On changing names - about as OT as you can get

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Wed Mar 12 20:34:29 EST 2003

On Wed, 12 Mar 2003 20:57:56 -0000, Dorian E. Gray wrote:

>Melissa added...
>> To me (and I feel the same as Sally on this) it's because when I call
>> someone I don't know well, I will not refer to them by their first name
>> unless I've been invited to, whether formally or through the course of
>> becoming acquainted.
>Well, obviously I don't know about where you are, but in the social circles
>in which I move, a quotation from E. M. Delafield's "The Provincial Lady at
>War" comes to mind:  "Nowadays you have to know someone terribly well before
>you find out their surname!" (or words to that effect; I may have mangled it
>slightly).  If, say, someone came along to a party and didn't know many
>people, the introduction would go "Cathy, this is John, Sarah, Lisa, Steve,
>Martin, Joe...guys, this is Cathy."

I tend not to move in such elevated circles.  :)  Sure, a party is an
informal setting, and usually the person doing the introduction is someone I
do know well, so that's not a problem.  But I was talking about calling
someone I haven't been introduced to, or don't know well, and for me that's
a different situation.

This is really two separate things, actually: how I want people to behave
toward me, and how I feel I should behave toward others.  They're sort of
influenced by each other....

>> I consider it extremely rude behavior, and I hate it
>> when people do it to me (mistakenly thinking that it will make, for
>> the doctor-patient relationship all buddy-buddy.  It just pisses me off).
>Oddly enough, in principle I feel the same way, but in practice I don't mind
>the bank clerk or the doctor calling me by my first name.  Possibly because
>these are people that I do know slightly; I see them on a regular if not
>necessarily frequent basis.  I *would* be very annoyed if some random
>operator at the gas company did it, though.

I don't mind so much with the doctor (for the reason you cite), but I never
get the same clerks twice, so I don't know them at all and it feels very
random.  My frequent shopper card at the supermarket, when it's run through
the computer, brings up my name--which is how they know to use it.  It just
feels invasive, somehow.

>Well, this is why I use the title Ms., both for myself and when speaking (or
>writing) to a woman whose preference I don't know.  I know it's still
>possible to annoy someone with that one, but I find it seems to be becoming
>a more neutral term (here, anyway) - and if some stranger addressed me as
>Ms. Maher I'd probably just say mildly "No, actually, it's Ms. Duncan".

I use Ms. too, especially since I'm often writing to people whose marital
status I don't know.  I don't think anyone's been offended by me using it,
and I personally wouldn't correct anyone who used it on me.  I think that's
a result of the academic environment, where Ms. really is neutral and
encouraged (even for married ladies).

Melissa Proffitt
(I sound so stuffy today, don't I?  Well, rest assured I don't know how to
use an oyster fork....)

English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, hits them over the head and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.

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