Names and Titles

(Picture of thank you notes on my bulletin board from my niece and nephew)

Quite randomly, this past week a recently separated friend and her three year old daughter temporarily moved into an extra bedroom in my house while they transition to a more permanent situation.  They will be here at least a month and maybe through the summer.  It is quite different for me to have a young child as a housemate but so far it is going pretty well.  However, in telling someone about how she always sweetly greets me by name, notable for the effort for her to say my name and in contrast to just the “hi” I may get from other housemates, I was a bit taken back by the serious response of “she doesn’t call you Ms.?”

The comment prodded me to think, for the first time, about what the children I know have called me or currently call me.  I have lots of friends with kids.  However, I don’t necessarily interact with them by name since many are babies and toddlers who can’t converse, now live in other parts of the country, or who only see me rarely since I often visiting after bedtime.  If I say “hi” and their name, they usually just say “hi” shyly back and we have a short two minute kid conversation about whatever it is they are doing – except for with the gregarious ones who ask me to read a book to them or do something else before I can even say “hi”.  For those that I have gotten to know better, it has just seemed natural for them to call me by my first name like my friends do.

Although a few of my friends’ children from church have called me “Sister” outside of church, and I found the fact that one boy called me “teacher” for a year after subbing for sunbeams one time endearing, I shy away from the formality of the titles at church.  I think I don’t like using them given that I was required to call everyone Sister, Brother, Bishop, or President at church long past primary and I can still hear the condescending tone of certain men calling me Sister.  I like the fact that for the most part the adults in my current ward call each other by their first names.  However, I do think it is important for primary kids to call their teacher’s Sister or Brother or even just teacher.  Since being called to the nursery last month, I have gotten use to being called “Sister K” again.

I wonder if my acceptance of Miss. or Ms. would be broader if more of my social networks with children were outside the church.   I have never been called Miss or Ms. or even mistakenly Mrs. by any of my friend’s children.  I find the titles appropriate for teachers and in professional settings.  Or when a stranger taps you on the shoulder and asks “Hey Miss, Can I ask you for directions?

But thanks to my friend’s inquiry, I wonder if I should be more formal as an adult interacting with children.  I realize that technically I do have a title with the children that I am closest to.

My nieces and nephew call me “Tia”. Recently, on occasion, they call me Tia, followed by my first name.  But mostly they just call me Tia given that my first name, phonetically suh-rye-uh, [obviously my real not my penname] is so difficult for a young child to say.

When my sister asked me what I wanted to be called when she was first expecting, I chose Tia because I didn’t like the sound of “Aunt” or “Auntie.”  I also liked that it distinguished me from my brother-in-law’s sisters, that it was easy to say, and that it embraced my Spanish heritage.  Although I am genetically about as plain white American as you can be, my abuela or grandmother, my mom’s step-mom, is from Argentina and I was a missionary in Chile.

However, I have never really thought of “Tia” as a title per say until now.  It has just seemed the appropriate name for me with my sister’s children who are now 6, 4, and 1.  But I can’t imagine them simply calling me by my first name.

So as I realize I am likely going to get to know my new housemate, much better than the children of other friends, I do think it is maybe too informal for her to call me by just my first name.  I did have one close friend in college who had her daughter refer to me as Auntie before we moved away from each other but that seems presumptuous to ask in my current situation.  And Sister or Ms. still seems to formal.  I kind of wish I was in Chile where Tia is also more broadly used within the community.

For now, I just think it is great that my friend’s mother is teaching her daughter my name.

What do your friend’s children call you? Are you comfortable with your children calling your friend’s by their first name? What settings do you think warrant formal titles? How do you feel about compromises – Miss Julia vs. Miss Jones for example? What do you think of church titles? Do they affect your view of all titles in general?


[Note 1: Thanks for bearing with this train of thought post]


[Note 2: Since we are talking about names, and the question will likely arise from the reference in my post, I use a pen-name online for the purpose of avoiding google search engines given that my actual first name is so uncommon. However, my anonymity has faded as I have met bloggers in real life and many (won’t claim all – as I am simply not that popular 😉 ) people in my ward know that I blog here].


