Call Me Sheila (or What’s In A Name?)

"Yo, Sheila! Teach! I gotta take a *&@%$ dump!"

Teaching children to use courtesy titles like “Mr.” and “Ma’am” is a small but important step we can take to encourage civility in daily life.

When my daughter Liz was in junior-high, I picked her up at school after an out-of-town volleyball game.  “Who drove to the game?” I asked as she buckled in.

“Oh, Sheila gave me a ride” she said.

“Sheila?” I asked, wracking my brain to think of a classmate by that name.  It momentarily escaped me that very few 6th graders were likely to have their driver’s license.

“That’s Kayla’s mom.” Liz answered.

“Sheila!” I exclaimed. “What do you mean, referring to Mrs. Becker that way?  I will not have you being disrespectful, young lady!”

“But mom” she protested, “That’s what she told us to call her!”

Trust But Verify being a good policy when dealing with either the Soviet Union or preteens, I checked my sources.  Sure enough.  A certain group of moms were now insisting the kids call them by their first names.   The “cool” moms. 

You know these women.  They have been pushing the envelope since preschool. 
They’ll do anything to establish their daughters (they are always moms of girls) at the top of the school social ladder.  They were the ones who ratcheted the birthday party competition up to DEFCON 2.  No longer could you have cake and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at home.  Unless you want your kid to be totally disgraced, you’ve got to sponsor a birthday spa day, with mani/pedis and $25 gift bags.  Some of these parties cost more than my wedding!

Amy Poehler in "Mean Girls" defines the Sheila-Mom.

Now that the kids had reached the lofty heights of junior high, the “cool” moms thought it was time to be friends, instead of authority figures

I’m sorry, but I am not comfortable with 11 year-olds calling me by my first name.  We are neither peers, nor buddies.  It’s hard enough to parent preteens.  We need that little extra distance to help maintain discipline. 

With very young children, first names are just easier to handle.  Once they get to school, however, titles can and should be used.  Children should be taught respect for their elders, and reminded of it often.   I love how they use “ma’am” and “sir” in the military and down south.  This is one custom I would import north of the Mason/Dixon line in a heartbeat.  If they use first names for adults, they attach a title.  “Miss Sue” still sounds respectful.

I wouldn’t dream of referring to my parents’ friends, teachers, and elderly adults by their first names.  That holds true even today, and I’m over 50.   Their years have earned them my respect and deference.

As parents we should lead by example.  Let’s start with our elected leaders.  Even if we don’t like or agree with a politician, we should show respect for their position.  If kids hear us using proper titles: “President Obama” and “Governor Palin”, rather than the insulting adjectives we may attach to their names in our minds, it would go a long way to helping them learn respect for age and authority.

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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41 Responses to Call Me Sheila (or What’s In A Name?)

  1. Jackie says:

    Agreed! I was raised by a military man, so I’m always sure to say ma’am, sir, mr., mrs. etc.

    I can’t tell you how many times adults would look at me like I was high and asked me to please not call them that. As if it were offensive! I think it makes some people feel old – but it always bothered me that I went out of my way to show respect and that instead of graciously accepting it and asking to be called another name, folks sometimes acted like I was hurling insults.

    Like

  2. Big Al says:

    You nailed it Ms. pegoleg! Aside from being laugh out loud funny (which I did several times), you have struck a chord. Kids become adults way too soon anymore. We know what they are missing by not getting to be “kids”. They will never know.

    I have to go now or I’ll be late for my 8-year old granddaughter’s wedding.

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  3. Interesting – I found this to be a regional thing growing up, more than a “cool” vs “not cool” thing. When I lived on the East Coast, everyone was Mr. & Mrs. Last Name. In the midwest, everybody insisted on First Name. It took my parents a long time to accept that, and they still did not ask any children to call them by their first names. At times I still correct my friends for calling my parents by their first names; I have been known to tell people my own age that my parents do not appreciate it. Lately, I’ve noticed the Mr. & Miss First Name, which I’m okay with I guess.

    I struggled for a long time (and still do) with my sister’s in-laws; her mother-in-law has begged me to call her by her first name and I wouldn’t, until at my grandmother’s funeral she told me it would make her feel like part of the family if I did. Then I felt bad for refusing to do it before. Yet, her husband has never asked me to call him by his first name. So they’re First Name and Mr. Last Name.

    Anyway, I think we all have a right to determine what we are called, and by whom. My parents eventually acquiesced and compromised with the Midwesterners by teaching my sisters and me that we should be respectful of adults, and that may include respecting their wishes about what to be called. But they still didn’t like it!

