Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

When I was a kid my parent's friends were always addressed as "Mrs. Johnson" or "Mr. Gray."  Only the closest of the close were we allowed to call by their first names.  Among Amish children, courtesy titles are are used.  I've not observed Mr. and Mrs. much (teachers, being an exception), but they will address a relative as Aunt Verena or Uncle Jacob.

Even as an adult - now 17 years removed from high school - I can't bring myself to call a former teacher by a first name if I run into them at church or the supermarket.  Mrs. Hoskins will always be that, never, ever Beth.  My high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Gardner, will never be Rick.   And even though my pastor (not the Rev. Wright.....sorry, couldn't resist:), says to call him Tim, I still prefer Rev. Doty.   

Dr. is a little trickier. Rachel works for a veterinarian.  Occasionally we'll go out socially and I'd feel bizarre calling him anything other than his first name.

I guess courtesy titles are on my mind because when I gave a talk at a middle school recently I was rather taken aback when students referred to one of their teachers simply as "Janet."   I'm not in schools much anymore, is this commonplace? Or are courtesy titles still very much in use? Are courtesy titles important, or am I just too old-fashioned....?  Do any of our site visitors have a "formula" for when you use them or when you don't?

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

Our children are taught to use a title before a name, sometimes they do use the title with a first name like with their ballet teachers, Miss Andrea, except the head mistress  she is Mrs.  Or like us we have a big long surname that is difficult to pronounce even for some adults we know so we would be Mr. and Mrs. (insert last initial here).

A good portion of our trip was spent in Kentucky, politeness abounds there! It was Ma'am and Sir everywhere. 

Wouldn't the Amish and other Anabaptists refer to folks in the fold as Brother ___ and Sister ____?   


Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?


 Amongst the plain people, calling each other by courtesy titles is considered putting on airs, and not properly showing "gelassenheit." Therefore , school teachers are called "Teacher Erma" or amongst the Conservative Mennonites or Beachy Amish, Sister Erma, etc. If you look at the Amish newspapers, women are often referred to by their husband's first name, then their first name, then the last name, as in Lawrence Erma Miller. This is because these closely interwoven groups share common last names. There are lots of Mennonite Detweilers ,for example, so to differentiate one Erma Detweiler from another,they insert the husband's first name.  I have not come across many "plain" women who refer to themselves as Mrs. Anybody, but I am not familiar with customs outside of PA.  Susan

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

I think courtesy is important. Living in the south, I have raised my children to call adults by Mr, Mrs, or Miss so an so. The main southern difference is in dealing with  close family friends rather than making them honorary aunts or uncles, my children could address the adult by their first name as long as it was still Ms. Cindy or Mr. John.

I just feel that keeping the title with the first name still shows respect and that there's a line between adult and child. This is actually pretty common in the south.


Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

P.S. I prefer to be called by first name regardless of the situation but some of my friends want their kids to call me Miss and my first name so I let them because I don't interfere with how someone trains their kids.

Oh and I was born in the 70's it not only depends on the generation it depends on where they grew up and if the family is military or not. Southern and midwestern families are far more formal with titles than the average northeastern or pacific northwest. Military families are also more formal than non military ones and usually demand no sir, yes maam, which could be why my parents are so lenient. My mother is an army brat and my father was raised by a cop and they got just plain tired of authority and titles and didn't make us do it, outside of an elderly person.

I also think tone is very important. If your tone is rude it defeats the purpose of respectful titles.


Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

I'm a teacher. I tell my students to call me Mrs.____.
I also teach ESL to adults, and I allow them to call me by my first name. Most of those students are older than I am.

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

For years, I have been called by my first name in many medical situationsm often by youngsters.  A couple of weeks ago, when I was in, briefly, for a colonoscopy, the op. room nurse, actually asked beforehand, what I would like to be called.  That left me with a really good feeling.

In some local families, the custom is to call teachers by their first names as soon as they 'graduate' from 8th grade [the end of our local elem].  But in high school, they do use Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms.  directly to a teacher-----but, I suspect, last name solo when talking with friends/family----as we did.  Other former students still call me by Mrs. for years, as do their parents.  I don't ask for a change, unless it is someone whom we see frequently, socially.  In schools, here, all teachers/aides are addressed by titles, although there was a time when first names were used for spec. ed. aides, volunteers, etc.  I think first names are still often used in pre-K situations.  Some classroom teachers with difficult names, often have kids use their title/last initial-----as in Miss F., which works well for both sides.  Eventually, on their own, the kids are able to use the full name. 

