update: new employee insists we call her “Mrs. ____” even though we all use first names

Here’s an update from the reader whose new hire was insisting on being called Mrs. Stark, in an office where everyone else uses first names.

I know it hasn’t been that long, but I have a resolution to the new employee who wanted to be called by her formal name (Mrs. Stark). I scheduled a meeting with her for Friday morning (a day after she returned from a pre-planned trip). On Thursday, however, she had her first meeting with the main core team she will be interacting with. I was in the meeting as well and paid attention to how the others responded to her request to be called Mrs. Stark. It was a little awkward but everyone went along with it.

Later that day, she came to me and asked if I had some time. She told me that after the meeting, she realized how weird it was to be referred to as Mrs. Stark when everyone else went by their first name. She told me that she was very overwhelmed on her first day and that the request in our initial meeting was her trying to hold on to something she was familiar with from her old job. She was very apologetic and said that now she has been able to settle into things and really faced the issue in the meeting, she realized what a silly request that was. I told her I understood that it was just a knee-jerk reaction to her new situation and assured her she could always talk to me and we would figure out the best way to make things work.

So, the issue kind of resolved itself. I’m actually glad that she came to this realization herself, as it shows to me that she is adapting to the new work environment, which hopefully will lead to a long productive tenure at my company. She has already contributed some good ideas to the project and I think things will be fine. I never expected that my letter would garner that much discussion. So, thanks to you and all the commenters for their thoughts.

{ 51 comments… read them below }

  1. Sharm*

    Aww, poor Mrs. Stark. Seems like this worked out the best possible way it could have. Thanks for the update!

    1. Jen*

      It’s completely understandable. Sometimes the Starks just lose their heads from time to time.

  2. KJR*

    Great update! Thanks for letting us know what happened. This one stuck with me for some reason.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      The question stuck with me too! I thought about it a few times since it was posted. I’m glad we have an update and everything worked out.

      1. Leslie Yep*

        Me too! It’s always interesting when someone really digs their heels in on something that otherwise seems pretty inconsequential, so it’s nice to have an explanation for what Mrs. Stark was grappling with through this request.

  3. Yup*

    Exactly the update I’d hoped for! Good for her for being willing to adapt, and good on you for being so gracious about it.

  4. MissD*

    That’s great! It seems she was used to something more formal perhaps and realized herself it didn’t need to be.

  5. Kai*

    I was just thinking today that I’d love to hear an update on this. So glad it worked out!

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    I’m so glad she figured things out for herself, instead of having it be a Big Thing. Or worse, having people snicker behind her back about calling her Mrs. Stark. Thanks for the update — I was really curious about how this was going to turn out!

  7. L. Renee*

    I think this employee is a keeper because she is willing to re evaluate when needed instead if sticking to her guns in an attempt not to lose face. It says a lot about her.

  8. Lily in NYC*

    Maybe she saw herself here! I would be so mortified if I recognized myself in a question someone else wrote in about me.

        1. JustKatie*

          … you just got me to search “poop” on this site in order to figure out this reference. There’s a surprising wealth of results!

          1. VintageLydia*

            A few months ago nearly every letter was toilet and washroom related. It was an interesting time.

    1. Mena*

      Yes!! I am tempted to ask a question but the person I would be discussing might see herself (if she reads this there is no way she couldn’t not).

  9. Gilby*

    Yes what great news to hear.

    Glad to hear that she saw it might not be the best way to address her.

    But it was also nice to hear your employee also were willing to compromise if needed. And getting everyone to talk about it was the way to go. Your employees also might have realized this was not a deal breaker fight.

    Sounds like you have a smart bunch of employees !!

  10. Marie*

    Thanks for the update, OP. I found that post and the comments it generated to be fascinating, for some reason. It was amazing that something as seemingly minor as how one is addressed in the workplace could provoke such thoughtful discussion.

    I think it bodes well that your working relationship with Mrs. Stark (wait! I shouldn’t call her that!) is off to a great start. It’s particularly encouraging that she had the insight to realize the awkwardness of the situation herself and adapt. Good luck!

