What Should my Kids call You?

From the ages of 9 to 26, I addressed my friends’ parents by saying, “Hey, ummm.” and just hoped they responded. If they didn’t, I’d  go back and eat more of their food without cleaning up after myself. After 26, I called them by their first names because once you have a full beard there’s no point in formalities.

My son, Arlo, who’s three, calls adults “lady” or “man” and that’s adorable because he’s three. For people he knows really well, he’ll sometimes address them by their child’s name and then daddy or mommy. So, for instance, “Jojo’s daddy.” Cute, but he can’t do that forever. Eventually, he’ll have to mature into “Hey, umm…” and then, “Yo, Steve.” But for the six years in between those milestones, what the hell am I supposed to teach him? He has two preschool teachers named, “Ms. Jenny” and “Ms. Peggy” but those are their first names and he can’t live his life addressing people like they’re adult puppets.

While I understand that it’s respectful to say, “Mr. McGillicuddy” or “Mrs. McGillicuddy” (I want so badly to know someone named McGillicuddy), when the twelve year-old neighbor kid calls me Mr. Good, it makes me feel like I’m moments away from requesting a new colostomy bag or a fresh tube of Polident. I told him to call me Jason but he seems reticent because, as he sees it, we’re not peers (his father taught him manners). I suppose I still want to be eleven, or at least young enough that a kid wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt and red Chuck Taylors doesn’t talk to me like I’m a guidance counselor.

At the same time, I don’t want to be the sad wanna-be-cool-dude who tells kids to call him by his first name. I remember those guys from when I was a kid, and they were usually named Dale, had mustaches and made mysterious trips to Florida.

So what should kids call me? Well, I will always respond to “Hey, excuse me.” And please don’t call me sir, because this isn’t a country club, nor have I been properly knighted (yet).

Unfortunately, kids want steadfast rules, and now that my elder son, Silas, is five, he needs to understand what they are, but in our counter-culture community in New Jersey, it seems there are none. He calls his best friends’ parents by their first name, which they still seem to be OK with, but when he doesn’t know someone’s first name, he becomes confused, walks away and mutters something about wanting a juice box. I think the proper thing for him to do is say “sir” or “ma’am,” but I don’t dress him in knickers, so it comes out sounding weird, like he’s had a little too much experience with the court system.

So, I’m looking for advice here. How should kids address adults? What should we be teaching them at what ages? I have a few suggestions and please, feel free to add your own.

1. “Person” as in, “Hello, person.” “Human” might also be acceptable here, but I fear it would expose them as robots.

2. Mister or Misses (without a last name). This has a wonderful old-timey ring to it. “Hey Mister, the newspaper costs five cents. You’re a penny short.” The problem here is that calling a woman “Misses” is extremely creepy.

3. “Dale.” Seriously, can’t we just call everyone Dale?

4. “Dude.” I have no problem with this. Thoughts?

5. “Frenchy.” I like this just as a general nickname. I could get my kids to keep a toothpick in their mouths at all times. “Hey, Frenchy, can I get a juice box?” Kind of cute, but maybe disrespectful.

6. How do we honestly feel about “Hey, ummm…”?

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Ana Lucia Lima says:

I called women “Tia” and men “Tio”.

Judith McRae says:

When I was a kid, teachers were “Mr.”, “Mrs,”, and “Miss” Jones. My parents’ friends were and continue to be, “Hi, it’s nice to see you again,” unless I had ever spent an afternoon with them without my parents present, in which case I called them by their first names. 
Adult neighbors were always, “Hi can [your child who is about my age] come out to play?” 
I never ate out of my parents’ friends fridges, and when eating out of my friends’ fridges, I always got them to ask permission from their parents on my behalf, thus avoiding calling them anything either too disrespectful or too formal. 
People I babysat for were always “Mr. and Mrs.” Jones.

Thirtysomething says:

For people they see regularly, I’m a fan of Mr. So-and-so and Mrs. (or Miss) So-and-So, especially if shortened.  Mrs. Jones is Mrs. J, Mr. Silverman is Mr. S., etc.  For strangers, “Sir” and “Miss” are what I use and what I have taught my kids to use.  I’ve yet to meet a woman who gets too upset at being called “Miss” as long as it’s not in a dismissive manner, and especially older ladies seem to get a kick out of it.

