our summer intern won’t use first names

A reader writes:

My office hired a summer intern. For context, she is a graduate student at a local university, she is in her early 20s, she is not from the U.S., and this internship is her first job in a professional setting.

Despite being asked numerous times to call everyone here by first names, she insists on calling everyone “Dr. Blah,” “Mr. Blah,” or “Mrs. Blah.” She calls all women Mrs. Blah, regardless of their marital status or credentials (I have a PhD and she exclusively calls me Mrs. Blah). There are some men she calls Dr., the rest are Mr. (even though some of them are MDs and PhDs).

I find this mildly irritating, but she doesn’t report to me, so I don’t plan to do anything other than continue to invite her to call me by my first name. Her supervisor also finds it annoying but hasn’t addressed it beyond telling her that we’re a first name workplace.

Are we doing her a disservice by not firmly telling her that although her intent is to be respectful, she’s coming off as stubborn and out of touch? If her supervisor doesn’t address it, should I? (I’m a young-ish woman, her supervisor is an older man.)

Yes, your office is doing her a disservice, because this is making her come across as out-of-touch with professional norms, stubborn, and a little obsequious. And the Mrs. thing is coming across as sexist and is going to piss someone off at some point, if it hasn’t already. (And yes, it’s possible that it’s correct in her culture, but it’s rude in the office culture she’s currently in, so it would be a kindness to let her know that.)

Ideally her manager would sit down with her and say something like: “I understand that you are trying to be respectful by using titles when you address people. But by not addressing people the way they prefer, you’re actually coming across as disrespectful to them. I know that’s not your intent, but going forward, you do need to address people the way they prefer — which in this office, means using first names.”

Ideally he’d also say: “In situations where titles are appropriate, be careful that you’re treating both men and women the same. If you’re using Dr. for men with PhDs, you’d need to do that for women with PhDs as well. Otherwise it comes across as devaluing those women’s education and accomplishments because of their gender. I’m sure that’s not your intent, so I want to make you aware of it.”

He could also add, “You might not realize this, but many women don’t use Mrs. at all, so in a business context you should default to Ms. unless you specifically know that someone prefers a different title.”

(That said, I’m worried that the Dr. and Mrs. pieces of this will muddy the primary message he needs to deliver, which is to use first names in your office. But they’re important things for your intern to be aware of)

Since her manager hasn’t done this, if you have pretty good rapport with him, you might suggest it. He may be thinking of her refusal to use first names as an overabundance of respect, and if you point out that it’s actually disrespectful, he might be more up for talking to her about it.

But either way, you can definitely address it yourself, using language similar to what’s above. Whoever does will be doing her a favor.

{ 577 comments… read them below }

  1. The New Wanderer*

    I am a woman with a PhD. If someone insisted on using a title with me (despite my requesting them to use my first name per office culture), and ALSO insisted on using Mrs rather than Dr, you bet I would be correcting them each and every time. That is not okay and is the definition of disrespectful.

    This only happened once with me and it was via email, but after being addressed twice as Mrs, I clarified both times that my title was Dr, not Mrs.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Absolutely. I totally agree with Alison, and I think the supervisor should speak with the intern, but OP can also raise the issue.

      But I’m the same way. I don’t care if you don’t call me by my professional title, unless:
      1. You’re calling men with the same rank by that title, or
      2. You’re calling me “Ms./Mrs.” while using a professional title with others.

      I truly don’t think titles change a person’s worth, but as a woman of color, having my professional title devalued also further devalues how people see me (or if they hear me, which is a whole other challenge). I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to correct my title because someone insists on deprofessionalizing me while referring to male colleagues by professional titles. If an intern were doing this and didn’t respond to correction, I would get real annoyed real fast.

    2. LadyKelvin*

      My husband and I are both PhDs and it infuriates me to no end that he gets Dr. Kelvin and I get Mrs. Kelvin. Yes I changed my name, but because we agreed we wanted to have the same last name and he had already published and I hadn’t so professionally it was better for me to change my name. I generally prefer to go by my first name professionally and would never insist on being called Dr. Kelvin instead of Lady, but if you are going to insist on calling me by my last name you better believe I will insist on Dr. and not Mrs. It is hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in my field, I don’t also need you minimizing my status as a colleague.

      1. ChemProf*

        Oh my gosh, this happens to me all the time! Both my husband and I are PhD’s and he gets Dr. and I get Mrs. I prefer students using my first name, but if someone insists using my title, it should be the correct one!

        On another note, my mother-in-law always sends mail/packages to Dr. and Mrs. X. We’ve tried to change this habit, but now we just have to chuckle about it.

        1. Healthnerd*

          My MIL insists on sending me mail addressed as Mrs. John Doe. My husband being not-too-observant always ends up opening my mail from her (thinking its for him) and then feels bad that he’s ruined the surprise of whatever she’s sent me. We laugh about his mistake but it always heckles me as I HATE being addressed as “Mrs. Husbands Name.” And etiquette holdover I absolutely despise.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            My friend’s MIL does this because my friend had originally planned to take her husband’s last name. But she’s an academic, and her early work is published under her family name, so she decided to keep it for consistency. Her MIL still complains and goes out of her way to address my friend as “Mrs. John Doe” or “Mrs. Doe” instead of her name, “Ms. Roe.”

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              That is so obnoxious!

              My sister kept her name because she’s a performer who had begun to develop a reputation under that name, but she uses her husband’s name socially and luckily her MIL is not petty.

              1. Doc in a Box*

                My mom kept her name when she married my dad and got grief about it from her father-in-law because he was convinced that meant that any kids would be illegitimate.

                1. Julia*

                  Wait, what? Does he think that the kids having a different last name (if they even did) means that they don’t get to inherit, or did he think her keeping her name means that she would definitely cheat??

                2. Rana*

                  I suspect it means he thinks that they’re not really married, and so their children are bastards.

                3. Jules the Third*

                  oh heck no. I did not change my name on marriage. I did not get grief about it from the in-laws, but if I had, Mr. Jules would have squashed that firmly.

                  It may have helped that prior to the marriage, we discussed, semi-seriously, both of us changing our names to something different. My last name is funny but not offensive (like, “Splash”), while his is an unusual spelling that is *constantly* ‘corrected’ to a ‘normal’ spelling (like, Smithe corrected to ‘Smith’ or ‘Smythe’). The year before our marriage, it was misspelled 3 separate times, in 3 different ways, in various public formats (‘Survived by’ in obituaries, a human interest mention in a local paper, an extra in a short film).

                  After hearing us propose Asimov, Heinlein, and Cooper (for Alice Cooper), the ILs probably breathed a sigh of relief when neither of us changed.

              2. blackcat*

                One of my (male) friends did the exact opposite. Both he and his wife changed their names upon marriage, and he kept his birth name as his stage name. He really likes having a stage name, and it does a bit of protecting his wife from people looking for him.

          2. Chinook*

            When my grandmother insisted on doing this to her daughter-in-law/my mother the first few times, my mother would send the letter back “Return to Sender – Name Unknown” and both she and my father would explain why it was inappropriate when she would call to complain. My sister and I gave my future sister-in-law a heads-up about this as well as the accepted family response.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            My high school kept sending me mail that way and I’m genuinely mad about it! I kept my maiden name, so no part of my name is anywhere on the mail they send me. I did tell them that I kept my name too. Then they started sending the mail “The Husband (Wife) family” or something like that, which still put my husband first. He did not go to your school and is not going to give you money so stop addressing my mail to him!!! I contacted them again and they basically told me there is no way for their system to address my mail to me unless they remove my husband from the system entirely. So I would have to pretend not to be married to get them to call me by my actual name. So ridiculous!

            1. ArtsNerd*

              Also wondering if they’re at all set up for same-sex couples or if it’s the kind of school that would rather pretend they don’t exist.

              1. Observer*

                Nah. They are just a place with a lousy system and the intellectual laziness to expect people to adapt to it rather than recognizing that they could alienate people they need to engage.

            2. only acting normal*

              Forgive me for being thick, but why does your high school need to know your marital status at all? Don’t they just need your contact info (emphasis on yours, not your husband’s since they don’t have a professional relationship with him)?

              My university alumni association sends two lots of everything to our house because my husband and I both went there. They probably don’t even know we’re married, on their system we’re just two former students who happen to have the same address.

              1. ErinW*

                If they’re like the school I used to work at, as soon as your two addresses were the same, the alumni office updated your status to married. I can’t tell you how many platonic roommates would call to complain that they had suddenly been “married” by the system.

                (Do not ask me why this was their policy; I have no idea.)

            3. Zoe Karvounopsina*

              My mother was a committee member of an organisation, and was absolutely STEAMING when they sent an invitation to a formal event to Mr and Mrs Father’s Name.

              Then my cousin sent a wedding invitation to Mr and Mrs Father’s Name, and Mum said “She’s invited your grandmother to the wedding. I don’t know why, they only met once and she’s been dead since 1992.”

              1. TrainerGirl*

                I can only imagine the uproar when TrainerGuy’s family finds out that I plan to hyphenate. Which is ridiculous, because they are all so proud of their maiden name. I’ve been referred to as “The future Mrs. TrainerGuy” quite a few times, so I’m sure I’ll get an earful about why I should only have one name. Really, I’d like to just keep my name and not take his, but just like the wedding, folks would swoon and take to their fainting couches if I did that.

                1. only acting normal*

                  Meh. Let them swoon. If what you really want is to keep your name, keep your name.
                  Is there any actual point in the wedding where your name is announced? They need never know your legal name hasn’t changed if you accept their social invitations addressed any which way.

          4. ArtsNerd*

            My friend refuses to give money to her (all-girls!) alma mater because they addressed her mail to “Mrs. Husband’s Name.”

            1. Cat Herder*

              LOL, the university where my husband and I both got our doctorates would send fundraising appeals to Dr. HisLastName and Ms. HisLastName. Wrote in several times to correct it… Eventualky they “corrected” it to Dr. HisLastName and Ms. Cat Herder. Finally I called them up and said they would not get one penny from either of us if they couldn’t manage to acknowledge the doctorate that they themselves had conferred on me.
              That fixed it.

              1. Jules the Third*

                wow. dear god. wow.

                I kinda see how older generations mess up like this, but that university… wow.

              2. mcfly85*

                That sucks. I work with database systems is they can sometimes be stupidly rigid about names, even when they were designed to include fields for each part of each name, titles, salutations, preferred formal and informal greeting names, multiple ways to manage relationships between people, etc.

                Some of the most commonly-used database programs were designed decades ago and are based around heteronormative assumptions where records of married people assume a male head-of-household and both partners having his last name.

                That’s the org’s problem to solve, though. There are lots of creative workarounds and it’s the school’s responsibility to figure that out so they don’t alienate their alumni!

          5. whingedrinking*

            My partner has a gender neutral given name, so if he and I were to get married and I started getting mail addressed to “Mrs. WhingePartner LastName”, I’d probably just take to saying, “You’ve misgendered him, WhingePartner is a man.”

          6. KT84*

            My mom makes me laugh over this because she likes to tell the story of when she was first married, my grandmother (her MIL) sent her a card addressed to Mrs. John Doe instead of Mrs. Jane Doe. She read her the riot act and my grandmother resented it but begrudgingly started addressing her cards as Mrs. Jane Doe. However, I noticed my mother sends Xmas cards out to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Smith instead of Mr. and Mrs. Smith or just Jack and Jill Smith (or Jill and Jack Smith!). She is basically doing to her female married friends what my grandmother did to her! Old habits really die hard sometimes.

            1. Doreen*

              You never know- her friends might not mind. These things can be a little weird. Literally the only time I use my husband’s last name is on Christmas cards- but I don’t mind being addressed as Mr & Mrs Danny Jones or Danny and Doreen Jones or Doreen Jones or even Mrs Doreen Jones by people who know us both socially. I might get mad if I were addressed individually as Mrs. Danny Jones – but I’d probably laugh and ask the person if they were 110 because even my 78 year old mother doesn’t use that form. And I got a little peeved at my daughter’s wedding invitation which referred to us as Mr Danny Jones & Mrs. Doreen Smith – but that was mostly because I couldn’t figure out how she didn’t know that Mrs shouldn’t be used with my last name.

              1. Marion Ravenwood*

                I address my parents’ Christmas card to Mr. and Mrs. Abner Ravenwood, as that’s what my mum told me to do for married couples without children at home or if I’m sending the adult kids a separate card. (Those with kids at home or where I don’t send the children a separate card would get The Ravenwood Family.) But I’d never address my mum’s birthday or Mother’s Day card as Mrs. Abner Ravenwood – it’s always Mrs. Mumsname Ravenwood.

            2. Camellia*

              Technically the correct form when using the title “Mrs” is with the husband’s name. So “Mrs. John Doe” is correct, and “Jane Doe” is correct, and “Mrs. Doe” is correct, but “Mrs. Jane Doe” is not correct.

              It is intended to identify which man you are married to (belong to?). That’s why, way back when, we tried our best to get everyone and everything to use “Ms.” And it should never be “Ms. John Doe”, btw.

              1. many bells down*

                I was just saying a couple days ago how my friends frequently get mail addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. Smith”, which is doubly wrong because it should be “Mr. Smith & Dr. Chen.”

            3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              My mother sticks to this one. A letter has to be addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Grundelplith or to Mrs. Wilbur Grundelplith.

              She says that if you send something to Mrs. Edith Grundelplith, Edith will be upset, because that is how you address a letter to a widow, and Wilbur is still alive.

          7. Kelsi*

            In the past, the person responsible for managing the donor mail list at my organization would always choose “Mrs. John Doe” as the form of address for married women who took their husband’s name. When we younger women at the organization pointed out how shitty that was and that if she had to include the title it should at least be “Mrs. Jane Doe,” she said that was how you addressed a divorcee. (Which may be true from a historical standpoint but COME ON.) “Ms. Jane Doe” was also off the table unless the donor in question had specifically requested to be addressed as Ms.

            Like, okay, some of our donors are older and more used to those conventions, but most of them aren’t. Additionally a large percentage of them are highly successful, ambitious, professional women who I can’t imagine are super happy to get mail addressed to Mrs. Husband Name.

            And don’t even get me started on how for a long time after I started, some of our former female board members didn’t even have their own record in our donor database. Instead, they were listed as “relationships” on their husbands’ records, which meant their husbands were actually marked as the former board members even though they had never been involved with the organization (other than being credited for donations as half of the couple). It was such gross bullshit.

        2. Plague of frogs*

          My friend and her husband both have PhDs, and she kept her maiden name. However, her MIL insists on sending things addressed to “Mrs Dr HisLastName.” My friend complained that at the very least, her MIL could call her “Dr Dr HisLastName.”

        3. Liz T*

          But it’s so much fun writing Drs.! When I got married I loved addressing an invitation to Drs. Katherine K and Marcel B. It makes me proud to know so many accomplished people.

        4. cattle kate*

          I have a PhD, my husband doesn’t, AND he took my last name. We STILL get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst HisLast from some folks.

          1. :D :D*

            he took your last name? i find that so interesting! (genuinely, even though written out it looks like regina george said it) was there any reason yall did that? do people ever react weirdly? i love my last name lol and always planned on keeping mine but maybe i’ll make my future mans take mine >:)

            1. cattle kate*

              He was actually the one who wanted to – I never planned to change my name, and I just assumed he wouldn’t change his either, and that we’d figure the kid thing out later. He thought about it long and hard and came to me suggesting that he take my name. Just worked out that way!

              1. Bleh*

                We took on a new name when we got married (around the time we both earned PhDs), and had to fight to not get mail to Mr. & Mrs. his first name, his former last name. Gah. It’s the Drs. new last name, thanks very much

        5. OtherBecky*

          My favorite is when students send emails to the professors in a team-taught course, with the salutation “Dear Dr. MansName and Ms. WomansName” (sometimes they use “Professor” instead of “Dr.” for the male prof). I always address this directly with my students — that I’m not a professor or a Ph.D. and they can use my first name, but that Dr. WomansName is correctly addressed as Dr. or Professor, never Ms.

        6. sleepwakehopeandthen*

          Especially when you could use the wonderful address The Doctors Kelvin, which just sounds lovely.

      2. Luna*

        I’m curious, why does only one of you “get” Dr.? Should’t the proper way to address a couple who both have PhDs/MDs be “Drs. John & Sally Kelvin” or the equivalent?

            1. Annie Moose*

              Ahhh, I just rewatched that (well, the MST3k version of it) last week. I think that’s my very favorite episode!

              1. Allison*

                I went to the Rifftrax live taping in Nashville the other week, and my group and I were in the credits!

                1. mcfly85*

                  That is fantastic! I’ve never missed a Rifftrax Live, but I’ve still not had a chance to be there ‘live’.

              1. whimbrel*

                Big McLargeHuge!

                I literally just watched this episode two nights ago and it was AMAZING. That scene was made even better by discovering on reading IMDB about it afterwards that those two characters are married IRL. :D

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            Weirdly, my boss and I (both women) have literally the same PhD (briefly overlapped in the same grad program) and she gets called Dr. FirstName and I just get FirstName. It’s fine, because I prefer to go by my first name anyway, but I always want to point it out to colleagues and never know how to without sounding really petty.

            1. Midge*

              “Oh, we’re actually both Dr.s” in a light, breezy way. I’m not a doctor, but new coworkers have been misspelling my name lately so I’ve taken to ending those emails with “Just so you know, I spell my name with a [fill in the letter they left out], not [fill in the weird way they misspelled my name].” It felt awkward at first, but now I think of it as just returning the awkwardness of not bothering to pay attention to your coworker’s name right back to the sender.

        1. Invisible*

          Because people default to sexist stereotypes and assume she doesn’t have a doctorate?

          1. Darlingpants*

            I think it’s because people default to sexist stereotypes and think that being married (aka a “Mrs”) is a higher honor for women than getting a doctorate.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Oooh, I don’t think so. I think they just don’t stop to consider that a woman could have a PhD, and if she does, could use that as a title.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                That’s what I think, too. I mean, people can be pretty clueless and thoughtless, but I truly doubt that there are all that many who think “Oh, all of those years of schooling and study mean nothing compared to the achievement of landing a man.” I really don’t. I don’t think most of them think about it at all, but if/when they do, they think, “She’s married, so she must want to use Mrs.” Outside of medicine and academia, where titles are A Very Big Deal, I don’t think you are safe to assume ill intent unless they continue to address you incorrectly even after being told the correct title.