  1. Intesting ideas! Its funny, when I work at a school, I am more comfortable with students calling me Ms. Surname. Outside of class, or in special instruction or university classes, I prefer students to use my first name. In the area I am in now, it is most common for children to call me Ms. Firstname or Sister Firstname. Its funny because it seems limited to young children; children over 10 just call me by my first name. I feel more comfortable with this than an imposed “Auntie Firstname” by friends who mean well enought to consider me family, but I kind of prefer the idea of the child choosing thier own comfort levels with me, even in something as tiny as a name.

    Personally, I like it when kids call church teachers “Sister Susie”– after all, it’s church, and it should be a friendly place- not a place of titles, IMHO.

  2. When I was working as a nanny my ‘babies” use to call me Miss D. And I thought that was fine.

    Its really interesting because my cousins son called his grandmother by her first name and I about swallowed my fork at the dinner table at that one. She asked me what was wrong. I said,” Some how I can’t imagine going up to your father, my grandfather and start a conversation,”Luigi” how you doing today.” and still be breathing the second after I said it.

    I guess it may, or may not be a generational thing

    • That’s pretty funny – and probably true! My grandmother – who cared for my grandpa’s parents for a couple of years before they died – STILL refers to them as Mr. and Mrs. G. They passed in the late 1970’s!

  3. I have a 7 year old daughter and a 5 year old son. Their little friends on the block just call me “mom.” I always answer, and I think it’s cute. But if they were to call me something else, I’d prefer my given name. I’ve never had a discussion about titles with my children, but they typically just follow my lead. Outside the church, they call my (and their) adult friends by their first names. However, we live in a ward full of retired people, and I find myself calling most of them Sister/Brother (Lastname), because many of them are old enough to be my grandmother (or at least my mother), and I have this feeling that they might be offended if I used first names.

    I do remember that when my daughter was about two she went through a stage of calling my husband by his first name. She had just discovered that he had a first name other than “daddy.” He was pretty shocked, but I thought it was hilarious. She still calls us by our first names occasionally, just for fun.

    I like dropping titles except when absolutely necessary.

    • My mom recalls that I called my parents by their first name around the time I started potty training. At first they thought it was cute, but my mom put a stop to it after a while because hearing me shout, “Diane, come wipe my bottom!” was just too weird.

  4. I’m fine with whatever name children want to call me except for Child’s Name Mom. I greatly dislike that and explain to children when they use that I have an identity outside of being the mother of my children. Then I tell them they can call me Amy Anne, Amy, AA, Ms./Mrs any of those or last name or sister first or last name if they want.

    When I taught at the University I told the students they could call me Master Last name (since I have my MSEd.), Ms./Mrs first or last name or just by my first name if they’re comfortable with that. Many of them ended up just calling me professor or professor last name.

  5. I just moved into a new ward, and it surprised me how much I dislike people introducing themselves only as “Brother So-and-so.” I live in Utah, and so these people are my neighbors. I want to know first names! I want to know their wives’ names! Of course, I also never realized how much your fertility is analyzed upon moving into a new ward, either: “You only have *one* child? Just *one*? I have six!” *Sigh* That’s a different topic alltogether.

    I like being called by my first name only by my nieces and nephews. Aunt Alisa is fine too, but Alisa is OK with me. I like it when my friends are talking to their kids and call me Aunt Alisa–to emphasize that friendships can feel like family. But I think I would be fine being called by my first name by my friends’ kids. I’m just a casual sort of gal, I guess.

    I also don’t put my degrees after my name on my professional email signature like most people in my profession/industry do (not just doctotrate degrees, but master’s degrees are usually included). I just don’t like titles, but since I have a master’s degree, I have been known to tell people to call me “Mistress Surname,” with a wink when they insist on using academic titles. That usually throws them off a bit. I feel it’s very Dickensian.

  6. I am not a fan of the “Miss Julie” from my friends’ kids. Just call me Julie. My nieces and nephews vary between adding “Aunt” before my name, and I don’t care if they do or not. Like Alisa–I’m pretty casual.

