Thursday, November 17, 2005

Title Confusion

In the past year or so I've been pondering quite a bit the place and use of titles such as Miss, Mrs., Mr., etc. This is mainly because I am now at that age when I am an adult (and a college graduate), yet I still don't fully think of myself as one. If I meet anyone remotely older than me who is married, then I automatically call them by their last name, Mr. or Mrs. ______, yet more and more often I meet married adults who are 10 or 20 years older than me, and they ask me to refer to them by their first name.

My confusion has increased over the past semester as I am now teaching for a homeschool program that I have been familiar with for quite some time. Although I never attended there, my family has known the headmaster (and other involved families) for years, and I still refer to him as Mr. Meents; I would not feel comfortable doing otherwise. The other woman who teaches math for the program, though, is older than the headmaster, yet I call her by her first name when not in the presence of students.

But the saga continues. You see, I know several homeschool families who send their children to the program. One of my Algebra I students (obviously several years younger than myself) grew up with me in the same homeschool group, yet she now has to call me "Miss Garrison" instead of "Susan". Her older brother still calls me Susan and thinks it's funny that she now refers to me, even at home, as Miss Garrison. There was originally a strong possibility this year that two girls who I know very well - one I consider a friend, the other is one of my sister's friends - would be in my statistics class, which didn't end up garnering enough interest to materialize. That would have been even stranger to be in a position of authority over two girls with whom I have such a close acquaintance (and are closer in age) and to have them call me Miss Garrison. I know several other students in the program, but only the one girl whom I actually teach, two counting the sister of one of my sister's friends.

Then there is the tutoring I do on the side. Do I introduce myself to my tutoring students as Miss Garrison, as Susan, or just leave them to guess? I've been introducing myself as Susan, but I can see that it is strange or uncomfortable to some students.

And ah, yes, the Mrs., Miss, Ms. controversy. I avoid Ms. since it is a product of the feminist revolution :). In college all female instructors without a doctorate, even if married with their husbands' last names, were referred to as Ms. _______, pronounced "miss". A few wrote their name "Mrs.", but most opted for the elusive "Ms." in both writing and speech. I spent a good deal of time in the public schools last year observing and teaching, and never was a female teacher verbally referred to with the title "Mrs". The high school teachers, unlike the college instructors, did not mind writing their names "Mrs.", they were just never referred to by this title; it was always verbally "Miss", whether married or single. I'm not sure if this was from feminist influences or a product of southern culture. . .

I have found it very amusing to observe the differences in which my students and their parents refer to me in writing. I introduced myself to my classes as Miss Garrison and the same was written on my syllabus and all mass parent-student e-mails. All of my students verbally address me as "Miss Garrison". By e-mail, though, I have had students refer to me as "Mrs. Garrison" on numerous occasions, as well as the most popular "Ms. Garrison". Rarely (I hazard to guess never) has a student or parent addressed me in writing as "Miss Garrison", although I sign every mass parent-student e-mail with this title. To individual parents I often sign my e-mails "Susan Garrison"; some reply with Mrs, most with Ms, and one or two with Susan. To the two parents whom I have long known, I always sign my name "Susan", and they respond in kind.

What brought on this long meandering was the recent slew of progress reports I just e-mailed today. I individually e-mailed an Excel grade spreadsheet to each student, with grades and averages, and wrote a short personalized e-mail signed "Miss Garrison". One of the parents has already e-mailed back to "Mrs. Garrison", which I find amusing since in the e-mail to which she was replying I signed my name "Miss Garrison". Granted I am not offended, nor will I lose sleep over this. I really don't care if all my students and parents refer to me as "Mrs. Garrison" - though that is my mother's name ;). I just find the whole situation interesting to ponder.


helen said...

Ah, one of the most intersting things to ponder. Some sixty-something year olds insist I call them by their first name, which seems strange; yet there are thrity-something year olds that I still call Mr. and Mrs. For myself, I usually get called Miss Helen by those younger than me.

Mrs.B. said...