                And we should also remember that there are people who don’t use the title of “Dr.” even after they have a doctorate. For most of the population, that title is used for people with a medical degree of some kind, some academics, and that’s about it. And that’s not really a bad guideline so long as it’s administered equally. The problems arise when people start deciding that person A should be called by that title while person B doesn’t have to be without checking with persons A and B first.

                1. Darlingpants*

                  I mean I don’t think that most people specifically think all the way through the thought process (and if you pointed out that’s what they’re implying almost everyone would quickly stop). But the point of using an honorific is literally to honor the person for their achievements/position, and if you use Mrs instead of Dr then you’re implying that the Mrs is more important achievement/position than the educational title.

                2. Kathleen_A*

                  I agree that that’s what this mistake seems to imply. I just don’t think that’s what most people (though there are no doubt exceptions) mean when they do this, and in fact most would be pretty aghast at the implication…once they’re made to think about it. It’s getting them to think about it – and not get defensive – that’s the tricky bit.

                3. Jules the Third*

                  Sure, you’re implying Mrs is more important than Dr, but my experience is that they just don’t consider the chance that a woman might be a Dr.

                  Not that either is ok, they’re just different flavors of sexism.

              2. Camellia*

                I had an uncle who was a professor and no one in his group ever used the title “Dr.” because it was just assumed that everyone had earned that title. And if you hadn’t, no one cared; they treated everyone with the same respect. I found that rather awesome.

              3. many bells down*

                I mean, I don’t have a PhD, but I went to a comicon once dressed as Doctor Strange. I am a woman. A guy called me “Nurse Strange.”

                Because obviously I wouldn’t be a doctor, I guess.

                1. oaktree*

                  Some people honestly still think that all doctors are men, and all nurses are women. It’s appalling.

            2. YuliaC*

              I’m completely with Darlingpants. A lot of sexism and racism is getting excused like that – oh, they just didn’t think that through. Poor muddled dears.
              Doesn’t matter. If their half-conscious processes end up in insulting the person, they need to make their processes more conscious.
              People who talk condescendingly to other races also frequently don’t consciously think “this person is not as able or advanced as I am.” People who talk over and interrupt women in meetings frequently don’t consciously think “this is a woman talking so it doesn’t carry as much weight as what I have to say.” These people are not innocent and need to wake up.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                People absolutely need to be made to think about these things. I definitely agree with that. I wouldn’t say that these mistakes can be considered innocent. They are often thoughtless though – and by that I mean they are the result of people *not thinking*. And they definitely should think about it – and think about it pretty hard, too.

              1. Everything is not misogyny*

                But which is more important- your PhD or your spouse? It’s really not about the [time] you put into getting either one. At least I hope not!

                1. also annoyed*

                  Oh trust me, if my husband ever puts me through the hell my thesis did, I’d be getting a divorce. I earned that title and I’m going to use it.

                2. MJ*

                  I don’t think it’s which is more important, it’s which one is more relevant to who YOU are. Are you more defined by a marriage or an education?

                3. Rana*

                  See, here’s the thing. I may or may not be married my whole life to my husband. (I hope I am.) But I will *always* have the Ph.D., to the day I die and beyond.

                  So “Dr.” is far more intrinsic to my identity than “Mrs.” (even if I had taken his name).

                4. The New Wanderer*

                  Society gives you a title to use for social reasons when you (a woman) get married. But when you earn a degree you earn the right to use a different title, for professional reasons. So from a professional standpoint, which this letter is, the PhD is relevant and the marital status is not.

            3. Everything is not misogyny*

              It is, isn’t it? But certainly not because you ‘ landed a man.’

              What’s wrong with honoring your marriage these days?! You can still be a doctor or anything else, but shouldn’t your marriage or spouse be valued above that?

              1. Annie Moose*

                In that case, why should a man be referred to as “Doctor” and not with a title referencing his marriage? Should he not also be valuing his marriage and spouse beyond mere academic accomplishments?

                1. Camellia*

                  This. It falls under the same thing as no one asking a man how he manages to balance work and family, but that is still a common question addressed to women.

              2. MJ*

                My marriage and my spouse doesn’t involved anyone outside of it, so why does the status of it need to be used when I’m being introduced?

              3. RUKiddingMe*

                Why should a marriage/spouse be honored above your own personal accomplishments? Are they more valuable than what you yourself did?

              4. Pomona Sprout*

                I find it extremely sexist, to insist in this day and age that women should value their marriage so much that they should use “Mrs.” rather than a title tbey worked their ass off to EARN. Even women who don’t have a doctorate don’t always use “Mrs.” A lot of us prefer Ms.” for a variety of reasons (in my case because I feel my marital status is nobody’s damned business and I want to be seen as myself rather than as an appendage of my husband).

                And what about women who choose not to take their husband’s last name at all? Do you consider that disrespectful? I hope not, because I think all people, including married women, have the right to be called by the name and title of their choice without others judging them for it.

                1. Everything is not misogyny*

                  To all of you: My thoughts are not just about women; men should value their marriages and wives above education/titles as well. I would even say that it’s more of his responsibility to set the tone for that way of thinking. A part of why society has fallen into chaos: priorities are perverted, and you’re part of the problem. You can argue with this, but your visceral thoughts probably resonate with what I’m saying. It’s just more 21st-century to fight for the ‘cause’. Men are not your enemies, and your husbands are certainly not your enemies, but some of you speak as if they are! I can only wonder about the (perverted) dynamics and state of your marriages/ household. You can be intelligent, strong, professional women and still honor the vows you supposedly believed.

                2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                  I hate being called Mrs. and I am not a Dr. It makes me feel wayyy older than I feel maybe? If a new intern called me Mrs. WithRockInIt, they would not get a gentle ‘Oh call me Music’, they would get a firm, slightly scary ‘Dude – do NOT call me that’. If they tried it again they would get a ‘I asked you not to call me that, what is up?’. I don’t have a great polite spine, but I know I can do this. Some guy at my old office reverted to the High school thing of just calling you by your last name (it was a thing in my High School at least) and I was not there for it. I called him out every single time.

                  Everything is not mansplaining – My husband is not my enemy, but anyone who tries to tell me I am not honoring him enough sure is. My marriage is between me and him and absolutely no one else in this world has ANY standing to tell us we should change the dynamics of our marriage. Everyone’s relationships are different, every couple comes to different compromises and agreements about how they face the world together. Don’t tell people how to marriage.

                3. Everything is not misogyny*

                  Removed. You need to be polite to people here. This is the second time I’m warning you. Next time I will ban you from commenting, so please follow the commenting rules.

                4. MJ*

                  “You can be intelligent, strong, professional women and still honor the vows you supposedly believed.”

                  I’m not clear on how using Dr. instead of Mrs. violates those vows? My marriage is stronger than the use of a title.

                5. Everything is not misogyny*

                  Good morning, MJ
                  It doesn’t violate the vows. My comments were solely towards implicit statements that a PhD was more honored and valued than a marriage/ spouse.

                6. ceiswyn*

                  So, Mrs EverythingIsNotMisogyny, if it’s so all-fired important that married women use ‘Mrs’ rather than ‘Dr’ to show their commitment to their marriage, then why don’t married men have to do the same? And how would they, as there’s no term to do so?

                  …several people have asked this question now, and you’ve ducked it every time.

                7. Everything is not misogyny*

                  Good morning, Ceiswyn

                  Thank you for addressing me so honorably! I appreciate that. Now, apparently you’ve confused my comments with another’s, because I’ve not stated or implied (not once) that a married woman should use Mrs. instead of Dr. to show commitment. I’m saying that a Phd or any other honorific is not more important than a marriage; I stand by that. Why is it so difficult to comprehend that train of thought? I’ve ostensibly ‘ducked’ that question, because I didn’t know it was mine to answer. But in your case, I’ll answer, and this is only for you. It’s probably best that your spouse decide since you’re not even understanding what I’m endeavoring to convey here without putting words into my mouth. I can discuss, debate, even argue, but I despise when words are put into my mouth.

                8. Yorick*

                  You didn’t say the words “going by Dr. is not honoring your vows,” but that’s obviously what you mean since you brought this up during a discussion of whether married women should be called Dr. or Mrs. Please don’t gaslight us by claiming you’re not making the argument that you’re making.

                9. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  My husband honours our vows and our marriage by respecting my education, title, and proper name when it’s important. I find it supremely arrogant and sexist for anyone to suggest that it’s “perverted” for me to use a title that I earned. Do you also think it’s perverted that he does dishes and laundry, or that I have a job? Or that he considers me his equal partner?

                  As a general rule I don’t care if people call me Mrs Hisname, even though I didn’t change my name. But if anyone in a situation is being addressed as Dr So-and-so except women, and that person seems to make a point of calling me Mrs then I will correct them (“actually, my name is Dr Myname. My husband is Mr Hisname”.). Usually this only happens with telemarketers, though. But my husband would be the first to correct someone who insisted on calling me Mrs.

              5. aa*

                The problem is that men don’t need to change their title to “honour their marriage vows” – that are always Mr. Whereas women, by your logic, should change their title to Mrs. There are better ways of honouring your marriage than the title you go by.

                Oh and by the way, I think your username should be “Not everything is misogyny”.

                Everything is not misogyny = ∀x ~Mx – “for all xs, x is not mysoginistic”, i.e. “no x is mysoginistic”
                Not everything is misogyny =~∀x Mx – “it is not the case that for all xs, x is mysoginistic”, i.e. there are some xs that are not mysoginistic.

                I have a Ph.D. in philosophy (logic).

                1. Everything is not misogyny*

                  :) That’s cute, but names are not always logical. If they were, yours would probably be written as Aa since the first letter of a name is logically capitalized :)

              6. Thumbcat*

                It’s true that everything is not misogyny, but you are displaying plenty of it. You comment below about “supposedly honoring vows” is DEEPLY DEEPLY insulting.

            4. EBStarr*

              Ugh, yeah. I once got in a pretty nasty fight with forum posters at The Knot (I mostly lurked there while wedding planning, but sometimes when they said really sexist stuff I would jump in… I’m sure everyone loved me there) because they said that correct etiquette was to address invitations to a straight married pair of doctors as “Dr. and Mrs. [Husband’s name].” Their argument: “It’s not sexist, it’s just what her title is. She’s married to Dr. John Smith.” Like, um… OK, then the title is sexist?

              (IIRC, if a female doctor was married to a male non-doctor, these folks did allow “Dr. and Mr.” which was the only time the woman got to go first. As for lesbian couples, I am guessing most of them stayed far away from these people in the first place…)

              1. Yorick*

                It is sexist and it’s not the fault of the title; “Mrs.” is not her title, not even by the formal rules that they supposedly want to follow.

                Etiquette says that a married pair of doctors (with the same last name) = Drs. John and Jane Doe.

                A man who is Mr. and a woman with an honorific title = Mr. John and Dr. Jane Doe.

                1. cattle kate*

                  I actually was taught that proper etiquette is the “higher” title goes first, but that may vary?

                2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  So was I. I usually address holiday cards to Dr X and Mr X. Or more usually I avoid the whole issue and just write “the X family” or first initials, like A. and B. Xname.

              2. Nesprin*

                Oh yes. We’re Mr. Spouse and Dr. Nesprin. You can tell that we’re married because his name goes first, but god help anyone who forgets my doctorate.

              3. Etiquette geek*

                According to the etiquette book I’ve owned for more than two decades, the correct address for two married doctors is “Drs. Smith” or “Dr. John and Dr. Mary Smith” on a single line. If two people with different last name are married (but not doctors), the correct address is Dr. John Smith and Dr. Mary Jones (one line; still slightly sexist, since the man’s name still goes first ). If an invitation is going to unmarried people sharing the same address, the names are printed on separate lines.

                In other words, if the Emily Post institute can get on board with women getting recognition for their degrees, even in a personal setting, no one is going to convince me that I’m being incorrect to do so.

        2. Katieinthemountains*

          Yes! It’s “Dr. & Dr. Kelvin” or “The Drs. Kelvin” and the only people who would be more annoyed by this would be “Dr. and Mr. Smith” who are forever getting addressed as “Dr. and Mrs. Smith”.

          1. Annoyed*

            Oh I get that. 1) Husband is not a doctor and 2) we don’t have the same last name.

            1. Birch*

              Similar situation for us. I told him if we do get married I’m not changing my name. My publications are under Dr. Birch and there is no way in HECK he is getting credit for MY PhD. The kids will have both our names and they can change them if they want when they’re old enough.

        3. SQL Coder Cat*

          I grew up at Penn State University in the 80s. The town revolved around the university (well, it still does, but it was even worse then) and PhDs used their titles socially. My peers and I understood that every adult PhD was ‘Dr.’ in person! In conversations with others, we referred to them as Dr. Mr. X and Dr. Mrs. X so that everyone knew who we were talking about. It’s a source of frustration to me that some people still have a problem realizing that titles should be used uniformly across genders.

          1. whingedrinking*

            I remember reading some commentary on the Trolley Problem where the author kept referring to Philippa Foot as “Mrs. Foot” instead of just “Foot”. Her husband was apparently also some sort of academic, but I had to go dig him up on Wikipedia to learn that he was a historian (who also didn’t have a doctorate) and unlikely to be confused with a professor of ethical philosophy. It was a bit weird.

      3. Darlingpants*

        My friend in my grad school lab did the sweetest thing and addressed our invitation to his wedding to “Mr Husband and the Future Dr Darlingpants.”

      4. Aristocat*

        Both my parents are Drs (mom PhD, Dad MD) and he actually changed his last name to match hers! (He had a foreign last name that was leading to discrimination). My friends always remembered to call my dad Dr. but often still used Mrs. with my mother. She didn’t mind since she retired when I was born, but it is interesting that people rarely use her Dr. title.
        (And soon I will get my DVM and there will be 3 of us all Dr LastName in the family!)

        1. RainyDay*

          I hope to get my PhD some day, like my dad (though in a different field), so we can be Dr. RainyDay squared. :)

      5. Erin*

        I have a question. Wouldn’t it be easier to address things to The Doctors Smith, or is this confusing?

        1. Rosemary7391*

          That would be fine. Or Dr A and Dr B Smith, which mirrors how I address letters to a same sex couple. Mr does not pluralise well. I’m in the UK though.

              1. MakesThings*

                And for completeness’ sake, I just looked up the plural of Mrs., and it’s Mesdames. Very formal, and probably only good for calligraphic dinner party invitations.

                1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                  Or when writing in French, I guess.

                  I do government work so occasionally get very formal invites from embassies, and they’re always fun.

    3. Emily*

      Yeah, I would be pretty peeved if someone was selectively applying the “Dr.” title to male coworkers, rather than to everyone who earned an MD or PhD – that is super disrespectful. (And that’s not even getting into the weirdness of not calling someone by their first name after they’ve specifically asked you to!)

      1. fieldpoppy*

        100%. Another PhD who only wants to be called Dr. when everyone else is, and where it often gets left off.

        1. Plague of frogs*

          A friend of mine was introduced at work to the new (female) admin assistants, and her boss introduced her as “Miss Blah.” The admins told her later that he introduced all the men as “Dr Whatever.” She hypothesized that he was trying to avoid offending the admins by giving another woman a different title than they had–but actually he succeeded in offending them with his sexism.

      2. sunny-dee*

        IIRC (it’s been a long time since college Spanish), women doctors could be referred to as “la doctora” OR “la senora,” and I believe la senora was more preferred for a PhD rather than an MD. (I could be very mistaken, so if there’s someone here who could correct me, please do.) In German, even men were referred to as something like “herr professor” — Mr Professor.

        Assuming she’s not a native English speaker, it could be just the way that her native language handles male/female titles.

        It should definitely be explained to her, but I don’t think sexism or preferential treatment is probably the issue here, and it would be kind of rude to assume it.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          No, it’s totally sexism and preferential treatment in the situations you describe – just systemic, ingrained sexism in the languages in question rather than at all conscious on the part of any individual speaker.

          Still needs fixing.

          1. sunny-dee*

            I think it’s rather hateful to ascribe sexism to a SPECIFIC PERSON because you’ve decided you don’t like the structure of another language and call it inherently sexist.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              Me too, which is why I said it’s *not* sexism and preferential treatment on the part of the individual speaker.

              I also don’t dislike the structure of any language. Whether it’s inherently sexist or not. (Which some languages are.)

        2. Thlayli*

          This was my first thought too. It could be a translation issue rather than a “she specifically is a sexist person” issue. Of course it is also possible that she IS sexist, but it’s hard to say without knowing the language and culture.

          Either way, it still needs to be fixed because it is giving the impression that she is a sexist person.

          1. Thlayli*

            It’s particularly the calling ALL women Mrs that makes me think it might be translation, because it implies she doesn’t understand the difference between Miss and Mrs, and just thinks that Mrs is like Ms, a female title regardless of marital status.

            1. irritable vowel*

              Yes – Ms. is a construction that is pretty unique to English. Most languages that I’m aware of have a title for unmarried women that is only typically used for very young people (Mademoiselle, Fraulein, etc.) – after a certain point you get the version that’s traditionally for married women (Madame, etc.) regardless of whether or not you’re wearing a wedding ring. But as part of this intern’s education she should be learning that English has a third title beyond Miss and Mrs.

              1. Myrin*

                Just a quick correction because we had this conversation just two days ago here and it’s fresh on my mind – “Fräulein” is absolutely not a thing anymore. It hasn’t been, officially, since the 70s, and by now basically no one but some really old people who were used to it use it anymore (unless you want to show your impatience with your young daughter or something, then even I who hates the word could be tempted to use it); I’m 27 and I’ve literally never encountered anyone who wanted to seriously address me as “Fräulein” (as opposed to jokingly, but even that I’ve only had like three times). Every female person addressed formally is “Frau”, regardless of age. (I’m reasonably sure it’s exactly like this in modern Italian, too, but I could be confusing that with another language.)

              2. many bells down*

                It weirds me the heck out to be called “Miss”. I’m 45 years old. I took my car in for service yesterday and the tech, who was probably barely 30, kept saying things like “Okay we’ll have your car ready in 30 minutes miss.”

