That’s Ms. Griffin To You: When To Use Last Names

when to use mr. in businessWhen do you call work associates by their last name (such as Ms. Griffin), or by another title (such as Attorney Griffin)? Do you have a preference how work associates refer to you — and how do you communicate that? Does calling someone else “Ms. Griffin” make you look young?  I’ve gotten a number of questions about this lately — one from reader D who notes,

I work in legal services on the East Coast, and I’m a little stumped about how to address people. On the one hand, working with the legal services population makes me eager to address people with titles, using Mr./Ms./Mrs. So-and-So as a mark of respect for folks in my office who otherwise may feel disenfranchised. On the other hand, as a native West Coaster, this level of formality is not inherent in my being and I frequently find myself slipping and referring to people by their first names.

Meanwhile, reader J was fuming because

opposing counsel start[ed] calling me ‘Ms. X’ as opposed to ‘Attorney X’. I have never seen male attorneys addressed as other than ‘Attorney Y’. The devolution to ‘Ms. X’ is clearly intended as an insult by opposing counsel. Any good suggestions for a professional but firm response?

We’ve talked about a lot of name issues — how to correct colleagues if they call you the wrong first name, how to get rid of an old nickname, and more — but When to Use the Last Name is kind of a big one.  I suspect this is going to vary widely by region, so readers, please be sure to say where in general you are.  A few notes:

  • Never, ever use “Mrs.” in a business setting.  Marital status is completely irrelevant.  For my $.02, the only person who can call me Mrs. Griffin is my husband, at least until our son has playmates who are speaking in sentences.
  • Presume, in writing, that you should use the person’s last name, at least on a first correspondence (e.g., “Dear Mr. Smith”).  (If you’re not sure whether it’s a man or a woman, check out this post on gender neutral names.) This always feels fantastically weird to me, too, but if they’re the kind of loosey goosey person who wants everyone to call them by their first name, they’ll think, “oh, how funny, she’s being very formal.”  I always find this vastly preferable than choosing to go with “Dear Bob,” and getting the kind of person who takes huge offense that you’ve not called him “Mr. Smith.”  I feel like this gets harder the older you get, though — particularly when you’re in that gulf of the late 20s/early 30s where you’re definitely not a kid but the person you’re addressing may still have 30 years on you, and view it as an important sign of respect.  In fact, I’d say that the more you want to convey respect, the more you should default to a last name. 
  • With people you meet while networking, it isn’t usually a problem because they’ll introduce themselves.  Call me crazy, but I think if someone says “I’m Bob Smith,” then you’ve got permission to call him Bob.  On the other hand, if you’re introduced to someone — “This is Mr. Smith,” then that’s what you go with until he says, “Oh, call me Bob.”
  • The “Attorney X” convention is actually new to me — if it’s happening in briefings for the court I’d probably put a snarky line in a letter to the court or in my next brief when addressing whatever issues caused opposing counsel to refer to you anyway.  If it’s in private correspondence, though, I’d chalk it up to “either he or his assistant is a moron/sexist pig” and move on.

Poking around the web, I see that Evil HR Lady (writing for CBS Moneywatch) notes that either “Dear Suzanne” or “Dear Ms. Lucas” is fine, but she hates when she gets “Dear Susan” or “Dear Suzy” letters (I 100% agree with this!).

Readers, where do you fall on this issue — when do you use “Mr.” and “Ms.” in business? How do you respond to someone who hasn’t addressed you with the appropriate respect (e.g., Attorney X)?

(Pictured: My Name Tag, originally uploaded to Flickr by Mr. T in DC.)


  1. Sydney Bristow :

    I’m in New York but originally from the Pacific Northwest and I’ve been doing it the same way in both places.

    I default to Mr. or Ms. Lastname when writing or emailing someone for the first time and then go by their cues going forward. For example, if they sign their response with just their first name then I’ll use just their first name in the future. If they respond with just my first name, then I’ll use theirs going forward. It gets complicated if they either don’t use my name at all or use my full name and then just use their email signature with their full name. I try to assess the formality in the correspondence and respond based on that, but most of the time I wind up using their first name unless there is a significant power dynamic at play.

    In person, I try to keep an ear out for how other people address each other in an office. I introduce myself using my full name and most other people do as well. I try to do something similar to what I do with correspondence and address them however they address me.

    • Agree with this re: starting with Mr. or Ms. Lastname and then switching to however they sign their email response.

    • hellskitchen :

      “If they respond with just my first name, then I’ll use theirs going forward”


    • +1 on all this.

      Additionally, when I first started working out of law school (at a small firm) my boss sat me down and specifically instructed me to call attorneys and others by their first names in most cases – I was young, and wanted to come across as their equal despite my high voice etc., and he said this was one way to do so. Even though it seems obvious now, I’ve always appreciated that advice, because it wasn’t obvious then.

      So, that’s the general rule for me, but I definitely have exceptions. In a formal letter, I use Mr. Lastname, and sometimes it just feels right in conversation too – if I am speaking to someone very old, for example. But regardless, I think it’s just a “know your wherever-you-are” kind of situation – what feels right?

  2. How appropriate! As a Suzanne my name gets butchered all the time. I can forgive people calling me “Susan” or spelling it wrong on occassion, but it drives me crazy when I’m called Susan in an email. My name is in my email, which you needed to look up and populate in outlook to contact me. There is no excuse. This actually happened literally 20 minutes again, by a coworker who had been calling me the correct name, and I actually feel very disrespected. Take the time to get someone’s name right. At least try.

    • My last name is a relatively common first name, so I get called by my last name CONSTANTLY. It’s incredibly frustrating, because 1) I have a common first name as well that is clearly a first name and 2) everyone’s emails come as Last, First so there is no reason to assume mine would be any different. It makes me soooo stabby.

      • Ditto. My lastname is easy to pronounce and spell and I often use it as my starbucks/bar name. However, when emailing with coworkers, I get stabby too, especially when I sign off on my emails using my first name every.single.time!

      • Wannabe Runner :

        I had a male co-worker with an issue like this. His name was something like David Richards. He was constantly called “Richard”, “Rich”, etc. even though his first name was David.

        (It’s one thing to give him a nickname like “Dave,” which would be common. It’s another thing to make that nickname short for his last name.)

        • FearTheIntern :

          This happened to me during an internship. My first name is a simple, common, distinctly female name, whereas my last name is long, Polish, and complicated. However, the first few letters of my last name are “Gladys” and then a bunch of strange letters that make no sense. My last name got abbreviated to “Gladys” on a form somewhere and the whole firm called me Gladys the entire summer.

    • another attorney :

      i have both problems (2 ways to spell my first name, mine is the slightly less common way, and my last name is a common (male) first name) and it drives me crazy. the mixed up spelling of my first name happens all.the.time. like daily, or hourly, from people i jsut met, as well as people ive been working with for years who know me very well. the last name things happens mostly with personal mail and unsolicited phone calls. FWIW, my first name is very clearly a girls name, and not one i have ever seen as a last name, while my last name is generally a mans first name, as well as a fairly common last name.

      i still think it better to chalk it up to people’s stupidity and/or inattentiveness, but whatever . . .

    • Perhaps autocorrect is to blame? I have a name that’s one letter off from a much more common one, and I get called the wrong name in email constantly.

      Sometimes I add a random letter to the other person’s name if I’m feeling passive-aggressive and don’t care, but usually I manage to contain my rage.

    • Ah, yes. My name is Brianne, and a few weeks ago, another attorney called me “Bethenny” in an email (yes, my full correct name was appended in my email signature). I’m accustomed to my name being butchered as well, but that was taking it to a whole new level of carelessness!

