Addressing Elderly Individuals by Their First Names

I usually talk about how to choose first names, but deciding when to use those first names is another important topic. Paula Span, a contributor to the New York Times blog The New Old Age, published a post today about health care professionals who address elderly patients by their first names. Here’s an excerpt:

Nurses, technicians, therapists: Everyone seems to find it perfectly appropriate — friendly, even — to refer to people in their 70s and 80s not as Miss, Mrs. or Mr., but as Sally, Frieda or Carl.

What’s wrong with that? As a hospital patient, “you’re suddenly in this strange environment in which you have no control,” [nurse Kris DeWeese] explained. “You’re practically naked, and people are coming in and out of your room, asking personal questions and examining you. And you already feel sick and worried.”

“To be addressed with extra respect, even if someone is asking you about your bowel movements, gives some recognition that you’re still the able, competent person you were before you came into the hospital,” Ms. DeWeese said.

The comments are very interesting as well. Definitely think about forwarding the post to anyone you know who works with the elderly (in any capacity).

5 thoughts on “Addressing Elderly Individuals by Their First Names

  1. On my street, the women and men my age are “Miss Mary” and “Mr. Eric” and so forth to my kids. But the elderly couple on the corner are Mr and Mrs McCarthy.

  2. I’m 26 years old, and I don’t think I’ve ever been addressed as Ms. MyLastName. Not by my doctor, not by my bank, not by the students I’ve tutored and TA’d for. And you know, it does bother me a little. There is such a fuzzy line between adolescence and adulthood these days, especially as the current recession has stripped away many young adults’ ability to attain previous generations’ markers of independence, and, well, I wouldn’t mind a little recognition of my adulthood.

  3. I don’t know, maybe this is generational, but I think if someone is all up in my business examining me, etc. and then they called me Mrs. B*****, I’d be like… seriously, you just wiped my arse, I think we’re on a first name basis. (FWIW, I’m 30)

  4. This is definitely a generational thing. The so-called “greatest generation” values institutions and propriety in ways that Xers and Millenials don’t. They *expect* to be called Mr or Miss or Mrs, not Ethel or Fred. And calling someone “Mrs. Mary Smith” can be insulting, as “Mrs Mary” generally implies that she’s divorced; it’s always Mrs. John Smith (or Mrs. Smith).

  5. I’m personally in favor of calling everyone by their first name- but I understand that doing so can make other people uncomfortable, so I generally only do it if I’m fairly sure the person I’m talking to wouldn’t be grievously offended if I called them “Agatha” instead of “Mrs. Shubert.”

    Growing up, however, the neighborhood kids always went to the elderly “Mr. Vince and Miss Marion’s” house to play in their large driveway. I couldn’t imagine calling them anything else.

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