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Mimishu1995's avatar

(Stupid question) Native English speakers, when do people use someone's first name, middle name and last name?

Asked by Mimishu1995 (7339 points ) April 8th, 2014

No, not the same-old “first name is for informal use, and last name for formal use”. I already know that fact.

The thing is, sometimes things get quite confusing to me when it comes to English names. For example, I’ve seen school children call a teacher (whose name is George Witman) “Mr. George” in a movie, and a newspaper call someone (whose name is Alfred John Gordon) “John Gordon”. My English teacher (who comes from America) allows us to call her by her first name, hence my class always refers to her as “Mrs. Mary”...

It is a bit confusing sometimes. Can you sum up a list of rules for first name, middle name and last name?

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49 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’m fairly casual. If you’re using my full name it should be for a formal occasion. But I can see in a school situation maybe Mr first name or Mr last name.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Or if it was really hot sex, you could use all of it.

JLeslie's avatar

Not a stupid question.

In America it matters where you live. In the southern states they use Miss Firstname and Mr. Firstname. In the northern states and out west that is very rare. In those states you use either the first name alone or the more formal Ms. Lastname or Mr. Lastname. To many northerners Miss Firstname sounds horrible or at minimum unusual. It is a give away that person is from another part of the country, most likely their accent has already given them away anyway. There are a few exceptions. Sometimes up north in preschool they use Miss Firstname, because first names tend to be easier, but even that is rare.

The safest is to call an adult by Mr. or Ms. Lastname and let them correct you to what they prefer to be called or ask them how they like to be addressed. Obviously, of they introduce themselves just using their firstname you can just go with that. In the south sometimes when I clearly say you can call me JL, they still add the Miss JL, and it drives me crazy.

@Adirondackwannabe Really? Where you live you can see it? In NYS?

Mimishu1995's avatar

@JLeslie The safest is to call an adult by Mr. or Ms. Lastname and let them correct you to what they prefer to be called or ask them how they like to be addresses.

So that explains things like “call me Simon” I usually see in movies. Thanks a lot for the infomation :)

But how about the middle name?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie What were you asking?

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Where you live you hear people use Miss and Mr. Firstname?

@Mimishu1995 Middle names are a little tricky. Some people never use their middle name except on legal documents. Some people use their middle name as the name they are called by. For instance someone with the name Joseph Michael Smith might use Michael as his name. there could be a few reasons. He might have been named after his dad, and he uses the middle name. The parents might have named him for some other sort of tradition, and prefer the name Mike. The man himself might prefer his middle name over the other.

Middle names are given for many reasons. To honor a family member, while the first name is the one that is actually to be used. It can be because it is simply very common for Americans to give a middle name. Once in a while the mothers maiden name is given as a middle name, but that is not very common in America. My aunt does not have a middle name. My husband does not either, but he was not born in America so I guess it doesn’t count. He dropped his mother’s last name when he came to America. My middle name is what my mom wanted to name me, but she was vetoed.

Most people in America do have middle names. It can be helpful when people have very common names. For instance there are tons and tons of people named Patrick Murphy probably. A middle name helps differentiate them.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie My nephew works with troubled kids. The are required to call him Mr Jake. The other people are Mr or Mrs first name.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe In NYS? Good God, what is happening? My whole world is turned upside down.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie No, I think it’s a good way to do it. A little formal and a little casual. Theses kids have nothing. They make him all kinds of pics and stuff, and he coaches their teams and takes them on outings. It’s kind of sad.

Smitha's avatar

In casual conversation people are generally addressed by their first name. As for my experience I’d say calling a person by first name is less formal and last name is more formal. There is really no set rule regarding middle name. Middle names are often used to show respect for someone in the family who has passed away, or maybe still alive. Some people prefer to be called by their first name and some by their middle name.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I can see the logic, but it just sounds so southern slave years/segregation to me. When I am in the south I go along with it to some extent, but I never sounded right to me even after living there for many years. I know they use it as a way of being respectful, but I just have never become used to hearing it. I should say I go along with it by not always correcting people from calling me Ms. Firtsname if I don’t interact with them much or they are strangers. I never call people Miss Firstname unless they specifically ask. I don’t even know if I have ever used it to be honest.

jerv's avatar

Middle names are generally only used if multiple people have the same first name. For instance, at my last job, we had 8 guys named José, but really only 7 since the lead in Welding went by his middle name, Jesus.

In the military, last-name-only is common, though sometimes only the first syllable for brevity’s sake. My workcenter had Koz, Kirch, Mick, and myself.