      • Brianne, too :

        Me, too! Briannes unite! Brianne seems to be a tough one for far too many people, even after corrected. Even to some of my longest-term contacts, I am Brianna. Yesterday, someone interpreted it as Bridget. Bridget?!
        But to make it worse, my boss at my former workplace’s name was Brian, and my boss at my new workplace is also Brian. We work closely with the same contacts, so I’m starting to see emails and calls coming to me meant to go to Brian – or calls for me interpreting my name as Brian. smh…

      • New Bride :

        Brianne is such a pretty name. :)

  3. In Boston, whether you use “Attorney Lastname” or not very much depends on what legal circles you travel in. It’s almost a socio-economic thing, I think left over from the days where becoming a lawyer was really moving up in the world for some people and they were adamant about using the title. So these days, it’s mostly only solo practioners or small firms outside of Boston proper that say “Attorney Lastname” (and usually the “Attorney” part is pronounced with a pretty thick Boston accent, as though there’s no r in the word), and all lawyers who work downtown at medium or large law firms use Ms./Mr. if they haven’t met someone yet or first names if they have.

    • I’ve never lived in the Northeast, but I just started communicating with counsel from RI and had noticed the Attorney Lastname convention and was wondering where it came from and whether it was a common thing in the Northeast.

      • I wish I could do justice in conveying phonetically how “Attorney” is typically pronounced by those who use it this way here. Something like: ah-TUHHHN-ee. The more old school the person is, the longer and more nasal the middle syllable becomes.

        • One of my co-workers is from Boston and has a pronounced Boston accent sometimes. Maybe I’ll see if he can give me a demonstration…

      • The Manageing partner ALWAY’S calls me “Ellen”, not Miss Barshevsky. I do NOT want to be known as either married or UNmarried, and he would call me MISS, and alot of men will start askeing me to go out with them, which I do NOT want. I am a little pickey, my dad says, but that is b/c if men know that I am singel, they think I am DYING to go out with them. That is WRONG. I onley want to go out with a guy who is eligiebel for marrage; that means 1) smart; 2) good job; 3) not a drinker; 4) has money in the bank 5) mature and 6) want’s to have kids right away.

        Most guys don’t have more then one or 2 of these atribuetes, so I stay away. Once in a while I find a guy but then he disappoint’s b/c he want’s sex right away. I should add this as #7 so that I do NOT get disapointed. FOOEY!

    • Diana Barry :

      I agree re: the population using the word “Attorney”. I follow the convention as Sydney Bristow does above, where I email using “Mr./Ms.” and then they usually sign their first name and I reciprocate. I also don’t identify myself as “Attorney” if I’m calling someone – I say “This is Diana Barry from XYZ Firm”.

      • I do too. 2 other Massachusetts things that I find bizarre: 1) my m-i-l addresses mail to my husband and me as Attorneys __ and __ Veranda and 2) the use of “my brother” and “my sister” to refer to opposing counsel in court!

    • Anonymous :

      This convention is (I hope) taking its last dying breaths in African American circles in the South. I find it pretty hilarious when a 25-year-old, second year lawyer refers to himself as Attorney X, or has his staff do so and, essentially, instruct you to do the same by their own conduct, but it happens on rare occasion.

      • I don’t think it is dying out here, small town Deep South. I have a good friend who absolutely insists that she be called “Attorney X” in front of her clients and insists that her staff call me “Attorney Y.” It is also common in African American professional circles; I’m always referred to as “Attorney Y,” unless it is someone with whom I am friends. I do not, however, hear it so much in larger cities.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I’m in a New England state north of Boston and most people here use Attorney X. I’ve also noticed that Miss seems to have replaced Mizz (spelling phonetically here.) I have actually met people who thought Ms. was an abbreviation for miss. I never hear Mrs. either. All men seem to be referred to as Mr. X and all women referred to as Miss Y. I think Miss has just replaced Mizz as the all encompassing marital status neutral speaking term even though everyone still writes Ms. in correspondence here. Again, super region specific.

      • I’m a little bit hard of hearing, so maybe this is why, but I was literally well into adulthood before I realized that there were supposed to be pronunciation differences between the different lady terms. I still almost never can actually hear the differences – I think that most people are just lazy about the way that they say it.

    • OMG Yes! I’m from Boston and it’s totally a Boston thing! And I agree on the solo vs firm thing. 100%.

  4. I’m really interested to see responses to this. I’m from the South, and it’s been drilled into my head since birth that I have to refer to my elders and betters as “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jones.” But I definitely haven’t seen that to be the case in the professional world–most of my bosses have told me to call them by their first names. At the same time, I cringe inside every single time I refer to someone older than me, in a professional setting, as Jane or Bob.

    • Anonymous :

      Who are your betters?

    • It gets easier and you will get more comfortable calling your superiors by their first names. There are a few older partners in my office that everyone refers to as Mr. Lastname, but otherwise we use first names without an issue.
      My hangup is dealing with physicians as clients. I almost always refer to them as Dr. Lastname, even if they use their first names in correspondence and conversation.

    • big dipper :

      I’m from the Northeast and I have this problem! It definitely has gotten better with time.

      I do think though that in a working environment, calling someone Mr./Ms. when the culture of your company dictates you should use their first name, or they ask to be called by their first name, can make me seem really young/inexperienced. At work, in theory, those are your peers, who you’d normally call by their first name, even if they are 25 years older than you. So I basically tried to suck it up and got used to it.

    • My compromise has become Ms, Mr, Dr etc first name.

  5. I totally agree with the advice never to call someone Mrs. in a business setting. Ms. and only Ms. is the way to go. I think calling others “Attorney X” and expecting to be called “Attorney Y” is a little ridiculous. I don’t do it and others in my Midwest legal community don’t typically do it.

    • It may be ridiculous, but if you’re in a place where it’s done, it really needs to be applied equally to both men and women.

      • Right- I would ask that reader if that particular attorney calls men “attorney lastname” and her ms. lastname, or if he is calling all attorneys mr. or ms. last name

      • I think this is the right frame to consider the question. I have seen “Attorney X” used only on very rare occasions, and I think it sounds very odd. But if it’s a circle where “Attorney X” is common, it shouldn’t be used to highlight the man’s role while the woman is left as just Ms. Y.

    • I’m in the UK; born and raised in the north east of England, currently in the south west. I still associate Ms with single mothers and divorcees (so as much associated with martial status/private choices as Miss/Mrs to me). As you might expect I don’t use Ms (because it doesnt match my status) and tend to correct people if they use it when referring/writing to me.

      • Anonymous :

        In the southwest of America? You should really use Ms. in business correspondence in America and not correct them- its correct for the country you are doing business in.

        • Anonymous :

          South west England. And when corresponding with American I will use whichever title they choose, but I’m still retaining my correct one.

      • Famouscait :

        “I still associate Ms with single mothers and divorcees”

        I’m from the South and work there now, and I think this is still a fairly valid sentiment here. I’ve noticed that Miss may be used for unmarried women under 30. After 30(ish) the switch to Ms. seems to imply…. something. Spinsterhood, perhaps?

        I’m a Mrs. and don’t take offense to it, but I do inwardly cringe when referred to as Ms. It’s the hard Z sound that gets me every time – with a Southern drawl its sounds like the speaker is lingering on the consonant and whatever it may imply….

        • Hose in NYC? :

          Maybe we just slur our words (or have too many juleps), but everyone here is “Miyuzz” (so “Miz” strung out over two syllables). My late grandmother’s neighbor, who was very dowager countess and to whom we were vaguely related, was one. I was always my-grandmother’s-granddaughter.

          This reminds me of One Day at a Time.

          • Anonymous :

            Sorry, I don’t get the One Day at a Time reference, but you did remind me of something else…..

            All my great/grandmothers, when they were alive, referred to me as Mrs. Husband’sFirstName Husband’sLastName in written correspondence. Every year, every birthday card after my wedding was addressed to “Mrs. John Doe” – made me smile (because it was them) but would have made me miffed if it was anyone else! =)

            Grandmothers (and their neighbors, in your case) just have a different set of rules, I guess.

          • Anonymous :

            I once had a conversation with an esteemed Southern gentleman, now a Senator, who kept speaking, with great pride, ab0ut his wife’s daughter — e.g., “Sally Anne’s daughter, Stephanie”. Sally Anne had only borne the Senator’s children, but I guess he was raised to believe it was impolite to refer to himself in any way, if he could avoid it, so he couldn’t bring himself to say “my daughter”.