    My students at school can call me pretty much anything except for Mrs. I tell them on the first day that I’m not married to my father or my brother, therefore Mrs. doesn’t work. A little snotty, sure. 🙂 What I love most is when they make nicknames for me. I’ve been J.Ro, Mom, Roose (a variation on my last name), sometimes just my last name. My favorite was this year: my newspaper editors told me I was “gangsta,” so they started calling me G, and sometimes “Mama G.” They spread it to kids who weren’t even on newspaper, and I loved it.

  7. Interesting thought. I’ve done a little work in public schools (guest lessons and such) and it was always interesting what I’d be called. At one school it was Mrs. Berlin and that was *really* weird. At another school, I was Miss Taylor and I preferred that a lot more to Mrs. Berlin, even though it was technically more correct.

    As primary teachers, my husband and I bypassed the whole “sister” and “brother” thing mostly because we think the terms are too formal (I liked how early saints used those titles with their first names, it seemed be more evocative of a community of people working together–anyhow) and also because we have different last names. I don’t think the kids would have had trouble with remembering each of our last names, but it didn’t really matter because in the end they usually called me “teacher” and my husband by his first name (even though he probably taught more lesson than I did). I wonder what that says?

  8. I was so excited to read this post because, since our recent relocation to Utah, this has come up A LOT in our house with our two daughters. It’s made me think about my own expectations for my kids, and I’m excited to see other’s posts.
    My two cents – In a church setting (i.e. at a church function/activity), I have always called people by their “title” (Brother, Sister, President, Bishop) and have asked my children to do the same. (This was problematic when we first moved because all the YW call their leaders by their first names and my daughter didn’t KNOW their last names initially. We found them out.) Outside of the church setting and as an adult, I call people that I know by their first name. When I taught seminary my best friend’s husband was the high councilor over seminary. He knew when I called him and said “Bro. R this is Sis. Z” that it was going to be a seminary conversation – and I liked that the titles allowed us to easily distinguish. For my kids, they call our close family friends by their first names outside of church settings. This typically was a transition from their church title (Bro. R) to their name (K) as we became closer. For non-LDS friends my kids have either asked (Do you want me to call you A or Ms/Mrs B?) or followed the lead with what their friend called me.

  9. Living in Utah, everyone is Brother or Sister..,,,, Can I just say, I HATE THAT. Even at Church, I cringe when called Sister F. It is just too closely tied to fundamental religions to me. There, I always want to be called President F or just by my first name.

    In the neighborhood, the kids started YEARS ago calling all of us adults either mama or papa and then our family name. So, I’m Mama F. It is so much better than Mrs. or Mr. It is more communal and signifies a sort of relationshp in which we all parent each others’ kids and all kids know that there is always a parent around no matter what they need. (Be it a kick in the pants, a hug or a meal.)

  10. I have to admit, and I know this is a little strange, but one of the few things I miss about being active in the church was the use of Brother/Sister/Bishop. I totally see where some of you are coming from- you want to identify others and be identified more specifically. It makes a lot of sense. But I just liked the inclusiveness and sort of campy other-worldliness of being referred to as “Sister SoandSo.” It almost felt more intimate that way. I thought of it as sort of a simple reminder we’re all on the same journey, we’re all the same people. I never thought of it in the context of being spoken down to, but I’m sure it could be used that way, couldn’t it? What will be nice is someday when Sisters can have other titles too…like Bishop? President? That will be something!

  11. I don’t miss the “brother” and “sister” of church, though it never bothered me either. It just seemed the way things are and nothing either particularly pleasing or displeasing about it. I did consciously begin calling people at church by their first name as an adult, partially in response to my frustration with the church for infantalizing single adults.

    My friends’ kids all call me by my first name, as do most of my (many) nieces and nephews. I like it that way–it feels more friendly and intimate. Some of my nieces and nephews add “Aunt” to the front. And my little sister’s girls call me “Auntie,” which I absolutely love.

    I know that some people see requiring their kids to use titles and more formal names as a mechanism to teach respect, and I see how that could be effective, but I also think there are other ways to teach respect which are not hung on titles (which feels a little to much about respect based on rank or position, rather than respect based on merit and character).

