Ancient History

Follow Me?


Don’t call me Shirley

I used to attend a MOPS group hosted by a very large Baptist church.

The ladies were nice and attentive moms, with gentle spirits and trendy haircuts. I didn’t fit in 100%, but I faithfully attended, even giving a talk one morning on how to make playdough out of dryer lint.

The conclusion? It doesn’t really work, it’s ugly, but try it anyway if you’ve ever wondered if there was more life left in the airy cottony shreds of your clothes and you need something to talk about at a meeting.

A few times a month, some of the other moms and I would meet outside of MOPS. We’d have the usual juicebox-fueled playdates at centrally-located parks. The kids tore around on the playground, guaranteeing at least one bandaid application per hour. Our babies would loll around on a communal blanket while the moms stood around the picnic table, readying lunches which were never really eaten.

It was never a surprise when one of my friend’s children needed to address me. Sometimes it was for help tying a shoe. Other times, it was regarding one of my own children who was hogging the slide or the swing or the pirate ship’s crow’s nest or the rocking lion or the gravel or the ladder or the drinking fountain or the ducks in the pond.

These sweet little Baptist children would begin whatever it was they had to tell me with, “Miss Gretchen?”

It took me a long time to get used to being Miss Gretchen. It still rings odd in my ear as something slightly archaic and antebellum. Miss Gretchen? But I left my hoop skirt at home. In fact, I think it’s in the washing machine. Fiddlesticks!

That circle of friends held the firm belief that children should address adults in a manner denoting respect, and for them it was with the word Miss and the person’s first name. I understand.

I want my own children to demonstrate good manners and regard for all people they encounter and for that reason, I ask my adult friends how they wish to be addressed. I’d never assume because people come from all sorts of cultural, traditional, and spiritual backgrounds.

Some are fine with being called by their first name. Others have adopted the Miss moniker, which was especially fun when we’d regularly meet with a woman named Missy and her kids. I have friends who are only comfortable being called Mrs. Lastname by children.

I instruct my kids to comply with these wishes. Am I sending a mixed message by teaching my kids to call one grown woman Sarah but another Mrs. Brown? Maybe. I get confused by the differing philosophies, too.

I still don’t know what I want to be called, and I’ve been a Mrs. for almost 13 years and a mom for almost 12.

I go back and forth and will answer to any of the above variations without taking offense. Your kid respects me because I am tall and have a driver’s license.

It’s just easier to swallow Miss Gretchen with a little mint and a lot of julep.

18 comments to Don’t call me Shirley

  • I have the same issues with figuring out what my kids should call other adults. We had friends in church who were old enough to be *my* grandparents, yet my kids were expected to call them by their first names. I didn’t like that. Personally I would like to be called Mrs. Lastname. I grew up with that rule, and it made sense to me. My parents’ closest friends we would call Aunt Firstname and Uncle Firstname, and I liked that because it felt like my family was a little bigger. After 10 years of best-friendship, I would jokingly call my best friend’s mother Mom, but just as often I would use Mrs. Lastname.

    I am sad that adults are so reluctant to be distinct from children that they want to be addressed as a peer. I am sad that kids today don’t seem to have the same overall respect for adults; but then again, maybe my perspective is colored by how they address adults? Maybe they have as much respect as I did at their age, and they are only using the form they were taught? I don’t know.

    I know some kids who call me Miss Gretchen, but it makes me feel like their Sunday School teacher, lol.

    Gretchen (the other other one!)’s last blog post..I’m Addicted!

  • Oh, Miss Gretchen.

    Should a grand and glorious day ever arrive (this side of the Homecoming) and my family meets your, you can fully expect to be called Miss Gretchen by my children.

    Good Southern Baptists that we are.

    Our general rule is a little fluid – depends on the situation.

    Adults who are in the “peer” age group of Kyle and I are younger are called Mr. First Name or Ms. First Name – all the way down to high schoolers. People who are older than us, say my parents generation or older, are Mr. Last Name or Mrs. Last Name. The only time we bend on that is if the person specifically asks to be called by first name only, which happens only very, very rarely.

    Maybe it’s a regional thing?

