Last week, I published a post about “What am I?” in reference to categorization of my blog. Today, however, I want to look at “Who am I?” But in this case, “I” refers to the blog writer, rather than the blog.
And before anyone asks or assumes, no, I am not undergoing any sort of existential crisis!
Today, while at UW-Stout’s annual Engagement Sessions, I overheard a conversation about addressing someone by first name, and I had mused that it seems more common to use first names when not in a professional setting, and to not use them otherwise. There is also the idea of “first name basis.”
For example, in primary and secondary school, I NEVER called my teachers by first name, even if I knew what the first name was. In these levels of school, there is definitely a power and status difference between the students and the adults. However, I knew what some of their names were as I got into middle and high school, but did not call them by said first names until after graduation (and even then, sometimes).
In fact, let me give a few examples of when teachers became First-Name Bases:
- Ann Ellenberger, whom I honored on National Teacher Day, I continued to call by last name until a few years ago.
- Most of the other teachers on that post I have started referring to by first name. They are now some of my friends, and once a person becomes a friend instead of a superior, it is appropriate to be on a first-name basis.
- Yet, there were a few times where it seemed somewhat weird calling someone by first name…
- Just before I graduated from high school, when I was getting signatures for my yearbook, I requested a signature from Gary Czapla, one of the assistant principals. He said, after I addressed him as Mr. Czapla, “You’re almost an alum. You can call me Gary from now on.”
- In 2013, I called my third-grade teacher, Marty Payne, on her birthday, and it felt weird calling her by first name (or even calling her), considering that I had not seen her since I left Fort Dodge, seventeen years to the prior.
- Similarly, today, I called my 11th-grade AP US History teacher, Brent Toalson. It felt strange to call him by first name, for the same reason as with Marty.
This awkwardness came to me a bit when I was a graduate student TA. I never had a policy about how to be addressed, because “Prof. Weiss” or “Dr. Weiss” was obviously wrong, and “Mr. Weiss” felt too hoity-toity. Despite not having a policy, all of my students referred to me as “Noah.”
Now that I am a Lecturer, there’s a further distance than the Grad Student-Student distance, even though some of my students may be older than me! In my syllabi, I do not have any policy as to how to address me. I will answer to either “Dr. Weiss” or “Noah,” given that my syllabus has “Dr. Noah Weiss” as my title.
(However, I did do one thing: I added the parenthetical “last name rhymes with peace” since 90% of people mispronounce my last name the first time!)
The more burning questions for me, and maybe for others in my position (i.e., contracted academic staff): Toward which of the following people would you use first-name or last-name basis? Why?
- Colleagues that are in non-tenure track positions
- Colleagues that are in tenure-track positions
- Tenured faculty at your university
- Collaborators for research or other scholarly activity
And one more thing for thought: What is your take on the construct Title plus First Name? (e.g. Dr. Noah in my case)?
Math 121: 9 days.
Rosh Hashanah: 14 days.
Memorial Stadium: 53 days.