          • Hose in NYC? :

            Oh, this will date me.

            One Day at a Time was the show where Bonnie Franklin was the divorcee and Schneider was the building super. There is an episode where she reads Ms. magazine and get boss makes a big deal of the word “Ms.” This was in the 70s, so a bit before Working Girl (but in the era of 9-to-5 maybe).

            As a typewritten title, Ms. was new then. But to my wee ears, I had been hearing it for-evah :)

          • Mountain Girl :

            When I was in college I worked as the receptionist for an optometrist. I still remember (25 years later) trying to get the demographic information for an elderly lady who kept telling me her name was “Mrs. John Smith”. I needed a first name for her medical record but she really had a hard time understanding why I needed her given name. As far as she was concerned her name was “Mrs. John Smith.”

      • Double Hoo :

        Also in the UK and I’ve experienced this too, and it works a bit differently to in the US. “Ms.” is not traditionally a thing, and I still get asked on occasion when someone is taking my details, “are you Miss or Mrs.?” (I am mid-twenties and unmarried FWIW). Most people accept the fact that a woman’s marital status is not confidential here… I can’t say it bothers me too terribly. Yes, it’s different from plain old Mr., but there are worse things to be upset about. And many foreign languages also make the distinction, of course.

        I lived for part of my childhood in the US, and my parents were always struck by the formality of American kids (NYC suburbs) compared to British ones. It’s totally normal for British children to call friends’ parents by their first names, and my parents hated suddenly being referred to as “Mr./Mrs. X” all the time And the American kids were never comfortable when my parents told them to use their actual names. I, OTOH, had to get used to being more formal than I was used to, but I think that can actually be an easier mental leap than the other way around.

        I’ve also had some college/grad school professors who wanted to be called by their first names, and that was weird to me as a student with the obvious power/knowledge/age difference.

      • Does Ms. have a different meaning in the UK than the US? Because here it is meant to connote no status whatsoever to avoid precisely the implications complained of here: married, single, divorced, spinster (and why is spinster a bad thing, btw?)

        According to no lesser authority that Wikipedia:

        The American Heritage Book of English Usage states that: “Using Ms. obviates the need for the guesswork involved in figuring out whether to address someone as Mrs. or Miss: you can’t go wrong with Ms. Whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, Ms. is always correct.” The Times (UK) states in its style guide that: “Ms is nowadays fully acceptable when a woman wants to be called thus, or when it is not known for certain if she is Mrs or Miss”. The Guardian, which restricts its use of honorific titles to leading articles, states in its style guide: “use Ms for women… unless they have expressed a preference for Miss or Mrs”.

        In business, “Ms.” is the standard default title for women until or unless an individual makes another preference known, and this default is also becoming more common socially in metropolitan areas. The default use of Ms. is also championed by a number of etiquette writers, including Judith Martin (a.k.a. “Miss Manners”).

        • Double Hoo :

          It’s not that we don’t have it, it’s just that as far as I can tell, women here don’t complain about the various implications of Miss/Mrs. Make of that what you will, but when I said “it’s not a thing” I meant that most women I know will accept being called Miss/Mrs even if they don’t like it. There isn’t the same strong reaction against it as in the US, it’s just the custom and we all get on with things. These days, it’s so fluid with people in long-term unmarried relationships and civil partnerships that Miss doesn’t really mean much anyway.

          I actually wasn’t familiar with the Ms. for single mothers/divorcees association, but maybe that explains why people don’t like it.

          One bonus of being in the UK is that when you pick your title from the Mr/Ms/Mrs/Miss drop-down on forms, ours also include Lord, Lady, Sir, Baroness and Dame as options, which always tempts me to pick one.

          • Interesting, thanks for the explanation. I suppose I wouldn’t per se make a big deal out of it whatever someone called me either, but I think I can’t help but be a little judgey if someone calls me Mrs. AIMS. Like, “aren’t you old fashioned and quaint?” Also, I just think that with everyone being more fluid nowadays anyway, as you say, Ms. is just where we are all headed.

            As for all the other options, confession time: I totally chose a title when I was ordering from Boden. All my catalogs are addressed to Lady AIMS and I get a kick out of it each time I get one in the mail.

          • Me too! When I did my PG applications, Princess was an option. So tempted!

          • I totally did the same thing for the Boden catalog. Why yes, I am Dame Parfait.

          • I always pick a ridiculous honorific if I’m flying a budget airline in Europe. It’s awesome. I don’t try it with BA, but they definitely have the best list of titles, hands down.

          • I signed up for my Northwest Airlines frequent flier miles account right after graduating law school. I was proud, and signed up as Firstname Lastname Esq. Then Delta bought them, and something went hinky with the database. So now I have to fly as Firstname Lastnameesq if I want to get Delta points. And, uh, that doesn’t match my ID. D’oh!

      • On the Ms. versus Miss thread, I am from the Southeast, and it was drilled into my head that Miss is for single, never married women versus Ms. which applied to divorced women. That said, I was also taught that Ms. was used for Professional women as well and that Miss is disrespectful for use in a professional setting. We took this quite seriously in cotillion and etiquette courses… I am not personally insulted, if someone addresses as Ms., Miss or my first name, though. And, I am single, never married and a professional.

        As for this whole Attorney X title, I have never heard anyone referred to as Attorney X. I have practiced in Dallas, Texas and in the Southeast, as well as having worked with Counsel (I am in-house) from California to New York to Florida and everywhere in between. No one has ever used this title. I more frequently hear Counselor (no name) in Court, but never Attorney X. Interesting that there is a reader who is passionate about that title….

        Any thoughts on the use of Esq.?

        • I hear “Counsel” no last name in court quite often.

          As to Esq., we have had a number of clients call the office wanting to talk to Mr. or Mrs. Esquire :)

        • I practice in the midwest and occasionally will hear someone refer to themselves (usually) or someone else as “Attorney X.” As far as I can tell it’s older men in solo practice or very small firms. The use of “Counsel” in court seems much more common, and I have a feeling that it’s similar to referring to the judge simply as “Judge” or “Your Honor”. It’s respectful, but it also de-personalizes what could be a contentious interaction. Basically, by referring to opposing attorney Joe Smith as “Counsel” I’m showing that I, in my capacity as an attorney, disagree with Joe’s legal opinion or argument but that I don’t have any beef with Joe personally. Outside the courtroom, I may be best friends with Joe, or I may think he’s a complete waste of space. But inside the courtroom, he’s simply performing his role and I am performing mine as advocates for our clients.

        • AttorneyA :

          In Seattle, we use “Esq.” when referring in writing to both female and male attorneys. Although the senior partner in my firm dislikes using it for females and complains about it, he does it.

          Re: the “Mrs. John Doe” discussion, when I was writing / addressing thank you notes after my bridal shower, I addressed my aunt’s envelope by writing “Mrs. Jane Doe”. My mother stopped me and said that using the woman’s first name with “Mrs.” was only proper if the person was divorced. To refer to a married woman the choice was “Mrs. John Doe” or “Jane Doe” (no title). Mom may be the only person who believes this, but I have never made that mistake again — just in case. (Of course now that same-sex marriages are legal in Washington I will have to revise my thinking on that.)

          • Your mother is correct. Mrs. Her First Name, His Last is soley for divorced women, that is why many older women will get upset if formally you ask for their first name, instead of going with Mrs. John Smith.

    • 41-Year-Old Spinster Alabama Native, Esq. :

      If someone refers to herself as “Mrs. Katzenbaum” or “Miss Katzenbaum,” respect dictates that one call her what she chooses to be called, irrespective of one’s own personal feelings. I don’t see why this is so hard, or how it’s anyone else’s business why she made such a choice.

  6. This is quite interesting (and indeed helpful) to know because in my country, you always have to use last names, unless the person you’re communicating with has explicitly allowed you to use his/her first name, or it is a common habit in the firm that everyone is called by their first name (and if you’re new to the firm, the person who introduces you to your office will likely tell you about this habit).

