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Woody Hayes, the legendary football coach of Ohio State University, reportedly said that there are three things that can happen when attempting a forward pass, and two of them are wrong. The pass is incomplete, or the pass is intercepted.

I have a similar truism that applies when you meet someone for the first time who was born after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire.

It goes something like this: By addressing a person by his or her first name, you risk violating every known polite practice regarding respect and deference to the person with whom you are about to begin a conversation.

It is my experience that there are a few things that can happen when addressing and/or greeting someone you meet for the first time. It's possible you will mispronounce his or her name, which lets that person know immediately that your pretentious attempt to come off as someone who knows them has failed miserably. Also, you insult them by having someone they perceive as a "child'" address the senior citizen or a recognized professional by his or her first name.

By addressing others by their first name or immediately giving them a nickname, you violate cultural and polite practice of respect and deference to whom you are addressing.

For example, on a shopping trip with your children, it's strange to hear your parents identified by their first name when the salesperson is addressing Mom or Dad or Grandpa or Grandma.

Another example. Your family is about to begin the evening meal. The phone rings; a telemarketer is on the line and the first thing you hear, in an overly friendly voice is, "Hi, is this Mike?" Not Mr. Jones or Mr. Smith, just Mike.

Or how about this? You situate yourself on the examining table preparing for your annual proctology exam, or you are positioning yourself flat on your back with your feet in the stirrups, and this 20-something intern walks in and greets you with, "Hi, Tom [or Theresa], I'm Ms. Miller. Are you comfortable?"

Among these scenarios, the examining table has happened to me. This first-name, first-time greeting is disrespectful and, in many ways, inappropriate, leaving what follows the "greeting" insignificant.

Correspondingly, there is a line I recall from the television show Law and Order that could and should be applied to today's societal uneasiness: "In a polite society you don't call people by their first name unless they tell you to."

When addressing a person by his or her first name, you have taken away any real or perceived status this person has because you have conscientiously or without due consideration eliminated any level of their professional accomplishment. You have announced to all that are listening that this person is your equal--which may or may not be the case.

Because we live in a microwave, get-it-done-quickly world, our conversations (those that have not been reduced to a limited number of characters and/or a text message) and our television programs, some of our music, and too many of our movies are laced with casual abusive, aggressive, demeaning language.

We live in a society where it seems that all we need do is call someone by his or her first name and the doors of conversational freedom will swing open and any manner of formal communication is not necessary--wrong!

I suggest we return to the days of civility and common courtesy by thinking and practicing "Last Name First."

I feel no kinship to an unknown telephone solicitor or sales clerk or used-car salesperson or civil servant or attorney or other professionals that takes the liberty to address me by my first name after their initial hello--last name first, please.

Note the operative word here is "unknown," as in first-time meeting. Obviously, we expect friends or acquaintances we interact with on a somewhat daily basis to feel at ease and begin any conversation with a hearty greeting of our first name.

Too often we witness children, or young folk in general, addressing a person much older than themselves by his or her first name. During the 2016 presidential campaign, grade school and high school students felt quite comfortable addressing all the presidential candidates by their first names. Call me old-fashioned or a dinosaur, but I saw this as a lack of respect and, like the advent of fast-food restaurants, the beginning of the breakdown of civility.

In the African American community and other cultures, it has long been a signature insult to have our elders addressed by their first name, or totally degrading them by addressing the person as "Boy," "Girl," "Auntie," or "Uncle." Africans being traded on the auction block, even those with names, were never given the respect of being called by their name.

Therefore, if you have not been given permission, or this is a first-time encounter and the individual was born after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, I suggest you begin the conversation with Last Name First, Please.

This practice will set a tone that may open the door to civility. Civility will lead to respectfulness, and respectfulness just may lead to a kinder, gentler society.


Renard I. Jackson of Little Rock is a retired assistant professor of education from North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

Editorial on 11/23/2018

Print Headline: Last Name First

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    November 23, 2018 at 6:15 a.m.

    To me these are excellent points that we can forget in today's mish-mash world. What comes to mind for me is the overly friendly, casually intimate waiter or waitress who comes to the table for one's order. I take the author's point and will try and apply the wisdom of these thoughts in my daily encounters, dinosaur that I am. Civility, indeed, will become a dying art without periodic resurrection from more enlightened folk.

  • condoleezza
    November 23, 2018 at 9:13 a.m.

    This will never catch on in AA meetings. ;-)

  • GeneralMac
    November 23, 2018 at 11 a.m.

    Good column, Renard.

  • Delta123
    November 23, 2018 at 7:15 p.m.

    Actually it was Darrell Royal who said regarding the forward pass, “Three things can happen and two of them are bad”.