It is said that English is the hardest language to learn. Given our disregard for consistent rules, I’m inclined to agree.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv LOL! You will love that my Mexican MIL once asked me why Americans all have the same name, everyone is named John. Hahahaha. I looked at her and said, that’s what Americans think about Mexicans. Jesus, Carlos. I just could not believe she said that.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie Got what your saying. I’ll talk with him in a bit. They love him where he works so if he suggested something they’d think about it.

GloPro's avatar

Men begin to call their male friends by last name only in high school, and that can continue for the rest of their lives. Usually that situation is only good friends. It seems to be only men that do this, usually in social situations.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I’m not saying your nephew should try to change it. I am just surprised.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

No, I’m agreeing with you. It does sound a little feudal, if that’s the right spelling.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@jerv It is said that English is the hardest language to learn. Given our disregard for consistent rules, I’m inclined to agree.

So that explains why one of my friend said that she wanted to learn Japanese because she had had enough of English :)

I retold the story to my parents and they laughed so hard, saying that she was so silly to avoid an easy thing by taking up something much harder.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe In the south, of all places, it is just seen as respectful. One of my friends once told me if a woman insisted in Ms. Lastname they would be perceived as uppidity. That bothered me. I see nothing wrong with an adult preferring Mrs. Lastname depending on the situation.

Do you ever think to use Mr. or Ms. firstname? If you met someone for the first time and they gave their first name, would you ever add the Mr. or Ms. on your own?

Coloma's avatar

Can I call you “Mimi”?

Coloma's avatar

^^^^ LOL

Mimishu1995's avatar

@Coloma Anything you want :)

zenvelo's avatar

When my daughter was three, we were talking in the car about names.

I said to her, “do you know why we called you Sarah Annmarie A—- when you were born?

Her response, “Because I was in trouble?”

Most kids only hear their three names when getting yelled at by their parents. And then they don;t hear it until they are arrested for a major heinous crime. You think anyone ever used John Gacy’s middle name before he ate half the neighborhood?

Mimishu1995's avatar

I should have put this thread in the social section in the first place. Wish I could change that now…

Coloma's avatar

@Mimishu1995 Never fear…we shall overcome. haha

JLeslie's avatar

@Mimishu1995 Just flag it and ask for it to be changed, the mods will change it.

@zenvelo LOL. My mom used my middle name in public sometimes, because my first name was so popular. She would call me J. Leslie. It was on rare occasions, but enough. My parents never used my middle name when I was in trouble, but I do think a lot of parents do that.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@JLeslie Roger! No one will get modded here!

Mimishu1995's avatar

All done! We’re all safe!

Free discuss now!

rojo's avatar

As a child, if you hear a parent, either parent use all three of your names you should run and hide because you are in big trouble and them big, blue googlie eyes ain’ta gonna help you.

jerv's avatar

I forgot to mention another thing about English. We Americans do things to the English language that make English people wonder what we did to their language. To get an idea of how we mangled “proper” English, well… a picture is worth a thousand words

Coloma's avatar

My middle name is “Rowena”...sheesh…what a nightmare as a kid, I was “Ro-weenie!”. Pffft. How dare you take such a dignified name and bastardize it like that! lol

Coloma's avatar

@jerv Is that a werwolfs hand? 0-o

downtide's avatar

Really, there aren’t any rules and people tend to decide for themselves which of their names they prefer to use and how they like to be addressed. In the UK it’s nearly always either Mr/Mrs/Miss Lastname, or Firstname on its own. Some people use their middle name instead of their first but that’s not common. Calling someone Mr/Mrs/Miss Firstname is almost unheard of here, I think that’s purely an American thing.

tedibear's avatar

The first place I heard “Miss Jenny” or “Miss Barbara” was in a daycare in Ohio. I think it’s easier for really little ones to learn that than a potentially complicated last name. Once they hit Kindergarten, however, I think it should be Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms and the last name.

kritiper's avatar

As a child it was the rule, of sorts, to call married adults or adults in authority (like teachers) Mr. or Mrs. It was alright to call singles by their first name. In business matters, I use Mr. and Mrs., sir or ma’am so as to impress customers that I work for. $ talks!

zenvelo's avatar

An important rule I have taught my children is to approach an adult with a polite address, Sir or Ma’am, and then to ask how they like to be addressed.

My kids’ pre-school teachers were Miss Gretel and Miss Shirley.

Stinley's avatar

Let’s take the example of Mrs Jane Elizabeth Smith. (I’m from the UK in case that matters to you)
She’s a teacher so her pupils call her Mrs Smith. It is not common at all for teachers to use their firstname with pupils but does happen in very
Her friends call her Jane
She would introduce herself at parties as Jane, Jane Smith – indicating that the person can call her Jane
At school she would introduce herself to parents as Jane Smith. They would call her Mrs Smith in front of the children. If they met her in the supermarket things would get confusing – they would want to call her both Mrs Smith and Jane and probably not call her anything but ‘you’!
Her children’s friends, assuming they are not taught by her, call her Jane.
She would only use her middle name on official forms.