                Just … use my name dude. Really.

                1. willow*

                  Yeah, I was called Miss the other day in the sporting goods store, and I’m 57. It’s ridiculous. Just call me Ma’am.

                2. Rachel*

                  The high school students to whom I taught chemistry (or attempted to do so) constantly called me Miss, despite a) my clearly visible wedding ring; and b) being very much of an age (not 100, but they wouldn’t have agreed). I gave up correcting them about the second day, unless it was REALLY important–they outnumbered me, and I had other things I was trying to teach them. I did occasionally comment to them that “Miss” made me feel as though they were asking me to refill their coffee cup (not defending it, just that that is how it made me feel). Generational? Geographic? Unknown, but it was certainly “baked into” this particular crowd. [And a few of them did manage to call me Ms. Lastname by the end of the year. Success is where you find it!!!]

                  I miss the kids, and the teaching.

            2. Annoyed*

              But doctor is still doctor. If she is calling males doctor and women Mrs. then it’s sexist.

              1. sunny-dee*

                But MD is not PhD, the males she’s calling doctors may be MDs as opposed to PhDs. (My multiple PhD Spanish professor called herself “la senora” for that reason.)

                1. Random Obsessions*

                  MD is a doctorate, it’s a doctor of medicine. You can also get a PhD in medicine.
                  It doesn’t matter if it’s an MD, DDM, DDS, PhD, PsyD, EdD, DVM or other doctorate, the title of the recipient of that type of degree is Doctor (Dr.), unless the person specifies that they do not wish to be called that.

                2. MtnLaurel*

                  That’s not been my experience. In Latin American, I was Dra. Laurel even though it’s an academic and not a medical doctorate. Perhaps varies by country?

                3. Optimistic Prime*

                  I think this sounds like a stretch, given the context and information provided in the OP.

        3. Julia*

          You can also say “Frau Professor” in German, so I don’t think that excuses anything.

        4. Feli*

          Definitely not the case in my experience of Spanish (I was born and grew up in a South American country). Using titles is even more common than in English, for both men and women. Couple of examples: lawyers get called doctor or doctora, even if they don’t have what would typically be considered a PhD. And professional titles are used for many more professions than in English (I was often referred to as “Economista MyLastName”) .

          So if this woman is from a Spanish-speaking culture, it’s even more likely that she’s being sexist.

    4. LadyMountaineer*

      I’m actually super-strict with myself to address women (I work with MDs and PhDs) as “Dr.” because it seems to have a greater level of pull with the old-guard if I am insistent on “Dr. Jones needs X for research” and “Dr. Smith needs Y for her clinic.”

      I cannot imagine “Mrs.” that would drive me insane!

    5. Observer*

      This and all of the comments are largely why I disagree with Alison that the use of first names is the really big problem. I do agree that it is probably a kindness to the intern to clue her in to the fact that she’s not coming off as respectful by using last names in this office. But there ARE places where it would be ok. On the other hand, I don’t know of any functional workplace (in the US) here it’s ok to use titles for men but not for women. And for women who don’t have a professional title, you either find out what they prefer or you default to Ms. *NOT* to Mrs.

      1. Anon for now*

        Yeah. Being referred to by your title when you asked someone use first names is a little off putting but something that you can shrug off as someone who is super old fashioned. Being referred to by the WRONG title is disrespectful if they know the correct title and are choosing to use the wrong one. As an unmarried woman with a PhD I would correct her every single time. “I really prefer to be called Anon but if you insist on using my last name, then it is Dr. Now not Mrs. Now.

        1. Rosemary7391*

          Yeah, I’d be upset at many aspects of this. With luck I’ll have my doctorate this year, and I’ll not be married anytime soon, if ever. All sorts of complicated I don’t want to bring into the workplace – I’m happy to be Miss for now (think UK does this a little different than US), but you bet I’m claiming Dr as soon as I can. Mrs is just plain wrong for me, and continuing to use it after being corrected comes off as poor intention. Especially as men do get called Dr. I’d be so tempted to ask why she was talking about my mother…

          1. MtnLaurel*

            I had a similar issue. I married late and have a doctorate, so my title is Dr. Laurel. Students in the last college I taught at insisted on calling me Mrs. Laurel. I had to correct several of them that my name is Dr. Laurel. Mrs. Laurel is my mother. If they want to address me as Mrs. , that’s fine…but it’s Mrs. Husbandname.

        2. Pomona Sprout*

          Darn, we ran out of threading. Oh welĺ…

          Everything is not misogyny wrote: “Men are not your enemies, and your husbands are certainly not your enemies, but some of you speak as if they are! I can only wonder about the (perverted) dynamics and state of your marriages/ household. You can be intelligent, strong, professional women and still honor the vows you supposedly believed.”

          Okay…I don’t think you’re trying to make my head explode, but you may just succeed anyway, lol! I’d like to make several points:

          1. No one here has said or implied that men are our enemies.
          2. No one here has said or implied that our hubands are our enemies.
          3. You have absolutely NO right to speculate on the dynamics of any of our marriages and/or households. None, zero, zilch, zip, nada.
           4. The use of the word “perverted” (in parens or not) in reference to the marital dynamics of people you don’t even freaking know is so far beyond offensive that I’d need a telescope to see it from here.
          5. You obviously have some views concerning sex roles in marriage that are different from those of many of us here. You have the right to your opinion, but you do not have the right to insult othefrs because of it. (And if you don’t think it’s insulting to imply that the dynamics of someone else’s marriage are “perverted,” you have a problem.)
          6. There is room for differing opinions here, but there is not room for insults or for taking an “I am right and everyone else is wrong” stance that includes disparaging other people’s marriages. There is a much better approach to strong differences of opinion, and that approach is called “agreeing to disagree.” You should try it sometime.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*


            Though I suspect this commentor might have been intentionally trying to rile us up.

    6. Airkewl Pwaroe*

      OMG thank you everyone in this thread for making me feel not crazy. I used to have a boss who had this weird habit of referring to (technical) men as “Dr.” whether or not they had a PhD, while I always got “Ms.” in spite of having a PhD. (I believe this was inadvertent, yet really bizarre in a company where 2/3 PhDs were female.)

      It was irritating, but I viewed the entire situation as too petty to bring to HR, partially because this was his only discernable vestige of sexism, but mostly because I wasn’t using my PhD in my job. After a particularly public instance of this long-running pattern, two of my male coworkers actually did report it, resulting in an HR conversation. My boss apologized to me and corrected himself going forward, but I still sometimes fell asleep though I ought not to have cared…

        1. Julia*

          But good on the male co-workers to report it! I don’t think that would have happened anywhere I’ve worked.

      1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        My mother had this problem. She worked in a clinical setting as a doctor of psychology, and would have (male) medical colleagues introduce the members of a meeting as:

        ‘This is Rachel, Jane, Barbara, and Mary, and I’m Dr Smith.’

        All people involved had doctorates.

        1. Khlovia*

          “Actually, I’m Dr. Adams, she’s Dr. Bates, she’s Dr. Calvin, she’s Dr. Dooley, and he’s Fred.”

          1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            I believe she was tempted. It wasn’t just gender, apparently, there was a lot of interdepartmental rivalry, with physicians refusing to use the titles of non-physicians.

    7. Cat Herder*

      Students do this to me fairly often when they first meet me. I point out that “Mrs. Cat Herder is my mom’s name and my name is Dr. or Ms. Cat Herder.” Then I do a little talk on assuming that anyone working at the university is Dr. unless they tell you otherwise, and on calling people by what they want to be called.

    8. BeenThere*

      Honestly, if after one correction they don’t get it right then I’m going to develop selective deafness until they do.

    9. Persephoneunderground*

      Yep- totally agree with you Wanderer. I’m not a Dr. of any kind but I am a married woman who uses Ms. because what does my marital status have to do with who I am, especially in a business context? I would be pissed. I luckily haven’t encountered the problem much but have practiced the gentle “Oh, no, I’m Ms. Underground, Mrs. Underground is my grandmother.” (or if addressed by husband’s last name… “Mrs. Hades is my mother-in-law.”) If someone I worked with insisted on ignoring the polite correction I’d be very upset. Ten times that if they were ignoring a PhD!

  2. Sassy AE*

    If someone calls me “Mrs.” anything, I’d probably reply, “Oh, I’m not married.” How weird. Yeah.

    I’d be a little blunt here. Not mean, but firm. Next time she addresses you as “Mrs. OP,” can you try saying, “I’ve asked you to not call me Mrs. OP. Call me Zeno.” Sometimes dropping social lubricant words like please and thanks sounds really rude, but it’s not, and it could help get the message across.

    1. KHB*

      Maybe the intern is from a German-speaking country where the norm is to refer to all women as “Frau” (since the earlier custom of referring to grown women as “Fräulein,” or “little woman,” just because they’re unmarried, has long been recognized as demeaning and sexist), which technically translates to “Mrs.” in English. I get called “Mrs. KHB” by German speakers all the time, and once I understood why, I respect the reasoning, even though it’s not the title I prefer.

      1. MrsMurphy*

        To be fair though – the difference is taught to German students. I specifically recall it being stressed to me that I should address women as Ms. unless I know their marital status for sure. (This still being Germany, though, no one thought to mentally prepare us for the culture of first names everywhere!)

        When I read the question, I wondered if it might be a question of pronounciation – the soft S in Ms. is a bit more difficult. But then the most likely mistake would be to pronounce it Miss instead, not Mrs.

        1. KHB*

          Either that lesson isn’t being taught everywhere or it isn’t getting through to people, because Germans call me “Mrs.” far more often than they call me anything else (“Dr.” is strictly correct, but “Ms.” is fine in non-work contexts).

          1. Tau*

            I’m surprised you’re not getting some “Mrs. Dr.”, if we’re doing direct translation from German!

            1. hermit crab*

              Haha yeah. I grew up in a town with a large regional medical center and several of my friends’ parents were doctors married to doctors, so as kids we even did this in English! That is, we used “Mr. Dr. Smith” and “Mrs. Dr. Smith” to distinguish between the Drs. Smith. Generally the Smiths and the other doctor-doctor couples thought it was cute but we were, like, seven years old.

          2. Julia*

            I don’t think I learned about Ms. in school (I’m 29), and of course made the mistake of calling my university professor Mrs. XY in my first semester.

            And people of all ages resist me when I explain that I really, really want to go by Ms., no Miss, no Mrs., absolutely Ms. I even had a German rant at me that she hated Ms. because she couldn’t hear the different to Miss (how that is the fault of the English language and/or me, I don’t understand) and wanted every woman to be addressed as Mrs.

            1. Susan Calvin*

              Hard same on all counts. (Although it took me until 3rd semester, but then it was someone I was supposed to TA for, too. Yeesh.)

        1. Washi*

          You may know this already, but in Russian, if you are addressing a colleague, especially one who is older than you, you use First Name + Patronymic. Unless she’s been here a while, she probably has no instinct for when it’s ok to use first names with colleagues, especially senior ones, just like I have no instinct for when to use polite forms of speech at work (I work in a Russian-speaking environment in the U.S.) An explicit explanation would probably be very helpful, if you feel comfortable giving it.

          1. Not a Mere Device*

            She’s not following Russian style, though: to do that she would have had to ask people’s patronymics.

            I have no instinct for how to do this in Russian, but the meta-rule of “call people what they ask you to” wouldn’t lead to me calling a hypothetical colleague named Alexander Iranovich Gagarin “Mr. Gagarin” after he told me that he wanted to be called “Alexander Ivanovich,” and certainly not if he said “please, call me Sasha.”

            1. SusanIvanova*

              She’s probably flailing around trying to find an equivalent level of formality, not realizing that there isn’t one.

            2. Washi*

              Yes, she should call people by the names they have asked for.

              BUT my point is that she is not likely to intuitively pick up that Mrs. Firstname makes her sound like a kindergartener. And the fact that she is using a different form of address from anyone else probably doesn’t sound any alarms if she is the youngest and also an intern. I am the youngest person in my workplace, and everyone addresses me using informal pronouns, and I address them using formal pronouns. My guess is that she’s trying to compromise between what people have asked of her and what feels polite, and not doing very well, which is why a more explicit explanation is in order!

              1. Nita*

                By the way – what if they never ask you to call them anything in particular? That could be adding to all the confusion. I’ve outgrown the “I can’t call people by their first name” stage, but I still feel a little awkward figuring out if I should call someone by their full first name or a shortened one, unless they say something. And often they don’t. Maybe I’m just extra sensitive because I have a wacky name that has given me grief since I was out of kindergarten. I’ve had it butchered so many times, one of my biggest fears is messing up someone else’s names.

                1. Jesca*

                  I think the best thing to do is call them by their full first name until they tell you otherwise.

                  I would like to add as well that I think what is being said above may be correct. She is in a new environment with a VERY casual custom of names (compared to many places), and it does not translate at all. I think everyone has likely been softening the message by using social lubricant words or being sort of airy about me may be translating to her as meaning she is OK still calling them last name, and isn’t it so sweet they want me to be less formal. But I think more than that, it is the lack of translation of social norms between two societies. Like could you imagine going from one society where you behaved in this totally hierarchical kind of way particularly with names with a whole set norms, practices, and rituals surrounding that into another that is quite literally the complete opposite? I wouldn’t know what to do if no one explained it, and I think she is likely feeling the discomfort of not using what she was taught as “English Formal” addresses. She probably needs a very frank, blunt, and kind conversations that is not airy and doesn’t have buffer words. Then she will know without a doubt it is not only OK to call people by their first name, but required in the society she is working in.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  Just ask! I had an employee named Christopher and I said, within minutes of meeting him, “do you prefer Christopher or Chris?” and then jokingly added “you can’t say either!” because some people will drive you nuts by saying either is fine and then they are never *actually* called by the name you pick to call them.

                  Obviously there are plenty of exceptions to that though, which is why it was a joke.

                3. Not a Doctor*

                  It’s best to just address them how they introduce themselves to you. If they say “Hi I’m Bob” call them Bob. If they say I’m Dr Smith call them Dr Smith. Or however other people introduce them as, if you go “hey whose that?” And your colleague replies “that’s Dave” then that’s Dave.
                  If they sign off emails with Kind regards Sue reply Hi Sue not Susan and the other way round. In my experience Dr is only used in university, hospitals or at conferences. I say this as someone who works in STEM.

              2. whingedrinking*

                I work with international students and it takes a long, LONG time for students to process that “teacher” is considered rude in English, since for the bulk of them they’d use the equivalent word in their language as a respectful form of address (sensei, seonsaeng, profesor, etc.) and first names are considered too intimate. The exception to this is usually Taiwanese students who have been in English immersion, and typically call their teachers “sir” and “miss”, which I’m fine with. The compromise I shoot for is to get my students to call me Teacher FirstName.

                1. The Other Geyn*

                  First gen Chinese immigrant here (came over at age 9). It’s been two decades and I still feel really awkward addressing people with age or social seniority over me by their first name. Using English helps because I can put myself in the “American” mindset.

                  (Conversely, I’ve known Americans who ran into trouble in Asia for being “too casual”)

                  I think a firm but nice conversation about the norms (not just a casual “call me by first name”) would really help.

                2. AcademiaNut*

                  And Taiwanese students can have trouble in their native language. In Taiwan Mandarin using “Miss” and “Mr” as a general address (as in “Excuse me miss”) is normal usage, but this changed in mainland China during the communist era, and using using “miss” there has connotations of prostitution.

                3. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

                  Latin american here. I’ve call all my teachers from high school onwards “profe” (shorthand of “professor”), which is informal (but not too informal) and gender neutral. No one ever complained, not even those who were old enough to be my grandparents. “Miss” is reserved for kindergarten and primary school.

                4. SpinningYarns*

                  I had the exact opposite experience as an exchange student, where I went from the US and was used to calling my teachers Mr. or Mrs./Ms. (I don’t think I had anybody with a doctorate).
                  In Latvia, teachers are addressed as “Teacher” like it’s their name (Skolotaja/Skolotajs, but in speech it’s common to drop that last letter, because of details about Latvian grammar, manners, and slang). In addition to that, “Skolotaj” is used as a title alongside a last name, as well, so that you call your teacher “Skolotaja Kalniņa” or “Skolotajs Bērziņš”.
                  I got used to that method of address in College in the US, where “Professor Smith” is a normal thing to say, but I had a wicked hard time using “Teacher” as an honorific. Honestly? I never entirely got used to it and frequently didn’t call my teachers anything! Just used the old “raise-your-hand-and-start-talking” trick.
                  As for the intern here, a low-stress, matter-of-fact explanation may work wonders. If she’s interested in learning the culture and language properly, she’ll be pleased someone said something, and if it’s done when nobody is annoyed, it may well just blow over and she’ll do the culturally appropriate thing (or at least will try to, and you can be in good communication about the fact that she’s trying, if she slips up).

                5. Cassie the First*

                  I had a Chinese student address me as madam in emails – I didn’t say anything at first (it felt awkward to do so) but I did end up saying “oh hey, you can call me Cassie, no need to call me madam”. I didn’t want to sound like I was lecturing him, but I figured it would be good for him to learn this before he came to the US for his visit.

                  Is calling someone “Teacher” considered rude in English? It’s not how most people would address a teacher, but at least here in California, I don’t think it would be considered “rude”, especially for little kids. (A little odd, but not rude). After all, we do call professors “Professor”, sometimes with or without their last name. I do say Professor Lastname, but I have heard plenty of staff members just say “Professor” (sometimes because they don’t know the last name or don’t know how to pronounce it).

                  I watch a lot of British tv shows and it seems like teachers (female) are called “Miss”. I don’t think I’ve seen a male character who was a teacher, though – would they be called “Mister”?

                6. Bagpuss*

                  Cassie, in England you wouldn’t call a male teacher Mister.
                  If you weren’t using their name it would be ‘Sir’.
                  Although in my experience it’s more common for it to be Mr Jones, or Mrs Smith, or Ms Kaur.

