Formality in an Informal Age

“Now that my friends and I are graduating from college,” our son said, “can they call you by your first name?”

Oh, God.  Not that again.

“It’s not about education,” I said.  “It never was.  But, yeah.  Sure.”

We’ve been fighting that particular battle ever since we moved to Austin 11 years ago and had dinner with our new next-door neighbors.  They told our kids it was fine to call them by their first names.  My husband chimed in that, hey, yeah, he’d happy to be called by his first name, too.

Then it was my turn.  Great.  I had to explain my old-fashioned, creaky notions about how I’d prefer to be called Ms. Pennebaker by small people who didn’t even come up to my elbow.

“I wanted to die,” our daughter said after we got home, “when you said that.”

Those days, I was causing her to want to die quite frequently, so it wasn’t like it was an unusual event.  I tried to cart out all my fusty little notions about how there was way too much familiarity in the world these days, what with faceless telephone solicitors and office clerks and receptionists calling me by my first name even though we hadn’t been properly introduced.  And how the English language suffered because, unlike French, Spanish and German, it didn’t have a formal second-person option that you could eventually dump as you became friends.

“Besides,” I said, “I don’t want anyone barely out of diapers calling me by my first name.”

Nobody at my house was impressed.  As a parent, I hear, I developed the reputation of having this “weird” fixation on not being called by my first name and most of the time their friends didn’t call me much of anything.  But hey, they hung out around here a lot.

So they’re now graduating from college, not that that matters.  What matters is we’ve known one another for years and they’re older and I really like them and why the hell not.

Besides, you know that earlier argument I used to make about not wanting to be called by my first name by anybody close to diaper age?  The closer my friends and I get to adult diapers, the more I realize it’s time to ditch that particular point.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

3 comments… add one
  • OK, so what do you think about this: I had to meet with a prof at UTD about a scholarship application. He’s younger than me. called my Sophia but I had to call him Dr. (insert name here). Pissed me off. Big.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I hate situations like that. He was out of order, calling you by your first name (and there you were, practically 50, with your AARP card, entitled to all kinds of groveling and respect by that young whippersnapper!) But then, what do you do? You would have been uncomfortable insisting on calling him by his first name. By the way, did you get the scholarship?

  • No. He declined even to nominate me. I wrote five f*&(#@^&$ essays provided my own AND my father’s financials (if you can believe it–Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Phooey.) And then he and some other rocket scientist decided I wasn’t a good candidate and decided not to nominate me.
    That’s when I decided to give up on grad school. I just got weary.

Leave a Comment