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    • pegoleg says:

      Good line ; “we should be respectful of adults, and that may include respecting their wishes about what to be called.” You’re right that if someone insists on a first name, you should go along.

      I am advocating that adults as a group rethink their stance on this. In and of itself, letting children call adults by their first names isn’t a big deal. But it’s part of a bigger trend of children being treated as little adults, which has done tremendous harm, especially as it relates to respect for authority figures: teachers, police, parents, etc.

      There’s a lot to be said for having and observing societal norms that foster an atmosphere of respect.

      Like

  4. Margie says:

    My girlfriends daughter, Tris, was taught to address me with the Mrs. title. Now Tris is a 25 year old teacher who I golf with and go out for lunch with now and then. I’ve asked her to call me by my first name, because, to me, that is what friends call friends.

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    • pegoleg says:

      I agree with you. It’s a little awkward at first, but when children become adults that’s kind of a rite of passage. The thing is that YOU decided when that day arrived, and Tris respected you enough to let that be your decision.

      With my kids, I start introducing myself to their friends by my first name when they are in college.

      Like

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. Civility resides in language, which represents our attitudes. It disintegrates slowly and we are less civil society for it. Thank you so much for reminding us all of the importance of language and common courtesy.

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  6. Libertarian says:

    What grinds me is my nieces and nephews calling me by my first name. Even though I am only 20 or 30 years older than them, I still think I deserve the title in front of my name! My 20-year-old nephew, who towers over me at 6’2″, recently threw an arm over my shoulder and said, “what’s going on, Libby Bibby?” (Bibby being an endearing family nickname.) Normally, I would chuckle and answer, but I actually got a little annoyed and said, “What happened to AUNT Libby?” It threw him for a minute, but he still lapses into the all-too-familiar greeting nearly every time I see him. To this day, I find it very difficult to call my aunts and uncles by their first names, though some of my 40- and 50-something siblings and cousins have dropped the titles when addressing dear Aunt Carol and others of that generation. Maybe it’s me… maybe bestowing titles on those who are one or more generations ahead helps me feel like there is still an older generation out there that is making the decisions for this world, that’s in charge, and that is keeping the wolves at bay when in reality, I am the one who should be doing that for the younger generations!! Just my musings… I guess that’s enough for tonight!!

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    • pegoleg says:

      I’m with you, Lib. I call all of our aunts and uncles with their titles, because that is how I see them. Just like I cannot bring myself to call Mrs. B anything else – habits of a lifetime!

      Like

  7. John Hunsinger says:

    Abby had a friend stay the night last week and she kept saying to me. “Mr. Hunsinger, may I please…..” I kept looking around for my Dad.

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  8. missumerica says:

    I’ve noticed this trend professionally for a while now, and I’m about as far south as you can get. People no longer refer to their bosses or colleagues as Mr./Ms. SoAndSo. Growing up, I remember everyone at my father’s office referring to the bosses with a title however somewhere along the way the greeting became more casual as did office attire. Maybe it all started with casual Fridays and then trickled down to family life as well, Peg! It’s also more common now for men to offend women by calling them ma’am – like the comment instantly sprouts gray hair & wrinkles – so that’s falling away as well even though it’s just traditionally a sign of respect to ALL women regardless of age. I’m comfortable with the changes in the workplace, but I’m right there with you on the kid issue! Sincerely, The Choir

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    • pegoleg says:

      The mother of one of my daughter’s good friends in grade school always called everyone Mrs. & Mr. I must have told her 20 times to call me Peg before she did. THAT seemed weird, but only because the times have changed so much. Heck, married couples used to call one another Mr. & Mrs. (but maybe not in the boudoir?)

      Like

  9. Sandy Sue says:

    I’ve completely adopted the southern “Ma’am/Sir” way of addressing anyone older than me. I love to give it a little Georgian lilt just for fun.

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  10. I agree. When I was working as a special ed tech at an elementary school and a preschool teacher, I was known as Miss Darla. Worked for me.

    That caption for that picture made me spit out my coffee!

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  11. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’m more negative than most on the issue of adolescent respect – of course, look at their role models on TV and in video games. We Americans are living in an atmosphere of disrespect and more than ready to be derisive and dismissive. TV is a cesspool of bad manners.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      That’s so true about TV. I want producers to offer more wholesome fare, but they only make what advertisers think people will watch. Apparently our taste is in the cesspool.