    • Are you in mainland Europe by chance?

      • Yes, from Germany

        • Yay, another German reader :) What I like about German is that my marital status doesn’t matter – I have been “Frau LastName” since I turned 18.

          By the way, I suppose I will never get how the pronounciation of “Ms.” and “Miss” differs.

          • “Miss” is pronounced with a hard s sound. “Ms.” is actually pronounced “miz.” “Mrs.” is pronounced “MISS-us.”

    • One occasion where I’m very happy to be in Northern Europe – we just refer to everyone by their first names. The higher ups (in my current company) will usually be referred to by both first and last names, mostly because there are a lot of people with their first names in the company and it’s easier to use both names then.

      In my management consultancy firm in Copenhagen everyone was referred to by first name and we generally also called the head of the global firm by first name when we met him.

      But then, we’ve also always referred to teachers and friends’ parents by their first names all along.

      The only ones I’ve ever called Mrs. Last Name was my grandmothers’ friends.

      And the royal courts usually drags out the Miss/Mr whenever introducing a new royal fiancé or on guest lists. They’re the only ones nowadays to use it.

    • Meg Murry :

      My first guess was Japan – I worked for a Japanese company (in a US location), and always used Mr./Ms. Lastname or Lastname-san. Even if you invited someone to call you by your first name, they would always say “Meg-san”, and sometimes I got “Mr Murry” or Murry-san in emails, as they didn’t know that Meg is a womans name (or assumed everyone corresponding with them were men, unfortunately). To refer to anyone, especially a superior by firstname or without Mr or -san was considered rather rude, and to address them to their face that way was practically being insubordinate. The Japanese take politeness very very seriously, and when I was taking lessons I was afraid I would use the wrong form of polite address and accidentally insult someone.

      • I chuckled at this because once as an exchange student in Japan, I had a mild run in with two policemen (I forgot my ID card and I had a bike which I guess lots of Americans steal so they were asking me basic questions). I tried to use the super polite language and after getting flustered, went to the conversational and then broke into tears.
        Later when I was really fluent I noticed the “San” usage for the college students a grade younger than me. I was excited to be called “jd- san” by the freshman but sadly, they figured since I was a foreigner they didn’t have to do it.
        I’m not a linguist but I’d say Japan is a leader on word choice/phrasing to quickly denote politeness and hierarchy. So glad now I can walk up to the president of the company and just call him “Mark”.

  7. I’m 24 in NYC, regularly work with people 20-30 years older than me / much more senior / communicate with partners and I have never (even in first-time email correspondence) used someone’s last name. That feels like high school to me. Yes, respect is important, but I don’t want them to think that I am in school / young either.

    • I think it makes a big difference whether it’s email vs. letter, and whether you’re addressing someone on your side or opposing counsel. A letter to an opposing counsel I’ve never met? Mr. Lastname. An email to that person? Maybe first name, especially once we get going back and forth with an exchange.
      Certainly within a firm, even to the most senior partners, anyone who uses “Mr/Ms Lastname” would come across as looking very young and immature (like dressing up in your parents’ suits).

      • Small Town Atty :

        On a related note–how do you deal when you have previously known someone in a capacity where calling them “Mr. Lastname” is appropriate (parents’ friend), but now you know them in a capacity where you’d normally call them “Firstname” (professionally)?

        • I think you call them Mr. Lastname until they say to call them Firstname.

        • This is similar to the situation where you meet your boyfriend’s parents for the first time, and call them Mr/Mrs. Then you marry the guy, and now they’re Jane and Bob, your in-laws, and part of your family.

    • Anonymous :

      Agree- I feel like when I write “Dear Dr. So and So” they can just tell I am a twentysomething chick. I feel like it’s screaming through the computer screen somehow.

      However, if I write professionally but address them as an equal, I have had many colleagues that I’ve met IRL for the first time extremely surprised when they meet me that I’m the scientist they’ve been emailing with (usually they think I’m the secretary). The only time I am very deferential if is the person is a well-known professor or something and I’m being introduced to them for the first time- in which case I write, “Professor So and So”.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      I am 25 and I agree with this completely–using someone’s lastname would make me seem extremely young.

      • big dipper :

        Second. I mentioned this above. When I first started working, I mentioned to one of my work friends that I feel so weird calling “adults” (people 10-30 years older than me) by their first names (even though I did use their first names, it just made me internally cringe).

        She very smartly reminded me that in the workplace – those people are my peers. Calling them Mr./Ms. sends the signal that I consider myself “below” them somehow, or that I don’t see myself as being their peer – which makes me seem young/inexperienced.

        I’m in the legal setting now, and internally, I only use first names in addressing emails. There are a handful of very old, male partners who still prefer young associated refer to them as Mr., but otherwise, it’s all first names.

  8. CPA to be :

    So, speaking of that gulf of the late 20s/early 30s, I watched one of the best TED talks I’ve ever seen last night– “Why 30 is not the new 20” by Meg Jay, who wrote that defining decade book. I’m now considering getting her book, and was wondering if any of you have read it and would recommend it. FWIW, I’m 29, married, and finally, as of four months ago, started my “career”, though I’ve had a couple of related jobs. I still feel like I’m so far behind and wasted a lot of my 20s.

    Also, what are your favorite TED talks?

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      I am 25, and I read it and loved it. I think it would be useful even at 29, since in general, aside from her discussion of fertility, the actual “age” doesn’t matter – my main takeaway was how to make better decisions (career, educational, family/personal) that will serve you longterm which is important at whatever age you are. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

    • Anon for TED :

      Argh not sure what happened but my reply is a few posts down. Sorry.

    • Anonymous :

      I read the Defining Decade and I think I’m one of the few people who wasn’t enamored with it.

      I think the book is designed more for people who are more free spirited in their twenties and have less of a plan. For example, one of my friends has moved around a lot and is lonely in her current city without a core group of friends, hasn’t finished college because she feels its useless to get a degree if she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, and has worked a series of sort of dead end part time jobs that she finds unfulfilling to make ends meet. I think a lot of the advice would be great for her – working jobs she at least finds interesting to build identity capital, just picking a career she might want to do and starting the steps towards obtaining it, focusing on developing stronger ties with the people she knows in her city, working backwards from where she sees herself in 5 years, etc.

      But I read the book for the opposite reason – I am very settled in my life. I just graduated law school, have a job lined up, will marry my long term SO in the next 2-3 years, and basically spent my early/mid twenties setting up my life. But now I feel like I missed out on the fun part of my twenties – traveling around, working random jobs, experimenting with living in new places or making crazy friends, etc. The book basically advised me to do what I’d already done, so it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

      So basically, I think this can be a good book if you’re still a little lost in your career/personal life. But from what you said, it sounds like you may have actually already implemented a lot of her advice (worked related jobs to build identity capital, found a supportive partner, picked a career you’re now working towards, etc). So it may not be as helpful as your looking for (although it may reassure you that you did the right thing in your twenties, which has its own value).

    • You asked for TED talk recommendations — I loved Dan Pallotta’s about the nonprofit vs. the for-profit world.

    • Not a TED talk but similar, Adam Gopnik’s Secrets of a Happy Marriage for Radio 4 was fantastic.

  9. I’m going to be honest that I don’t see anything sexist about addressing a female opposing counsel as Ms. X. I would address a female opposing counsel that way, and I’ve been addressed that way numerous times. I cringe a little at “Miss” (I’m not a miss; I’ve been married for 15 years.) or “Mrs.” (My marital status in general isn’t relevant professionally.) But Ms. is perfectly fine. I also refer to male opposing counsel as Mr. (note, not “Master,” which is one of the reasons “Miss” is so weird). Actual sexist things I’ve been called in depositions? Honey, sweetie, kiddo, young lady, little girl (you can see why “Ms.” would never register on my radar).

    So I think Reader J is reading in something that’s not there–unless there’s a geographical distinction I don’t get.