    In all of the church environments or mommy gatherings I’ve attended, I’ve never had a child call me just “Megan.”

    Hmmmmm. I’ll be interested to read the thoughts of others!

    Megan@SortaCrunchy’s last blog post..7 Quick Takes: April 3rd

  • Amy

    I definitely think it’s a regional thing. Growing up in Colorado, I had never heard anyone say “Miss First Name.” I had a little culture shock when we moved to Nashville 14 years ago.

    Down here in the south, saying “Miss” or “Mr. First Name” is standard protocol. It is also common for children to reply, “Yes, Sir or Ma’am” when being addressed.

  • Geez, I never really thought about it that hard. I just don’t want to be called “Mrs. Lastname” because that’s not me, it’s my mother-in-law. I’m Heather.

    Miss Gretchen. I love it.

    Heth’s last blog post..A Whole Bunch Of Nothing

  • This is a great post! I’m called by my first name by most everyone, kids included. Sometimes, they throw a Miss at the front of it, but most of the time, they don’t.

    I grew up in the Midwest where nearly all the adults around me INSISTED they be called by their first names only…even the elderly ones. IF they were related to me, they were Aunt Firstname or Uncle Firstname.

    The ONLY exception were teachers. They were Mrs./Mr./Miss Lastname. Except our School Secretary who insisted everyone call her Barb. The Principal tried to change that rule, but she won out in the end.

    I suffered culture shock when I moved here and heard people using Miss in front of first names. In fact, I didn’t even know my daughter’s preschool teacher’s last name for the first couple weeks…she just goes by her first name.

    So, we go with the flow here. I don’t think it sends a mixed message. You call people what they want to be called, and that’s respectful. You follow their lead. So far, that’s worked for us! 🙂

    The Casual Perfectionist’s last blog post..And less is the goal

  • It depends, for me.
    With older women, my kids call them Mrs. So and So, unless the woman says “Oh, call me BETTY, sweetie!”.
    With younger women, I’m never quite sure. I often quietly ask the woman beforehand, just to make sure that she’s not going to be quietly offended if my child does call her by her first name. It’s a puzzle these days.

    Beck’s last blog post..This is how I will do all of my blogging from now on

  • Regional. Everyone where I’m from called each other’s parents by their first names. Even though I’m not from the south, if I haven’t had a chance to ask one of my friends (none of whom have children) what they prefer to be called, Anja is supposed to call them “Miss Firstname” or “Mr. Firstname.” Since none of them grew up in the south, either, they think that’s weird and want to be called by their first names.

    Minnesotamom’s last blog post..19 mos.

  • Some friends of mine had this discussion not too long ago, and even though we had all grown up calling our parents friends’ Mr. Lastname or Mrs. Lastname, it just seems odd to us to do that now. Mostly, I think, because we peronally don’t call anyone Mr. or Mrs. (like people used to customarily do years ago).

    Sydney’s Sunday School and dance teachers are all Miss Firstname, but everyone else just goes by first name. Even Aunt Sarah goes by Sarah.

    As for me, the oddity of life is that all sorts of little children call me Stephanie, but then I go to work and all the adults call me Mrs. Lastname or Professor Lastname. I don’t mind it a bit because I know it makes my students more comfortable. What is peculiar is when former high school students–some a mere four or five years younger than me–call me Mrs. Lastname. Makes me laugh.

    Stephanie’s last blog post..From Lifenut to Violetismycolor*

  • I’ve lived in the midwest all my life, and as I grew up, I was taught to call adults “Mr. Lastname” and “Mrs. Lastname” (or “Miss” if she’s wasn’t married) unless the person told me to call them something else. For the most part, my kids call other adults Mr. or Mrs Lastname, although there are a few exceptions with close friends who are known by their first names. I personally don’t like it when children and teens call me by my first name, but I was a teacher, and DH is a high school teacher. However, I do tell the these younger people that when they graduate from high school they can call me by my first name.

    With adults who I’ve known since I was a child, I still call them Mr. or Mrs. Lastname, but when meeting other adults as an adult, I usually go by how they are introduced to me, either Mr. or Mrs. or just their first name.