Wasn't it so much nicer in the old days when there were set rules about such things? Everyone knew and understood the alleviated MUCH confusion!

I do think you touched on an interesting point. I was raised in the south and with women, it was common to call someone 'Miss' with their first name. Now if someone was quite a bit older than, we would say Mrs. but we would have refered to you as "Miss Susan".

In my personal opinion, in a classroom setting, students should NEVER refer to their teacher by their first name unless there is a 'Miss' attatched to it.

Mrs.B. said...

Somethinge else...I was raised to call someone older than me by Mr. or Mrs. and I too have found that a lot of people don't like it because they say it makes them feel 'old'. I say, what's wrong with getting older? I think youth is worshipped way too much in our culture. I LOVE it when people call me by my married name instead of my first name!

Being from the south, I was also raised to say 'Mam' and 'Sir', but I've found that many people don't like that either (especially northerners).

zan said...

I know how you feel, Susan. It is confusing. I'm 24 and was called Mrs_ the other day. I didn't even respond. I do think when you are inteacher mode you should have the kids call you Miss_.It is out of respect for your position.


Samara said...

Such a good topic. I frequently wish that my email providers were set up for the use of a title in the name associated with the email address (so that emails from me would show up as coming from "Miss Samara Harper"- especially when I was a college TA and most of my correspondence was with my students. Most of my students just referred to me as "Miss" (not an uncommon practice in the Southwest), some called me Miss Harper or the friendlier-sounding Miss Samara, and some referred to me by my first name only, especially if we were in a more informal tutoring or office-hours setting.
Growing up in the military, I had (and still have) the habit of responding to others with "Sir" or "Ma'am", and addressing them by title, as in "Major Lastname"- though it was always funny to my brothers & I to witness people referring to our parents by their titles: somehow we didn't think of either Dad or Mom as "Colonel Harper". :) I guess we do this with family, too- "Aunt/Uncle Firstname", "Grandpa/Grandma Lastname" (at least in introduction- we did have informal nicknames for all the grandparents).

Samara said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michelle said...

I couldn't agree with you more. What's a girl to do? I never wanted to be referred to as Mrs. Monk, I always said that was my MIL, but I've changed my viewpoint. I think it is high time that respect is back in style. :)
mrs. b : am in the south and we do use Miss ____ alot. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don't. I'm not sure how to go about changing it either. ;)
Mr.s Monk (heehee couldn't resist)

Jessie said...

I actually read once that when a single girl turns eighteen, her title changes from Miss to Ms., signifying that she is not just single, as she was before she was 18, now she is "eligible". =D
I don't go around making sure everyone knows that my left ring finger is empty, but nevertheless, I do use those free address labels the Paralyzed Veterens of America send me. Mine come printed with Ms. Jessica... on it. My mom won't use hers, because, obviously, her title is Mrs. and she doesn't care for there to be any confusion.

I too live in the South, and went to public school for 8 years and kindergarten. Never in those years was a teacher called by anything other than "miss" lastname. I grew up thinking that was just how you pronounced "Mrs."! It wasn't till I was 12 years old and we started going to a church where I was expected to call the adults by their titles that I learned, there actually is a difference in pronunciation!
I get called Miss Jessie by many of the children at church, with the exception of some of the children I am closer with, like my 4 yo little sister's best friends. They just call me Jessie.
But since I'm their Sunday School teacher, should they call me by my last name?? Even my sister, whom I teach, too? You're right, Susan. It does get confusing.

Jessie said...

What do you do if you have a married couple in your church who has a married son, and they now have all the same titles? Then you've got Mr. So-and-So the father, Mrs. So-and-So the mother, Mr. So-and-So the son, and Mrs. So-and-So the daughter-in-law. How can you distinguish between the two Mr.s and the two
We creatively solved a problem of this kind at my church, where we have the Mungers and the Mungers.
The father and mother are Mr. and Mrs. Munger, and the son and daugher-in-law are the "Younger Mungers". : ) But I still call the younger Mungers by their names (they're not much older than me) and the littler ones call them, Mr. Firstname and Miss Firstname. Or would that me Mrs. Firstname, pronounced like Miss. Or maybe it's actually Ms....
What a mess.

ashley said...