When I first started college, we were called Miss/Mr. by our professors.  When one is called this, there is a certain amount of 'rising to the occasion,' in terms of personal decorum.  I admit it, I did a certain amount of this with kids-----& they loved it----you could see them sort of gather themselves together before speaking.  But----in my first teaching situations, it was quite difficult for me to call other teachers by first name. 

While growing up, the custom for relatives was to use the terms, Aunt, Uncle, etc.  Some people also insisted that their children call close friends by this, as well, but mine did not.  It was mutual between them & the closest ones, that the children use first names [but still, always, show respect].  This also seemed to be the case with some neighbors.  But----one always went by the preferred name/title, & did not take first names for granted!  I think it is leaving this choice to the person being addressed, which  is important, as well as the showing of due respect/deference----whatever you wish to call it. 

One thing I've noticed in nursing homes, is the lack of respect/consideration for the actual person----which is very hard on those who have maintained clarity of mind.  This was a constant battle my mother faced----not the name thing, but rather, being treated like a real person who still counted for something! 

"A school is four walls with tomorrow inside."                                            


Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

I was raised in a rather liberal manner I have to admit and went to a hippy daycare hahah. I called my teachers and my own mother, aunts and uncles by their first names up until age 5. My mother actually saw using her first name as a safety issue like if I got lost I would know her name, address, phone #,  etc. It was other adults who informed me that people do not call their mothers by their first names so I stopped.

Strangely enough I always called my father Daddy or Dad. When I entered grade school on up until college I called teachers Mr., Miss, Mrs. and community college some teachers I had preferred their first names be used and others their title such as Professor, or Doctor or whatever. Now I am in nursing school and this university requires that all teachers are called Professor or Doctor if they are one. We do not use Miss, Mr, or Mrs. for them. On the other hand we are also called student nurses not just students as opposed to the students who are not yet in the program. We must also sign SN after our name for student nurse, even on lecture assignments. There are no exceptions. The mindset behind this is that we will desire to have the initials RN, BSN, then MSN, then Ph.D. after it and work harder towards it.

We are taught to ask patients during clinicals what they prefer to be called after we introduce ourselves. I have noticed the disgusting manner in which people in nursing homes are addressed and I won't be doing it. Elderly people should also be addressed as Mr or Mrs and I don't like the tone in which elderly people are talked too. Living in Florida I hear it a lot. Either it's patronizing like they are 2 years old or it's plain rude.

When I moved south from the northeast I started calling everyone maam and sir out of respect for a culture that still prefers that be used for the most part.  

I also call all children Mr. or Miss so and so even if they are infants which some people think is wierd. I answer children's questions with a yes maam or no sir as well, even during social visits.

 My theory behind this is that they will not have to be "taught" to do if they too are spoken to with a title. It will be a reflexive response that they can use later on in life and they won't have to work as hard at remember what's appropriate where like I had to learn.

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

All my students call me Mrs. Cronin as well as the way to refer to all the other teachers in the school.  My own children call their teachers by Mr/Mrs.  I have been in schools where they do Ms. (insert first name here) and really don't care which one is use.  I find it funny when students will ask what my 'real' name is meaning my first name.  Some think it's cute to call me Bonnie but I gently remind them to use Mrs. Cronin. 

Several years ago, I worked with preschool age students in the elementary school setting and the norm for some reason is to have them call you Ms. first name.  So I had preschoolers refer to me as Ms. Bonnie and all other grades call me Mrs. Cronin.  I stopped this when it became ovious that it was too confusing for little minds to understand the difference; I had a kindergarderner point to me and tell his mom "that's the teacher who changes her name!"  I asked him what he meant by that and he pointed out that last year he called me Ms. Bonnie and now he has to call me Mrs. Cronin.


lorraine stoddard's picture

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

Having children call their teacher's Miss,Mrs.,or Mr. is a matter of respect.  Children should also refer to their friends parents as Mr. and Mrs.  Children should also call an Aunt or Uncle as such.  Again children need to respect their elders,and this is one way of doing that.  People working nursing homes should refer to the residents with a courtesy title.

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

Good observation about the Mrs. Ben Coblentz....Yes, this is a custom that is still strong among the Amish.  Lovina refers to herself as Mrs. Joe Eicher.   The Amish are a very patriarchal society.  If you asked Lovina what she thought about referring to herself as "Mrs. Joe Eicher" she would say it is a tender, loving gesture and I agree.....I realize in non-Amish society such a title may no longer be appropriate, but Amish women still use this way of addressing themselves and I think it is kind of quaint (SIGH, I'll probably get a nasty email or two from a feminist, and believe me I'm a progressive guy, but I just think in Amish culture the title works)

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

Not innapropriate at all, Kevin!  The reason I was curious was because I also tend to do this, in a manner of speaking.  I'll often sign things "Mr. & Mrs. ____ ____."  Sometimes my husband will offer my name if we are introduced that way to someone in person.  I agree with you and Lovina - there IS something loving and tender about it.  Of course, half the time I get the stink-eye, but that's our modern world for you, I guess. 

