What’s in a Name?–by Jamie
When I was in the second grade, new neighbors moved into the house next door to mine, and my parents befriended them. From the start, the woman, who had a son my age and a daughter who was a bit younger than us, insisted that I call her and her husband by their first names. This was a novel concept for me—but I liked it. It felt pretty cool to address two grown ups by something other than Mr. and Mrs. (which is what I called all my friends’ parents—as well as the rest of my parents’ friends), and I pretty easily fell into the habit.
This couple still lives next door to my parents, and my three-year-old daughter, Jayda, now calls them by their first names, too. While Jayda does childishly address some of her friends’ mothers as “so-and-so’s mommy,” she generally calls all of my friends (many of whom are her friends’ parents) by their first names, as well. And, even at Jayda’s nursery school, the teachers are addressed by their first names. For awhile, I politely put “Miss” before Jayda’s teachers’ names whenever I was discussing them, but my daughter dropped the honorifics pretty quickly, and just calls these women by their first names alone—even to their faces.
We had a discussion the other day in my Child Development class about children calling grown ups by their first names—and my professor seemed dead-set against it. She said she didn’t want her son’s 10-year-old friends calling her “Pam,” and that it lacked respect. Then, because she knows I’m also a mom—and her contemporary—she looked directly at me and asked, “Don’t you agree?” The fact is, I don’t. Or at least I’m pretty sure I don’t.
After a bit of self-reflection, I confessed to my professor that I’d rather Jayda’s friends called me “Jamie” than the erroneous “Mrs. Levine.” I’m not a “Mrs.”—and I’ve never been one. And while I do plan to be open with Jayda about her background, I don’t want to have to correct every little kid who comes into my house, or explain to each one of them that I’m not married and that Jayda doesn’t have a father. It’s easier to just ask everyone to call me “Jamie.” But does that lack respect? Does it make me seem less authoritative? I haven’t really even thought about it until now. Jayda’s three- and four-year-old friends certainly look up to me—no matter what they’re calling me. But will that change when they’re ten or twelve or sixteen? Will my name really affect the way in which they perceive me?
I don’t intend to be the “cool” mom who drinks and smokes with her kids, and lets them have parties every weekend; but on the other hand, I do hope Jayda and her friends can confide in me and trust me when they’re older. Isn’t that what every mother wants? As a child, I never thought my informal next-door-neighbors were anything less than responsible grown ups despite what they asked me to call them. And I’d like to think my attitude—and my parenting skills—will mean more to Jayda and her friends than the name which they attach to me. I suppose only time will tell…