Metro-East Living

Address your elders as Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss

Q: When my children received cards at parties on their birthday, and especially when they graduated, I always told them not to open them in front of a group of guests. Rather, wait to open them at a private time with us so as not to embarrass anyone by whether there was or wasn’t a check inside or cash and how much. I’ve recently attended a couple of graduation parties at which the graduate opened the cards and shouted out how much money was inside or how much the check was. Please confirm that this is rude and inappropriate.

A: Thank you for your note regarding this very important subject. You are correct.

Q: I am inquiring about an etiquette trend I find problematic. My parents taught me (and I taught my children) when addressing an adult I should use his or her surname preceded by Mr., Mrs., or Miss (now Ms., of course). This was done out of respect for my elders. This seems to be a courtesy that no longer matters in today’s world. Today’s children are being raised by a generation that apparently did not receive that instruction either. I see at church, for example, it’s pretty much first name only, no matter what your age. I would like your insight on this matter. Thank you.

A. Yes, this trend is not only disrespectful but also frustrating. Your parents taught you correctly and you taught your children correctly. It is unfortunate, however, to find either the younger generation is not being taught how important this rule of respect is, or that the rule is not being reinforced and re-emphasized. It is our responsibility to politely guide or correct those who either are not aware of the proper form of address to those senior to them or those who choose to ignore the rule. I emphasize “politely” because our intent should not be to embarrass anyone or demean him during the process. The intent, instead, is to help others learn — or remind them — to be polite and respectful.


▪  When being introduced to a child, it is helpful if you say (while extending your hand for a handshake): “Hello, John. My name is Ms. Smith. I am so happy to meet you.”

▪  If my little neighbor girl knocks on my door and says, “Hi, Mary, my Mom sent me over to borrow a couple of eggs if you have them.” I reply by saying: “Yes, Sally, I have them and will get them for you, but please call me Mrs. Smith, rather than Mary, OK? I ask you to call me Mrs. Smith because that is the proper way to refer to your elders. You use their title and last name rather than their first name.”

▪ If my name tag at any event is incorrect, I either ask that it be changed, if possible, or I neatly correct it myself. I then follow-up later by contacting the organizer or person in charge to let him know what the proper form of address is for me and for other adults or seniors. This also applies to my church.

Part of the reason we see this unfortunate trend of using a more familiar form of address is a marketing philosophy. The thinking was that if bank tellers, for example, or salespeople, use the first names of their customers when addressing them or providing service to them, it will create a more personable, positive and stronger relationship between the business and the customer. In most cases, this flawed marketing philosophy has been reversed because of those of us who took the time to politely explain it was inappropriate.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to