Should Children Call Adults By First Names?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusively from the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas. (Have an issue you want help with? Send in a question today.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
My husband and I were recently blessed with the birth of our first child. He is a joy, and we are all very happy.
My mother-in-law has stated, since I was pregnant, that she wants the child to call her by her first name instead of grandma. In fact, she becomes affronted when we refer to her as "Grandma."
For example, when I say "there's grandma" to the baby, she responds with "I'm not grandma, I've asked you not to call me that!"
I am yet to figure out the reason for this wish, but my best guess is that she wants to be close to her grandson and feels this would be facilitated if they were on a first name basis. She hasn't provided me with an explanation, she simply says "That's what I want." I should note that my husband called his grandmother by her first name, and they were very close.
I do find the whole thing a little odd, and a big part of me wants to let it go and just let him call her whatever she wants. My main issue with this is that I feel it's disrespectful for children to call adults by their first names. I don't want to open up a can of worms, so to speak, and set myself up for a situation where he starts calling me by my first name, which I do not want. Also, my mother is "Grandma" and there is nothing wrong with the title!
Do I have a right to forbid this under the explanation that I don't want my children calling adults by their first names?
Really, you don't know the reason? Among those in age-denial, this is not an uncommon request. Implausibly, they will declare --and to a child who has a child!-- "I'm not old enough to be a grandparent."
Miss Manners finds it sad when people spurn signs of respect, such as honorifics or the offer of a seat, and even designations of family affection, in the vain hope that this will make them seem part of the youth culture. There is no one quite as out-of-it as the adult who admonishes a bewildered child, "Don't say Sir; you make me feel ancient" or "Mrs. Weatherby was my mother-in-law-- I'm Tammy."
Nevertheless, if you want to teach your child to be respectful, you must respect his grandmother's wish. But you should still teach him to address adults with honorifics and surnames-- unless they specifically request otherwise.
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
My family (my husband and I and our 2 children, ages 11 and 8) will soon be traveling across the country for vacation. We will be staying with a friend from college and her husband for approximately a week at their invitation.
They are very well off and this vacation would not have been affordable for us without their generous offer of a place to stay. I'm so appreciative of what they are doing and would like to do something for them to show our thanks. What are appropriate gestures for someone who already has it all?
The gestures good house guests observe are not dependent on the means of the hosts. All such guests, including children, should be cheerful and flexible, falling in with the hosts' plans but also able to amuse themselves to relieve the hosts. They should clean up after themselves and offer help when it seems to be needed. And they should take their hosts out for at least one meal. Afterwards they should write their thanks, and send a present if they haven't brought one at the start of the visit.
Your mentioning that your friends are well off makes Miss Manners think that it is the present that worries you. One solution is to bring some special food or drink; another is to pick up a clue while you are there and find something that would interest them. This is flattering even if it is not expensive-- a book on a subject they have mentioned, for example.
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author ofMiss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior(Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. They have two perfect children, of course.
While I adore Miss Manners and would not think of disagreeing with her professional adivce, I would also like to point out that small children often come up with their own names for close (ever-present) relatives and the recipients of those titles usually accept them - as they are intended - as signs of affection.
For example, the younger son of my father's best friend couldn't manage the word "Uncle", so my father became "Goo-Goo Chahlie". When the boy grew older and learned to use the title, Dad became "Uncle Goo-Goo Charlie". In another example, a young boy I know calls his grandmother "Day-Day", even though the letter "D" appears nowhere in her full name.
When my nephew was learing to talk he couldn't say my name and it came out "Ceecee." This became a family nickname so when my first grandchild was born and I didn't want to be called "Grandma" we taught her to call me "Ceecee."
In the South many women prefer to be called "Miss Firstname" instead of "Miss/Mrs. Lastname."
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