    • Reader J’s point was that all the male attorneys are (in her neck of the woods) addressed as “Attorney Lastname” but she’s just addressed as “Ms. Lastname.” It certainly implies that the men don’t really see her as an attorney.

    • Anonymama :

      In context, male attorneys were addressed as “Attorney X,” and she was addressed as “Ms. Y.” Ms X wouldn’t always be considered insulting, but if you are a doctor, and all the other doctors were being called “Dr. X” and you were being called Ms. X, that would be kind of dismissive of your professional status. Likewise, in this context (although odd to me), it’s kind of rude not to address her by her professional title.

      • This.

        I’m an attorney. I’ve never been called Attorney Lastname and I think it is strange, but if someone is referring to all of the male attorneys in the room as Attorney Lastname, then I sure as heck want in on that.

        • Yes. I only encounter the “Attorney X” convention occasionally and think it sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, but if it were standard practice… well, I guess I’d want to be addressed that way, too. But thankfully that is not the case for me.

          • I’ve never encountered it either, but thought maybe it had to do with something like Asst. District Attorney as sometimes I have heard DAs referred to that way, as in ADA Johnson. The Boston thing makes more sense. Agree that if everyone is being called X, you should be called X as well. That goes for Attorney and Ms., as well as Mr./Ms. and First Name.

  10. Anon for TED :

    Brene Browns talks (listen to the Ted Houston one first, then the more recent one)
    Matt Killingsworth – Want to be happier? Stay in the moment.
    James Stavridis: A Navy Admiral’s thoughts on global security
    Colin Powell: Kids need structure
    Danny Hillis: The internet could crash. We need a plan B.
    Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship.
    Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA
    Hyeonseo Lee: My escape from North Korea

  11. Famouscait :

    When I lived in Boston, my job entailed working with lots of high-profile guests who were visiting the University I worked for. Protocol was extremely important. These are the basic guidelines I followed:

    In phone and email correspondence to someone outside my organization who was at a considerably higher level than me, I use Mr./Ms. I gauge my response by theirs – using first names if that’s how they sign their email, etc.

    There are some cases where I never went this far though – for example, when dealing with members of the military, or for government titles. I would never address a General as just “Colin” for example. Same for members of the clergy – it’s Rev. or Rabbi always.

    An area I want to bring up that Kat didn’t touch on is speaking about other people. I may refer to the President of the University as “Jane” or just “Smith” when working with colleagues; if I was speaking about her to a guest I would always use her title – President Smith. Same for speaking about a Dean, whom I may be comfortable referring to by first name internally, but it will always be Dean Washington with outsiders, or when addressing him in the presence of another guest.

    I will mention that some PhD’s get offended when you don’t call them “Dr”. I avoid this in many cases by referring to them as “Professor”. Every school seems to handle this one differently, so know your office.

    • Anonymous :

      Professor is actually a much more “important” (? higher ?) title than just Dr. (PhD). Plenty of people might teach/work at a university and have a PhD, but only those with tenure-track faculty positions could typically be addressed as “Professor”. Again, maybe different depending on what school you are at, but this was the case when I worked at MIT/Harvard.

      • That’s somewhat new, though – thirty years ago, most colleges (maybe not MIT/Harvard) had significant numbers of tenure-track faculty with only a masters. It’s only with the tanking of the academic job market that the title of “professor” has become more difficult to earn than that of “doctor.”

      • When I was adjuncting at a flagship state university law school, I was referred to as Professor Backson all the time. Of course, in a law school, most professors don’t have Ph.D’s That said, my father is a chaired professor in the social sciences at a major university, and he’s routinely referred to as Doctor Backson. I grew up in academia and “Professor” tended to be the more informal term of address in my experience.

      • Meg Murry :

        I live in a town with a liberal arts college, and it really depends on the person. One of my friends is an Associate or Assistant Professor (not sure which, but with a PhD but not yet tenured full Professor) and she gets really annoyed when students send her emails addressing her as First Name – she prefers students use Dr. or Professor Lastname, unless they have graduated and now have a personal relationship with her outside teacher/student. But some of the faculty instruct the students to call them by first name, so the ettiquette gets confusing. I also call all the professors in town by first name if I’m talking to them, as they are my age, but if talking to a student I will refer to them as Professor Lastname.

        I think part of it might be that emails at the local college are firstname.lastname, whereas where I went to school most professors’ email addresses were firstinitial lastname or just lastname, so I couldn’t even tell you most of my professors’ first names.

        On a different topic – I’ve noticed that most men tend to introduce themselves or answer the phone as “Firstname Lastname” whereas a lot of women in my office just say “This is Firstname”. I think NGDGTCO mentioned this, but I try to remind myself to use my full name when appropriate (like answering the phone if I don’t recognize the Caller ID as a friend).

    • Christine :

      PhD may be offended if not addressed as Dr. because that is the expected moniker/honorific that has been earned. Why would that be a problem?
      Agree that full or tenure professor status in the US warrants the “Professor” title. Also, the use of Professor is more common in the UK.

      • Anonymous :

        Because usually only MDs are called dr. PHD have certainly earned their doctorate, but are not Drs, and its pretentious to insist on it.

        • Anonymous :

          Not so much. To say that only MDs are called Dr. is a very small worldview. If someone has earned a doctorate, address them as Dr. until they tell you otherwise, and they will tell you otherwise because they are far less pretentious then medical doctors.

        • Actually not true. PhD is the original doctor, which is why MDs were originally (and still today) referred to as physicians. A Physician degree used to be (and still is in some countries) a bachelor degree. It is true that socially now we only refer to MDs as doctors but even then I find it pretentious.

          • Ginger is correct. PhD is the original doctorate and in many countries such as India and China, physicians hold a bachelors in medicine which is a 6-year degree instead of our usual 4-year bachelors.

      • bc doctor suggests medical doctor. i’m a jd, but i don’t go by doctor. dh is phd and goes by doctor very rarely – certainly doesn’t get offended if he’s referred to as mr. or prof. or something other than dr. plus if someone is an md, you usually know, but if someone is a phd, you don’t necessarily know.

      • PhD here (biomedical sciences). The title of “Dr.” is not usually used socially by PhDs. Sometimes it is in the work environment, but it probably depends on the formality of the occasion – I would expect to be addressed as Dr. upon being introduced at a formal meeting, but I don’t expect our admins to use the title.

        I would, however, like it if the graduate department from which I earned the PhD would use “Dr.” in their letters asking me to give them money. Still not as bad as a woman I know who receives alumni solicitations addressed to Dr. and Mrs., even though both she and her husband earned PhDs from the same program in the same year. Now that’s lame.

    • I’ve never heard the tenure only rule for Professor before, and definitely never heard it enforced in any of my programs.. I mean, it makes some sense, but this is the first I’m hearing of it and now I’m glad I called most Dr.

      • Famouscait :

        Some institutions are more picky about it than others. In my example, I was referring to how I would verbally address them. If I was writing out someone’s title for a CV, for example, I’m not going to label someone as a Professor unless that’s accurate – or I would indeed be “promoting” them from Adjunct or Assistant Professor, for example! But I would never verbally refer to someone as Adjunct or Assistant…. I would just say Professor. Hope that helps clarify.

        In any case, I’ve also had PhDs (whether Professors or not) who prefer not to be called Dr. It’s a toss-up, in my opinion.

        • I’m adjunct at local university and students refer to me as “Professor”. Must be a know-your-locale situation.

        • Curious, not snarky i swear, in your CV example, do you change your CV every time someone gets promoted? I have enough trouble remembering to update my own info on my résumé.

          • Anonymous :

            My cv has my current job title & correct job titles for past positions. My references are listed as “Dr Sam Cook” and if they have a unique position–an endowed chair or chair of a dept or program–then I list that in the first line of their address.
            What would one do otherwise? Not list the current position in their referees contact info? To me, it’s the same as updating an address.

