Different Countries, Different Names: The U.S.A.
|Image from Wikimedia Commons.|
Well, it took me longer than I imagined, but here’s the second half of our series about naming customs. We recently looked at naming customs in Costa Rica, so today we’ll look at names in the United States.
Children: As mentioned above, it’s most common for the children in a family to have the same last name as their mother and father, that is, the father’s last name. Using our example of Sarah and Matthew, if they had a kid, they might decide to name her “Emily Rose Smith.”
Another, less common possibility is to incorporate the both the parents’ last names with a hyphen. If they do this, the child’s last name would start with the mother’s last name first and the father’s last name second (in other words, the opposite order from Costa Rican last names). So the girl’s name would be “Emily Rose Johnson-Smith.” This is maybe less common because it’s more complicated to decide what happens to a hyphenated last name if its owner gets married. (See this article for an interesting perspective on all this.)
It’s sometimes a little difficult to know how to address someone if you’re talking to them for the first time. If you’re asking for someone on the phone, it’s usually no problem if you want to use the person’s first and last name, as in “Could I speak with Emily Smith, please?” If you know a person’s title (such as Doctor or Professor), you should usually include those. If you’re talking to someone face to face, it’s often best to use a title and his or her last name as a show of respect. You could say “Hello Mr. Miller” or “Good morning Professor Johnson.” Very often, people find this a bit formal, so the person you’re talking will say something like “Please, call me Jane.” If the person doesn’t say that, it’s still best to be cautious and use a title.
Titles for Men: Titles for men are usually not as complicated as titles for women. For most men, if you say Mister and his last name, as in “Mr. Smith,” you’ll be OK (or he’ll ask you to simply call him by his first name). There are a few exceptions. If you know that the man is a doctor, you can and should address him as “Doctor Smith,” and if he’s a professor (meaning a teacher at the university with a doctorate degree), then you should call him “Professor Smith.”
Titles for Women: There are three main titles specifically for women: Miss, Mrs. (pronounced “missus”), and Ms. (pronounced “miz”). Here are some guidelines:
Miss: Used for unmarried and/or young women, and generally followed by the maiden name
Mrs.: Used for married women, and generally followed by the husband’s last name
Ms.: Used for married or unmarried women. If you don’t know if a woman is married or not, this is a safe choice. Also, some women choose to use this as their title since it’s really nobody’s business but their own if they’re married or not, and the title “Ms.” allows them to keep that information private.
As with men, if you know that the woman is a doctor or professor, use the appropriate corresponding title instead of Miss, Mrs., or Ms.
For men and women, there’s really no corresponding title to “Don” or “Doña” in Spanish, since those are used with a person’s first name. For example, no one would call me “Mr. Ryan,” since Ryan is my first name.
One major difference that I’ve noticed as a teacher is how my students address me. When I taught classes at the university in the U.S., my students generally called me simply “Ryan” because I asked them to (I was only 24 or 25 at the time and “Mr. Sitzman” sounded strange to me). When I was teaching German a few students called me “Herr Sitzman” semi-ironically, but that’s a different story. None of them called me “Professor Sitzman,” though, since I’m not a professor (I only have a Master’s degree in German). In Costa Rica, though, my students all call me either “Teacher Ryan” or simply “Teacher.” It’s pretty weird and annoying. I’ve eventually gotten used to it, but I still call my students “Student” until they address me as “Ryan.” I don’t even want to try “Mr. Sitzman” since my last name seems to give most people here nightmares!
So, I think that’s it for now! Thanks for your patience if you made it to the end of this article! When researching for these two articles I came across some interesting statistics related to names, so I’ll try to write a shorter post about that in the near future.
If you have any comments or questions, or if you’re from the U.S. and your name doesn’t follow these patterns, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
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