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Do you address people formally?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by hrodbert696, Apr 14, 2014.

  1. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I teach college in different institutions, and seem to have a trend emerging; students addressing me by my first name, especially in emails. Hardly ever in my years of teaching has a student ever done that, and now all of a sudden there have been several.

    I've never thought of myself as a person to insist on formality or demand deference, but to be honest it's rubbing me wrong. Maybe it's just a sense of some proper order, I don't know. I never addressed my professors other than as "prof. ___" till the day I got a doctorate myself, not even my dissertation adviser until I had defended.

    What's the practice out there with everyone else, in academic settings or life in general? Do you call everyone by their first names or are there people you use Mr./Mrs./Ms./Prof./Dr./whatever with? How do people address you, and are their people you think SHOULD use those titles with you?
  2. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    At work, I refer to everyone as Sir or Ma'am, and respond to "how are you", with "very well, thank you, how are you?".

    It can come off as slightly psychotic at first, but it keeps me out of trouble.
  3. Mktrat

    Mktrat Seriously, are we not doing phrasing anymore? Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2013
    The Mitten
    it's the decay of society.
  4. marko138


    May 24, 2013
    Perry County PA
    I still address former teachers, profs, coaches, etc, formally. I know their first names and graduated 15 years ago. Doesn't seem right to call them by first name.
  5. GrumpiusMaximus

    GrumpiusMaximus I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe

    Mar 11, 2013
    Kent, United Kingdom
    In my job, I prefer being addressed informally. It helps that clients are on the same level as me (in that respect) so that I can talk to them about how things are for them.

    At University, it was always informal - but that was generally encouraged. That's how all of the lecturers introduced themselves and that's how we responded. It built up a good rapport most of the time. We also had small classes and the communication was genuinely two-way.

    At school, it was entirely different. It was always 'Mr', 'Mrs' or 'Miss' (and very occasionally 'Dr') and when I was teaching, it was 'Mr'. That was with younger children and carried over all the way up until I went into further studies at 18. In a non-voluntary classroom situation, having that barrier actually is quite useful to maintaining discipline - so long as the pupils respect you in the first place. Even now, if I talk to former teachers from those years, it's still formal except on rare occasions when I've got to know them well in subsequent years.

    In situations where I don't know the people involved (say at the Supermarket, with another customer) I'll generally address as 'Sir' or 'Madam'. I think it's polite. If I bump into somebody, it's 'Sorry, sir' and not at all sarcastic. It makes things easier and I think the other people respect the politeness.

    These are just habits I've built up over a lifetime.
  6. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    Having spent the better of the past year in and out of hospitals, doctors prefer to be addressed as Doctor so and so. Doctors refer to me as mr.

    Generally, the Swiss can be more formal and refer to people as mr and Mrs, to the extent that of you are out walking in a park and you come upon another couple, the frequent salutIon is Bonjour Monsieu Damme. Tranlated, Good day mister and misses.
  7. eyeballkid

    eyeballkid Supporting Member

    Jul 19, 2009
    wes virginny
    I sometimes slip up and call Mr. Kenobi just Ben. He doesn't seem to mind.
  8. During my BSc and MSc it was always Dr.... or Prof.... . The only exceptions were my project supervisors - who early on asked to be refered to by their first name. That stayed pretty much the same during my PhD unless it was an academic I knew well and often had informal conversations with.

    It's funny you should post this thread though, I remember a few years ago my supervisor being surprised that the then first year undergraduates addressing her by her first name.

    I think the title should be used in a formal setting at least.
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Interesting. I've been a university professor for well over 20 years, and I can't say that I've noticed this trend that you're seeing. If anything, I have the opposite problem: I invite students in small seminar classes, and students working with me on research, to call me by my first name, but many of them can't bring themselves to do it even with my encouragement. Even graduate students here address faculty as "Professor X" or "Dr. X" until invited to do otherwise. (Unlike the undergrads, though, they aren't generally reluctant to use first names once invited to do so.)

