Name-Calling

Have "Mr." and "Mrs." gone out of style? Are they gone the way of the dinosaur?

Have “Mr.” and “Mrs.” gone out of style? Are they gone the way of the dinosaur? Does no-one use them anymore?

I remember, years ago, hearing a nurse around my age at the time — young to mid-20s or so – addressing a new elderly patient by her first name. I was horrified. Then I started hearing young, new doctors, doing it. In my mind, that just wasn’t done. I grew up never being allowed to call adults by their first names; my parents wouldn’t hear of it.

As the years passed, I heard the use of first names more and more, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it routinely. I began asking my patients what they preferred to be called, how they would want me to address them. It just seemed to be the right thing to do, rather than impose my own ideas.

Today, most children seem to call most adults by their first names, even teachers. There no longer seems to be a dividing line. Is it old-fashioned of me to want to continue the use of last names?

As nurses, I think it’s important to keep in mind that there are many factors that come into play with someone’s name. If you see the name Mary Catherine Smith on a chart, you can’t assume that she’s known as Mary. Perhaps she’s been called Kate all her life. Calling her Mary could be confusing — even frightening in some situations. We just have no way of knowing.

Names are very personal — we shouldn’t even presume to shorten a name (Bob from Robert, for example). We just don’t know.

I figure, it takes but a moment to ask how someone wants to be addressed; it’s just common courtesy.