      • I am a PhD and faculty at a university. People tend to call university instructors “professor” in the same way that we call elementary or high school instructors “teachers”. However, technically your true job title at the university depends on your rank. You usually start at the very bottom and work your way up:

        1. Professor (usually tenured)
        2. Associate Professor (can be tenured, tenured-track or non-tenured)
        3. Assistant Professor (usually tenured-track or non-tenured)

        Adjuncts refer to people who work for the university on a term by term basis, often teaching a specific class for that term. They can be of any rank depending on where they are in their careers. For example, I know of an adjunct Assistant Professor who is just starting as well as an adjunct Professor who retired and is now teaching from time to time.

  12. Great thread! As an attorney in a trial level court in the Northeast, I just hate when the lawyers I deal with address me by my first name. I was actually just talking about it with a colleague last week and I think that no first names is the general concensus for my court, if not in most courts. It’s funny because I am on a first name basis with almost everyone I work with, including many judges and the administrative powers that be, and I recognize that most law firms, especially bigger ones, do operate on a first name basis now but I just think that in court everyone is either Ms., Mr., or Your Honor/Judge. I think it’s one of the few remaining exceptions to the general practice of calling most people by their first name. Probably along with doctors, as I would never refer to my dentist as Dan or my ob-gyn as Herb, and I’ve been more intimate with them above all others!

    For what it’s worth, the only people who tend to refer to me by my first name are either inexperienced, young attorneys who don’t know any better or in house counsel who haven’t spent much time in a courtroom. Anyone who knows what they’re doing tends to go with Ms. Lastname at all times, even if they sign their own correspondence with “Matt” or “Joanne.” For my part, I obviously also call them Mr. or Ms. when addressing them, and if they go to my first name, I usually try to pointedly refer to others in the room by last name to get them to take the hint. If that doesn’t work, I switch to Mike or Suzy.

    I would never use Mrs. for anyone in a professional setting. I’m flummoxed that any woman would prefer it, but I suspect that this is a regional thing.

    • I was filling out a form application on a recruiter’s website. I had to select a title, and the only titles available were Miss, Mr., and Mrs. It seemed pretty, well, unprofessional.

    • I will say, I actually like it when my drs refer to me at first as Ms. Lastname. If I’m going to call you Dr. Lastname, I’d like for us to feel as though we’re on equal footing. Or those who say, “Hi I’m X, I’ll be your doctor/dentist/ice sculpturist today” allowing me to then to introduce myself.

  13. anon for this :

    TJ thoughts from the hive, please help:

    I am in an “interesting” situation at work. I work in a in a very small office and directly report to a boss who is religious. He knows that I am of the same religious background as him but am quite secular and non-observant save for some traditional aspects I adhere to just for family tradition’s sake. I don’t take holidays off (except one major one). I happened to book a vacation during one of the high holidays (it happened to be on deep discount to a country I love!) and sought pre-clearance of the vacation from him. He didn’t disallow it, but gave me a lecture via internal e-communications that “I need to be with my mom” during this holiday and that being on a “beach somewhere is not that ideal”. When I said it’s not only a beach vacation, his final answer was “whatever” as if he was sulky/disappointed in me. Normal?!

    In other instances, during other vacation pre-clearances he always asks: “Are you going with family or girlfriends?” (as if there is no third option? I was going with my bf each time, whom he briefly met at the company holiday party mind you). Same Q when I moved out of my parents’ house and needed employment confirmation to my landlord from him: “Are you moving in with girlfriends?” (again, answer was really my bf). I told him “alone” just to avoid the “living in sin” judgment.

    I guess my Q is: how would you deal with religious judgey pants bosses in these types of scenarios? I have no idea what to think of this “vacation during high holiday” lecture. Am I overreacting? I feel that he holds me to a higher standard and he is imputing his religious ideals on me because 1) I’m of the same religious background even if non-observant, and likely because 2) I am female (the other non-observant people in my office are married men). For the record, I live in a huge major metropolis, not a small town.

    • This is the kind of situation where I lie and don’t feel guilty about lying. He’s asking questions that are none of his business and he is really in no position to judge. If he feels entitled to ask, he deserves to be lied to. I think you handled the “moving in with whom” question perfectly. For the vacation, I would have said, “but my mom is going with me” or “it’s a mother/daughter trip.”

      Because he feels entitled to this information, you won’t get away with withholding it for future vacation requests. So I’d make up a lie before even requesting vacation. Same with everything else in your personal life.

      You aren’t over-reacting; he’s being over-judgey. But people like him don’t change so you gotta play along with his fantasy world where you are a perfect religious person like himself.

      • anon for this :

        Ugh, i wish I said “but my mom is going with me”! Too late, I am so so awful when put on the spot. But if he probes further (which Im sure he will since the vacay is in a few months, I will say I’m going with my cousin. Problem is, I have an open rapport with other coworkers (who know I live with my bf) and that I’m going with him on vacay. So there is potential to be caught in my lies since it’s such a small office. This isn’t a case where his bias affects my employment prospects here (at least I don’t think, geez I shudder at the thought) but it certainly makes me feel uncomfortable and there are many subtle seemingly mundane things I trip over that he comments on that I never would have even made the connection (I had no idea even when I booked the vacay that it fell on a holy day, all I cared about was that it came at a steal of a price lol). harumph…

        • anon for this :

          “seemingly mundane things I trip over that I never would have even made the religious connotation connection” ^^ is what i meant…

      • No disrespect but “playing along with his fantasy world where you are a perfect religious person like himself” is a recipe for disaster. No, don’t do that. He’s not a nosey grandmother who you lie to in order to appease her. He’s a coworker/supervisor and he is overstepping the line completely. For every single inappropriate questions he asks you, you should respond with a “Why do you ask? Did you need me in the office that week?” I absolutely cut people off who begin lecturing me – this is an office, not a place of worship.

        • + infinity.

          Also, I’d stop phrasing it as a question.

          I will be using leave for X days, starting on Cold Day in Hell, 2013. I will return to work on date. At this time, my schedule is clear; please advise if there are business matters that would require me to be in office during this time.

          • anon for this :

            It is a vacation that requires more than a week off, so I needed to seek pre-clearance per policy/procedure though it is a routine since I know it’s no big deal for me to take the days off in my position (I am not *that* important thankfully lol). Although even with your suggestion of notice vs. preapproval, it would absolutely Not deter him from chiming in with his opinion regardless.

          • Saacnmama :

            “I’m planning be out of the office from x til y. Would you please pre-approve the request?”

            “Oh, you’re taking time to prepare for the holy days so you can invite in your extended family?”

            “I’m planning to take z number of days”.

    • I say this is a woman who very visibly identifies with a religion while working in all male field with some other people who are part of the same religion – this is SO COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. Wow. I cannot believe how unprofessional his comments are.

      Is there someone who works above him or at his level? Develop a professional relationship with that person and eventually, bring up this issue. “Working for Religious Boss is good, he’s a great manager (or whatever) but he keeps commenting on our shared religion, especially when he disagrees with my personal life. Can you address this issue with him?”

      Request vacation in front of other people, verbally, so he doesn’t get the opportunity to make judgypants lectures. Or get a different boss.

      ZOMG just thinking about this is making me ragey.

      • anon for this :

        Problem is, the only person above him is the CEO who has delegated all daily office matters and management to my boss so that the CEO can concentrate on the core money-making aspects of the business. Me bringing it up will only create awkwardness/conflict between boss and I :/ And he’s always cooped up in his office so public pre-clearance opportunities would not likely arise, nor make much of a difference.

        P.s. If you want more ragies, you’d love the time he said he wouldn’t want to hire a female analyst because they are emotional and can’t deal with stress under pressure (context was me expressing delight when they interviewed a female candidate for an all-male dept). I told him we don’t even work in a high pressure environment! (not to mention the poor way one of our male analysts deals with pressure). Also, he is in his 30s and by far not an older generation grandpa type.

        • It is the CEO’s job to manage your boss. Don’t let the CEO or your boss off the hook. Clearly, this isn’t a simple situation and you can’t run whining to the CEO. You do what works for you, whether it’s lying or notifying him of your time off or speaking to the CEO about it.