                7. Cayce Pollard*

                  Yep. I work in a US college financial aid office, and my international students will often send me e-mails addressed to “Dear Teacher” or “Dear Professor”. Not only is this not common usage in the US, but it’s also inaccurate, and given the educational context it’s not really right for me to ignore that. I e-mail them back and answer their question, and then add a quick “By the way, I’m not a teacher or professor. You can call me Cayce or Ms. Pollard, whichever you would prefer.”

                  (Students who send me e-mails addressed to “Dear Mrs. Pollard” get “By the way, you can call me Cayce or Ms. Pollard, whichever you would prefer” if they’re not international students, but if they’re international students I do add “By the way, I’m not married, so you don’t need to write ‘Mrs’. You can call me Cayce or Ms. Pollard, whichever you would prefer.” The ‘I’m not married’ thing would be TMI in a social setting or with a student whose first language is English, but for an international student I file it under ‘this is an English-language nuance they need to know and clearly don’t yet’ and throw it in there.)

                8. whingedrinking*

                  I would say that just calling someone “teacher” (especially if they’re *your* teacher) is rude in English because it implies that you can’t remember their name. The general rule of thumb that I would use is that if something is usually used as an honorific followed by a name, then it’s okay to use the honorific by itself. So it’s okay to call someone “doctor” or “professor”, because we refer to people as “Doctor Jones” or “Professor Smith” all the time. In standard English, “teacher” isn’t used as an honorific – we say “Mr. Jones” or “Ms. Smith”, not “Teacher Jones” or “Teacher Smith”. So the correct phrasing if you’re not using their name would be “miss/ma’am” or “sir”, not “teacher”, just like you wouldn’t call someone “admin assistant” or “actor” or whatever.

            3. Genny*

              I suspect this action is coming from ignorance rather than malice. It sounds like she’s trying to translate Russian forms of respect (which would include using the first name and patronymic for anyone older than yourself) to a culture that has a different form of respect (Mr. and Mrs. last name) without realizing that she’s using a clunky, non-applicable form of respect (most U.S. workplaces operate on a first-name basis).

              I think OP should have a direct, frank conversation with her about how she’s coming off (ideally the supervisor would have that talk, but if he’s not doing it, OP should) and the way things are typically done in the U.S. (or whatever country OP is writing from). I’d refrain from talking about potential sexism unless the intern doesn’t fix the issue.

          2. MCL*

            Thanks for this comment. I’ve been watching “The Americans” lately and noticed that the Russian characters address each other this way and I had meant to look up the convention.

          3. Phyllisb*

            I’m not sure what this means(what it a Patronymic?) If I understand, that means she would address women as Ex: Mrs. Mary and men as Mr. Bob. Is that correct? This is very common in the southern part of the U.S. where I live. All the children (and some of the very young adults) address me as Mrs. Phyllis or Miss Phyllis. I let it go with the kids because I know that’s what their parents prefer, but with the young adults, as soon as they finish high school, I tell them if they feel comfortable doing it, to call me just Phyllis.
            However, in an office setting, where you have been told repeatedly to use first names; yeah, I think you’re going to have to talk to her.
            Then watch the poor girl’s head explode when she goes to work in a Super Formal office where it’s Mr., Mrs., and Dr. all the way. :-)

            1. smoke tree*

              There isn’t really a North American equivalent to this kind of patronymic. They’re derived from a person’s father’s name. In Russia I believe it’s used as a third part of your name and they have distinct uses depending on formality. For example, if your name was Natalia Rovenski and your father’s name was Ivan, your full name would be Natalia Ivanovna Rovenski. So you might be addressed as “Natalia Ivanovna” in a professional setting–it’s more formal than just “Natalia.”

                1. Clorinda*

                  That’s why a friendly translation of a Russian novel will include a list of characters with the various versions of their names, so that you know Alexei Fyodorovich is the same person as Alyosha Karamazov. And so on.

                2. Alli525*

                  Clorinda – oh, my queendom for friendly translations! I struggled mightily in college lit classes because not a single book I read had those lists.

                3. OtherBecky*

                  Clorinda & Alli525 — this is how I learned the hard way that classic Russian literature is a bad audiobook choice. I chose based on length, and then I spent half my time trying to sort out who was who, because each person had so many potential names and I had no idea that “Sasha” could be a nickname for “Alexander.”

            2. Annie Moose*

              Interestingly, we actually have some lingering patronymics in English surnames, although we don’t use them that way anymore. For example, “Jackson” historically literally meant “Jack’s son” and would be used for someone named Jack’s male children. “Davidson” is “David’s son”, “Robertson” is “Robert’s son”… and so on.

              1. many bells down*

                The “Mac” and “O'” in Scottish and Irish surnames also means “son of.” In Welsh it’s “Ap” which I believe ended up Anglicized to “Up”. I knew a woman named “Apjohn” and everyone always tried to spell it with a U instead.

                1. HollyGen*

                  To extend on the Welsh Ap/Up, this has also been contracted to just adding ‘P’ or ‘B’ to a name, generating common surnames as Probert (Ap Robert), Pritchard (Ap Richard), Price (Ap Rees) and Bevan (Ab Evan)

                2. Marion Ravenwood*

                  Also you don’t see it much these days, but the ‘daughter of’ equivalent of O’ and Mac in Gaelic is Ni (for O’) and Nic (for Mac).

        2. Blackeagle*

          Interesting. In Russian, my (limited) understanding is that the standard form of address for colleagues would be “firstname” + “patronymic”.

          1. Nita*

            I think it actually varies pretty wildly for colleagues. My understanding’s kind of limited too, but I’ve heard people who worked in Russia refer to their colleagues by anything from first name only, to last name only, to title+name, to name+patronymic. But. This is when you’re colleagues and more or less on an even footing – a young intern working with (presumably) older and more accomplished staff would feel she has to be more formal. OP posted she’s in her early 20s and only two years in the US, so someone really needs to sit her down and walk her through the etiquette here.

        3. Oranges*

          As a person who’s sister has Russian in-law-family. This clears it up for me. The rules about names are formal and sexist. Eg The father-in-law must ALWAYS be Mr. Lastname and if not it’s a BIG deal. The mother-in-law should always be Mrs. Lastname but breaking this social rule is okay.

          Calling more senior people by their first names doesn’t seem to be a thing at all unless you’re family. With this info I’d modify the advice to let her call people by their last names but all Drs get “Dr” in front of their name and all women get Ms., all men get Mr.

          1. Annoyed*

            Or since she is going to be working in US offices she can be trained on how people refer to each other. Its great to be culturally sensitive but it does her a disservice to not teach her professionals norms by allowing exceptions.

            1. MtnLaurel*

              Precisely. When I’ve been working with international students in the US, I address it as “this is how it works here…these are the rules of the game, and this is how you show respect….by calling someone what they want to be called.” WhenI address it that way, it seems to stick.

          2. MakesThings*

            Noooooooo. Stop. Please educate yourself by speaking to real Russians, not “my sister has Russian in-laws” Russians. Spreading completely false misinformation isn’t great.

            1. MakesThings*

              By which I mean, the Russian language has no modern equivalent of “Mrs”. And in all my time on this Earth as a native Russian speaker, I have never heard anyone call their mother in law or father in law by their last name. Literally, not one time.

              1. Mari*

                This. I’m also a native Russian speaker and have never heard of anyone using last names for in-laws when speaking Russian. First name + patronymic or in mom/dad if that’s what works in your family or first name only if you have a close and informal relationship. Perhaps her sister’s in-laws are trying to translate Russian patronymic formality into an English equivalent and ending up with Mr. Lastname?

        4. SophieK*

          Presuming one can tell that she’s not American/Canadian/British, why are people in such a tizzy about this? You know she’s young and trying to be respectful. And she’s an intern and not going to be with you forever. Can’t you just roll with it?

          This is BEC territory now. I’m reminded of an Economics professor of my acquaintance who, alarmingly, was very open about how she tries to predict who will get what grade at the beginning of the semester and was *very* upset that a cute little goth girl kept acing all the tests. She didn’t want to give her an A!

          So, if this is the *only* problem you are having with her as an intern, find a way to kindly cross the cultural bridge or just give the poor girl the benefit of the doubt.

          1. Turkletina*

            As others have pointed out, what she’s doing is (a) out of step with professional norms and (b) sexist. You’re setting up a false dichotomy between being sensitive to cultural differences and allowing rude behavior (not calling people what they want to be called!) to continue.

          2. nonny*

            I think the logic is that an internship is a learning experience. If she wants to work in American companies, she probably WANTS to learn how to address people in a way that won’t alienate or potentially even anger future coworkers. And as an intern, this is exactly the setting in which she should be learning those kinds of conventions.

          3. ket*

            But what happens in the interview for her dream job where she gets off on the wrong foot because she talks with Mr Joe Blow, Mr Antonio Banderas, and the CEO Dr. Antoinette Hershey, and she says, “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Joe, Dr. Antonio, and Mrs. Antoinette!”?

            You’ve failed her. The point is to give her an experience that will serve her well.

          4. Specialk9*

            It’s really not BEC territory, she needs to be given a heads up because – likely due to cultural differences – she’s being really sexist/offensive, and ignoring requests for how to call people. But I think you’re reading way more hostility into this than we’re putting out. We think she needs to be told, directly, and kindly. But she’s not a bad person for not getting the rules of a new country. But just because she’s not a bad person doesn’t mean the behavior is ok.

          5. Cheryl Blossom*

            Part of being a professional is understanding professional norms. If she’s going to work in the US, it’s going to be important for her to know how to address people properly. An internship is partly to give her that understanding she needs.

          6. Lara*

            Because she’s deliberately using different forms of address for males and females. It’s not BEC to point out that respectfully acknowledging a male’s PHD and ignoring a woman’s PHD is sexism.

        5. Maria*

          Not sure where exactly to to put this comment so I’ll reply here. Modern Russian business convention is to use first names for your colleagues. There are some situations where first name+patronymic are used, and the biggest of them is her entire schooling up to this point. So her struggles with feeling like it’s disrespectful to call colleagues by first names is the exact same thing that many American interns fresh out of school go through!

      2. Onyx*

        A translation and cultural issue could explain the use of “Mrs.” vs Ms., and possibly the reluctance to use given names, but that doesn’t account for using “Dr.” only for men.

        Germans, for instance, also tend to be big on earned titles, so that context would make it even more offensive that the intern is ignoring womens’ professional titles.

        1. Oranges*

          Yeah, but Russia tends to be… more sexist than the US as a whole. (Like wife beating got taken off the laws, or the laws around it got relaxed… I can’t remember but I do remember going “Welp, that’s not good.”)

        2. ArtsNerd*

          My friend was so excited to get her PhD and simply become the non-gendered Dr. Bestpersonever. Then she was a speaker at some event in a country that…. genders the Dr. honorific. So she was Doctora Bestpersonever, and super bummed about it. (I’m not remembering the country/language so Doctora is an example.)

          1. Deina*

            In my language Arabic there is male and female forms of most jobs names. Also we use first name when introducing people. So it will be weird to call her Doctor (male form ) Abla (first name of female).
            I don’t considered it gender biased. its how the language is.
            Some people will skip professional titles of women and call them by first name (too intimate in our culture ) or call by generic last name equivalent to Mrs which is sexist.

          2. MtnLaurel*

            I’d actually be OK with that. I’m OK if they gender the Dr. but not if they leave it out. I worked hard for that.

      3. Bea*

        I work with Germans and we’re all on a first name basis. But yeah I just recently realized our auto responses are set up exclusively as Mrs. for correspondence. Now it makes more sense.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Do Germans not say “Frau Doktor Schmidt” and “Herr Doktor Schmidt”?

          Where did I get that?

            1. Julia*

              Yeah, not all Germans are first-name people (at least not immediately), not all workplaces are first-name places, and almost no one addresses their actual (medical) doctor by first name, so Frau Doktor and Herr Doktor are definitely in use.

              1. Susan Calvin*

                Ironically (maybe?), at least in my experience, academia of all places is on average one of the more first-name-happy here. Up until maybe tenure, and even then many won’t stand on formality with colleagues (grad students and up). [caveat: limited sample size, obviously, with bias towards sciences and lib.arts – e.g. law seems to be a fair bit stiffer]

              2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                I remember my German teacher in school (who was herself German) telling us an anecdote about her first job, where her (same-age) colleague was very angry she’d used the informal ‘du’ address to her (rather than the formal ‘Sie’) on the ground that although they were the same age, colleague had seniority and teacher-to-be was just out of college. Fascinating stuff!

                1. Julia*

                  The person with seniority can offer the mutual use of Du, the less senior person can decline if they wish to. (This is unlike, for example, Japanese, where more senior people can basically call you anything, but you still have to use the most respectful forms with them.)

                2. MrsMurphy*

                  This happens!

                  In my current job the confusion is perfect: I work in Germany, the company is US-owned. I’m an assistant. All back office staff uses “du” (informal address) and first names, but with managers it’s always “Sie” (formal address) and last names, whereas managers among themselves use du + first names.

                  UNLESS I am communicating with people in the US, at which point I will use my manager’s first name in conversation, only to switch back to using his last name when speaking German.

                  I’m very, very glad it’s firm policy not to use academic titles in internal correspondence, or it’d be even worse.

    2. Kittymommy*

      You are much nicer than me – I’d be very blunt. I’m normally very easy going about my name (difficult to spell and pronounce) so anything in the general vicinity I’m fine with. But the Mrs insistence would piss me off. And it would be expressed.

    3. A.*

      Yes I would likely respond “I’m not married” every single time she called me
      Mrs. after the first time I corrected.

      1. Annoyed*

        I am married but considering that she is calling males “doctor” and women “Mrs.” I would likely correct her that it’s “DOCTOR Annoyed”…every single time.

        1. Julia*

          I’m married, have no PhD, and would still be annoyed because my marital status has nothing to do with my work. I am Ms. XY, or just Julia, nothing else.

          1. Annoyed*

            Oh agreed. My marital status haszero to do with my work.

            I find it pretty simple really. Call me “X, Y, or Z.” If you can’t do that, you aren’t allowed to speak to me.

    4. Nobby Nobbs*

      I’ll never forget my first grade teacher’s response- “Stop trying to marry me off!” But then, that’s a job where it pays to have a memorable response to the “Mrs. problem.”

    5. Willow*

      I would also probably reply the same. Officially I’m not married, so I am a Ms., but nobody ever uses that except possibly telemarketers. That’s generally how I know it’s a telemarketer.

    6. Positive Reframer*

      Yes, she is continually disrespectfully not referring to people the way they have asked to be referred to despite being reminded more than once. She is being actively rude even if she doesn’t realize it. I would go so far as to say “Either call me by the correct honorific Dr./Ms. P or as I have repeatedly invited you to please call me O.” Or even “I go by O, or Ms./Dr. P if you must”

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I would also suggest adding a line to Alison’s script acknowledging that the cultural norms may be different where she’s from.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I would be careful, though, because if she doesn’t have different cultural norms (but is just picking the wrong framework), then it might come across as low-key racist to suggest that her behavior is attributable to [unknown norms from Country X].

      1. Glowcat*

        Good point, I automatically assumed that was part of the problem.
        However, I myself have moved to a different country to work and now I often find myself overthinking before acting, for fear of doing something impolite; if that ever was the case, I would appreciate someone telling me.

      2. Washi*

        I agree. Making this a your culture vs. our culture thing could end up feeling patronizing. I would focus on “this is how we do things here in this office, and here are some general tips about business norms.” I could see an American grad who grew up in a more conservative/traditional environment doing the exact same thing, so I wouldn’t start by assuming that the problem is not being from the U.S.

        1. OhNo*

          You have a good point about Americans who grew up in specific environments. I’ve had a few friends from the South who defaulted to calling everyone ma’am and sir, because that’s how they were raised. It’s a pretty similar convention to what it sounds like this intern is doing, where you default to a respectful title.

          Doesn’t change that this needs to stop if the intern is going to get accustomed to American business norms, but it’s not unusual, even in the US.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            Yeah, this actually reminded me a little of my husband, who was raised in the South and is prior military. Calling people “Ms. Jane” and “Mr. John” and “ma’am” and “sir” is a part of his lexicon that’s difficult for him to shake; it took me a while to convince him that doing it at work was just plain weird. We live in the Pacific Northwest.

        2. A tester, not a developer*

          Exactly. Wasn’t there a letter here about someone from the Southern US who was calling women Ms. FirstName and wasn’t understanding why the women involved thought it was uncomfortable both for them and for him (because it made him sound like a child talking to a teacher)?

          I think the concept that needs to be emphasized is that junior person should act on what senior people ask them to do regarding names, whether that’s using first names, sir/ma’am, or hunnybunny. :)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I was with you until hunnybunny (definitely don’t force a subordinate/junior person to say that or accept that as their name!)

            1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

              I’m reminded of my older female boss who opened one morning with ‘Good morning my dear’ (said slightly ironically). She got the message when I replied with ‘Good morning sunshine’. :)

              1. Annoyed*

                I worked at a place once where “good morning sunshine” (said ironically most of the tine) was standard greetings between all of us who worked there. Except for the POS owner/boss. No one talked to him unless they had to.

      3. Max from St. Mary's*

        I disagree with the ‘low-key’ racist take. Several of the letters here have referenced German culture, and I think it would be rare in the US for someone to equate German with negative cultural norms. Just one example, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic or racist to assume many people bring some of those cultural norms with them when they visit or move to another country.

              1. Book Badger*

                It’s from a British sitcom called Fawlty Towers, about a hotel owner (Basil Fawlty) who, due to his jerkishness, is always getting into awkward situations. One of the more famous episodes involves a group of Germans coming to stay at his hotel, and he tries desperately not to mention the war in front of them while complaining about them behind their backs (it’s the 70s so WWII was still in living memory).

                Then he does a Hitler impression.

                It’s that kind of show.

          1. Specialk9*

            Germans are doing a lot better with the Nazis right now than Americans are. And every time I’ve been in Germany there’s been a special on the Holocaust on, on at least one channel. They’re working hard not to forget. (Or were last time I was there.)

            1. Julia*

              Unfortunately, it seems like Germany is sliding back into anti-foreigner and, this time, anti-Muslim sentiment. The far right gained a lot of votes in the last election.

              But, to return to the topic, while this German would be annoyed if anyone assumed I did X and Y because I was German, I wouldn’t really consider it racist.

