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Call Me Mrs. Braverman
Mom with a View

Call Me Mrs. Braverman

There's a lack of appropriate boundaries when 20-year-olds call 50-year-olds by their first names.


I called an office recently where a young girl I know worked as the receptionist. "Hey Emuna, how are you?" she asked. "Thanks, Emuna. I'll pass on the message."

Now, in today's world I applaud any attempt at good customer service and this young woman gets an A+ for friendliness. But this girl was in her early 20's, making her the age of my daughters (possibly even younger than some of them). Saying ‘I could be her mother' is not just a figure of speech.

So perhaps that explains why I found her use of my first name just a little too familiar. "You seem like a lovely person," I wanted to say, "but when did we become peers? Friends?"

Call me old-fashioned. When I was growing up all my parent's friends were Mr. and Mrs. -- and still are. Even if they would wish it otherwise.

I don't want to be a stickler about my honor. I don't think it's an ego thing. But I do think there's a lack of appropriate boundaries when 20-year-olds call 50-year-olds by their first names.

It's not a question of whether I deserve the respect, it's not a question of my character (it's always easier to speak of the character flaws of others!) -- but of hers. I don't think it's good for her to call me by my first name.

If she is on par with someone twice her age then she won't perceive how much more she has to learn and grow.

I think it confuses her sense of who she is. If she is on par with someone twice her age then she won't perceive how much more she has to learn and grow. If she is on par with someone twice her age, she won't give wisdom and experience its due.

This leads to a diminishment of respect for history and those who came before us.

On a personal level, I found it jarring. I don't pretend to be younger than I am. I dress my age (completely avoiding Banana Republic) and try to act it.

I'm happy to play a maternal role in this girl's life. But a true friendship is out of the question. Too many years, too much history, a longer and broader life.

And she wasn't really asking for one. She doesn't really think we're buddies. She just hasn't had anyone teach her the importance of these distinctions. No one really taught her to respect her elders – and that this is partially created through a sense of distance.

Perhaps it's a legacy from the "don't-trust-anyone-over-30" sixties. Perhaps it's a result of parents who don't understand their own role vis-a-vis their children and therefore can't possibly communicate that other adults are not their children's friends.

I don't know the root. I only see the result in distorted relationships, arrogance and lack of appropriate boundaries.

We need to teach our children – of all ages – to speak to adults with respect – for our children's sake if not for the sake of the adults spoken to.

If we don't, we will all lose. I'm very uncomfortable calling this office where this young woman works yet I haven't yet found the polite and thoughtful way to say, "That's Mrs. Braverman to you."

July 12, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 74

(73) Frances, June 24, 2015 2:04 AM

An Educational Opp

At about age 5, I called my friend's mother by her first name. She became enraged and told me "it's MRS G........... or AUNT or you cannot play with my daughter." I had not clue what the problem was? My own mother called her by her first name as did all the other moms in our apartment building. I was hurt by her tone and replied "so I won't play with your daughter." Later, when I told my mother she explained that "this was important to adults and that I must apologize to MRS G even though I didn't intend to be disrespectful...because it will let her know that I didn't mean to offend her. Years later as an adult, I still had trouble using her first name even though I had her permission.

(72) Anonymous, December 3, 2010 8:06 PM

Potentially Disagree.

Listen Mrs. Braveman, here is when you should expect to be called Mrs. Braveman and not Emuna: 1. When the relationship specifically calls for her to call your Mrs. because of a formality (i.e. she IS your daughter's friend, you are her boss/teacher/pastor/public official). 2. By any person 17 years or younger 3. By any person 18 years or older that YOU refer to as Ms./Mrs./Mr. and didn't ever say you would like to be called Emuna. Otherwise, the minute you call me Elizabeth, Im calling you Emuna and I'm 22. Its age discrimination and also I think evident of our cultural bias towards married people. You would call me Elizabeth because I am 22, but what if I were 22 and married? I bet more people your age would think I was justified in being spoken to more formally because the assumption would be that I was more of an adult. Its ridiculous and totally unfair. Even my law professors call us Mr./Ms. even though I could never call them by their first names even if they called me Elizabeth. Adults are adults.

Anonymous, March 18, 2012 9:30 PM

Respectfully Disagree With Your Disagreement ...

The entire tone of this response carries a certain ... antagonistic chutzpah that is exactly why many in the older generations prefer to be addressed as "Mr" or "Mrs." or by title. Whether the writer is or isn't married is irrelevant to anyone except herself. " Even my law professors call us Mr./Ms. even though I could never call them by their first names even if they called me Elizabeth. Adults are adults." If adults are adults, why aren't you and your law professors on a first-name basis? Could it be that you are required to show them respect in their positions as your teachers? (And in the power they have to negatively impact your law studies?) You seem willing to permit that the law professors address you as Elizabeth or Ms (last name), while you must address them only by title. Isn't this kind of respect exactly what Mrs. Braverman is requesting? In our society, it has become a given that age no longer requires any respect, and youth rules. This notion was pioneered by the baby-boom generation and it might be well to reexamine it and its unintended consequences. An earlier comment also justifiably pointed out that the casual use of first names is additionally a cultural issue. That author mentioned that in the south, the use of a title is considered common courtesy. This is also true among certain ethnic groups, including elderly African Americans, where the use of a first name by a younger person, or even someone of the same age who is not a close personal friend, is considered an insult. I hope that "Anonymous" recognizes that there may be cultural reasons for adapting her current stance before she begins practicing law. It diminishes you not at all to address older people by their title, and wait for them to offer their first name to you, and it will significantly increase your market value in whatever profession you choose.

(71) Anonymous, July 10, 2009 10:41 AM

at 20 hmmmm...

After reading this article,I do agree with some of the points that you have addressed but I think I have to agree with Chaya on this topic.It is appropriate for children to call their elders by a title but at 20,she is no longer a child. She is an adult.I do understand it was common 30 or 40 years ago for young adults to address their elders by Mr/Mrs.At the university level,it is common for young adults to address their professors/tutors by their first name.I'm at university right now and all my lecturers want us to call them by their first name. I do not understand why 20 and 50 year olds cannot be friends.Sure maybe we cannot hang out regularly but does not mean we cannot have a true friendship.I'm friends with some people who are 20-40 years older than myself.They treat me as an adult,We converse as adults so why not.Of course I wouldn't hang around a middle aged woman more than someone who is around my age but it is nice to have an intellectual conversation with older people.That is my 2 cents.

(70) Esther, September 8, 2008 1:48 PM

Depends on role

We feel very strongly about our children calling adults either Mr./Mrs. or at least Auntie/Uncle for our close friends who have a relationship with them. They call their teenage babysitters by first name, anyone older has some kind of title. So I am on board with this idea for kids. The problem is, as raised in some of the comments here, how adults of varying ages should refer to each other. I think the issue isn't just the exact age difference, but the roles. For an obvious example, the rabbi of your shul could conceivably be much younger than you, but you still call them Rabbi. On the other hand, if a group of moms from school get together, they could have an age range ages 25-45, but probably would all call each other by first name.

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