remember being a child and all the adults around me were named Mrs. McMannis, Mr. Retsema, Mr. Hooper, and Mom and Dad. Absolutely none of them had a first name (that I knew, anyway). Calling an adult by his or her first name was unheard of and completely disrespectful. I never had any trouble pronouncing their last names, either, and no one ever asked me to call them anything else.
I remember thinking it would be cool to be a “Mrs.” and looked forward to when people would call me that. And then I became a Mrs. and am finding that very few ever call me that. The only exception is in my homeschool group. Without fail, all the adults there are addressed by their surnames, and it adds a clear distinction between who is in charge and who is not. This is very important where children are concerned, because they smell fear and uncertainty and they need that line firmly drawn—or it’s anarchy and chaos.
What changed? Is it because being called “Mrs.” makes adults feel old? Or is it that no one wants to be seen as an authority figure anymore? Is it that when children are very young, first names are easier to pronounce than some last names? Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s helpful to adult/child relations. Life seems easier with the natural “distinction of rank preserved,” as Lady Catherine de Bourgh would say. Then again, Lady Catherine was an insufferable octogenarian nobody liked…so maybe I’m wrong.
Former Louisiana state senator Donald Cravins agreed with me, even penning a law to ensure his students in Louisiana addressed their teachers properly. While one wonders what kind of slow year in corruption or crime prompted such a superfluous law that year, the reasoning behind it was sound. Cravins told the Washington Post,
Having children use first names “is supposed to be fashionable,” said Cravins, an insurance agent. “But it’s like telling them we’re buddies rather than a parent and child. Can they be friends? Of course. But there’s also a line I never crossed with my parents.”
Aliya King at The Root had a different experience with her child’s school, where the children called all adults by their first names. Their philosophy threw King for a loop and when she questioned the practice, she was told their reasoning.
Everyone here deserves respect. And just because you’ve lived longer doesn’t automatically entitle someone to more respect than a young person.”
There’s truth to that statement, too. Children do deserve respect because they are no less human than anyone else. But what does that respect look like? And more importantly, what do I have to do to be called Mrs. Fox once in awhile? It’s a really cool name. What do you think? Proper or poppycock?