          2. Max from St. Mary's*

            Two, actually, and during those wars Germans were generally unpopular in the US (not to mention the Japanese in WWII)…but that was then.
            German ancestry is the most common ancestry of US citizens, so there might be some outliers but broadly German culture isn’t seen as inferior.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I love the old Britcom “Are You Being Served?” I always thought it was sort of funny how they all called each other by their honorifics. But then I sort of wondered if that was common for people who worked in high-end department stores in the UK? Maybe this intern has similar experiences?

      1. fieldpoppy*

        I dated someone slightly older than I am in the UK and he was always called “Mr. B” in restaurants, hotels, doctors’ offices, etc. where we would use first names in North America. Of course there I got Mrs. B (we weren’t remotely married) rather than Dr. Fieldpoppy. That level of formality seems to always peg the female part of a M/F couple as the Mrs. Hisname.

      2. CoveredInBees*

        There is something about how certain people who marry into the English royal family without another title end up taking the first name of their spouse. This is how Princess Michael is referred to as such. I think that is part of why recent royal weddings included other royal stylings instead of having Princess William and Princess Harry.

        1. Helena*

          No, she calls herself Princess Michael because she is too far removed from actual royalty to have her own title of “Princess”. But she wants to be called Princess not Lady or whatever title she actually gained on marriage, so she calls herself after her husband.

          Camilla could call herself “Princess Charles”if she wanted to be a princess, but she sticks to “duchess” because she isn’t a prat.

          1. Merula*

            Technically, the wife of the Prince of Wales is always the Princess of Wales, so she is undoubtedly entitled to “Camilla, Princess of Wales” but chooses not to use it.

            (This convention, Princess of Wales as the title of the wife of the Prince, is why the current Queen was never given any title relative to her status as heir apparent.)

      3. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        It’s very evocative of a very stuffy sort of 1950s middle-class business environment. I’d say very true to life for that place and time, but not at all used now.

    3. Nita*

      The title+last name thing could be a cultural norm. I was brought up to think that this is the respectful way to address adults/those who are senior in some way, and felt incredibly awkward for years adjusting to the workplace norm of calling everyone by their first name. However, if you’re going to do that, NOT using some people’s correct title (the Mr./Mrs. instead of Dr. or at least Professor) is a bit odd and adds another level of awkward to how she’s perceived.


        I’m sympathetic to it feeling awkward to using first names when you’re accustomed to showing respect through honorifics. However, if her intention is to stay and work in the US after graduation, she would be wise to get over it as quickly as possible. It definitely impacts people’s perception of her.

    4. MCL*

      Another possibility is that she was taught incorrect information about forms of address. I sometimes had to re- teach esl learners information that was outdated or plain incorrect that they had picked up at some point.

  4. StlBlues*

    I would be very annoyed by someone who did this. If I realized they were gender-selectively using people’s honorifics (Dr., for example), I would be incensed. That’s incredibly offensive and sexist. All the “but that’s what their home culture is” arguments in the world don’t negate that it is wrong and disrespectful to do here.

    Also, on a semantic point, I am married – but I also didn’t take my husband’s last name. So, despite being married, calling me “Mrs. Blues” is still incorrect. Technically, I’m both Mrs. Husband and Ms. Blues but never Mrs. Blues. So, as the cherry on top of all of this, I’d be irked by that, too.

    1. Never Mrs*

      Same. I get addressed as Mrs all the time, and it drives me NUTS. I don’t care how respectful you want to be, if you’re not calling me with the correct honorific, you’re not respecting me.

      (When I was in academia, I was referred to as Dr. as a default. I corrected that as well, but at least it could never be construed as sexist.)

      1. Attractive Nuisance*

        Both my husband and I hyphenated, so Mrs. Hisfirst Our-Last is extra technically-incorrect, but I don’t know that there is a correct formulation in that convention.

      2. Quickbeam*

        Me too. I kept my hyphenated name of my parents in marriage and did not take my husband’s name. I am not Mrs. Armstrong-Jones, nor am I Mrs. Crookshank. I am not Mrs anything and I get kind of uppity when people insist on shoe horning me into the title.

        1. Positive Reframer*

          By technical social rules you would be a Mrs. Legal-Last and could still be formally addressed as Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast especially by those who don’t know your preferred/legal form of address.

          “Mrs.” is tied to your social/legal standing as a married woman it is irrelevant what last name you have or where you got it.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            Though “technical social rules” aren’t that rigid, since manners and shared formulas are meant to give a framework for how we perform social cues to make everyone feel respected and comfortable. In no context is calling someone by a name they find insulting (such as calling me “Mrs. HisFirst HisLast” ) actually correct etiquette. So no, even technically “Mrs.” is not a legal title, it is a social honorific and part of a person’s name, so married or not using it for me would be incorrect. My name is Ms. Persephone Underground, seriously. My husband’s name is Mr. Hades. Sorry if this came out harsh, but I believe Miss Manners agrees with me. I know it’s easy to argue “technical rules” but please don’t, because it hits a bit of a nerve to those of us who reject them (the old one-size rules that treated women as property) that people’s belief in them won’t die already.

    2. Dr. OP (not Mrs. OP, please)*

      OP here: I should have specified, she says Mrs. Firstname. Like, Mrs. Jane, not Mrs. Goodall. (And not Dr. Goodall either.)

      1. Prof*

        Oh god, that’s even worse. Mrs. Firstname is something you call your nursery school teacher or your neighbor when you are about six years old, not something you call colleagues and peers (or superiors!) as an adult.

        1. Washi*

          Ahhh. I think maybe she is actually trying to take your feedback then! My guess is that she learned in school that Mr./Mrs./Dr. is the American equivalent of First Name + Patronymic in Russian. Then she comes to the internship and is told to use first names, which she finds uncomfortably informal, so she tacks on Mr./Mrs./Dr. sort of as a compromise. Not realizing that she sounds like a six-year-old addressing her kindergarten teacher.

        2. Allison*

          My ballet teacher called me Miss Allison when I was like 11 years old, that was acceptable. I’m 29, even when I do take drop-in ballet classes I would cringe at being called that.

          Part of it is, when a man addresses me as though it were the 1800’s and I’m a young, eligible lady of good breeding, and he a refined gentleman, I have a hard time feeling all charmed and respected, I wonder how he expects me to behave in return. Must I also behave like a lady, in accordance with your standards of how a lady ought to behave? Wouldst thou be angry if I didn’t play along? Should I try to speak in a Trans Atlantic accent? Should I give a little smile and giggle and be really cute about it?

          Can we just act like it’s 2018 and the world is falling apart but men and women are a little more equal than they were in the 1950’s, and treat me like I’m here for a long term career and not like I’m a 1961 secretary that’s just here to type until a man proposes and I’m off to fulfill my true purpose? Call me Allison, is what I’m basically saying here, and stop pretending to tip your invisible hat at me for the love of God!

          1. Vicky Austin*

            It is customary for ballet teachers to be referred to as Miss First Name (or Mr. First Name, as the case may be) and for them to refer to their students the same way.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Well, not always. “Mrs. Jane” would be the correct and respectful way to address an elder in most of the African American communities I’ve lived/worked in in multiple states from different geographic regions. And I definitely hear white folks from the South say it, and sometimes folks from those areas where the South and Midwest/Southwest melt into each other.

          But I agree that it’s not the right construction in a business setting, and certainly not in OP’s workplace.

          1. Cayce Pollard*

            Yep. I work in a US college financial aid office, and most of my African American students, especially the younger male students, call me “Ms. Cayce”. Frequently, their parents do too. I’m white, we’re in the Northeast, and about half of the parents are older than I am.

            It doesn’t feel entirely comfortable to me, but I do believe in letting students call me either Cayce or Ms. Pollard as they prefer, so I’ve accepted this as a culture-specific extension and let it go.

          2. OtherBecky*

            White Southerner here. I grew up calling my grandmother’s close friends Miz Firstname (whereas my mother and aunt grew up calling those same women Mrs. Lastname, because they didn’t count as elders yet). Some of my friends teach their kids to use “Auntie,” some go for “Miz Firstname,” and some asked what I wanted their kids to call me.

            Amusingly, the semester when I got my first noticeable frown lines (I still have a hard time calling them wrinkles) and a noticeable number of gray hairs, roughly half my African-American students, plus several white students from rural parts of the South, all started calling me “Miss OtherBecky.” I find it charming and delightful.

        4. Specialk9*

          There are plenty of American sub-cultures in which an adult calls someone “Miz Firstname” or “Mr Firstname”, to indicate both formality and intimacy, or peer relationship + respect. I’ve tripped over those for sure! But even then it’s not “Mrs Firstname”.

      2. Ms.*

        Oh no, that’s even worse. It makes you sound like a child. In my limited experience, though, that is common of Russian-speakers.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          I was a children’s librarian in the south for several years and was “Ms. Anne” to library users. We in the children’s department referred to each other that way when talking to library users, but not, say, in our offices when it was just us. Because that would feel weird.

          I also worked a lot with teen volunteers. My spiel to them was that my name was Anne and it was okay with me if you called me Anne. If you weren’t comfortable with that you your parents weren’t comfortable with that, Ms. Anne is fine. I never gave “Ms. Green Gables” as an option, and for that reason none of the volunteers used it.

          1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            Much like teachers at my school, who were (presumably) on a first name basis with one another, but addressed each other formally in front of the kids.

            Actually, there’s a famous Irish ad for Kerrygold butter that plays on this: the sexy male French teacher shows up in the cooking class to ask for some butter and slips, saying “Lisa … I mean Miz Kennedy”. It’s cute (and intentionally implies flirtation between them).

        2. Anon for now*

          Yep. I have only ever been referred to as Miss Anon by children. An adult doing it would be extremely weird and make them seem childlike.

        3. Annoyed*

          My husband is fluent in *seven different languages. He has managed to learn the proper way to address people in each of them. I have pretty much zero patience for the whole “that’s how it is in X language and English is so hard” arguments.

          *Yes I am madly envious of him.

          1. Specialk9*

            So… He’s very talented, and so nobody else can ever struggle?

            I’m very glad people like your husband exist, but the rest of us poor schlubs struggle, and the fact of his existence doesn’t negate that. What a strange thought!

            Why wouldn’t one just accept that it’s hard for some people and find a kind direct way to help someone with a linguistic quirk they’re not picking up on their own?

      3. drpuma*

        Sounds like a wrongfooted overcorrection to too much “politeness”. I wonder if she had previously been told she was not being polite enough in a different but still somewhat professional situation?

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Doctor Firstname was once a norm from students to their would-be-casual professors in academia in the American Southeast.

        This really makes me think there’s an issue with translation to English (or whatever non-Russian language the office speaks): She at one point had it spelled out to her that it’s Mrs Firstname to be correct, and like so many first explanations we encounter, she has embraced and run with it and failed to register any variations in the rule because The Rule. I think Alison is right about having this be a sit down with her manager thing, just to break her of the habit by changing the correction from social conversation to workplace feedback from a superior.

      5. SKA*

        Heh, that reminds me of when I met my friend’s mom in middle school. She was the first non-relative adult to ever tell me to call her by her first name, and I felt so weird doing it that I instead just called her Mrs. Karen. But even at the time, it was kind of meant to be funny (and the mom thought so as well… even moreso when I started calling her husband Mr. Karen).

        1. Jijijiji*

          Your comment reminded me of a show where the baby called the dad ‘Not the Mama’!

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          My siblings were involved in various organizations as children. In Scouts, the standard was to call the moms Mrs. FirstName. The scout leader’s husband was Mr. MomFirstName. In the other group, everyone was Mama LastName.

          1. mcr-red*

            I love that the husband was Mr. TheWoman’sFirstName!

            I think I have baggage from the whole Mrs. Husband’s First Name Last Name era. LOL.

      6. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That’s very common in black culture, at least where I’m from. My friends have introduced me as “Ms. Amy” to their kids. And everyone on my team, regardless of their race, called an older black coworker Ms. Laverne. It’s odder if it’s a peer who is the same general age though.

        1. Antilles*

          I’ve actually heard the same thing from white Southerners all the time…though usually only when they’re introducing someone to kids (“now Jimmy, say hello to Mister Steven and Miss Anna”).

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Yeah, I’ve definitely heard it being a thing in the South East too. Like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi.

            1. Jijijiji*

              I’m from the South, and as an adult I still call some elders (back home where appropriate ) Miss Firstname ;)

            2. Phyllisb*

              Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!! Mississippi girl here. I have discussed this on here many times (the Miss, Mrs., Ma’am, Sir) thing. It’s not as rigid as it used to be, but still a lot of it, especially in church settings. The only time I’ve ever been irked being called Miss Phyllis was a woman who used to attend our church and she called me that, and she wasn’t that much younger than me. Maybe 5 years? I never knew if she was being respectful or sarcastic, because she didn’t address my husband that way, she just used his first name.

              1. Jijijiji*

                Yes, I loathe when others call me sweetie, or some other such nonsense, ESPECIALLY when they are around my age.

          2. mcr-red*

            Yeah I think that’s a Southern thing, I’ve been introduced as Miss MCR to many friends’ kids. And it doesn’t matter if you’re married, it’s always Miss. Weird.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I’m in the Midwest though. But I suppose it could have carried over from Southern relatives as people moved north.

              1. OhNo*

                As a lifelong Midwest resident, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of overlaps between Southern culture and rural Midwestern culture. So it might be a carryover from a more rural upbringing, too.

            2. Jijijiji*

              You’re right! It’s always Miss, even if you’re married. Mrs has too many syllables; ain’t nobody got time for that.

          3. Alex the Alchemist*

            Yep, I grew up in the South and heard it a lot. Although I’m starting to wonder if it’s a kids-in-general thing, because I moved up North now and one of the kids at church, when introduced to me, asked, “Do you want me to call you Miss Alex or is just Alex okay?”

        2. CoveredInBees*

          My son’s daycare teachers are primarily black and this is how they introduce themselves and refer to each other with the children. I use it because it is what they prefer but cringe on the inside. In my family, calling someone Miss/Mr Firstname is something someone more senior to you would use. Also, it was generally when they were telling you to do or not do something. If my slightly older cousin wanted to be obnoxious, she’d use it with me too.

      7. AKchic*

        Oh dear. That gives us so much more detail here, and does actually change the advice I could have given.

        She is young, I am assuming, and still very much indoctrinated to be “respectful” of the “adults”. She may still feel she’s too young or at the very least, much younger than the rest of you.

        Yes, someone needs to sit down with her and kindly tell her that it needs to stop because she is infantilizing herself and it undermines her own value, but it also inadvertently insults everyone. It would be an extreme kindness for someone to tell her.
        If she continues, yeah, it’s on her; but at least someone tried.

        1. StlBlues*

          Ugh, yes! To quote the greatest movie ever (Clue): “it…it…it… flames… flames, on the sides of my face”

      8. Nita*

        Any chance she’s avoiding the Dr. for people who are not a medical doctor? In some countries it’s common to use Dr. for M.D.’s and Professor for other Ph.D.’s… but then I don’t see why she won’t go with the other option. Either way, she seems pretty confused, might be trying to figure out the rules without much guidance, and could benefit from someone going over the names thing with her.

      9. Tertia*

        Aargh. I’ve often gotten the “Miss” rather than “Professor” from students from the Middle East. Usually they call me “Miss” on its own, with no name following, but this semester I had a student who called me “Miss Tertia” in every other sentence. I let it go because he was clearly perpetually anxious and trying to be polite. In your case, I think it should be addressed. As usual, Allison’s script seems very good. I think it’s particularly important to emphasize that you recognize her goal is to be polite and that the advice you’re giving her is the best way to accomplish that goal, even though it may seem counterintuitive to her.

    3. notanyuse*

      Yes! This is something I’m constantly digging at with people, as a married woman who didn’t take her husband’s last name — and people constantly want to call me “Mrs. Mylastname.” The only Mrs. Mylastname is my mother!

      I’m Ms. Myfirstname Mylastname, Attorney Mylastname, Mrs. Husbandsname, or very occasionally, on incredibly formal invitations to weddings we will NOT attend, Mrs. Husband Husbandsname.

      (On a similar note – attorneys who sign their own correspondence “Firstname Lastname, esq.” bugs me to no end).

      1. mcr-red*

        I also didn’t take my husband’s last name. I’ve generally been referred to as Miss MCR Red or Ms. MCR Red in correspondence. A few times was addressed as Mrs. MCR Blue, which while not accurate, is still OK. I prefer the Ms. I am a fan of the Ms. Why do men have a neutral honorific but women have to have a married/unmarried one? Ms.! LOL

        My husband thinks I should use Mrs. and I’ve explained that doesn’t make sense as Mrs. Red is my mother.

        1. Annoyed*

          “…women have to have a married/unmarried one?”

          So males can tell “at a glance” if you’re already someone’s property.

          1. Positive Reframer*

            Right, like only men care if a woman is married. Plenty of women have and still do place a lot of expectations on women based on their marital status. i.e. Miss=no kids Mrs.=kids
            Miss=don’t you dare talk to my husband Mrs.=I guess that’s ok
            Miss=better keep yourself up or you’ll never get a man Mrs.=poor/lucky husband
            Miss=something wrong with her Mrs.=normal

            And as a bonus usually from the same crowd
            Ms.=stuck up career woman who thinks she’s so much better/divorced/militant feminist

      2. Mamunia*

        I didn’t take my husband’s name. If someone calls me Mrs. Mylastname, that’s fine with me because I am married and that’s my last name. If someone calls me Mrs. Spouse’slastname, that’s also fine with me because I am Spouse’s wife. (The latter mainly occurs anywhere he gives “our” name like a hotel. I would, of course, correct the person if I was likely to encounter them again, but it doesn’t bug or offend me.)

        1. Mamunia*

          Clarifying that he never says it’s our shared name but the other person assumes it’s “our” name when he gives his, like checking in at a hotel.

        2. Reba*

          I don’t get upset when I am called any variant of Ms/Mrs HisLast, because it’s not correct but the people who do it don’t know me well so wevs. But I confess I get a little thrill whenever spouse gets called “Mr. MyLast”!

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Me too – it didn’t happen often but since I kept my last name for work/publishing purposes, my workmates usually didn’t know my husband had a different last name and occasionally referred to him as Mr Wanderer.

