I recently came into an argument with a couple of my friends. The crux of the matter was about calling people by their first names.

I maintained that addressing someone by their first name depended on how well you knew that person, age difference, and the formality or otherwise of the context, among other factors that affect how comfortable you feel addressing them by their first names. They maintained that it simply depended on the person’s status (married, single, wealth etc), and was a sign of respect.

We agreed on the respect issue, but I wished to insist that calling someone by their first name was not necessarily a sign of the lack of respect. I do realise they raised a quite valid argument, which has prompted me to re-examine the way I address people.

On a place like a mailing list, where I scarcely know most people, the way I address them depends (for one) on their Email Signature, or the name I see in my inbox. If someone always signs his messages as “ABC DEF”, I usually addressed them in an email by “ABC”. If they signed “Dr ABC DEF”, it would usually be “Dr ABC”. And if I was making an indirect reference to them in an email and where dropping the title would cause no ambiguity, I usually dropped the titles. On rare occasions, I address people by their email names. Mine for instance, is “[redacted]”. In this case I would simply quote “[redacted]” when referring to the owner of that address.

We all know that “Sir” is a term of respect, and I do know that I have made the unfortunate error of addressing people as “Sir” in the past where “Ma’am” would have been more appropriate (yes, on a mailing list too), I quite naturally inclined towards dropping the title. It is not always accurate to guess a person’s gender based on their name.

While I won’t expect someone I don’t know, and who doesn’t know me to get offended because I used the wrong gender qualifier in addressing them, I have always believed that dropping the title was less likely to cause trouble. It now appears that I wasn’t quite right, even though my calling someone by their first names has never implied the amount of respect I had for them.

I suppose it is pertinent that people provide some sort of indication of how they would like to be addressed, be it in their email signatures, or the alias for their email accounts, since it is greatly simplifies the process of communicating with and appropriately addressing them. Of course in real life, I always make sure I address people in the culturally correct manner: taking a bow (especially since Tiv does not have a suitable word for “Sir” or “Madam”) etc. In email exchanges with people I know personally as well, I always address them the same way I would in real life.

For me, I like to be addressed by my first name, and take no offence if you address me as “afanen01” or by my last name. I don’t mind any titles you may embellish my name with, but I prefer no titles simply because i like simplicity. Indeed one can say that the extent to which you address me by my first name determines how comfortable I feel communicating with you.

Random quote: Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production. — Herbert Marcuse



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