How children refer to adults


When I was growing up, I never used first names with adults. The adults in my life were "Mr. Knabe", "Mrs. Stanley", or "Dr. Woods".

Adults reinforced this norm as well. When I met my parents friends, they introduced themselves — in a friendly way — as "Mr. Brinker" rather than Chris. The same with teachers — I had "Mrs. Bryson", not "Deborah".

My parents would’ve corrected me had I tried something else. I’m sure they probably did at some point, but I don’t remember it happening. It wasn’t notable, it’s how the world was. In lots of cases, I'm not even sure I knew the first names of my parents friends until I graduated from college and then someone like Mr. Hehn would say, "please, call me Gunther" in a way that communicated I was now an adult too. This made me feel proud. The only exceptions I can think of here are my Pastors (Jerry) and family (Aunt Julie and Uncle Bert).

As far as I can tell, this has completely gone out of fashion.

With my kids, 2 and 4, no adult uses their last name. My friends introduce themselves as Mr. Jon and Ms. Veronica, not Mr. and Mrs. Flash. I do this too — I introduce my friends to them as Mr. Graham and Mr. Ted not Mr. Rowe and Mr. Strong. Even my daughter’s teacher is Ms. Heather not Ms. Jones. I assume this will change as they enter the formal school system… but who knows!

This new behavior is so consistent that if an adult that I knew well introduced themselves to my child as Mr. Banna instead of Mr. Rami, it would seem overly formal, like wearing a tuxedo to an office.

This doesn’t bother me on a moral level but I am intensely curious about it. When did it change? Why? I assume it’s related to the broader decline of formality in our culture, the way that the hoodie has replaced the sports coat for menswear.

But what is driving this? Is it a desire to be youthful? Relatable? A way of communicating that adults and children are on the same level? As we’ve made this switch, what have we given up? Anything? Nothing? Does this change how children perceive adults? Does it change how children perceive themselves?

I’d love to hear a theory of the case here.