          2. Kathryn T.*

            This happens to my husband occasionally, and he always says “oh, it’s actually HisLast — I kept my name when we got married.”

            It usually takes people a few minutes to get it and I always find it hilarious.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        LOL. My wife and I didn’t take each others’ names. We talked about it. We talked about hyphenating (which we already knew was a pain ‘coz we’d watched friends grow up that way). We talked about creating a new name for just us, since our last names are thematically related.

        …we eventually decided that we each *liked* our last names and didn’t care to change them.

        Sometimes I get called Mrs. Hername and I think that’s hilarious.

  5. Prof*

    Few things irritate me more than when people (usually students, but sometimes colleagues or others) default to “Mrs.” or, worse, “Miss” instead of Dr. or Prof., especially when I see them referring to men (including my male grad students!) with the honorific. It is both clearly gendered and profoundly disrespectful, especially when I have made it clear that my title is Dr. I’ve told students in the past that they can refer to me by my first name or by Dr. Lastname, but never Miss or Mrs. “Miss” is the worst though. I have rarely felt as much rage as when an older, male auditor has interrupted my lecture to ask a question, addressed to Miss Lastname, or worse, Miss Firstname. And yes, this has happened more than once.

    TL;dr: If you care about being respectful, use an individual’s preferred name or title, and keep an eye on local/workplace practices. Giving someone a title that is not the one they prefer is disrespectful and will not endear you to your potential colleagues, mentors, and references.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The worst is when they call you by your first name but call men “Professor [Last Name].”

    2. Huxley*

      When I was in university, I had a professor for one class who, at the start of the year, said to the class “I don’t care what you call me, whether it’s Dr. [first name], Dr. [last name], or Dr. [nickname], as long as Dr. is in there, because I worked VERY long and hard for the title and I intend on using it.” This story and your comment reminded me of her. People just need to respect what other people want to be called! It’s really not that difficult.

      1. Prof*

        Yes! I say something on the first day of classes about how you will refer to me as Dr. because I earned it. And since I tend to teach courses dealing with gender, I wrap this into a discussion about gender and status in the academy, and why it matters to use titles for women, etc. I also put it in my syllabi that I won’t respond to emails addressed to Mrs. or Miss, only Dr., and frankly I’d rather them call me by my first name than Mrs. or Miss.

        1. Anon for now*

          This exactly! I prefer my first name, but if you must use my last name use the correct title!

      2. Dobermom*

        I teach at a university, but my terminal degree is an MFA. So I don’t have the “Dr.” honorific. My dad, however, does. I get the biggest thrill when a student calls me “Dr. Dobermom” and I get to whip out the line, “Oh please, call me FirstName; Dr. Dobermom is my FATHER.”

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I totally got to do that recently — someone called me Dr Rowan as a joke (I’m a non academic working in higher ed), but in my case Dr. Rowan is my mother. Loved it!

        2. SpinningYarns*

          Also not a doctor, but my dad and I share a majority-male hobby. On a message board, my signature was my initials and last name, so eventually someone referred to me as “Mr. Smith”. (They obviously weren’t reading the parts of the board where I was posting about subjects that very clearly coded me as a woman!)
          I had the pleasure of answering and then adding, “by the way, Mr. Smith is my father- call me Sally!”

    3. Jadelyn*

      When I was a student, I used to default everyone to Professor [lastname] – it seemed like the most neutral honorific without assuming anything one way or another about someone’s doctoral status, and I figured anyone who had their doctorate and wanted to be called Dr. would let me know. Unless they had it in their email signature or something, in which case I’d skip straight to Dr. [lastname].

      1. OhNo*

        This was probably a bit of a faux pas on my part, but I always just referred to my professors as “Professor”. There was one who gave a quick speech on the first day of class about how they only respond to emails addressed to Dr. SoAndSo, so I readily obliged. But everyone else was just “Professor”; no last name, no first name, just title.

        Not one of them ever corrected me, so hopefully they didn’t mind too much.

        1. Invisible*

          That’s so strange- I’ve been told by an academic that “Professor” is actually the higher title (but most non-academics don’t realize this because they don’t realize how much harder it is to get a faculty position than a PhD). That said, they all prefer first names.

          1. nonny*

            That’s culturally specific, actually– in the US it’s a neutral title, but in the UK (and presumably other places, but the UK’s the one I know for sure) it denotes a specific, fairly high rank.

            1. Rosemary7391*

              Yup – UK academic here. Promotion to professor is a big enough deal that they get formal congratulations from the head of department where I’m at, and it’s also the point at which you get Prof Lastname instead of Dr Lastname.

            2. Fiorinda*

              It’s the same in Australia. Professor is the highest academic rank attainable apart from Emeritus positions here, and a lot of our international students being more familiar with the US system (either from experience or via pop culture) tend to call everyone from sessional tutors and Associate Lecturers on up ‘Professor’ regardless of what it means. Some would keep on doing so even after I told them they could call me Fiorinda, Fio or Dr Slater as they pleased, but never Professor or Professor Slater because it was an incorrect title – and I taught business writing and contextualised it as part of using correct forms of address for business communication (eg Fio for an email to a long-time colleague, Fiorinda for an email to someone you know but aren’t friendly with, Dr Slater for a print letter or a new email contact), so you’d hope it would sink in.

              Depending on the student, the use of ‘Professor’ could vary from being an annoyance (habit they couldn’t break or occasional slip-up) to creepily obsequious and manipulative (if they usually remembered the correct forms but broke it out when they wanted something or weren’t happy with their grades). I pushed back harder against the latter. But funnily, the one time someone called me Professor in class and I joked back, ‘Don’t call me that until I get the salary that goes with it’, funnily enough, I never had the problem again!

        2. Prof*

          Part of this is also down to local culture – at my current institution, the practice is for all faculty to be Dr. Lastname. I prefer Prof. Lastname, as it was at my former institution, but I don’t insist on it, because everyone here is Dr. I’ve also been at an institution where all faculty went by first names only, and I was fine with that. Local convention matters too!

      2. LibbyG*

        Oh, Professor is appropriate. There are academic ranks that use the word “professor”, but as a student you’re calling your instructor “professor” because they are the professor for your class. It should be fibe for everyone regardless of degree or type of appointment.

      3. Cat Herder*

        It is appropriate. And safe. Some people care about having the title and they will feel disrespected if it’s not used. Some people do not care about the title, but they will not be offended if it’s used — they’ll say if they don’t want it. Always best to start out “too polite” and then adjust to what people prefer.

    4. anonykins*

      I had an undergrad professor who claimed she had too many students with the same first name (to be fair, it was a religious school with a lot of Margarets and Daniels) and she would be referring to everyone by “Miss X” or “Mr. X”

      …except, I was the one bizarre undergrad who had just gotten married and changed my name (I don’t regret the marriage but I do regret the name change, unfortunately). I was being referred to as “Miss marriedname” even though that has never been technically correct. Of course, I didn’t really want to speak up, because I was afraid I’d then get referred to as “Mrs. marriedname” which would have been 100x worse. She didn’t seem like the kind of prof who’d honor a request to be called “Ms.” either….

      1. Annoyed*

        One of my first undergrad profs from wayyyy back in the early 80s started out calling everyone Ms. Smith/Mr. Jones. Very respectful.

        Here we are almost 40 (omg!!!) years on and Doctor Herlastname is still one of my closest friends. She uses my first name now (since forever actually) as I do hers but I *refer* to her as Doctor Herlastname.

      2. RachelC*

        I changed my name on marriage and it never felt quite right, so after nearly ten years I changed it back. I decided I could spend the rest of my life with a name that felt not-me, or I could admit I made a mistake and fix it. The paperwork was very tedious and I did have to clarify to a lot of people that I wasn’t getting divorced – in fact, Spouse’s unquestioning support of me having whatever name made me happy is part of why I love him.

  6. KHB*

    When I was in high school, I took a summer class where the instructor introduced herself by saying, “My name is Mary Smith. I’d like you to call me Mary, but if you’re not comfortable with that, the correct title is Doctor.” Maybe OP could try something like that – just referring to herself, rather than addressing the larger patterns she describes?

    1. whistle*

      That is exactly what I used to say to my students when I taught (college)! “I prefer you call me Whistle, but if that makes you uncomfortable, Professor or Dr. Lastname are also fine.” Some students really could not stand to call their profs by first names, and I can respect that, but I definitely don’t want to hear a “Mrs.” etc. when I’m your college professor.
      OP, I suggest, as others have, to correct her pretty firmly when she calls you by a name you don’t like. No mention of “preferences” or “please”. Just a simple “I go by Firstname.” Then escalating to “I need you to call me Firstname.”

    2. James*

      When I was in college some professors said they were okay being called by their first names. I simply couldn’t do it–they were in a position of authority that, by my upbringing and general personality, commanded respect. We simply were not equals, and I couldn’t bring myself to refer to them by their first names. I explained that to a few of them, and they understood. They viewed my calling them “Dr. Xyz” as an amusing personal quirk.

      In contrast, in the professional world I work with a lot of PhDs. Sometimes they’re my boss, sometimes they’re working for me, and sometimes we’re working in parallel. In this context we’re equals, and the company culture is to call people by their first names, so that’s what I do.

      I will say that there is a downside: If you know someone as Bob it can be hard to track down their contact information in modern database systems. In a large company there may be 3,000 Bobs, and finding the right one when you’ve never seen the man’s last name is a nightmare.

  7. Washi*

    You might also have luck with chuckling the next time she calls you Mrs. Whatsit and saying something like “I’ve asked you a couple times to call me Amy. Why do you keep calling me Mrs. Whatsit” in a genuinely curious tone. Chances are she will say something about being respectful, which would give you an opening to use Alison’s script.

    1. Kenneth*

      This takes away some of the adversarial nature and feeling of imposition that comes with Allison’s suggestion (as adopted by a lot of the commenters). And it opens up a conversation rather than merely ordering her to cooperate, which is far more inclusive. Which is extremely important when you’re talking about cultural differences that need to be reconciled. Or a timid coworker – another thing that appears to not be considered is the intern may actually be timid and submissive, giving not just a cultural clash, but a personality clash as well.

      Even after the conversation, if she genuinely is not comfortable using first names around people who are, arguably, her superiors (not just in title), her coworkers may have to live with it. The Dr vs Mrs, thing, however… it’s one thing to never use first names, but making sure the proper titles are used is important. But depending on where she comes from, women may not be referred to as “Doctor” even when they otherwise fit the criteria for the label.

      But this is something that can only come out in a conversation, which can lead to a better outcome than trying to just order her to comply.

  8. Glowcat*

    I agree, OP should speak to her. I would stress on the cultural factor, because it’s important that she realizes she is in a different country and this may not be the only thing she needs to do differently.

  9. DCompliance*

    The rule of etiquette dictate that you address people by the name the request. So I completely agree with Alison’s script. She needs to know she is being disrespectful.

  10. Blackeagle*

    It sounds like there are really two separate problems here: not calling people by first names in an office culture where that’s appropriate, and inappropriate use of people’s titles (using Mrs. for all women, inconsistent use of Dr., etc.). I think that both of these need to be addressed and given the circumstances it probably makes sense to address them together. However, whoever addresses these with her really needs to cover both issues. ]

    If they just address the first name problem then sometime in the future she’ll be in a situation where titles are appropriate and she’s likely to seriously offend somebody.

  11. MK*

    I have occasionally come across this in my (extremely hierarchical) organization. You are supposed to sir/maam supervisors and higher-ups always in public and also in private, unless and until they ask you to use their first names; most do so sooner or later. It takes some getting used to for those who have just entered the profession, but some people continue to use titles intentionally. The best response came from a former supervisor “When I ask you to use my first name and you refuse to do so, it’s actually insulting; you are implying that I was inappropriate to suggest it”.

  12. Its Ok To Say No*

    I haaaate this.

    The reason im alsqay given is “In my family/house where im from we do X”.

    So? I literally said “Call me Its”. Where you also taught to ignore people’s direct requests?

    For a kid still living at home I say its alright if they must call me Ms. No when theyre parents are around, but i rarely answer to it, so its best to avoid it. And then I dont answer to it. Sometimes its sheet habit, and reinforcing he undesired habit gets undesirable results.

    Truly my name to me is my first name, and if i had a doctorate of any level id actually pissed to have it excluded when a male was given the courtesy. Thats the same as expecting women to default clean up after meetings.

    I dont see how enforcing your name preference has anything to do with a manager. Its a personal/social issue. The sexism on the titles on the otherhand is manager level, but I would enforce it personally as well.

    1. DCompliance*

      That is one of my pet peeves, too. When people say “I was always taught to do address people as X.” Then you were taught incomplete manners. Yes, you can start out with a more formal title, but then you address them how they want to be addressed.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        It reminds me of the time an older man attempted to help me put my coat on, and when I said, “No thanks, I’ve got it,” he got all offended and informed me that he was always taught in the 1960’s that he should always help a woman put her coat on, and then cursed out feminists for ruining everything.

        1. Lara*

          “Waaaahhhh I don’t have plausible deniability to manhandle women anymore! Damn feminists!”

          1. Vicky Austin*

            This particular man was gay, so I know he wasn’t trying to cop a feel or anything like that. It was more like, “How DARE you have a problem with my generous act of chivalry designed to make you happy! How DARE you tell me that what I was taught decades ago was WRONG!”

  13. Delphine*

    Hmm, what does “not from the U.S.” mean in this context? Did she just move here for school after living in another country all her life, or has she lived here for some time, but just isn’t American? If it’s the latter, I don’t think telling her how we do things here is the right move.

    1. Blue*

      You run the risk of extreme cultural insensitivity and non-inclusive behavior here.
      I personally would find someone using my last name kind of charming. If she’s using the WRONG title for you, ok, that’s worth pointing out. “Actually I’m not a Mrs., I’m a Dr.! – if you are in fact an actual doctor.
      Otherwise you are kind of just being a douchey American.

      1. Dr. Stark*

        I think that the fact that this person is an intern is important to keep in mind- this is really a learning opportunity for her. She is learning about a particular field of work as well as how to work in a professional setting. It would be a disservice to her education to not point out that the way she addresses people is not OK and potentially alienating OP and others who could serve as valuable references for her in the future.

      2. Ms.*

        Although cultural sensitivity part comes into play in the framing (e.g. *not* “This isn’t Russia…”),
        I don’t agree that it’s “douchey” to request that someone call you by your preferred name. I personally would consider it irritating rather than charming.

      3. Bumblebee*

        I work with many PhDs. One of them is from a different country and likes to be called Dr. Lastname. The others are from the U.S. and like to be called Firstname. Neither preference is douchey; I respect everyone’s wishes.

        What would be douchey would for me to insist on addressing them that way I prefer, even if I know they don’t like it. Which is what the intern is doing.

      4. Genny*

        So it’s douchey of Americans to ask that people from other cultures respect our culture and the way we do things here? Let me guess, it would also be douchey of Americans to go to another country and fail to respect their culture while we’re there.

        Regardless of who you are or where you’re from, you should be respectful of whatever culture you find yourself in. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to persist in those mistakes once you’ve been corrected.

        1. Ann O. Nymous*

          ^This. It is NOT “culturally insensitive” to be intolerant of demeaning/misogynistic behavior. If the subject of this letter has been corrected and hasn’t changed her habits, she’s an a-hole. Give me a break.

      5. The Other Geyn*

        Yeah. I get the OP’s irritation. But on the other hand, having grown up outside the US where it’s downright rude to refer to people without an honorific and by their first name, I can see why it’s a habit that’s hard to break.

      6. Blue*

        A: using first names is NOT an American custom. Lots of Americans are referred to by their title/last names at work. So stop it with all that.
        B: Please consider other cultures where using honorifics is respectful. We have plenty of room in our professional norms to accommodate other people. Not making an effort to do so is exclusionary.

    2. Dr. OP (not Mrs. OP, please)*

      She is in her early 20s and has lived in the US for about 2 years.

      1. AliceBG*

        I think this information is hugely important to us understanding what this woman’s deal is — I wish it could be stickied or added to the OP. This is someone who is trying to navigate a new culture, not a native of the US with oddly quaint manners.

        1. Bumblebee*

          I think you missed it, because the different country thing was in the original letter.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            It’s the “has lived in the US for about 2 years” part that isn’t in the original letter. I also assumed that the intern in question only came to the US for grad school, but someone’s comment above made me realize I could be wrong. Thank you for clarifying, Dr. OP.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think, however, that in this scenario, “how we do things here” refers to this workplace, not the country. As in, if I went to a new company and was expected to address people by last names, I would expect to be told, “Please address me as Ms. X. That’s how we do things here.” Or something like that. I don’t think the OP is trying to speak for all people in the U.S.

    4. Ann O. Nymous*

      Why not? When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Her not being from the US is an explanation for why she does this, but that doesn’t make it OK in this context to address people (specifically women) in a demeaning way. I think it’s perfectly acceptable if faced with “I do [demeaning/misogynistic thing] because it’s the norm in [my country]” to say “Well, you aren’t in that country and here we [address women with respect].”

      1. Delphine*

        Because if she’s lived in the US a long time, then you just correct her behavior, you don’t turn it into a semi-patronizing teaching moment about culture. I’m American-born and you can’t imagine how many times people see my brown skin and assume I need to be educated about the “way things are done” in America.

    5. Nacho*

      Does it matter? I’m not even sure it matters that she’s not from the US. If she’s going to be working here, calling everybody Mr.X and Ms.Y will make her sound weird and hurt her professional standing. Calling them Dr.X and Ms.Y will hurt it a LOT, as shown by about half the responses to this letter being offended by it.

      1. Delphine*

        The approach you take matters. It’s insulting to assume that someone who has lived in the US for a long time would need to be educated about American customs, so you wouldn’t take that route if she was a long-time resident/American-born. However, if she’s very new to the country, that’s a helpful way to frame things.

    6. Cheryl Blossom*

      She’s still out of touch with office norms, so the intern could be told that *in this office* the correct way to address people is by first name.