          Also, the situation is already awkward between you and your boss. I wouldn’t put up with this. Screw bossholes who act inappropriately – they need to be reeducated. Don’t patronize them or allow them to comfortable in their misogynistic and holier-than-thou world views. In the wise words of Ellen, FOOEY, and of Godzilla, RAWR.

    • SoCalAtty :

      I used to have this problem! Sounds like potentially the same religion, too. I didn’t want to deal with it, so I did like your first commenter, sonora, suggested and just lied. It was just easier. My dad and grandpa are the only ones left in my family anyway, so it was easy to say “with family” and leave it at that. When I would leave on passover, she would ask me if I was going to a Seder…I would always just say, oh, yeah, at a friend’s house…

      • anon for this :

        Yep, you guessed it ;) I had a feeling that if anyone else could commiserate it might be someone in SoCal even though I’m on the East Coast lol. Holiday in question is being gone during ::Gasp!:: Yom Kippur. I didn’t even realize when booking, but it doesn’t affect my travels which trump holiday observation. I get more guilt trips from him than my family (who are a far cry from religious too fwiw).

    • These questions are totally inappropriate. The only way they would be appropriate would be if you worked at a religious institution, and even then, it’s still none of his business.

      “Pre-clearance” does not mean he needs to know who you’re going with or what activities you’re going to do every day. It just means that he needs to know when you’ll be back and whether you’ll be missing anything big at work.

      This is none of his business.

  14. Business, Not Law :

    Located in the South…

    I have always referred to more senior business colleagues by their first name. It would not have occurred to me to do so otherwise. However, I also deal with physicians on a regular basis…and there the standard is for any of us on the business side to address someone as “Dr. XYZ” until they indicate to address them by their first name.

    I have found that this is largely a generational thing (the physicians that are my parents’ ages and older tend to remain at the Dr. XYZ level no matter what level of business person they are dealing with.) I find that physicians in their 30s/40s much more instantly correct me/us to the call me “first name” dialogue. And then I do. Unless I get into a situation with a mix of junior and senior physicians and then they all become “Dr. XYZ” again. It’s definitely a “know your audience” situation and hierarchy is very much alive and well in the medical field.

  15. Blonde Lawyer :

    I had an older male attorney once tell me that there is power in embracing the term Mrs. If someone calls me Miss or Mizz (phonetic) saying, “actually, it is Mrs.” can really shift the power of the conversation. I have chosen to completely ignore this advice but I still find it interesting. I guess it could “age” me a bit on the phone. Generally, as I said above, I’m in an area where all women are just referred to as Miss when speaking and Ms. in writing or Attorney x where applicable.

    • I don’t quite get what power is shifted by calling yourself Mrs. What happens? The dude you’re talking to realizes you’re attached by marriage to another dude, and therefore….profit?

      • Anonymous :

        I don’t get this either. Does the power shift just come from having corrected someone? Also, I would be concerned that correcting the person and indicating that you are married could be insulting to them, i.e. they could take as you insinuating that you thought they were hitting on you . Correcting someone from Miss or Mrs. to Ms., on the other hand, would seem to make more sense, as in, you are indicating that this is a business situation and therefore the Miss/Mrs. distinction is entirely irrelevant to the conversation.

      • Yeah, the only thing that would shift if I heard this would be my eyes. To me it implies “Don’t you know how my husband is?” and/or “I managed to get myself married, unlike the rest of the unwashed masses.” I’m guessing the power comes from the correction, but it’s a pretty weak way to assert yourself, IMHO.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Do you think he was just giving you an example of shifting the power dynamic by stating your preferred name? I could see it working the same way if someone called you Mrs and you correct them to Ms. I don’t think many people insist on this so you show how you’re willing to assert yourself.

      • Power shift by correcting someone about something small makes sense. I do get that. It was the whole “embracing the Mrs” thing that seemed strange. The only one who should be embracing this Mrs is her Mr.

    • Anonymous :

      I think the lower shift is that the older attorney expects a Mrs will be more stabile & grounded whereas a Miss will be young & less responsible, the kind of stereotypes people were trying to move away from by adapting Ms. If you’re dealing with people who have the same views as this older make attorney, you could improve your standing in his eyes that way, but you’d be acknowledging and tacitly approving that way of thinking about women, which I don’t think is what you want to do.

  16. Young Consultant :

    I have a relatively uncommon first name with a unique nickname that I have always gone by. Most people have not met someone with my first name before, much less the nickname. It is not difficult to spell, but I personally could think of at least four acceptable spellings of my nickname. I have never been offended by misspellings; I think it is perfectly normal for people to misspell my nickname, it does not make me upset at all. I am always shocked by how often people let these little things get them in a tizzy. I always try to spell others names correctly, but everyone on this thread today raging about people misspelling their names is so surprising to me.

    • Not to harp on the subject, but I find it particularly irritating because it always seems to happen in an email that is a reply to one I sent them where I very clearly have signed off using my correctly spelled FIRST name. It just rubs me as inconsiderate. I’m not worth the time or mental energy. And of course, usually in that reply, they are asking me to do something for them…

    • 41-Year-Old Spinster Alabama Native, Esq. :

      Misspelling a person’s name (when one has data sufficient to allow one to avoid doing so) reflects such an absence of attention to detail, coupled with fundamental disrespect for the other person, and is SO AVOIDABLE if one exercises MINIMAL diligence, that to me it’s presumptively inexcusable. I won’t interview anyone, for any position, who spells my name incorrectly, because by doing so that person has demonstrated a fundamental lack of qualification for any job working with me.

  17. Re Mrs, Ms, Miss, I wish we’d done what the Germans and, I believe, French have done — just use Mrs. for all grown women, married or not. There, done.

    • Anonymous :

      But that is what we do- its Ms. for all women, married or not

    • But TBK, that’s what “Ms.” was developed for…

      I’m a professor and I hate when students call me Mrs. Call me Ms., FirstName, Professor or Dr. (I’m not a doctor but students persist in using that term no matter what I say), anything but Mrs.

      • Saacnmama :

        What? You want to be identified as a married woman? Why not doctor x, like most profs?

        • Leslie Knope :

          Saacnmama–I think she’s saying she doesn’t want to be called Mrs. She would prefer any other title. I misread it at first too!

  18. I am a lawyer in Houston and I have never heard anyone called: Attorney Smith or Attorney Jones. That is totally strange. In court, depos, mediation, etc. you’re either “Counselor” or “Mr./Ms. Jones” never “Attorney” or even “Counselor Jones.”

    • Same experience here in the Bay Area — I have never, in twelve years of litigation practice, ever heard someone, male or female, addressed as “Attorney [Last name].” Not in writing either.

      In court, it’s usually “Counsel” or “Ms./Mr. [Last name],” and sometimes “Counselor,” whether in federal or state court.

  19. I didn’t take my husband’s last name (let’s say it’s Smith), so I don’t think I can properly be called Mrs. Smith anyway, though people have tried. See: In-laws.

    Please call me Ms. Bear.

  20. I am in the midwest and my clinic professor in law school took me to task for referring to my older, male opposing counsel using “Mr.” and his last name. She explained that the male attorneys in the community always refer to each other by first name so I was putting myself a level beneath them when I used the more formal “Mr.” In order to put myself on the same level as my opponent (and therefore be in a position to advocate for my client) I had to get over being a polite kid and start using first names.

  21. I live in New England, “grew up” corporate in New York but worked all around the US as a management consultant. Now I’m in higher ed. 1. It bugs me when people call me Ms. or Mrs. especially students. Either use my first name in my role as a director or refer to me as Prof.

    2. We’re all first name, but generally when you meet someone for the first time, we use the title – i.e. Hello Dean Johnson… and then later it’s just Carole or Bob. In emails, I avoid using the name unless I’ve got a solid working relationship with them. So people on my team, or people I interact with regularly I will email as Carole or Bob or even just C or B (we use initials quite a bit because of smartphones). If it’s a group I’m uncertain about, I avoid the address or just use “Good afternoon -”

    3. In corporate, it’s always first name. Law firms may be different but in Fortune 500 world, whether I’m meeting a CEO or an admin, it’s first name.