However sometimes people use their first and middle names as first names. My cousin is called Mary Frances XXX and she was always called Mary Frances.
Sometimes people have two names as last name. This is most common in Scotland – for example there is a writer called Alexander McCall Smith. No hyphen. He would be Mr McCall Smith
We rarely use Miss Firstname except, for some reason, when you are a dance teacher. My daughter’s Dance teacher is Miss Claire. For other out of school lessons and activities the adults usually use their first names. I help with a group of 10–14 year olds and they call me my firstname.

JLeslie's avatar

@Stinley Similar to your description of seeing a teacher in the supermarket I have that same problem when I see my doctor in the supermarket or at work. Do I still need to call them Dr. Davis? Or, if I know them as a friend on a first name basis and then go to their office because I wound up needing their services, do I need to call them Dr. Smith while in their office? It can be a grey area.

Interesting about the two last names with no hyphen. I didn’t realize that is common in Scotland. I realize you don’t mean most of the people there have two last names, but that you see it more in Scottland. Are the two last names still handed down from the father’s side? Or, is that last names from the mother and father?

Stinley's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, it’s not that common anyway but more so in Scotland. It’s usually the mother and father’s names. The mother’s first (I think) then the father’s. I got both my parent’s names but my mother’s was a middle name. So my name was (eg) Jane Mary Brown Jones with Mary and Brown being middle names. When I got married I changed it to Jane Mary Stinley, dropping the two surnames.

JLeslie's avatar

@Stinley A British friend of mine named her children with four names. First, middle, mother’s last name then father’s last name. I think her children technically have two middle names, not two last names. It would have to be like that if they want to be filed under the correct last name that they actually use, which is only their dad’s surname. They were born in America, but they did live several years in England, and then the family returned to America. Their legal names might be technically different in the two countries (meaning I am not sure if the mother’s surname is listed as a middle name or last name in England) but they still legally have all four names.

A man who worked for me had a hyphenated last name and I know part of his family was from Scotland. I wonder if that had something to do with using two last names? He was Jamaican. Jamaican-American. It is very unusual in America for a man to have a hyphenated last name. I have no idea how common it is in Jamaica. I also don’t know if the name was handed down on the paternal side, or if that was actually a mix of his mother and father’s surnames.

It’s more tricky now in America in that middle names have become more important for things like travel and identification. It used to be you could just use a middle initial, but now you must have your entire middle name spelled out on government ID’s. Full legal name. Some people did not use their middle names at all, even their signatures developed from childhood did not use a middle name or initial, and now in the last ten years middle names are more important if you have one. If you don’t it’s fine. My husband doesn’t. His legal name in his country is two last names, but in America, where we live, he just has one.

rojo's avatar

@JLeslie my brother has four names (first name, middle name, other middle name, fathers last name). Makes it hard when he has to fill out forms; they only ever have three blanks.

Kind of the same thing when, like me, you use your middle name. Forms always ask first name, middle INITIAL, last name. And, for the very reason you stated, it does make it much more complicated.

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo There is something to be said for conforming. Now that the world is full of computerized forms and bunches of security measures, complications with names are more trying.

downtide's avatar

In the UK it sometimes happens that a woman wishes to keep her own last name when she marries, so her new last name is added with a hyphen to make a double-barrelled last name. For instance if Mary Smith married Peter Jones she would become Mary Smith-Jones, and her children would also be called Smith-Jones. Other women simply keep their own surname alone.

Even more unusual, but what my daughter and her partner intend to do when they marry, is for the husband to drop his own surname entirely and take his wife’s name. (He is estranged from his biological family and considers himself more a part of ours than his own).

JLeslie's avatar

@downtide If the woman uses the hyphenated name, does the husband do it as well? Here in the states it is not uncommon for a woman to hyphenate her name when she marries as you describe (when I say not uncommon, it still is fairly rare, but not odd) but the children typically still only have their dad’s surname alone.

rojo's avatar

I thought only wealthy people hyphenated so that you could still see that they are from an important family. For the unwashed masses, why bother?

JLeslie's avatar

@rojo The women who don’t want to give up their maiden name sometimes are married to men that get upset their wife won’t take their name. That’s one reason. There are others.

downtide's avatar

@JLeslie traditionally the husband would not hyphenate his name too, but it does happen sometimes.

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