  14. Equestrian Attorney*

    I mean, I grew up in Europe and it took me a little while to understand the intricacies of titles in North America, because that really wasn’t a thing in my home country, and neither was the Ms/Mrs distinction (all women above the age of say 16 would typically go by the equivalent of “Mrs”, whether or not they are married). So she may genuinely not know that this is wrong. But it would be kind to let her know because understanding professional norms is such a big part of becoming a successful professional and I can see how that would be really weird in a normal US office. I mean, our CEO goes by his first name where I work.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Yes, it’s very difficult to learn when you aren’t used to these kind of distinctions. I’m also from Europe, and the situations that call for titles in my native language can be counted on one hand. No matter which foreign language I try my hand to, I end up embarassing myself with some misuse of titles.

      I agree that it would be kind to give her advice! It doesn’t need to be a big thing, just a “By the way, in our office we don’t use titles, only first names, you can call me Anne”, the next time (or the next few times) she addresses you.

    2. Reba*

      Yeah, my impression is that in parts of Europe, “Madame” and “Frau” have shifted (?) to mean “adult woman” rather than “married woman,” whereas in the US “Mrs.” still strongly, I’d say exclusively denotes “married woman.”

      But what makes it hard to master is that the meanings, usage, and respect quotient of all possible titles varies quite a bit across regions of the US, across professions, etc. etc. (as we see on this blog)! So there’s not a simple rule or equivalent that can be taught to learners of American English.

        1. clara*

          We usually use Ms unless we have insider information (the the person is married and prefers Mrs, or has a doctorate).

        2. only acting normal*

          In Britain Mrs = title of a married (or widowed) woman, not any adult woman (as Frau and Madame are used).
          But it is not mandatory to use Mrs if you are married; some go by Ms or Dr or even Miss.
          If a title is necessary I go by Ms Mylastname, though I’ll let it slide if someone I’m only dealing with fleetingly (eg plumber my husband booked, delivery driver with package for him) guesses at Mrs Hislastname. If I had a PhD I’d definitely be Dr Mylastname. But really I prefer Firstname Mylastname – no title.

      1. Rhababerbarbara*

        Yes, and I understand that is annoying. Still, she may have to be told again. When you’re used to something since you’re born, it can take a while to change it. Think of learning a new language. In the beginning, you literally have to remember what a word means every time and mentally translate it. Also, in many European contexts, referring to people by their first name is considered insanely rude and therefore, it is instilled in people to always, ALWAYS make sure to use titles + last name. Matter of fact, my grandma’s siblings won’t let me use their first names but have me use Mrs./Mr. Lastname (although I’m in my mid-twenties, but they don’t want that kind of ‘intimacy’ because they feel they don’t know me well enough and it would be disrespectful due to age difference). Anyways, the intern clearly should make an effort to fix this, but pointing out WHY use of last names and titles are different in this office may be helpful (Alison’s scripts).

  15. Hello Sweetie*

    When I was a young grad student I was tasked with walking one of our big name seminar speakers from the seminar room to a different conference room up a couple floors. During the walk, two PIs (principle investigators) came along and the elevator we were on got crowded so when it was time to get off, I said “Dr. Ten, Dr. Eleven, Dr. Twelve, would you please follow me?”

    As we walked down the hallway, Twelve turned to me and says “Ten and I have PhD’s not MDs, just call us by our names, we aren’t stuck up like Dr. Eleven who has an MD. Isn’t that right Dr. Eleven?” And he turned to smile at Eleven who chuckled.

    My reason for using honorifics was because of my impostor syndrome. It made me critical of my standing among people who’s titles (not necessarily degrees) were higher than mine.

    1. KayEss*

      I’m reminded of a family story that is long and convoluted, but the punchline is a statement made by my grandfather–a psychiatrist, and very, very much to the type of male doctors of his generation–that he would interrupt God Himself to make sure he was being properly addressed as “Dr. Lastname.”

      Weirdly, my mother has an MD and my mother-in-law has a PhD, and I don’t think the “doctor” issue has ever come up. (I don’t think they’d argue about it at all, it would just be a momentarily funny conversation.)

      1. Hello Sweetie*

        I’m much more relaxed about it now that I finished my degree. My Impostor Syndrome was BAD! I don’t care if people call me Dr. or by my first name, but I did (gently) correct my mom when she addressed a letter to my husband and I as Mr. and Mrs. So her next letter came as Mr. and Dr. and I corrected her again. Cause technically the Dr. always comes first!

        But it is weird how some people with a PhD will be almost upset to be called Dr. I worked with a guy and mentioned that when I made flight arrangements it asked for a prefix so I put in Dr. and he said that even if he’s asked he’ll put in Mr. because he doesn’t feel like a doctor since he has a PhD not an MD.

        1. a name*

          One of the first things my husband was told about traveling on the university’s dime was that, once you’re a PhD, you NEVER book plane tickets as Dr., because it can lead to confusion if a passenger has a medical emergency midflight.

          And true to the rule, he’s had admins of about 8 different universities buy him plane tickets as Mr., not Dr.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        My mother has an MD and prefers to be called “Mrs.” in social settings. To the point where she gets irritated when someone addresses an invitation to her and my stepfather (a DDS) as “Drs. ALBsParents”, or “Dr. & Dr.” She prefers “Dr. & Mrs.” I don’t get it, but then hey, people get to be called what they want. My friends who were raised in more feminist households think I’m joking when I share this factoid, but no. ‘Tis true.

        1. Emily Spinach*

          I know some PhDs who prefer to only use the title professionally, and have heard one say it’s pretentious to use it socially. Like yes, at work I’m Dr. Surname but on mass mailings from political candidates and plane tickets and my kid’s PTA roster, it’s fine not to be listed as Dr., in my view.

    2. Dr. Doll*

      Miss Manners mildly observes that technically, only a medical doctor of some sort is called Dr. A PhD, which is in fact a higher ranking degree than an MD, is properly called Mr. or Ms. I refer us all to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s practice.

      I snicker when I see EdD’s signing their emails as Dr. Hebe Plufferton. Makes ’em look insecure. I sign emails and letters as Barbie, Barbie Doll, or Barbara Doll as needed for appropriate formality, and then my attached signature line is Barbara Doll, PhD.

      1. Reba*

        That might be Miss Manners’s rule, but plenty of PhD’s at my university are addressed (when something formal is going on) as “Dr. Whoever.” It’s normal enough that there is nothing that can be read into it, like big-headedness or insecurity. Note I don’t think most folks insist on it, but I thinking like when admins refer to them to others, Dr. is the most common address I’ve heard.

      2. Blackeagle*

        Miss Manners is wrong. The use of ‘Doctor’ as an honorific for those with advanced degrees actually has a longer history than it’s use for members of the medical profession.

        1. fposte*

          She’s not wrong, though. She’s talking specifically about certain kinds of American manners at a certain time, pretty much the 20th century. At the more prestigious universities in that period, the use of Dr. for a PhD was considered to be gauche and out of step; it was just assumed that you had a doctorate because you were there, and it would be awkward that you kept needing to assert it. When my cohort started job hunting, the use of “Dr.” for PhDs at hiring institutions was inversely correlated to the percentage of them in the faculty (there was also some regional correlation–the South really liked the use of Dr., whereas the northeast and midwest did not).

          There have been cultural changes that I have mixed feelings about that have affected that practice of nomenclature, so I don’t state it as a rule now, but she was absolutely right about it in the period.

          1. Cassie*

            But a PhD is a doctorate. MD is medical doctor. Dr. is doctor, like a doctorate. It may have been considered wrong in the past, but that’s how it works now.

            1. fposte*

              How it works in a lot of places, yes. It’s still not universal. Keep in mind also that lawyers have doctorates and we don’t call them doctor. This is a matter of custom, not quantifiable fact.

              1. Book Badger*

                I’ve been told (as a JD) that we don’t call lawyers “doctor” because historically the profession was the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, not a doctorate (and still is in almost all countries other than the US and Canada). This leads to the absurd situation of an LLM (a masters in law) being technically a lower degree but still requiring a JD to apply.

                And don’t get me started on ACTUAL legal doctorates (S.J.D., Doctor of Juridicial Science).

      3. Christmas Carol*

        Miss Manners actually had a funny story where a PhD didn’t use the Dr. socialy to distinguish himself because he said”doesn’t everybody have a PhD?” and thought this was a wonderfully proper to exhibit ones status

      4. Doc in a Box*

        My new job’s email client defaults the sender name as “Dr. First Last, MD.” It looks so pretentious! But it’s not editable, so I guess I have to put up with it….

  16. Sarah*

    I had no idea this was rude! I struggled with this (as an American). All through school and college, we are expected to call our teachers “Mrs.” Or “Mr.” Or “Dr.” but we are supposed to do a 180 and go to first names with older people once we start working.

    1. I'm A Little TeaPot*

      it is weird. And to top it off, we’re also generally expected to keep using the aunt/uncle titles, even as adults.

      1. anonykins*

        My parents made me refer to family friends as ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ as a child. Those same friends now want me to refer to them by just first name and I…can’t. It’s also been hard for me to switch from “Dr. lastname” to just “firstname” as some of my former professors have requested since I graduated. I don’t even really buy the whole title = respect business, but my parents really did a number on my ability to break a name habit once it’s formed!

        1. Laura H*

          Not my parents’ fault but I also have major trouble with this. Especially with adults who I’ve known since I was little. Fortunately, these people are super good sports about it.

          As for referring to my former profs on a first name basis- still hasn’t quite clicked yet.

    2. Invisible*

      Calling a “Dr.” by “Mrs.” is definitely rude, though. If you use honorifics, you use the highest one they qualify for.

      1. Blackeagle*

        I have to disagree. I have a PhD, but several years ago I transitioned from an academic job to a non-academic one applying my expertise at a practical level. When I did that I made a deliberate choice not to use “Dr.” I work with lots of local government officials and I didn’t want to be seen as an ivory tower type. I don’t make a secret of my background (someone who looks at my bio online can see that I’ve got a PhD) but I don’t emphasize it either. If someone called me “Dr. Blackeagle” professionally in a context where honorifics were appropriate, I’d gently correct them: “Mr. Blackeagle is fine”.

        The key here is that this is my choice of how I want to be addressed. I don’t think you should always use the highest honorific that someone is entitled to. You should use the honorific that they prefer (if you don’t know their preference, the highest is usually a safe choice, but you should defer to their preference).

        1. Invisible*

          I agree you should always use people’s stated preference, but unless otherwise notified, if you default to “Dr.” for male doctors and “Mrs.” for female doctors, then that is both rude and sexist.

          1. Kittymommy*

            I think this is an important distinction. It doesn’t sound like it’s a PhD vs MD thing but more if a male vs female thing. Men with a doctorate are Dr., and women are Mrs. regardless of degree.

      2. Spider*

        Counterpoint: I graduated from one of the Seven Sisters colleges, where it was Not Done to call your professor “Dr.” — it was either “Professor,” “Mr./Ms./Mrs.”, or their first name — because it was to be taken as given that all the faculty had their PhDs.

        (This always struck me as the academic equivalent of Old Money vs. New Money snobbery, which is definitely in line with the college’s social history.)

        1. Sara without an H*

          Hi, Spider — Yes, I remember being told “A Ph.D. is like a pair of trousers. You only notice its absence.”

          I also had a mild argument with my thesis advisor about how to refer to women scholars in writing. My method was to refer to an author as “John Doe” on first reference, then as “Doe” thereafter. But if I used this system on women scholars, e.g. “Jane Genius,” then “Genius,” he got very uncomfortable. A lady was always supposed to receive an honorific, “Miss Genius.”

          This was, of course, in another age of the world.

    3. Hope*

      Well, that’s because in a school/college setting, you’re acknowledging that the teacher/professor/etc. is in charge and you don’t have quite equal standing/authority. When you’re working, you’re now equals, so of course you’d use first names. It’s not the age of the people, it’s the position.

    4. LQ*

      This is about who are your peers. Once you are at work with someone they are your peers. (Which is why some very formal workplaces continue to institute these norms for people higher in the organization.) It’s not a 180, it’s that you’ve become peers with these people. When they are your teachers they are not your peers. When they are your coworkers they are your peers and should be addressed as peers (with the name/honorific they prefer and as fits your business norms).

  17. k.k*

    I think it might go over better coming from the OP instead of the manager, if their relationship dinamics are at least standard office friendly. Coming from a youngish woman it will feel more like an insider tip from a peer(ish) or friendly heads up. Coming from her someone who is older, male, and her boss has a greater chance of feeling like reprimand. At least, I know that’s how I would have felt.

  18. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    Most of my introductory communication in higher ed has been via email, so if I have no idea what a person’s title or honorific should be, I’ll just use something like “Good morning,” and then launch into my email. And if it’s not clear from their response or email signature (like signing with just a first name), I will ask them how they want to be addressed. Typically Dr. or Prof. are safe because they are gender-neutral. (I say typically. Sometimes “Professor” is the top-ranking faculty member in a dept and can get VERY PRICKLY if anyone else is addressed as such).

    So I think it would be a good idea to point this out to the intern, and also ask her why she keeps addressing people with titles instead of just reminding her again that it’s a first-name office culture. She may have some nervousness or some other reason to persist in this that would do her some good to name out loud and let her know that it’s really okay to use first names.

  19. Jes*

    There is a twenty-something in my organization who insists on calling everyone Ms./Mr. First name. It drives me insane! I live in the South and this is a social norm for children to address adults. Her supervisor encourages it, because she also calls her own employees Ms. First Name!!! And she wonders why they don’t respect her. I have tried explaining it to supervisor and twenty-something. They are the only two people in the organization who do this.

    1. anonforthis*

      This was me to a T. I’m a Baltimore native who had local polite hammered into her head: all women are Miss and all men are Mr.
      I was stuck on it until 35 years old. I genuinely did not see the glaring rudeness.
      It’s part of my 3 am anxiety litany to rehash the mortification when I realized how strangely immature I was being about the whole thing. I just could not let it go.

    2. clara*

      I’m British and this is not done in Britain at all Jane Smith unless you know her martial status is either Dr Smith, Ms Smith or Jane never Ms Jane. This was so weird when I briefly went to the South of the US for work. It seems to happen in a lot of places. In my opinion it sounds ridiculous but I was unsure how much of that was my not being used to it and I didn’t know if it was a cultural norm or not.

      1. only acting normal*

        Agree, it sounds very quaintly American to a British ear. Also addressing anyone outside royalty as Ma’am.
        I think the closest we get is using “Miss” and “Sir” to address all school teachers (or Dr/Mr Lastname, Dr/Ms/Mrs/Miss Lastname if addressing them in full).

        1. Jes*

          It is definitely a Southern thing- like I said, the polite way for children to address adults. Sir and Ma’am are more of a military thing in the US. I never used Sir or Ma’am until I married someone in the Army and worked in various places on the Post, where you are expected to use those terms whether you are enlisted or civilian. It stuck and I still call people Sir or Ma’am. I live in a big Navy town, so no one really bats an eye.

          1. OtherBecky*

            Sir and ma’am may be military, but they are by no means exclusively military. They’re also very much Southern (granted, Southerners serve in the military at a higher than average rate). They’re still used a lot even in non-military families/areas.

            It is, for some reason, considered deeply disrespectful for a child to answer an adult’s question with a plain “yes” or “no.” It’s yes ma’am, yes sir, yes thank you, etc. When a little boy of my acquaintance was having trouble mastering the m sound, his parents taught him to finish the sentence — e.g., “Is purple your favorite color?” “Yes, it is!”

            (I don’t know *why* it’s disrespectful. It just is.)

  20. Matilda Jefferies*

    I find this part interesting:

    There are some men she calls Dr., the rest are Mr. (even though some of them are MDs and PhDs).

    Sooooo….at least her incorrect usage of titles isn’t gender-based, at least? I’m actually kind of giggling to myself, picturing her inventing titles for people seemingly at random.

    Seriously, though – someone needs to explain all this to her. Cultural differences aside, she’s doing it wrong no matter what, and based on some of the comments here, some people are very likely to be annoyed even if they’re not saying anything.

    Even if she’s the greatest intern the world has ever seen, this is what will stand out when people think of her. Chances are she would rather be remembered as “the intern who did all that great work for us” as opposed to “the intern who used honorifics all the time even though we asked her not to.”

    1. Dr. OP (not Mrs. OP, please)*

      I feel like she’s making things so much harder for herself by insisting on the titles. If she’d just call everyone by first name as she’s been asked, there would be no guesswork required.

      To be fair, she’s not particularly good at following instructions in other aspects of her work either.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Oh, this sounds like it’s a bigger issue then: a failure to follow instructions. It’s fine to not know things–you’re an intern, it’s a learning experience–but when you are given instructions (whether about the work itself or the office’s norms) and you don’t use them? That’s a bad sign.

      2. Tertia*

        I can’t put my finger on why, but “To be fair, she screws up at a lot of things” is somehow one of the funnier clarifications I’ve seen on this site.

  21. I'm A Little TeaPot*

    I worked with an intern several years ago who was not from the US, and she was doing something similar. She was told, gently, several times that her mode of address wasn’t having the impact she was going for and instructed on how to address people. She didn’t take that advice. At least until the day when she called the visiting upper mgmt woman, who is a phd, a Mrs. And that woman ordered her, clearly, coolly, professionally, but VERY firmly that she WOULD use generally accepted means of addressing people, and if she refused she’d be fired.

    The poor girl was in tears, but spent the rest of the time there complying and being rather obviously mortified that she was being so “rude”. I don’t know what happened to her, but I hope she got over whatever cultural programming she had, because it was detrimental to her doing anything in the US.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      The poor girl ignored several corrections earlier informing her that she needed to change her method of addressing people, so she definitely earned being called out by someone she essentially insulted with the wrong title. Glad she was able to follow directions eventually.

      (Again, I’m not generally so picky about titles and almost never use mine, but I am very picky about people ignoring polite requests about how to address someone, especially if there’s a gendered or respect element.)

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Same here. I’m not all that worried about titles per se but I do not use “Mrs.” at all nor do I share my Husband’s surname. Call me Firstname or Dr/professor (not a professor but some students just use it anyway)Lastname…that’s fine, but don’t call me me Ms and that guy over there Dr.

    2. Ginger Baker*

      I once had to inform an intern (at an accounting firm) who was raised in India that OMG NO, do NOT address your letter to the IRS representative you are working with as “Mrs.” unless you have SEEN that in her email or other communication signoff. The LAST thing you need to do is piss off your IRS rep and that is one reallllllllly likely way to do it.