    Melanie’s last blog post..Day 92 of 365

  • I am the same way- I ask how the adult would like to be addressed and if I don’t first get the chance, I tell them to say Miss before the name, too! Just to be safe!


    Adventures In Babywearing’s last blog post..When And Where I Wear The Baby

  • edj

    I hate this! It’s so confusing. I don’t care what kids call me. We wanted the kids to show respect so we went with the Mrs. Lastname but that usually seems too formal so they have a million Aunts and Uncles, which cheapens it. Sigh. I’m glad they’re getting older; I’m hoping it will soon be a moot point.

    edj’s last blog post..Of Rain, Taxis and Mortality

  • I was not raised to say ma’am and sir or Miss before an adults name. Except in certain instances- mostly with elderly people. We have moved farther south now and I like the custom to say Miss Gretchen. I do understand you point and if we were really showing respect we would use their last name instead of their first. I just love when my daughter asks me a name of an adult and I reply “Gretchen” and she says, “Miss Gretchen” without being told. Oh, and when she says yes ma’am

    Cyndi’s last blog post..Day 4

  • I tell my children that they should address married adult by Mr/Mrs last name until the adult tells them otherwise. For me I feel the respect is necessary … just the way I grew up though. I’m not too bothered by what I’m called. We had a music teacher that looked shocked when I called her MRS… we now call her “miss” name!

    banteringblonde’s last blog post..Guest Blogger Jack Is Back ~ Becoming a Grandparent Part III

  • Jenelle

    Try living in the Deep South. My parents taught me that everyone was Mrs. ___ or Mr. ___ unless they gave permission to call them by their first names. Same with teachers. Always Mrs. or Mr.

    Here its vastly different. Everyone is Miss (insert first name) and Sir. Ma’am and Sir are required when given instructions or being addressed. Yes, Ma’am. No, Sir. There are no assumptions of Mrs., even with teachers. Ugh!

    Southern English is vastly different as a whole. I’m going to carry you to the store. Yonder is the Beauty Parlor. Liquor stores are controlled by the state and are called Package Stores. It took me 5 years before I discovered that wasn’t where you went to send mail. Ain’t is inserted in every other sentence and double-negatives are positive.

    So at the end of the day, I’ve decided not to battle the Miss and Sir in place of a larger picture – non-Southern sentence construction. No ain’ts, no matter how many times dad says it. And constant correction of the “don’t got none”.

  • Joy

    I have been rolling this idea around in my head for awhile, my daughter is talking now and I am trying to decided if we will use the courtesy titles. I like it, (I’m a born and raised Southern Baptist) but it does sound a little old fashioned (fiddlesticks- ha!) Plus we have several close friends who are Dr.’s and Dr. first-name just sounds weird (like Dr. Nick from the Simpsons) So long rambling short, still not sure what we’ll do, but love the post!

    Joy’s last blog post..Turning Two

  • We do what Megan does. Our children address our friends as Mr. or Miss Firstname, but non-family adults of older generations are called Mr. or Mrs. Lastname (church is the most common place for my kids to encounter adults older than us).

    I don’t think I’d like it if a child just called me “Shayne.”

    Shayne’s last blog post..Can You Find the Kid in the Laundry Pile?

  • Oh this was so interesting to read!

    I’m a pastors wife, and most all of the kids just call me Sarah, which I prefer…and they call my husband Pastor Ben. A few call me Miss or Mrs and it makes me cringe, I’m not sure why.

    I’ve never had my kids ask an adult what they should call them, and after reading these comments I’m thinking I maybe should have! I’m from/in Iowa, and we’re pretty informal around here…other than teachers, my kids call adults by their fist name, or put a title in front of it, “coach last name” etc.

    Good stuff Gretchen!

    Sarah@ Life in the Parsonage’s last blog post..It’s What We Do…

  • ann

    I feel weird when kids call me Miss Andrea. I’m totally okay with them calling me Andrea. I was Mrs. Lastname for awhile because I was a teacher. It’s really weird, because the high school girl across the street who babysits for us calls me Mrs. Lastname. But, I’ll go with whatever. Asking people how they want to be addressed is a really good idea.

    ann’s last blog post..No Race Today

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>