  12. I prefer first names at church and avoid titles whenever possible. I usually address my bishops by their first name. I think titles can create unnecessary spaces between people, and I prefer to bridge those spaces.

    As for kids, I prefer them to just call me by my first name as well. The only time I insisted on a title (Ms.) was when I was teaching high school. Distance between me and the students is beneficial for everyone in that situation.

  13. Interesting thread! I share similar feelings as many of you, I’m not into titles and prefer to be called by my first name. When I was student teaching, BYU required that my students call my Ms./Mrs. Last name and it drove me nuts. Part of that is that I took my husband’s last name without really thinking about, and still don’t really feel it’s mine after 3 three years. I didn’t feel like me. so I wish I’d been allowed to have them call me by my first name. I have the same problem with Sister last name. Just call me by my first name or some variant on it because that’s who I am. I struggle with being identified by my husband’s last name, as my husband’s wife because that’s not generally how I define myself.

    I also don’t really like titles in the church, mostly because I feel that respect and authority need to be earned. They can make someone a bishop, but I don’t want to call him bishop and in doing so give him power if I don’t know or like him. I also take issue with the fact that women rarely are given titles in the church. You rarely hear the RS president referred to as President so and so, but it’s always Bishop so and so. That seems to be true all the way up. So until women are called by titles, I don’t call men by them. This can anger people when I refer to general authorities as Brother rather then President or Elder, but isn’t the point of called each other Brother and Sister that we are all equal before God? So why should I elevate someone with my language who is no better then me or anyone else in God’s eyes? Why should I give power to men I do not know? Anyway, that’s my rant about titles in the church.

  14. I guess I’m in the minority here, but while I usually resist using titles with adults (unless I have forgotten their first names), I insist on them when children address adults. I’m from the south and down here children just do not address adults by their first names alone. My grandmother’s neighbor was always Aunt Emma even though she was no relation. My own children say “Miss” outside church and Brother/Sister at church. At school, since I teach foreign languages, I am Madame or Frau .

    I once had a bishop from Utah whose children called adults by their first names. It rubbed me the wrong way and most especially when he corrected me when I used his first name after he became bishop! I told him that when his kids called me Sister , I would call him bishop instead of Steve.

    • This is actually one title I like when children use it–Miss Amelia coming from a child sounds very sweet and childlike to me. I think that’s part of why some of the commenters have said they like “Sister [firstname]” or “Miss [firstname].” It’s still respectful, but it feels a little more friendly and personal than with a last name.

      Also (responding to your first comment, Lori), I think it’s very important to take into consideration the cultural norms that change with different areas, not just personal preference. While I’m not one to conform to every single tradition just for the sake of tradition, there is something to be said for being aware of tradition and to adhering to those that don’t truly conflict with one’s personal values as a means of fostering community.

      • Actually, this is very common in African American communities. A lot of my neighbors will call someone (especially if they are elderly Mr. C.) out of respect.

  15. I went by Miss Lauren when I taught after-school because it was actually school policy that adults were addressed as Ms./Mr./Mrs. Even though I am married, I liked using that and can see myself using it with other children I know who I am not related to. I always called my aunts and uncles “Aunt Jennifer” or “Uncle Tim” which is what was taught in my family. I like using that as well.

    I think it’s important for children to have distinguishers between their peers and adults they know but who are not related to. I always felt particularly weird calling my friend’s parent’s by their first names growing up. (Especially with dads for some weird reason). I would have preferred Mr. So and So.

    I do specifically remember asking a neighbor (who was a member) what I should call him and he told me to call him and he told me Brother X. I thought that was weird for a neighbor and someone outside of church. In my RS, we call each other by our first names, but I didn’t mind it when my primary kids called me Sister. I think it’s friendlier than Miss or Mrs.

  16. I grew up having to use titles “Mrs. and Mr.” for neighbors and friends’ parents. And “Sister and Brother” at church. It was fine, but weird to suddenly be allowed to use first names when I turned 18 and moved up to RS- especially with people who were my seminary teachers! I was still in high school when I transitioned to RS, so the women who taught seminary were teachers during the week and peers on Sunday. In fact, one was my VTing companion.

