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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Surnames and Given Names

Have you ever thought about the name you use to refer to individuals? I’m talking about surname versus given names.

Naturally, most children are taught to respect adults and to call them by their surnames, preceded by Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, Doctor, Pastor, Elder, etc. But what’s curious is the point in time—if it comes at all—in which there is a shift to using the given name.

The part that really got me thinking, however, was the criteria that determines today whether I call someone by their first or last name. I’m still trying to figure it out.

For example, there was a pastor who knew me and my family long before I was in first grade. Everyone called him Elder Shepard. Years passed and, at some point in time, he transitioned to work in the office where I later came in 1992. From then, even up to today (he’s been retired for a number of years now), I still call him Elder Shepard. He’s one of the most kind-hearted, down-to-earth men you’d ever meet and would not have a problem if I called him Richard or Dick as many other coworkers call him. To me, he’ll always be Elder Shepard.

But it has nothing to do with respect for his former position or role. There are other adults at my office whom I knew when I was a teenager and would have never dreamed of calling them anything other than Mr/Ms/etc. So-and-So. Yet now, working with them at the office, I call them by their given name. Same goes for my church pastor from whom I took a Bible course back in college. Back then, it was Dr. Morris. Now, at a time when I am on the church media team and interact with him professionally, it’s just Derek.

Even the presidents who have served at my office—some of them, I’ve only been able to wrap my mind around calling them Elder So-and-So. Others, given name. And as I think about the demeanor of the four who’ve served since I’ve worked there, two of them I feel like I probably could’ve called by their given names, but I didn’t. And the current, whom I do call by his first name, I’d have initially thought opposite.

In my adult life, not a single instance of which name I chose to use had anything to do with the person’s conveyed wishes. I’m certain, in every case when I chose the surname, I’d be quite welcome to use their given name.

So what criteria is my brain using to decide whether to use a person’s surname or given name? It’s a mystery.

» Posted by ALBj at 03:40 PM (ET)
Category: Musings

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