In the 70s, I didn’t grow up with a lot of formality, yet I have a healthy respect for it (my SJ comes out). We never called our aunts and uncles Aunt This and Uncle That and until we moved to the missionary community in Taiwan, the only grown-ups we used Mr. and Mrs. with were our teachers. Even the preacher in our Independent Christian Church was on a first-name basis with us. Note, in that church the emphasis is on everyone as ministers not setting one person above any other, so there is less of a tendency to use titles than in most churches. (I know most protestant churches believe in the “Priesthood of the Believer,” but there it was one of their THINGS.)
Now that I have kids, I find it difficult to negotiate levels of formality. I try to ask people what they want the kids to call them, but it gets awkward. And all of a sudden everybody is Aunt and Uncle because it’s some sort of middle ground between Mr. and Mrs./Miss/Ms. and that frustrates me. I’d just as soon use Mr/Ms and the last name than Aunt and Uncle everybody to death. I think Aunt/Uncle should be reserved for actual aunts and uncles and for those very closest friends with whom one has the same sort of relationship. Computerguy finds it really awkward all to be called Uncle by my friend’s kids, but they’ve been calling my Aunt since they could talk. I think he’d just as soon keep the term for family only.
Here’s an awkward one: Computerguy’s best buddy’s daughter calls herself Auntie J for our kids. That’s great. That’s not the awkward part. She’s early 20s. She babysits for us. She’s an only child, so she’s not going to have nieces and nephews except possibly through marriage. The awkward part–what do the kids call her folks? Their first names? (The daughter always called CG by his first name.) Mr./Mrs. and their last name? Grandma and Grandpa–if J is Auntie–just kidding, though. Never call them by name? (That would be my solution.)
Computerguy has a group of friends who are very close with one another, but with whom we are slightly peripheral. Their kids all use aunt and uncle with the other folks, but call us by our first names. They got to know Computerguy when he was single, and he’s just not that “uncle-y.” But now what do our little ones call them? (And if any of ya’ll read this, do please respond. I’m open to whatever. Aunt and Uncle is fine, first names are fine, last names are fine–I just want to know.)
The one thing I have a really hard time with is Miss First Name. If you want to use Mr. and Miss/Ms./Mrs. (and do please use Ms. for me–married women killed that idea, but I’m stubborn) then just use my last name. I’m used to it. I’m a teacher. I’m almost 40. I can be Ms. Last Name. I guess it’s a southern thing, but it just weirds me out. Maybe when I was helping in VBS when I was 15, but not now.
Just to show how inconsistent I am, I do use Pastor First Name when talking to Bubble about our pastors. It seems to be a nice middle ground in that instance. But remember–I’m the one who called my first preachers First Name only, so I would have a little trouble using Pastor Last Name. But maybe this isn’t fair. Our senior pastor is the Rev. Dr.; she’s earned those titles, yet they seem to get used only in writing. I’m trying it out in my head: “Rev. Dr. Last Name” vs. “Pastor First Name.” Maybe at a conference or something where she might be emphasizing her credentials or in a formal introduction, but not sitting up on the chancel* with the kids giving the children’s sermon.
So I’m confused and I have no idea what to teach my children except different people have different ideas and we need to think about what we say according to what they will find respectful. I guess.
And I wonder if we were all a little more respectful in addressing people, if there would be a little less vitriol in the world. When my very good friend joins an FB group about a goat getting more fans than Obama, (or other people joining that earlier one about praying for him to die–I’m still trying to process that one and why people I know and like thought it was okay to join that group) then I find myself wondering if we always called him President Obama, if we would be a little more reluctant to be so crass. Read a New York Times article. Most periodicals use just last names after the first instance, but the Times uses honorifics, Mr./Ms./Dr./Senator, etc., when referring to anyone in their articles, and I think it’s classy and gives a different tone to what they are saying.
So even though I didn’t grow up with it, I wouldn’t mind a return to formality. And if most people are Mr./Ms., then Aunt and Uncle could be reserved for that familial kind of relationship and not need to be given out freely because we don’t know what else to use.
*Is that the right term? The stage area is what I mean–I realized I have no idea what it’s called–I really wasn’t raised liturgically and sometimes it shows.