Respect by any other name
- Submitted by:
- Michael Grose
Times have changed. When baby boomers like me were kids we generally always addressed relatives with the appropriate moniker such as Aunty or Uncle. Close family friends would be called Aunty or Uncle, acquaintances would be addressed as Mr and Mrs.
Similarly, teachers, coaches, scout and guide leaders and other adults were generally addressed by their title. Rarely would they be called by their first name. It was deemed a mark of respect.
Interestingly, many adults would address each other by their surnames. I vividly recall my mother addressing our next-door neighbour as Mrs Waters, even though they were around the same age. They weren’t on close terms so it was convention to use surnames.
Fast forward four decades and social conventions have changed, including how we address each other. Adults will usually always address each other by their first, or preferred name, even if their relationship is on a professional basis such as doctor-patient relationship.
Conventions have loosened in the naming stakes for kids. It’s quite common for children to refer to close relatives by their first names rather than Aunt and Uncle. Family friends, coaches and other adults in the lives of kids are commonly referred to by their first names.
Over the last decade or so in Australia it’s become more common for children to refer to their teachers by their first name, particularly in primary schools. This doesn’t mean that children don’t respect their elders any more. Respect is shown by the way they speak to teachers; how they act and how they reciprocate respectful behaviour from others. In fact, respect between children and adults these days is very much a mutual thing. ‘If you respect me then I’ll respect you’, which is different to the days of ‘respect your elders because they are older’, regardless of how an adult may have treated a child.
The key to the use of names is that adults need to feel comfortable with how they are addressed. If a teacher feels comfortable being addressed by her first name then children can use his or her first name. If a teacher prefers to be addressed as Mr, Miss or Mrs then his or wish needs to be respected too.
Australia has a wonderful egalitarian society that values equality in relationships between people from different economic, social and cultural backgrounds. This egalitarianism holds true for people from different generations. We can all get on and treat each other respectfully regardless of the monikers we choose.