I grew up calling friends of my parents Aunt__/Uncle__. That might be a missionary thing (going along the idea of all being part of the Body of Christ and part of the Christian family).

Since I've started working, I have gotten in the habit of calling all adults by their first name. I am called "Miss Ashley" a lot (usually by people much older than me) and I love that, but I hate my last name. If you call me "Miss_" then I probably won't respond.

In Peru, we called our teachers "sir" and "miss" (pronounced "mees"). It was really hard for me to revert to "Prof._" or "Dr._" when I went to college. I called all of my art professors by their first names only (that's what they preferred). But art is unconventional in nature. :-)

Ben Garrison said...

All of this confusion could disappear if we just pointed while saying "hey you".

Or numbers. Numbers for names would also work.

Susan, you should name your kids 1-12. Or 0-11 if you like 0-indexed children. Think of how much easier it would be to remember who was older.

Hannah :-) said...

Yeah, but would it be "Miss 1", "Ms. 1", or "Mrs. 1"?

.......I want to be "Miss 144"

Lydia said...

This very issue has confused me, as well. The confusion for me started when I began attending college. Some of my instructors asked to be called by their first names and others by a title and last name. After I started nursing school, all the instructors were referred to by their first names. It felt strange at first, but I adapted and appreciated the friendly, open atmosphere it produced. After graduation and starting my full-time work as an RN I began calling most of my co-workers by their first names. The exception being the many doctors I interact with. For a while I felt like I had two separate lives. On one hand as an adult professional I was allowed and expected to call adults by their first names at my work and in college, but in my church and community I was taught and encouraged to call married people and those in authority by their title and last names. This is the way things are at the present.
I used to call all married people by their appropriate title, i.e. Mr., Mrs., Dr. and last name and all single people with their first name unless they were much older then they would be Miss or Mr. Last Name.

Now being an "adult" in almost every sense of the word, I find it difficult to know what to call all my married friends and even those adults whom I have referred to as Mr. or Mrs. in the past. I have still been calling my married friends by their first names. I know a few gracious couples in my church that request me to now call them by their first names. It has taken some getting used to but I appreciate their courtesy. I admit that at times espcially at home with my family, I refer to most married couples by their first names.

I will say that there is one scenario that bothers me. I have noticed that some married people will request and expect to be called by their first names once a young person has become engaged or married. While I think this is appropriate, I find it troubling that at the same time the single young people who function as adults are still requested to refer to married people by their title and last name. Perhaps I make too big a deal of this, however I find it disturbing that those who are my age or not much older seem to be treated and viewed more as adults just because they are married or will be shortly. Does being married make one an "adult"? What does make one an adult? Are those single people in their 30's or 40's not truly "adults" because they are not married? Are you no longer an "adult" if your spouse has died? If a young adult is working full-time as a professional, paying most of his or her own bills and making adult decisions, shouldn't he or she be viewed and treated as an adult by the other adults around him or her?

I don't have a good solution to this dilemma. I can see that some parents would desire for young people to begin calling them by their first names after they are married to acknowledge that the young people have left their parents' homes and authority to establish their own homes with a different authority structure. This would seem to be an appropriate reason for such a practice. I guess it would be proper to have young adults begin calling fellow adults by their first names at a designated time or age. Perhaps on graduation from highschool or age 21 or whatever. I certainly think that children should be taught and encouraged to call their elders by title and last name out of respect and courtesy. If I were teaching I would prefer to have them call me Miss Lydia. It still promotes respect for those older and in an authortative position, but it also sets apart a married woman from an unmarried. I would not feel comfortable at all being referred to as "Miss Hayden" by children unless I was in more of a professional environment such as teaching at a college level or something like that. I worked with children for several years as a volunteer teacher at a children's character program that ran concurrently with our local homeschool workshop each year. In the program, the children are taught to call the young adult teachers by their first names along with the proper title. I thought it was sweet when the children I worked with would anxiously call out, "Miss Lydia. Miss Lydia!" I think this worked best for the children in this situation. Some last names are a real challenge to pronounce even for adults so it is much easier for young children to call us with first name and title. Again, I reiterate that married adults should be referred to as Mr. or Mrs. with last name to promote respect, honor and good manners.

