To MISS or NOT to MISS, that is the Question

I recently posted a question on social media that went something like this:

In a professional situation, is it okay to call someone, “Miss” and then their First Name, as in “Miss Jamie” when they haven’t asked you to?

Here in the south this is a very loaded question and can get some Lilly Pulitzer shorts in a bunch, if you know what I mean.

This is one of those topics that reality television shows are made of, as if insinuating that there is a possibility they could be wrong is a mark against their family legacy, an honor they must defend to the death.

The  responses I received back were sadly overwhelming that “yes,” it is okay to call someone “Miss” followed by their first name, even in a professional setting.

As you can probably guess by now, the correct response is no, it is never okay to call someone “Miss” followed by their first name in a professional setting, AND usually is not okay even in a social situation.

This is one of those things in life, as etiquette often is, that just because you don’t like the answer or agree with it doesn’t make it any less true.

Let’s take a look at what I believe is at the root of the confusion and why there is the misunderstanding that this is an appropriate honorific for an adult.

Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the use of words that are expressions and commonplace to a specific geographical region or historical era.  They are often used by authors in literature to help transport the reader to that specific time and/or place.

This type of language, while not necessarily “wrong”, is really meant to be used as a causal and functional speech style amongst closest acquaintances.

To address someone by “Miss” and then their first name is a colloquialism mostly found in the southeastern regions of the United States.  There is some historical significance to why it started, but suffice to say, no matter the origins, this form of address is common amongst southerners.

The problem with colloquial words or phrases is that it can be so commonplace in a certain area that the locals incorrectly come to believe that it is the proper and correct manner with which to always speak.

Which brings me to the second reason I believe there is confusion with this specific form of address.

They Just Don’t Know

Through no fault of their own, individuals of regions all across the country and world, pick up colloquial words and phrases from their parents, teachers and peers.  I certainly acquired my fair share growing up in the midwest.

If no one ever teaches them that this type of speech is only reserved for family and close friends, then they simply do not know any difference.  Again, through no fault of their own.

I can not begin to tell you the number of words and phrases I had to unlearn when I became more successful and my circle of acquaintances grew larger and more worldly.  I cringe, even still, at the thought of how oblivious, and in some cases ignorant I was to how I sounded to others. 

The tricky part here, as I mentioned in the beginning, is that human nature wants us to defend our way of life, and unfortunately that sometimes includes our bad or incorrect speech.  In order for me to converse with others around the world and in high social-economic circles, I had to humble myself enough that I was willing to let go and learn.  And it is humbling.  But the results are well worth the effort.

The final reason we believe it is okay to use this form of address is unfortunately, also the most controversial.  It is with kid gloves that I tread here but I must because it could possibly be the number one cause in our modern society today.

Teacher Promote It

Ouch!  I know I just went to that taboo place where it is not politically correct to say anything negative about teachers.  But whether political correctness or not, it does not change the fact that it is true.

Teachers too often introduce themselves to their young students as “Miss Jane” for example, setting the stage for this to be an acceptable form of greetings and addressing someone in a professional situation.

Teachers, I implore you, please stop doing this.  You are setting a bad, and incorrect precedence for your students.  I promise you they can learn to say your surname just as well as your first.  After all, you are a teacher, so you can teach them how to say it.

It is counter-productive because your students will have to unlearn this later in life

Why It Is NOT Okay

Why is it not okay to use this form of honorific in a professional situation and usually not in a social situation as well?

The simple answer is that it is rude and disrespectful.  

I want to either be addressed as Mrs. Mori. Ms. Mori, Dr. Mori or Jamie (if I gave you permission to do so.)  I never want to be addressed as Miss Jamie.

I love Chicken Fila restaurants.  I believe they are an exemplary example of customer service, however, I recently went through the drive-through and after asking my name, instead of calling me Jamie, they began to refer to me as Miss Jamie.  To say the least I was very disappointed in a company that usually gets these types of things right.

I regularly have to call a company to speak with someone or follow up and I can not tell you the number of times the person on the other end of the line, who is a complete stranger to me and never met or spoken with me before, calls me Miss Jamie.  What?

About now, you are probably thinking, what is the big deal.  Well, let’s look at it like this.

If your name is Jennifer, and you make an appointment at a hair salon for the first time.  When your stylist comes to get you she says, “Jenny, so nice to meet you.  I’m Lauren.”  You might look around behind you to see who she is talking to.  Your name is not Jenny, it is Jennifer.  She simply shortened it because either she was too lazy to say it correctly or wanted to try and make herself sound like an old friend in the hopes of seeming more welcoming.

It was disrespectful to not say your name correctly when addressing you.

Let’s look at another example.

You make an appointment to see a dentist.  When you call and make the appointment or make the appointment online, you will get the confirmation that you have a dentist appointment with Dr. Whatshername.

When you arrive for your appointment, the receptionist takes you back and informs you that Dr. Whatshername will be in momentarily.  

The dentist comes in a few minutes later and says, “Good morning, I’m Dr. Whatshername.  What seems to be the problem?”

You then say to her, “Well Ellen, this tooth right here hurts.”

Ellen?

I am using ridiculous examples to make a point.  Of course you wouldn’t do that.  But I want you to stop and think for a moment why you wouldn’t do that.

Probably because it would be really disrespectful to that person to do so.

So then, why is it disrespectful to your doctor but not disrespectful to ordinary aquanintences?  Doesn’t everyone deserve the same respect or is it just reserved for doctors and dignitaries?

Would you show up for a job interview with a Mr. Williams, a man whom you’ve never met and when you walk in say, “Greg, thanks for this meeting,”? Of course not, at least not if you actually wanted the job.  You would great him as Mr. Williams.  Why, because it is respectful and you would like to get the job.  Being respectful will aid in your goal.

Similarly, would you walk into a job interview with a Ms. Anderson and say, “Miss Becky, nice to meet you,”? Ugh! You already lost the job right there.  You might as well get up and leave.

We all know that getting someone’s name right is of extreme importance when it comes to interacting and doing business with them.  Whole chapters of books on business and success are written about this topic over and over again.  

And yet, there seems to be a disconnect in judgement with this very thing.

Don’t believe me, try it with someone in authority and see what kind of response you get.

So When IS It Okay

Now, I personally do not like to ever use that form of greeting, even when the individual has asked me to greet them this way.

However, if they do inform you that this is the way they prefer to be addressed (which they shouldn’t, especially if they are an educator) then you may.  But do not introduce them to others in the same fashion.  Always introduce them to someone else in the proper forms of greeting.  

In other worlds, if this individual has asked you to call her Miss Becky, and you are introducing her to your colleague from work, then you should introduce her as Mrs. Franklin, for example.  Let her decide if she wants this new person to call her Miss Becky and inform them herself.  She may not.

I’ll end this with a side note.  I know there are many, especially in the younger generations who believe that etiquette and protocol, specifically of this manner is old fashioned.  I’m here to tell you that if you believe that you have not interacted enough with other cultures and individuals around the world.  

Indeed when you do, you will see that there are many cultures that put a much higher precedence on honorifics and etiquette than we do here in the United States.  And by not knowing and understanding that will do you no favor in future endeavors.

Manners and etiquette are how we show respect to others and showing someone respect is never out of style.

But don’t take my word for it, prove it to yourself.  Do some social experiments and try it both ways. Greet with”Miss” and first name and then greet them the correct way, even if the “correct way” only means their first and surname.  Test it in social and professional situations. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the response you get back when it is done correctly.  When you give respect you get respect back.