Enough Already with the First Name Treatment!

I'm tired of it: at the doctor's office, dentist's office, bank, super-market, on the phone... it seems everywhere, everyone's my new friend and we're all on a first name basis from the get go! I'm thinking of getting a button or a name tag: "Mr. Aldrich," or "HELLO, my name is Dr. Aldrich". Something. Actually, this has been going on for many years, but it seems recently all is lost. Oddly, about the only people who don't address me as "Mark" are my children and my students. It's been an interesting challenge trying to pinpoint precisely why this social practice irks me, but I thinking I'm getting closer to the mark. (Pun intended.) Basically, it's the fake familiarity. And to a slightly lesser degree, the lack of respect. This morning at the bank when the very young teller said, "Ok, Mark, is there anything else we can do today?" I was quite tempted to say, "Yes, stop calling me Mark." But I didn't want to spoil my good mood on this lovely morning so I let it go. I hope it's not a lost cause entirely. In fact, there is much lost if we give up using surnames completely. There are some instances in which this treatment may be motivated by a wish to preserve some privacy by not using your last name in a situation where others may overhear. (I've heard this argument used in defense of first name treatment, for example, at doctors' offices.)  Those situations, however, are not typical, and in most cases there is an easy solution. At the doctor's office, for example, the receptionist should get up, approach the patient, and address him or her as "Madam" or "Sir".  
A few years ago author Ralph Keyes addressed this issue in the Christian Science Monitor. I agree with what he wrote and I encourage anyone reading this to link to Keyes' short commentary. I'd add the following: the notion that more extensive use of first names is somehow a practice that promotes equality and lessens class distinctions is a chimera.  To the contrary, individuals who do not have wealth or social rank stand to lose out because they are deprived of one of the few mechanisms available to them for having their dignity publicly recognized. Dignity is (or should be) important to all of us; it's especially important for those individuals who may lack other kinds of capital. I'm sure Amanda (the ubiquitous name tag) meant no disrespect when she addressed me by first name, but even if she had, I have "protection": age, being a white male, and the real currency Amanda just handed over to me. But when a recent immigrant needs some assistance at the customer service desk and the kid behind the counter (condescendingly?) refers to her as "María" as he explains that she's out of luck, she really is, because María is not yet confident enough in her English to respond, "Please, it's Ms García." To all of you, all of us, it's Ms García.

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