Thanks for bringing this topic to mind, Susan. I enjoy your thought-provoking posts.

P.S. I didn't realize how long this post was until I previewed it. I apologize for being so verbose. I guess this is somewhat of a "soapbox" issue for me:)

Susan said...

Evidently several other people have pondered this very topic. I just returned from a weekend visit and found 13 comments to this post. . . :)

Mrs. B: I liked several points you brought up. It was so much easier when there were social rules for such things. I agree that school teachers should not be referred to by first name only, unless perhaps for college. My students all call me Miss Garrison, not counting some of my tutorees. I especially liked your point about there being nothing wrong with getting older! Gray hair is a crown of splendor. . .


Interesting anecdote on "Ms." I wonder where that view originated, as Ms. is a very recent title. A century ago girls "came out" closer to 16 oftentimes.

Concerning Sunday School, when my sister and I taught Kindergarten last year we discovered in retrospect how wise it would have been to have them call us by Miss Susan and Miss Hannah. You think that would have been obvious, but we hadn't thought about it, and I think it would have been easier to command respect (we had a few hoodlums. . . ) had we used titles.

Ben: Better yet, name my children 1, 4, 9, 16, etc. Then they'd all be squares (pun intended) and my 12th would be 144, making his Aunt Hannah so happy :). Oh, and to solve the chronological confusion, I favor alphabetical names, although I'll be sure to not stick strictly with Bible names as well. Wouldn't want a son name Frankincense. . .


I also felt, when student teaching, that I was leading a double life, calling other teachers (many decades my senior) by first name, but calling 35ish year-old married folk at my church Mr./Mrs.

I have pondered the single/married aspect of adult as well, Lydia. I think there is some sort of an unspoken hierarchy of sorts for marital status, although spoken in past eras. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane "must go lower" after Lydia is married, though Jane is older; I think marriage makes adulthood more concrete and defined, especially in our present society that doesn't have set rules for adulthood; I'm not saying it should define adulthood, but I see why others see it as such. It does seem rough on older singles who may still be viewed as second class.

Samara said...

Okay, I've realized the solution- take the Biblical example & let's all have only first names :)

Susan said...

Interesting thought. . .

Or we could just go with Brother _______ or Sister _______ . . . That's NT Biblical.

Anonymous said...

I SO agree with Jessica and the problem of several sets of Mr's and Mrs's with the same last name! Very puzzling!

I've grown up on a tiny Bible school, so it's been a challenge for me. Yes, I called older married staff couples Mr/Mrs _____ when I was younger. But now that I'm older it's confusing. We're like a family because we're small (about 50 people, half of those kids) so titles sound awfully stilted, but they ARE my elders, so do I still call them Mr/Mrs?

With the single students, especially, it's been difficult as I've grown older. What do you call an older unmarried friend who's 25 yrs older than you when you're 13? Miss ____ would have been just TOO weird for our fun teasing friendship, but at times I wondered if I was wrong in calling her by her first name.

Now for me, it depends on who I'm talking to as to whether I use a title. Those way older than me who I really respect I definitely do. Others who are closer and feel more like family I tend to drop the title.

For myself, I rather dislike being called "Miss Lois" or "Miss Last-name" unless it's in fun. It sounds too weird. Makes me feel too old, and too far above those younger than me. Almost like I’m better than them, and I dislike that. Maybe if I were teaching poor in a position with authority I would feel better about it, but for everyday life, I prefer to skip it.

Odd thought -- I really appreciate the fact that you let people comment anonymously! I don't like getting a lot of internet accounts, so appreciate it when I can comment on a blog without joining it!