Use of First Names:
Formal vs. Informal

Mr./Ms. (Surname) vs. First-Name Basis

I like to address family and friends by their first names. But with coworkers and customers I think ‘Mr./Ms./Mrs. (Surname)’ is the appropriate way.

One coworker hates being addressed as ‘Ms. (Surname)’ so much she threatened to go to HR if I do it again.  So now I address her by her full name – (First Name) (Last Name)‘Pamela (Surname)’.

Is that a fair solution?
—-—-—-—-– I Prefer More Formal

Dear IPMF,

If you want to get along with her, you should address her with the form of her name she prefers. If you are not completely sure – ask her.

One of the basics of addressing others is that your name belongs to you. Others – if they want to have ongoing interaction with you – have to respect your preference.

This issue arises in the reverse too: some people do not like to be addressed by first name – by someone younger or someone in a service position. They get upset when they are not addressed as ‘Mr./Ms./Mrs. (Surname)’.

—-#1) In the general US culture (an egalitarian culture) formality is often seen as a roadblock. Being casual is the path to good communication. That most Americans are quick to use first names demonstrates this.

—-#2) Contrast this to the U.S. Armed Services (a structured hierarchical culture) where addressing others formally shows respect. Showing respect is the path to good communication.

That you don’t value her is perhaps not your intent. While we judge ourselves by our intent – we judge others by their actions. When you ignore her preference it demonstrates to her you don’t respect her.

– Robert Hickey

How Should Clinical Staff Address a Veterinarian in Front of Clients?

I am a Veterinary Management Consultant. One of my pet peeves with clinic staff is a lack of professionalism when addressing one another, especially in front of clients. Addressing veterinarians by their first names gives a very bad impression. I’m looking for some back up on my stance to show staffers who think I’m just being picky. Do you have anything on this subject?
———————– Talbot James

Dear Mr. James:

My precedents are more medical than veterinary, but the issues are exactly the same.

—-#1) Calling the veterinarian ‘Dr. (Name)’
—-—-At hospitals & in doctor’s offices physicians are addressed as Dr. (Name) so patients will know which person in the room is the physician. It also informs the patient of how to address the doctor.
—-—-It’s an issue of clarity – not an issue a unnecessary formality.

—-#2) Use of surnames rather than first names
—-—-Anytime one is on a first-name basis with someone who merits a special form of address (Doctor, Mayor, Senator, Dean, etc.), one should address him/her formally (e.g. as ‘Dr. Surname’) in front of anyone not on a first-name basis. The staff might call the veterinarian by ‘First Name’ backstage … BUT they should use ‘Dr. (Name)’ in front of clients/patients, or in this case pet owners..

– Robert Hickey

Who Decides What Your Name Is?

Mr. Hickey, Why Do We Need Fancy Titles

Just a comment, rather than a question: I was struck by your answer to the lady in which you said that, if she so introduced herself, you would address her as ‘Monsignor Lonnie Sue’ because it’s not up to you to decide what her name is.


I have always believed that names are important. We use them to represent ourselves to intimates and strangers alike and, from early childhood, they come to mean ourselves to ourselves. As a substitute teacher I call the names aloud of a thousand children every year and, invariably, mispronounce one or more from each class on the first try. I find it distressing that I have to urge many to correct me. Those with the more difficult or, often, more foreign names have just given up on their fellows having the desire to make the effort to get it right or learn it or remember it.

I will grant that some parents, apparently in a desire to recognize the uniqueness of their children, seem to have gone out of their way to make their children’s names difficult to pronounce on reading or to spell on hearing. This is unfortunate. However, as a matter of common courtesy we should try to recognize that the person in front of us is who he says he is, that her name is what she says it is.

All the best,
H. D. Why Do We Need Fancy Titles

–_-Related Forms of Address:
—-—-Boy, Girl, Child
—-—-Couples: Military
——–Couples: Private Citizens

——–Couples: U.S. Officials
Couple, Same Sex
—-—-First Names
—-—-Man or Woman, Social
——–Woman, Married
—-—-Mrs. vs. Ms.
—-—-Spouse of an Official

Not Finding Your Question Answered?

—-#1)  At right on desktops, at the bottom of every page on tablets and phones, is a list of all the offices, officials & topics covered on the site.

—-#2)  After checking the list and reading the posts, if you don’t see your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day or so (unless I am traveling.)  Note: I don’t have mailing or Email addresses for any of the officials and I don’t keep track of offices that exist only in history books.

—-#3)  If I think your question is of interest to others, I will post the question & answer – always changing the names and specifics.

— Robert Hickey

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