Miss Firstname says:

I love “Dude”. Everyone should be called “Dude”! I would totally answer to it, if it’s uttered respectfully. No one with children is ever willing to go along with this, though.
I’m married and in my late-30s with no kids of my own, but I interact with children regularly at my job. I refuse to answer to Mrs. Lastname. It is simply not my name. I invite children to call me by my first name. But if their grown-up insists on a title, I’ve learned to become fond of the southern-sounding Miss Firstname. If I had kids, I’d desperately try to find a gender-neutral term to use for strangers (this is where “dude” would be perfect as it encompasses all genders, but I’d probably settle for “person”) because Sir and Ma’am just sound too servile to me and not everyone a child thinks is a lady or man identifies themselves that way.

w0n10v3s says:

Being from south Georgia, Ma’am and Sir were drilled into our head. When I entered the work environment (18), my supervisor would freak every time I would say Ma’am.
Now that I’m older I want to puke when someone calls me Ma’am. Anything but Ma’am. Ugh. 
But yes, I too did the “Hey umm..” when addressing my friend’s parents. And was totally freaked to have any sort of interaction with them. Not sure why. Some of my friend’s parents were really cool.

AlysonDehner says:

So far I’ve told my 5 year old son that if the adult is older then me to call them Mr or Mrs So-n-so, otherwise use their first names.  I completely agree that even with a house in the burbs and two littles in tow I am NOT ready to me a Mrs So-n-so!

Kayleigh says:

For the life of me, I can’t remember what I called my friend’s parents when we were growing up. The most interaction I usually had with them was “Can so and so come out and play?” so I never really had to address them. But really, I have no problem with my son, who is 3, calling people by their first name. I don’t find it disrespectful or lacking manners. That’s their name.
I kinda think in the long run, it depends on how the adult is introduced. For example, “This is my mom.” Okay, you are now so-and-so’s mom. Or “This is Jane, she is John’s mom” might make the child remember the first name instead.

mrs lastname says:

So.  I’m a teacher.  a 29 year old teacher who has been teaching since she was 24.  All kids I know call me Mrs. — last name.  And so do their parents.  Who are older than me.  And because my daughters’ friends know me from school… they call me Mrs.–last name too.  It’s actually pretty weird.  And I’ve tried but only get about 2 parents a year to address me by my first name.  My 6 year old actually introduces me to other kids “This is my mom.. here name is –first name– but you can call her Mrs. –last name–.”  I didn’t ask for that.  I’ve no solutions.  I also address friends parents as hey… um.  lol…

Leofwende says:

For us, very close friends & family will probably be “Aunt/Uncle”, friends that aren’t so close, but who we see regularly will probably be “Ms/Mr Firstname”, and strangers, teachers, friends’ parents that we aren’t close to, etc., will be “Ms/Mr Lastname”. Since my husband is military, there will also be a number of my husband’s associates (and possibly friends’ parents) that will need to be addressed as “Rank Lastname”. And I will encourage “Sir/Ms/Ma’am” for any adults whose names they don’t know.

RachelandLuke's Mom says:

When my children entered school my name was unofficially changed to “Rachel’s Mom” or “Luke’s Mom” (depending on which kid’s friend) still at 22 my daughter’s friends say “Hey Rachel’s Mom….” I like it much better than Mrs. Soandso! Great blog by the way- though it’s been two decades since I lived it, your humor transports me and it seems like yesterday. Great stuff.

acm says:

I’m *not* from the south, but I think kids should use last names unless (1) invited to do otherwise, or (2) specifically introduced to somebody as a close family friend — that is, as “Uncle Don” rather than “Mr. Wilson.” I still wasn’t comfortable calling my college professors by their first names, and I think that’s just fine. There are still gradations of respect out there, and even “Miss. Ann” is better than just “Ann”…

Vinitha says:

I am from India and like Anita from Portugal commented, we called all adults “Uncle” and “Aunty” – even strangers! :) Mom’s and Dad’s friends, friends’s parents were uncle/aunty. We had titles for our “real” uncle and aunts (relatives/family), so it was never confusing.
My 4 year old being raised in the US on the other hand – starting to get very confused! Close family friends are uncle/aunty. Parents of friends from day care and our co-workers are Mr/Ms . People we rarely talk to/know formally like apartment managers etc are just . Relatives are if it is a title he can manage to pronounce and remember, uncle/aunty otherwise. Keeping track of it? Yeah..imagine a 4 year old trying to.
We really need to find a common title and settle on it..or just let him go with “Hey, ummm…”? :D

Vinitha says:

Oooohh..Disqus changed all my first name last name tags into HTMLish tags! Even tried to close them..makes for a very funny comment!