  11. Dan*

    Two things:

    Alison says that she has a difficult time figuring out which posts will get an excessive amount and which ones will “underperform” if you will, so don’t feel bad that you didn’t expect so much discussion.

    And second, I was going to refer to your Mrs. Stark in a different thread today. In the short answers column, one of the posters is complaining that her team doesn’t respect her. I *so* wanted to post, “Well make them call you by your honorific, that will demand respect.”

  12. Mena*

    It is great that she came to this realization (quickly) on her own. And if she hadn’t and couldn’t understand how others felt awkward, well that would have told you something about her right there.

  13. Jeff A.*

    So happy to hear this is how the situation resolved itself!

    Thank you for the update, OP, and thank you Alison for publishing – love reading these update/follow up posts!

  14. Woodward*

    Thanks for the quick update! I had thought about this one too and wondered how that worked out. I wonder if names are just to intensely personal it strikes a chord with everyone?

  15. Mr. H*

    Am I old-fashioned? I call doctors “Dr. ____”, professors “Professor ____”, police officers “Officer _____”, military personnel by their rank, and everyone else is Mr. or Ms. (or Sir or Ma’am depending on the relationship) – unless they’re introduced to me by first name, ask me to call them that, or they sign off on an email that way. Maybe it’s the old military side of me coming out, but I don’t see what’s wrong with a little formality.

    1. Kaz*

      There’s a difference between you calling her Mrs. Stark until she tells you not to, and her telling everyone they need to call her Mrs. Stark in an environment where everyone else has introduced themselves with their first name.

    2. Artemesia*

      Nothing wrong with it in general; it is of course a disaster if you are in a work environment where first names are the norm where you would look either sarcastic or clueless.

      The situations I hate is where the Drs and Professors and Cs and such are called Dr. or Mr. or Mrs. or Ms and the support staff are called by their first names.

    3. anon*

      Bluntly? Yes, yes you are somewhat old-fashioned in that respect. The first three titles you’ve listed are certainly appropriate for interacting with someone in their professional capacity (although it’s a little odd for someone to address a professor by title when they are not a student of that professor), but it’s pretty uncommon anymore for adults to address each other by Mr/Ms/Mrs.

      1. Bwmn*

        I agree that this is just becoming old fashioned. As norms and standards change – there are also issues like whether a woman wants to be known as Mrs or Ms (regardless of marital status) – particularly in a professional environment. And when you haven’t met someone in person but are dealing with them over the phone/ written correspondence – multicultural issues of seeing a name from an unfamiliar culture and not knowing the gender can create for a multitude of problematic situations. Such as referring to those from familiar cultures with honorifics but reverting to first name only for those from less familiar backgrounds.

        My parents are married and my mom has kept her maiden name. The vast number of people that try to address her with an honorific and ultimately offend or bother her is high (not that she would consider someone rude – but if the point of honorifics is to make a polite first impression, it won’t with my mother). She lives in the Midwest and she’s 60, so I also think this knee jerk reaction about this being something easy to categorize by age and region is also faulty.

    4. Joey*

      Yep. The days of formal business communications are on their way out. Email, texts and cell phones probably had something to do with it.

    5. Anonymous*

      Not quite your situation, but during my high school years I called all my non-relative adults Mr or Mrs in general, and I called everyone by their rank in the similar-to-JROTC program I was in. I had an internship after freshman year and I was shocked that I was supposed to call everyone by their first name, and some ladies even got a little offended at the notion of ‘Ma’am’ (as in, “‘Ma’am’ is my mother”, or so forth)

  16. Cody c*

    I mean if Tony Stark can go by Tony and Ms Potts goes by Pepper then this lady should go by her first name. So good to see it resolved. I like the updates too and am awaiting news so I can send one in.

  17. Marcy*

    I am laughing as I read this because my mother insisted on being called Mrs. X and woe betide the dental hygienist or pharmacy tech who called her by her first name. At a neighborhood reunion I had to skate ahead of the puck and ask all my childhood friends to please call her Mrs. X and not by her first name, even we were all middle-aged now, and their parents were instructing everyone to please call them Mary or John. My mother’s age? 92, so she’s allowed. Anyone else? A bit affected. LOL!

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