    With my kids, we use first names. I’m even completely fine if they never use “mom” or “dad.” As I got older and the facade of what being an adult was came down, I realized that I don’t think people deserve “respect” for simply being born a few decades earlier. People deserve respect because they are people and elevating others based on inherent traits like age isn’t actually “respectful”. My children deserve as much respect as
    myself, so I don’t mind us all being on the same level, name and title-wise: first names. My kids do call me”mom” or “mommy” most often, but I don’t insist on it when they use first names.

  17. This post brought up all sorts of awkward memories of me standing in my friend’s kitchen needing to get her mother’s attention and having NO idea what to call her. I think I finally used Sister [Last Name] since she was in my ward, but that felt weird to me since I wasn’t at church and among the adults, they usually referred to each other by first names unless they were referring to someone much older. My parents were in their 20s and 30s while we lived in that ward and so people in their 50s or older seemed to be “Brother” and “Sister” and their peers were referred to as “Janet” or “Mike.” Not sure what that says, but I figured since I was 20 or more years younger than my friend’s moms, then I should probably use the “Sister” title for her like my parents did for those who were older than them. But it still felt awkward calling someone “Sister [Last Name]” in their own home.

    This many years later as an almost-30-year-old and three years into marriage I STILL have no idea what to call my father-in-law. Everyone, even my mother-in-law, calls him “Dad” but I just can’t do it out of respect for my own dad. But calling him by his first name feels very out of place in family settings and he has the same name as my husband so using it can make things a little confusing. Mr. [Last Name] would be way too formal and calling your father-in-law “Brother” would just be weird when I was never in the same ward with them prior to marrying their son. Mostly I just try to get his attention in another way and I avoid having to use a name or title all together. One of these days I’m going to have to resort to “hey you!”

  18. I am almost always okay with first name exchanges. I often wonder how weird it will be to be called “Mrs.” when I want to keep my own last name. I think I’m going to instruct people just to call me by my first name as often as possible. When my parents’ old neighbors made their kids call me “Ms. Michelle” (they were from Texas), I was always taken aback.

  19. I never did figure out what to call my in-laws, so as our kids got married, I took the bull by the horns and initiated the discussion myself. I said you can call me by my first name or Mom or even “mom” in another language, or even something else (as long as it is friendly). I do not want to be called Mrs. Conder, or even worse, nothing at all. Most of them call me by my first name. Some of my kids objected at first. They said, “How would you like it if we called you by your first name?” I said, “Go ahead.” They did it once or twice and then reverted back to what they had always called me, Mom.

    Part of my thinking was that mom and dad are already loaded terms for most people, for good or ill. Letting them call me what they wanted meant the title did not come with baggage and allowed our relationship, for good or ill, to develop on its own terms.

    My grandchildren all call me “Grandma”.

    • Dude, the in-laws thing is so hard. My parents never knew what to call their in-laws (my dad still isn’t really sure) so they told my husband to just call them by their first names. But I don’t know what to call my in-laws. They sign birthday cards and stuff “Mom and Dad,” but it feels weird to call them that, especially if my folks are around. I’ve finally started just using their first names. Who knew what to call your in-laws could be so difficult!

      • I think that when you’re dating someone whose parents live close by and you meet and spend time with the parents during dating/courtship, this must be more of a non-issue. I’ve called the parents of all the men I’ve dated seriously enough to think about marrying them by their first names because I met them while dating and as an adult who was not actually a family member, so I just naturally called them by their first names. I don’t anticipate I would ever switch from calling them by first names to calling them “mom” or “dad.”

        My siblings-in-law are a mix–some call my parents mom and dad, others call them by their first names. I like the idea of the parent-in-law taking the initiative and telling their child’s new spouse to call them whatever is most comfortable. That said, I think as adults we should be willing to simply decide what we’re comfortable with and use that.

        I would think that calling your parents-in-law nothing is really awkward at best and could seem very rude at worst. It’s much more noticeable than it probably seems (based on my third-party observations of people not calling their parents-in-law anything). I’d think that just settling on what you feel comfortable with and doing that would be for the best in the long run.

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