Thanks for answering the questions!


paulaayn's picture

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

  I would love to call myself "Mrs. Colin Fletcher" but people would think I was odd.  I do enjoy being "Mrs. Fletcher".  I still call my best friend's (since kindergarten) mom "Mrs."  The problem I have with titles now is, I am trying to teach my daughter respect and how to address her elders.  Most people, especially women, don't want her to call them "Mrs"  They say, just let her call me ...  I really don't think it's right and still have Ella say "Mrs", especially if the person is older than me.   Respect never goes out of style.       Paula                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

"Aspire to inspire before you expire"

Yes!  Even though my 2nd grade teacher is my BF's aunt, I still refer to her as Mrs. Tuttle, instead of Karen.  Just can't bring myself to it.  Pretty much the same for all my grade school/HS teachers.  When I went to college, it changed up a bit to Dr. or Professor So-n-So...but all of my nursing instructors wanted to be called by their first name.  That was weird at first, but we got so close to them that after awhile, it just seemed natural.

I pretty much always called my friends' parents by their first name, but for some reason I have always had trouble calling my husband's parents/g-parents by their names.  I usually refer to them as "Matt's dad/mom/gma, etc" unless it is in a context that it would be rude not to refer to them by their name.  I don't know why I do that.  I need to bread that habit!

Now as a fairly new nurse, I worked on an inpatient rehab floor.  I was caring for a retired doctor who was ill (late 70's age-wise), and I was discussing his care with the neurologist/medical director of our unit.  This medical director is the most quiet, kind fellow you have ever met... but when I refered to the patient as Jim (because the majority of the patients prefered a first-name basis), my medical director became very stern with me and said "His name is DOCTOR Smith."  I was a bit shocked... but I will tell you that I was never able to call another doctor by their first name again after that.  Even the podiatrist that I case managed for... every other nurse in the clinic called him Dewey, but I could only refer to him as Dr. Hanzel.  He was like a big brother to me, and always picked on my grammar and called me a "MO-billy".  I sure do miss him!  Wink

Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

I would be pretty shocked to hear students refer to their teacher by first name!  Like you, Kevin, when I was a kid, I was expected to address the parents of my friends as "Mr." or "Miss."  Teachers were always "Mr." or "Ms." or "Mrs."  There was one eccentric history teacher a group of us referred to affectionately as "The Captain" (I still address his Christmas card that way) because that was his rank in a Revolutionary Way reenators group.  I'd still consider that a courtesy title, though - it's not like we were calling him "Chuck." 

And my husband and I have continued this with our own kids.  Our eldest daughter's karate school teaches this as a tenet of respect, and all the instructors are referred to as "Mr." or Miss."  (Heck, even my husband and I address them that way and most of them are younger than we are!!)  Our pastor has long insisted we call her "Flo," and though I've reluctantly come to do this when talking to her, we still insist on addressing her as "Rev. Flo" where our kids are involved. 

Basically, if someone is reasonably older than I am (loosely read as:  not my generation, lol) then I use a title when addressing them.  Or if someone is in a position that I feel demands it (e.g., my daughter's karate teachers), then I will use a title.  And I use those titles until it is made clear to me by the person I'm addressing that the title isn't necessary.  Sometimes I feel we have very little "etiquette" left in our world...I'd hate to see this go by the wayside as well!!

This brings up a question for me though, Kevin, as it relates to Amish women.  I seem to recall reading in Recollections and Recipes that Elizabeth would refer to herself as "Mrs. Ben Coblentz."  Does Lovina refer to herself similarly, as "Mrs. Joe Eicher?"  Is this a courtesy that is observed by the community itself?  Is it something perhaps Elizabeth's generation would have observed, but subsequent generations are growing away from?  Thanks!


Re: Courtesy Titles: Important or Overblown?

"Aspire to inspire before you expire"

 We had a few older ladies at the clinic who would also refer to themselves as the Mrs. (insert husbands name).  The young receptionists would always giggle a little about it.... maybe it is a generational thing? 

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <iframe> <p> <br> <br /> <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <object> <param> </param> <embed> <span> <div>
  • You may post PHP code. You should include <?php ?> tags.

More information about formatting options

This question is used to make sure you are a human visitor and to prevent spam submissions.
Copy the characters (respecting upper/lower case) from the image.