I’m feeling awkward about names & titles today and thought I’d see what the scatterbrains think. In my department we train grad students to call us by first names, a custom I am very comfortable with, and I am part of a cultural group* in which children call adults by first names (although, of course, they call their teachers Mr/Ms X). When I was first teaching in the 1970s, I told my students to call me by my first name, but I stopped because the students would say things to me of the form “Hey Susie, can you tell me where Dr. X is?” All the men were Dr. X and I was the only first name. The disparity has died down, but you can still find formal documents like minutes of meetings in which women professors are referred to by first name and men professors by surnames. So I tend avoid telling undergrads what to call me and let them default to professor or doctor. As I get to know a student in a more personal way, I tend to encourage the switch to first name. Unfortunately, more and more young people have been raised like mine to assume first names, and I’ve heard that some orientation groups are actually telling incoming freshmen to call professors by first names. I realize this actually offends me. I’d rather offer the first name than have it assumed. Hmmm. Quite a bit of inconsistency there. I got caught off guard in the honors class the other day when a student asked me what he should call me, and I kind of mumbled and stumbled and ended up choosing professor. Although then I wondered later whether I should have picked first name, since this is a small class and I’ve invited students to my home for dinner.
So scatterbrains of various generations and cultural backgrounds: what do you think about all this name stuff? As you answer, it would be helpful to disclose your gender, approximate age and status as student or prof.
* I am very aware that people are reared differently on this point, that some parents rear their children to address all older people by title no matter what. That was actually how I was raised long ago – not allowed to call older people by first name, even if they suggested it, and I have met young people who are extremely uncomfortable using first names for older people. This is very much a class thing, I believe.