Recently, I received a number of requests on how to deal with less formal uses of address. It seems like most forms of address have become extremely relaxed over the years to the point of being disrespectful. I maintain that this is a direct generational response by parents reacting to their own upbringing. Whatever the reason, the end result diminishes the respect shown to one another in subtle ways, which reflects an attitude of laziness, inappropriate familiarity and just plain rudeness.

One reader stated:

“I have a pet peeve about how the ordinary citizen is addressed, say, in a doctor’s office. I am always ‘Mary’, which I sometimes don’t hear because I have a double first name which is Mary Jane. Granted my name is not easy but I could be referred to as Ms. Jones which never happens even if the speaker is 20! Is this lack of effort to call someone by their rightful name because there is overall very little respect for anyone anymore?”

My explanation, for this all too common phenomenon, is that people simply don’t realize that something as simple as how we refer to one another is the very essence of showing respect. I believe we are more consumed with “I” and “me” and thus end up taking the easy way out of conducting ourselves. Without  guidance and social education, people will continue to ignore showing one another a sense of decency. There is also carelessness about not listening to or paying attention to what a person’s name is. It creates a perception that the individual just doesn’t matter.

My advice to anyone who thinks this detail really goes unnoticed and doesn’t matter is that they are absolutely wrong. There is nothing more personal than one’s name. Getting it wrong sends shock waves through most people. This is why it is so important to take the time and make the effort to focus on a person’s correct name and title. And if you don’t know the person, it is a good idea to call them by their last name (surname) preceded by Mr., Miss, Mrs. or in my opinion, the unfortunate Ms. Only when someone gives you permission to call them by their first name is it okay to do so. If you are introduced by a third party using first names then it is acceptable to use a first name.

In a professional setting, there is nothing wrong with using formalities. In fact, it is down right rude not to in most cases. Even when going to see your doctor, refer to him or her as ‘doctor’. You are seeing them as a professional and they should be addressed accordingly. Similarly, receptionists should not call you by your first name. Familiarity of this sort screams disrespect.

We like it when we are called by our name. In fact, we are annoyed when people get our names wrong. Using one another’s name is a sign of respect. It shows that you matter and that someone has taken the time and effort to remember your name. Addressing someone by their proper name lets that person know that they stand out in your thoughts. Though memory does not always serve us well and we can forget names from time to time, simply admit that you have forgotten a name, apologize and ask for their name again. Since this happens to all of us, it should not be considered bad form. Remember the cardinal rule of recognizing the intent behind what we say. We don’t purposely forget names and should not be chastised for it.

I recommend paying close attention to how we address each other. As it matters to you how you are introduced and spoken to, it matters to everyone else too. We all deserve the same level of respect. This simple act goes a long way in making the communities in which we live and work more civilized.