I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”
One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.
It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.
The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.
Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.
Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.
We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.
If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.
I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.
I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.
I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.
I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.
As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.
As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.