    I'm sure there must be considerable variability across schools and geographic regions. For example, it wouldn't surprise me if "nontraditional" (i.e., adult) students in a community college were to assume that it's okay to address an instructor -- who might well be younger than him/her -- on a first-name basis. You mentioned that you teach at "different schools": Have you noticed this trend more at some places than at others?
  10. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Tampa, FL.
    Oddly enough, most of my college professors asked to be called by their first name or, at a minimum, said it was alright to call them by their first name. I usually stuck with saying mr or professor, but it also depended on our academic relationship with one another.

    At work, we have a very relaxed culture, so I'll call our GM by his first name and won't think twice about it. I'll still use titles during more professional moments during the day, but if we're on the floor then I won't lose sleep over forgetting to use the mr or mrs title.
  11. Unrepresented

    Unrepresented Something Borderline Offensive

    Jul 1, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    I don't know that I view certain members of society as being inherently better than others, or due certain deference. We're all human. We all make this place the way it is, whether we're cleaning toilets or discovering new planets.

    If it were me, we'd all be addressing each other as "Comrade.":|
    BboogieXVII likes this.
  12. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Queens, NY
    In your situation I believe it's impolite for your students to address you as anything other than Professor or at least Mr.
    They pressume to take liberties otherwise.
    I am a teacher of Japanese budo (martial arts). It is considered completely impolite for my students to call me by my first name.
    Don't misunderstand. I'm not uptight in regards to being informal but I do feel there are instances, such as this one, that it is inappropriate.
  13. GrumpiusMaximus

    GrumpiusMaximus I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe

    Mar 11, 2013
    Kent, United Kingdom
    Unrepresented, you bring up an interesting point.

    I made an assertion in an earlier post that addressing by formal title at school can help with discipline. The pupils know that you are a in a position of superiority - but does that build resentment that could be abated by addressing by first name?

    Hypothetical and no doubt case-by-case but a point worth pondering.
  14. Unprofessional


    Mar 5, 2012
    I always addressed my college professors as Dr. _____ even if they were younger than me. It never occurred to me to do otherwise.
  15. Unrepresented

    Unrepresented Something Borderline Offensive

    Jul 1, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Establishing a hierarchy is a good way to maintain a hierarchy. I'm not so sure that hierarchies are always for the best, even if they're on some levels, inevitable.
  16. will33


    May 22, 2006
    When I was in school, it was always Mr. or Mrs. or Miss ___________, then they came out with "Ms." which confused things.

    I still address some people formally to show respect, for example addressing the owner of a company formally while using first names with all their underlings.

    I call my veterinarian "Doc", while using first names for everyone else that works there.
  17. Funky Ghost

    Funky Ghost Translucently Groovy

    Sir or ma'am most always. Not sure why, it's just always been that way. I get the odd look or two ( or three ).
  18. I refer to others as "Sir" or "Ma'am" or by professional title (Dr. Professor, etc).

    However, I have always requested to never be called "Sir" or "Mr.". Only by first name.

    This included all my subordinates at a previous place of employment (I was a manager/supervisor) and all children of friends and family.

    If they are young children of friends and family, I always qualify it by saying that "Sir or Mr. is very polite and you should always do it, like your mom and dad say, but I give you special permission not to call me that."
  19. biobass


    Sep 16, 2007
    Princeton NJ area
    In college and graduate school it was always Dr. or Prof. except for my advisor and a couple of others who asked to be called by their first name. Working in science it has always been first names only except when initially introducing a seminar speaker with the appropriate honorific, then reverting to first name. Interestingly, at more clinically oriented conferences, the physicians seem to use titles much more than the scientists.
  20. I think it depends on context.

    Just because it generates a hierarchy within the school, doesn't mean it has to extend beyond that.

    During my PhD, PhD students and academics regularly played football during Friday lunch hour, there was no relevant academic hierarchy in that scenario!