    4. I love being a Mrs. but I use my maiden name & my married name professionally (no hyphen!). So Mrs. Smith Jones isn’t really appropriate. It would be either Mrs. Jones or Ms. Smith Jones. I’m Mrs. Jones to my kids’ friends and our babysitters, but professionally, I’m just Julia.

  22. Slightly different issue: I’m an in-house attorney, living in the Pacific NW. We have a national practice that involves matters in the rural South. I’m a ‘young’ 40 y/o, unmarried. When dealing with male co-workers (non-lawyers), farmers, vendors, I’m constantly getting “yes, Ma’am” and “no, Ma’am”. In particular with my co-workers, I’d love to stop this practice. They already have an issue dealing with women in a business context; singling out my gender just makes me uncomfortable and reinforces their assumption that a city girl just doesn’t get their issues out in the field (this is a relatively macho environment). I notice this across the age spectrum – from 25-95. I’ve mentioned (casually) that they don’t need to call me Ma’am, but they tell me that they can’t stop – it’s how they were raised to interact socially. Do I have to just get over it? any suggestions?

    • Saacnmama :

      What happens if you call them “sir”?

    • You know what they say about assumptions... :

      To R. Bee:

      I take some offense to your statement of “They already have an issue dealing with women in a business context….” comment. Are you assuming that rural Southern men have a problem with women in business just because they use manners when addressing you? Southerners, as were ALL AMERICANS at one time, are raised to address all women as Ma’am as a sign of respect – not a sign of disrespect. They are not “singling out your gender.” Most of them likely use Sir as well when addressing older men. Stop assuming that something meant to convey respect is somehow demeaning you. As a proud Southern woman who happens to also have one parent born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, I have never felt demeaned by the use of Ma’am – which I have heard since I was about 16 (switches from Miss to Ma’am in your teenage years). I use Sir when addressing older men.

      I think you should be more aware of Southern culture. That would be the expectation of me, if I were to go to another region, right? To be aware and respectful of their culture?

      Some of the most successful, well-respected business people in the Southeast are women, and rest assured, they are not threatened by being called Ma’am, and no one would dare disrespect them in any way without expecting quite an earful.

      So I say, loud and clear, get over it.

      • I’m a Texas-to-DC transplant and still say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” in all kinds of contexts. I’d love it if we could all adopt the Battlestar Galactica convention that “sir” respectfully refers to the everyone, but I think that would freak out the slightly grumpy cashier at my Rite Aid, for example.

    • I moved to Texas about 6 years ago and only now can stand the use of the word “Ma’am”. When I lived in San Francisco there was a coworker of mine from the Carolina’s and he always used “ma’am” and I hated it…it seemed to be a bit demeaning (since he was older than me). Now that I see moms telling their sons in particular to use it, I really see that it’s a form of respect. And it really doesn’t have much to do with age…maybe anyone over 21?
      Your vendors may have issues, but I’d suggest their use of “ma’am” isn’t a sign of it.

      • Wannabe Runner :

        Agreed. A Southern ex-bf once told me that he called his younger sisters “ma’am” even when they were kids.

        It is not a sign of disrespect. It is just polite.

        I have a lot of military and ex-military clients. They answer all my questions with a “ma’am” at the end. It’s a sign of respect. They would do the same with “sir” if they were speaking to a man.

  23. Solo Practitioner :

    I practice in a medium-sized city in the northwest US.

    All the female attorneys here are “Ms.”, but I think the pronunciation of it has turned to “Miss” by almost everyone. Seriously, we all write “Ms.” and say “miss”, even the judges. This even refers to wise female attorneys of my parents’ generation, though everyone knows they have been married for decades. I think it’s just easier to pronounce it as “miss.”

    My clients are all “Mr. Smith” and “Ms. Jones” unless I and my clients are alone together, or we are alone with my clients’s family. My clients call me by my first name. In court, we don’t use first names to refer to anyone. Counsel, witnesses, victims, etc are all Ms/Mr.

    I am young-ish and a solo practitioner. Not everyone takes me seriously. So if I’m making a call, and there’s a risk they won’t know who I am, I identify myself as an attorney by saying, “This is Attorney Jane Doe calling.” If I don’t say that, some places won’t ever call me back. Or my message won’t ever make it past opposing counsel’s assistant.

  24. Anonymous Biglaw Associate :

    First of all, caveat – I am in San Francisco. And I work at a firm that, even for CA, is less stuffy than average. And I work exclusively with tech clients.

    I have never referred to an attorney at my same firm by Mr. or Ms. It would just be seen as utterly bizarre, even for senior partners.

    In my communications with people outside the firm, I just use my first name, i.e. “Hi, this is *first name, sometimes last name* calling from *law firm.* When another associate from a different firm (that was younger than me) asked me to call him Mr. C, I thought he was pretty insane. Same goes for clients actually – unless they are much older, I assume we are on a first name basis.

    That being said, there are a few exceptions. When speaking with clients in Asia, all of that goes out the window, and we are back to old-school formalism unless they told me otherwise. (I used to work in Asia, so i get this is how it works there.) And at depositions/court, I’ll refer to any witness from the other side as Dr. or Mr.

  25. AnonLawyer :

    I am an assistant DA and have never heard anyone go by Attorney White or whatever. I find it extremely irritating when people I’ve never met or spoken to email me and say “Hi Carolyn” instead of Ms. Last. A witness on a case – not an attorney – who was wanting information and had never spoken to me, just the police, wrote me an email like this. It didn’t help that his overall tone was not nice. I wrote back and signed it “Sincerely, Ms. Last.” He has no idea how old or young I am, as I don’t have a trendy name. I’m always surprised when people who want me to do something (drop charges, increase charges, what have you) show such informality.

  26. 41-Year-Old Spinster Alabama Native, Esq. :

    This is really easy. Assume your last name is Smith for purposes of the following. Assume my full name is Wilhelmina Maleficent Jones.

    1. Until you give me permission to use your first name, you’re [Title] Smith. Default titles are Mr. and Ms. If you have initials after your name that include a “D.” (but not in direct proximity to “J.”), you’re Dr. Smith; likewise, if there are indicia that you are, for example, Fr. Smith, or Col. Smith, or Judge Smith, I’ll use such a title. If you refer to yourself as Mrs. Smith or Miss Smith, I’ll do the same. This is true even if I never meet you and only ever refer to you in the third person.

    2. If I’m interacting with you in person, even if I’ve known you for 25 years, I’m going to “sir” or “ma’am” you whenever conceivably appropriate.

    3. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see that I refer to myself, and my colleagues refer to me as well, consistently, as “Miss Jones.” I do this–not that it’s any of your business–because I want to. If you repeatedly call me “Ms. Jones,” I will assume that you either don’t pay attention to detail or don’t respect others’ reasonable choices regarding what they would like to be called by others. If you call me “Wilhelmina,” I’ll REALLY assume a lack of respect, because anyone who has known me for longer than 10 seconds knows that I go by “Mal.”

  27. I’m so surprised by this thread. I’m remarried now after a divorce, but have always gone by Ms. since I was about 18 – whether I was married or not. It never occurred to me there would be any meaning to it but a marriage-neutral female title. Also – I’ve never had a single client or other lawyer ever address me or asked to be addressed by anything but their first name a single time in 10 years of law practice or 10 years before that in the non-profit world. I do transnational finance work – formerly in big-law now in middle-law in the northeast, but I grew up and worked for many years pre-law in both Denver and Seattle. Perhaps it is a transnational vs litigation difference too. If I’m sending a formal letter and I don’t already have a relationship with the person I’ll use a title but otherwise, in the circle I work in I would get made fun of if I used [title][lastname]. Especially as a woman I would never call a co-worker anything but their first name because we are colleagues. When I was at school I always used titles for my professors, but that’s different.