      Like

  12. misswhiplash says:

    My eldest daughter’s children Leon and Jayde used to call their Mother by her Christian name. I thought it was appalling! However I did not say a word!
    Now that they are grown up they use the proper title of Mum or Mumma. When that changed I do not know but it sounds a lot nicer.
    One of my great grandsons calls me Nanna Pat but that is ok, To the rest I am Nanny

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      What amazing self-control to not say anything to your daughter – I couldn’t have kept quiet! Lots of families have different titles for grandmas and grandpas, and that’s cute.

      Like

  13. sukanyabora says:

    Well said. imbibing manners in kids is what brings civility to a society. in defense of my generation, i think most of us do a good job in reinforcing respect for elders in our kids. but have to say, coming from india, where this is considered a basic tenet, i was pretty confused and still am in some situations, in general, my kids refer to folks with titles but in instances, when i am not sure, i ask them…how do you want my kids to address you…and it works out.

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    • pegoleg says:

      It is a good idea to ask if you are unsure. What bothers me is when adults introduce me to their kids by my first name. Then I don’t have the opportunity to be Mrs. without implying a criticism.

      How much better, to me, to say “this is Mrs. Smith” and let Mrs. Smith say “Oh please, call me Sheila”.

      Like

  14. Amy says:

    I always struggled with this as a kid. My family is all from Michigan and I lived there until I was eight when my mom remarried and we moved to Georgia. In MI I called all my friend’s parents and my parent’s friends by their first names. In GA though, everyone insisted on being called ma’am and sir or Mr and Mrs so-and-so and it was very hard for me to get used to. I never used ma’am or sir, even now, and my mom told my friends never to ma’am her (made her feel old). But, no matter what, I was always respectful to my elders. I think that a lot of southern adults let me get away without using titles because I was so polite.

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    • pegoleg says:

      I’ve never understood the thought that being called ma’am makes someone feel old, although I know a lot of people who feel that way. My Mom always had a pet peeve that the teller at the bank, who went to school with one of her kids, would call her “Mary”. She also had a problem with this girl being able to see all her banking stuff, but that’s another story.

      In the long run, being respectful to our elders is the bottom line. Manners really do grease the wheels of society.

      Like

  15. Working with children, I have found that they are accustomed (around here) to addressing some school staff as Miss W. or Mr. D.
    Unless the last name is very tricky and the students are very young or have a speech impediment, I do think that this is too casual and lessens the perceived status of the adult. I have also noticed a trend of teachers wearing jeans and flip flops, I am sorry to say. I once worked with a teacher who not only wore flip flops, but took them off in the classroom and taught barefoot!

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  16. egills says:

    The boys friends either called me Mrs G or Mummy No. 2 depending on the friend.
    What I hate is my twin brother has decided his children shouldn’t use the whole Uncle / Aunt thing even though all of us have taught our children to…. I find it very insulting.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      My sister commented on the same thing. I like using the titles Aunt and Uncle because it implies a closer relationship than first names – it shows the special status of these people.

      Like

      • egills says:

        I always make sure I write Aunty Eileen on any cards I send them.. just to reinforce the matter 🙂

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        • pegoleg says:

          I think it’s just a matter of custom and habit. This was bothering me with a young niece, so I said something to her mom, not a big deal, just “I’d really prefer to be called Aunt Peg”. Her mom was really nice about it, and I was Aunt Peg from then on. But some moms are witches who get offended, and it may not work.

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      • Tar-Buns says:

        You hit the nail on the aunt/uncle thing, Peg. It does imply a closer relationship and shows respect. As for manners in general, respect is something that has to be inculcated at an early age to be most effective. I know, I see it in school far too often…kids disrespectful to their own parent, in front of staff! Want to slap them hard or lecture them for hours or some other torture to get through. Only problem is it’s the adult being insulted who needs to do something. OK, off soap box.

        Like

        • pegoleg says:

          And that attitude flows through toward all authority figures, including you poor teachers. It must be hard to keep discipline in the classroom when students don’t know much about the concept.

          Like

  17. Terrasidius says:

    I’m 28 and I totally agree. Me and my friend were talking about this kind of thing a while ago and we were saying that our generation seems to be one of the last (in a general sense) thats polite, respectful of elders, being gentlemen to ladies such as holding doors open and picking things up they’ve dropped etc. Younger kids seem to only really operate on a mostly informal basis and that seems to be reinforced by mass media, again, generally.

    But saying that, it does seem to be worse in other countries, I think because we in Britain have this collective concious thing about generally being polite and a gentleman / lady, in the first place, its part of our national identity to a greater or lesser extent. 🙂

    Another great post! 😀

    Like

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