Any and all flipping of birds to two year old girls was accidental and not a reaction to being called “Will.”

I visited with two sets of kids during my trip to Colosse. The first was my college roommate Hubert’s twins. The second was the three kids of my other college friend, Al Cavanaugh. Hugh (re-)introduced me to his daughters as “Will” while Al went with “Mr Truman.” I’m not at all offended with the former, but the traditionalist in me prefers the latter. It was how I was raised to refer to people my parent’s age. But these days, even if a parent wants to go that route it can be problematic because a lot of adults insist on being called by their first name with children. So it might not be a tide worth fighting.

I am getting older and more and more of my friends have kids. We were all raised with Mr and Mrs, but their kids haven’t been. So an age-peer will refer to my mother and father as Mr or Mrs Truman, but their toddler kids go with Bill or Susan.

I’m too lazy to look it up, but a couple of blog posts have been written on the subject. James Joyner (or one of his professorial co-bloggers at Outside The Beltway) spoke disapprovingly of the trend of college professors either wanting to or being encouraged to go by their first names with their students. The idea behind this trend being that you don’t want hierarchial relationships and it should be considered a relationship among equals. Joyner, a former professor, pushes back against this because teachers and students are not equals and it does nobody any justice to assume otherwise. Heebie-Geebie from Unfogged, a mathematics professor, expressed appreciation that a former student referred to her as doctor rather than shifting towards a first-name reference.

In the student-teacher relationship, I am more of the same mind of Joyner and Geebie. One of the irritating things about college was when students would challenge professors as presumptive equals. My friend Karl was – until the professor finally lost patience and put him in his place – so bad about this he almost ruined the class we took together. That’s not to say that what professors say should go completely unchallenged, and questions should definitely be asked (“Have you considered this?”), but by and large they are there to teach and you are there to learn. Any questions and challenges ought to be in an effort to better understand what they are trying to say. Not to prove that you, and undergraduate student, know more than they do. First-name bases – to the extent that they make a difference – seem to encourage the latter behavior.

Yesterday I went to orientation to be a substitute teacher. This was for the Redstone elementary schools. One of the things they kept harping on was dress code (which essentially boiled down to “no t-shirts or jeans”) and the insistence that, whether you prefer it or not, you are to be addressed as Mr or Mrs. The point being to establish authority. I’m not entirely sure how necessary this is with elementary school kids, though. Don’t get me wrong, I approve of both (preferring the Mr and Mrs and being a fan of non-casual dress codes generally), but it strikes me as the area where it makes the least amount of difference.

There is no orientation for the secondary schools, but it came up that (while presumably the Mr and Mrs honorifics are still required) they are much less worried about dress codes. That struck me as odd since that’s the place (in K-12 at any rate) where kids are most likely to challenge the adult-kid nature of the relationship. That strikes me as where it would be most important to draw every distinction you can.


Category: Coffeehouse, School

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

13 Responses to Will vs Mr Truman

  1. Peter says:

    Last week I went to the doctor’s office to get antibiotics for my lingering cough and cold. It’s a large practice, and I’ve never been there before. A 30ish man came into the room and said “Hi, I’m Scott.” Even though he never gave his title, I knew that he wasn’t a physician (he turned out to be a physician’s assistant) because a physician would have said “Hi, I’m Dr. Jones.”

  2. trumwill says:

    Some docs will actually go by their first name. My wife fully intended to do that, but introducing herself as Clancy, her youthful appearance, and her being a her invariably lead people to assume that she’s a nurse.

  3. Nanani says:

    Do they call all women “Mrs” regardless of actual marital status?

    To the point, my sister is a teacher-in-training doing substitute work in elementary for experience right now.
    The kids call her “Mrs.” Sister’s-Given-Name which I found off-putting when I heard about it, but she finds it cute.

    Thoughts?

    *Technically, not “Mrs” but the equivalent in our language, with a word having exactly the same marital status and gender denotations as English “Mrs” does.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    Remember, when the kids tell you how smart, handsome, wise, witty, etc you are, they are just buttering you up.

    How can you tell when a teenager is lying?

    His lips are moving.

  5. David Alexander says:

    Yesterday I went to orientation to be a substitute teacher.

    Congrats on finding something resembling employment? 🙂

  6. Mike Hunt says:

    I am still uncomfortable being called Mr Hunt, but I understand there are situations where it would be inappropriate to be called Mike.

    BTW, welcome back David Alexander? Where were you?

  7. trumwill says:

    Congrats on finding something resembling employment?

    Thanks. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not sure how often substitutes around here actually get called in. I’m finishing up the application process (background check, TB testing) for Redstone. Once I have these things out of the way, I’ll probably apply to the local districts since I should be able to use a lot of what I needed for Redstone for Callie, Ridge, and other smaller schools.

  8. trumwill says:

    Nanani, sorry I missed your comment. When I was in elementary school, we called everyone Mrs, even the one or two I recall being unmarried*. I think it was a consistency thing. The distinction was lost on us.

    In late grade school, they were starting to tell kids to call everyone Ms. (the marriage-neutral term), but it never really took. By the time we got to intermediate school, we started understanding the distinction. I specifically recall our unmarried English teacher being called Miss.

    There were remarkably few unmarried teachers, though. Or teachers that would cop to being unmarried.

    * – I know as much because, over the course of my time in grade school, their name changed and when we asked why they said that they had gotten married (or, in the cases I am recalling, remarried).

  9. Nanani says:

    Thanks for the reply, no worries about being late.

    Come to think of it, I can’t say for sure whether or not my own elementary school teachers were all married or not. Maybe I did the same odd thing as a kid without knowing it.

    The strangest bit (for me) is that my sister is getting called Mrs. FirstName. It would like the kids calling you Mr. Will (instead of Mr. Truman).

    I guess that’s one way to get around mid-year name changes, should they occur.

  10. trumwill says:

    Mr. FirstName and Mrs./Miss/Ms. FirstName is becoming more and more common in the US as a way to sidestep the issue. You also have people who call non-relatives who are really close to the parents Aunt or Uncle SoAndSo. Mr. FirstName is a step more formal than that, though less formal than Mr. LastName.

    When I first married Clancy, I called her parents Mrs. FirstName and Dr. FirstName, though that didn’t last long. I suspect that we’re going to see it more and more in the future, though, as Americans become more and more resistent to the idea that they’re aging (similar to how grandparents are coming up with things to be called that do not contain gran, gram, or grand in them).

  11. Brandon Berg says:

    That’s funny—when I was in school, I remember many students addressing all female teachers with “Miss,” regardless of marital status.

  12. Nanani says:

    You also have people who call non-relatives who are really close to the parents Aunt or Uncle SoAndSo.

    We do that as well. Sometimes it wasn’t until years later that I realized some of these Aunts and Uncles were NOT related to me.

    Didn’t know about the grandparents-name trend. How odd.

  13. trumwill says:

    Brandon, I actually may have called them “Miss” in the same way that I thought Missippi was a state, but internally I thought of all of them as Mrs.

    Nanani, yeah, I consider the grandparent thing odd, too. But it’s becoming quite common. I come from a family of formality as far as that goes. It was Grandfather and Grandmother, not even “Gramps.”

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