  22. nnn*

    It might be particularly useful for OP to speak to her if OP is young enough to have been The Young Person in the office and can speak to the issue from an “I’ve been there, I get that it’s awkward” point of view.

    (When I’ve done this, I’ve also thrown in that most often no one will notice if you simply don’t directly address them by name, but I’ve heard people in other contexts say it’s rude not to use someone’s name, so use that one judiciously.)

    In terms of dissuading Intern from using Mrs., it might be useful to include in your messaging that in American English, Mrs. specifically implies marriage and, strictly speaking, is meant to be used with the woman’s spouse’s surname (there are googleable Miss Manners citations for this if you want to show your work), so it’s technically incorrect to use it for someone who is unmarried or who uses a surname other than their spouse’s. (Yes, I’m sure someone reading this comment thread can find an exception, but in terms of messaging to achieve OP’s goal “It means something else” tends to be more compelling than “Don’t use it because I say so”)

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      The issue I see with this is supposing that the intern knows that Carla uses Spouse’s surname ergo she assumes that she should rightly use Mrs. when addressing Carla who is an MD and prefers Dr. to Mrs.

  23. Environmental Compliance*

    Oh boy. Yeah, it’d be a kindness to sit her down and explain how this is going to affect how people view her (and how it may be disrespectful when she thinks she’s being respectful). Hopefully after an explanation she understands and makes the shift.

    On a related note, when I was TA-ing, I once had a student insist on always addressing me as Dr. Mrs. Professor EC. Not only was I not a PhD (or even getting one, I was getting an MS), I wasn’t married, and wasn’t a professor. Plus, all TAs went by their first names, as did nearly all of the professors – I can think of only one that didn’t, and IIRC he went by his last name, no title. Could not for the life of me get the student to stop addressing me like that. I’ll always be curious how he addressed actual professors, other TAs, or any other position of perceived authority.

    1. Moonlight Elantra*

      Reminds me of Dr. Mrs. The Monarch (formerly Dr. Girlfriend) from “The Venture Bros.”

  24. MicroManagered*

    Since her manager hasn’t done this, if you have pretty good rapport with him, you might suggest it.

    I would not even say “you might suggest it.” Go to her manager and ask him to address it. It sounds like it already pisses you of a *little* OP. (Enough that you made sure to mention in your letter that you are more properly addressed as “Dr.” and not “Mrs.” ;)

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      It’s obviously going to be a problem for the intern if she stays/works in the US. Look how many people in this comment thread are highly annoyed/pissed off and they don’t even work with her. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  25. Jenn*

    Our office had an intern where we had the opposite problem. Our VP, Director and then me (a coordinator) were all women. She would frequently refer to the director and me as “girly” – like “Hey girly, what’s up? How was your weekend?” The director finally spoke to her about it and it stopped.

    Another intern would call everyone Friend “Hello, friend!” which I took as her nice way of being polite about the fact that she didn’t remember anyone’s name but it grated on me. I’m not your friend. I mean, I’m not your enemy either but come on already with that.

    1. Squeeble*

      I feel you on the second one. It feels a bit like the person is buttering you up because they want something, even if that’s not what they intend to convey.

    2. KayEss*

      I would straight-up assume that “Hello, friend!” intern was a secret robot or space alien.

    3. Persimmons*

      The correct way to interact with people when you forget their name is to call everyone “champ” or “governor”. #fogielife

    4. fposte*

      Oh, I had a staffer who used “Hello, friend” and it was really nice. Maybe it’s dependent on the person.

    5. Classic Rando*

      “Hello, friend!” is how I greet random animals I encounter around my yard. I’m sitting on my patio and a finch shows up on my fence, “hello, friend!”

      In my last retail job I had a regional manager that I did not like. He was kind of a jerk, and after trying to order my manager to fire me (thankfully my manager had my back that he’d grossly misinterpreted intent behind an attempt to be helpful), I was always coolly distant when he’d show up. One time he came in while I was talking to one of my coworkers. I was facing the RM when he approached, so he greeted me, by name, first. Then he turned to my coworker and said, “Hey… you…” because he couldn’t see the nametag on his shirt.

      I don’t know how I kept a straight face. The coworker complained about it and the RM eventually had to apologize.

    6. RUKiddingMe*

      Anyone calling me girl/girly, etc. will piss me off faster than anything. It’s annoying and infantilizing.

    7. Erin*

      I had to have a chat with a teenage girl I managed in retail calling everyone buddy. I can’t believe nobody told her it was insulting to walk around calling superiors and strangers something you name a dog. I told her “I’m 31 and one of your supervisors and you’re 16. My name is Erin. I’m not your buddy it’s irritating and disrespectful. Don’t ever let me catch you using it with a customer it’s either Sir or Ma’am or their name if you know it.”

    8. sleepwakehopeandthen*

      I will use friends as a gender neutral way to address a group of people (“Hey friends instead of “Hey guys”). I also seldom remember people’s faces but generally just deal with that by not using a name at all when I talk to them.

  26. Anonny*

    oh man. I went to a executive briefing center meeting at Very Large and Established Global Tech Company, and for some reason they printed *my* name tag with Mrs. First Last. I think that was the longest and most detailed piece of feedback I’ve ever left after a 2-day meeting, because I was so incensed.

    I don’t use Mrs.
    My marital status has nothing to do with work.
    You didn’t even use honorifics with half the men there.

    Still bothers me. But when we returned two years later, they had magically stopped doing that. Next time it happens, I will probably ask for a new badge.

  27. Kay*

    We once had a student worker from a non-US country who did this. He could not morally justify calling his superiors anything other than Dr. [blah] Ms [blah]. He knew he needed to adjust to meet his audience, and eventually came around to Ms [ first name] Dr. [ first name]. He would even ask which prefix one would prefer so as to not muddy the whole Ms. Mrs. Mx. thing.

  28. Picnic Place*

    Weird as this scenario is, I dislike using nicknames for people at work as I feel it is too familiar and friendly when I actually don’t know the person and prefer the formal use of their name unless I am friends with them outside the work setting. Sometimes I avoid using the nicknames altogether and just start talking without saying the person’s name. But this is another story – in OP’s case I agree Dr should be used for both genders or just use the first names.

    1. Sam.*

      Do you mean that you don’t feel comfortable using a nickname even if that’s what they tell you to call them? If so, I think you need to get over that. What’s extremely clear from the comments here is that people want you to respect their wishes and call them what they’ve asked to be called.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Not using the names that people introduce themselves with is rude. If Josh introduces himself as Josh, then don’t call him Joshua.

      I would think you were being overly familiar if I said “Hi, I’m CJ,” and you insisted on calling me Claudia Jean.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      People don’t like being re-named. Nobody gets to call me Jenny except my mother. But my colleague whose name is Genevieve, and she goes by Jenny? You’d better believe that you should call her Jenny. (And if you tried to go formal and use Jennifer, well, you’d be using the actual wrong name.)

      And some people are named the actual shortened version. There are people named Jenny and that’s what’s on their birth certificate.

      So if you’re saying that you wouldn’t give someone a nickname, well, that’s good. But if you’re saying that you wouldn’t USE a nick-name, even if that’s how they introduced themselves? That’s weird.

    4. Vicky Austin*

      When you say “nicknames,” do you mean nicknames such as Princess, Champ, Lady Bird, Spider, and other nicknames that sound nothing like their given names? If so, I can understand why you’d be hesitant to use names like that at work. Those nicknames are unprofessional IMO.
      However, if you mean shortened versions of their given names, such as Liz for Elizabeth or Bob for Robert, then I think it’s respectful to call them by the names they prefer. Everyone calls me by a shortened verison of my given name, and I correct them when they call me by my full name.

      (Fyi, Vicky Austin is not my real name. It is a name of a character in Madeleine L’Engle’s books.)

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        There’s a senior manager in my company (my grandboss’s grandboss) who goes by a nickname that is not remotely related to her given name (think ‘Sweetie’ but her name is Charlotte). Would you really tell her she’s being unprofessional?

        1. Vicky Austin*

          I wouldn’t tell her to her face that she was being unprofessional, because that would be even more unprofessional.
          But it’s my opinion that nicknames like Sweetie, Curly, Schmo, Twinkie, etc. are unprofessional and ought to be saved for family and close friends that you’re known for yet.

    5. Anonymous Ampersand*

      If you call me my full name I won’t realise you’re talking to me. Use the short form if you want a response. It’s even my email address.

    6. Not a Mere Device*

      I won’t answer to what people think is my “full name,” because it’s not my name. The name on all my ID, clear back to my birth certificate, is one that originated as a short form of another name.

      I’ll explain this, once: “No, my name really is $realname. That’s what my parents named me.” Anyone who tries to argue further about what my name “really is” at that point is being disrespectful.

      Fortunately, I’m getting this less now than I used to; maybe the white hair helps, or maybe it’s just part of the trend toward more casual usage.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        My parents named me a “nickname.” I have argued with people all the way back to and including my kindergarten teacher about what my “real” name was. I say “was” because I always hated that name (not because it was a nickname…just hated it) and legally changed it decades ago.

    7. Cheryl Blossom*

      Nicknames, like Katie for Katherine? Because sometimes those are people’s actual full names…

  29. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I don’t think the Dr./Mrs. thing is a distraction. She must stop that, immediately. It’s horrifically sexist, and if she doesn’t stop after having it explained to her I would end terminate her internship.

    As her colleague (not her manager), I think I’d say: “Intern, I need to talk with you about a practice of yours that I’ve observed. When you speak with your colleagues, you use titles like “Dr.” and “Mrs.” rather than first names. I understand that you are trying to be respectful by using titles when you address people. But in this office, we use first names, and it’s actually disrespectful to ignore our practice. Please use first names for all of our colleagues going forward.

    I’ve also noticed that you tend to use the title “Dr.” for men, and “Mrs.” for women, even if the women also have PhDs. You are treating men and women differently based on their gender, and that is a big problem. By using first names this shouldn’t come up again, but I wanted to be sure you knew that this was a problem of its own.”

    As her manager, I’d add: “You cannot continue treating men and women differently, and I need you to understand that if you do you will not be able to continue your internship.”

  30. Gotham Bus Company*

    My office is all first names, even in interviews. (“Good morning, Wesley, I’m Jean-Luc and this is Will, Deanna, and Geordi.”)

    1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      It’s this way in my office, too. The only two people around here that you address with a title are the president and the provost.

  31. Goya de la Mancha*

    Oiy, we have a SWEET AS SWEET can be girl working with us again this summer. She always calls the department staff Mr/Ms and most questions are answered with a “yes ma’am/sir”. We’ve told her multiple times that it’s ok to use our first names and she has loosened up a little since last year, but it’s been an uphill battle. It’s cute and endearing the first few times, and then it starts to drive everyone batty.

    1. Anony McAnonface*

      When I was a kid I referred to all my friends’ parents as “Um…” because they’d told me to call them by their first names and I was Not Okay with that. As an adult, in my first office, I opened with “Mr. Name” because I didn’t know the culture. I was informed not to do that. First names only please. And so I got the heck over myself and started using names like a grownup. There is no excuse not to call people by their preferred names, and if you’re going to use titles than at least get the right one. I think to some extent it’s a sign of insecurity in one’s own place in the structure. Clinging to old habits and formalities is comforting, but this is the big bad world and sometimes you’ve got to put on your big girl panties and call your boss by their first name.

    2. BF50*

      I think instead of telling her it is ok to use your first names, you need to tell her you prefer she use your first names. The first implies it her choice, but both are acceptable, which is not the case.

  32. TootsNYC*

    The point I might make is less a negative and more a positive:

    “If you can master this, you will look more fluent and acclimated in the English language and American customs, which will be a big plus for you here in the U.S. Or, if you work elsewhere, you’ll have a big leg up.”

  33. Observer*

    That said, I’m worried that the Dr. and Mrs. pieces of this will muddy the primary message he needs to deliver, which is to use first names in your office

    Actually, I disagree with this. The first name thing is somewhat office specific. But the Mrs. / Ms thing and the use of titles is pretty much universal in the US.

    1. TootsNYC*

      also, which is a worse look?
      That she’s overly formal?
      Or that she belittles the female PhD’s in her office?

  34. LBG*

    I have some younger attorneys in our practice that refer to me as Mrs. I have asked them to call me by my first name, but my husband is very high up in the org (signs all hiring paperwork), and I think they may be intimidated by that. I am sure it would get better if we worked in the same location, but since they only see me occasionally, it is trickier. The Mr. would prefer first names as well btw.

  35. Secretary*

    OP can you find an excuse to talk to her today so that you can report back how that goes??

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think this is asking a bit much? I get that we’re interested and excited, but we’re just the folks on the Internet.

      Also, Alison is really good about sharing updates no matter WHEN they come.

      1. Aisling*

        I agree. While OP wrote in to an advice column, that doesn’t mean she’s required to let us know how it went. And, pushing someone to do something on your timeline rather than their timeline is also coming across as, well, pushy.

  36. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    In the intern’s defense, the US can be super weird with honorifics! Some people prefer to go by “honorific, last name” – our head job trainer is always called “Mr. Smith” by everyone! (I mean, I know his first name is Bob. But NO ONE calls him Bob. I’ve been here a decade and I can’t think of a time I’ve heard him referred to as Bob.)

    One of the “bad” habits I picked up (which is culturally accepted in my office) is sometimes referring to older people as “Mr./Ms. First name.” (This is a thing that a lot of people do! I’ll usually follow others’ lead.) So I’ll often greet our admin as “Ms. Jane,” the facilities employee as “Ms. Lucinda,” so on and so forth.

    (And that’s the start.)

    1. Laura H*

      Well another important thing is to adapt to the culture you’re in, and if that includes inconsistent, but simultaneously consistent, addressing conventions- one goes with it.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        Well, yeah. But it’s still really hard to adapt, even if it is a culture close to your own but still distinct.

        So, like, in my case, I work at a non-profit based in an inner city area (and yes, I’m aware that term is loaded). Although I’m black myself, I’m from the suburbs and joke about how “non-black” I am sometimes. (Again, really loaded terminology.) So – say – calling a woman “Ms. [firstname]” was something I rarely heard other than when I was in school. And if I were to do so in most cases where I live now (in an upscale primarily white town), I’d get odd looks! So learning that was accepted was a little difficult.

        (What was really weird was when I started getting “Mr. Llama” from some of the HS-age kids that worked with me! I was…bemused, because I’m not that much older than them (we work with transition students (up to age 21), and I’m in my early thirties okay mid thirties but just barely, dude).

        Back to LW’s situation I mean, yeah, the intern is coming across as rude. But I feel like a lot of people are just leaving it at that and not acknowledging that she might be having to unlearn a lot of things that she was taught as correct. She shouldn’t push back on it because you’re right – when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But also, it might actually be difficult for her to adjust and that shouldn’t be discounted.

    2. Erin*

      At work the two head managers had the same first name. So for simplicity when they were both working we called them Mr. X and Mr. Y. It was less confusing.

  37. This is my third username*

    Oooo-this would really irritate and color my judgement of her. You should tell her. It could hurt her professionally.

    My mom and I got in a big fight over names on wedding invites. She wanted the invite to read Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. Hello no! I told her that the women PhDs and MDs would not appreciate it, and it was rediculous not to invite women with their first name and this is a hill I will die on. (It went over well when I told her I was keeping my maiden name)

    Names are such an important personal element of your identify. Not using the correct name and title (if you insist on using one or one is required) is so rude. Sorry, rant over.

    1. Cheryl Blossom*

      Absolutely! And especially if someone asks you to call them by a certain name– doing otherwise is SUPER RUDE. I don’t care if you think shortened names/gender neutral names/names from 80s bands are Not Appropriate. Names are important!

  38. pcake*

    I’ve worked online supervising graphic designers in the Philippines. I was unable to get any of them to call me by my first name, which they felt was disrespectful; they always insisted on calling me Ma’am and my male colleagues sir. One of the designers explained to me that calling a boss by their name just wasn’t done, and it would be extremely disrespectful to call me by my name and make them very very uncomfortable, like they were doing something wrong. Since we worked online together, I let it go at that point, but if they were to come to the U.S. and work in-house, I’d expect them to get used to using first names or appropriate titles.

    1. Plague of frogs*

      I’ve gotten “Ma’am” a lot from my colleagues in the Philippines, but some of them use Ate–big sister–which I like.

  39. Fluffer Nutter*

    I have taught a lot of ESL and for some people the distinction between “missez” and “miz,” and “miz and miss” is impossible to say, or even hear. If others find themselves in the situation, depending on the person’s native language, you might have to explain it and let it go. I have a Germanic name and just had to settle for being called something else for 2 years in Africa. My co workers didn’t have “r” in their language so while I was annoyed (and felt like a secret agent) it couldn’t be helped.
    OP should still explain it, of course, and the Dr and Mrs part needs to stop,but most of the Russian speakers I’ve taught can only pronounce “ess” as “zee.”

    1. Invisible*

      It’s not even a native language thing- in my part of the US, “Miss” and “Ms.” are pronounced the same. I’ve never heard anyone ever say Miz, but we definitely use Ms. for both married and unmarried women (Missus is also rarely heard).

      1. Birch*

        Yep, and the use of Ms. is not standardized enough for it to really be marriage-neutral. I grew up in the Midwest and at least in my region, it meant a woman who was divorced. In my region it was pronounced like Miz. We also used Miss Lastname for women partnered with other women, and Miss Firstname for early childhood education teachers (which I hated being called myself). I think now Ms. is more often used for any woman, but the point stands. You can’t really be sure how it’s taken. I wish Mx would catch on in more places, or that there were more options for people to choose from. I also wish there was an acceptable title for people with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees–they deserve recognition too, if they want to define themselves by education rather than marriage, people should be given that option!

  40. Suffering Succotash*

    Haven’t PhDs realized by now that only MDs are appropriately addressed as “Dr.”? This is just as much of a faux pas as insisting on calling people by their surnames–so pretentious!

    1. TootsNYC*

      This has never been true AT WORK. Absolutely, when one is in a professional setting, where one’s doctoral degree has relevance, the title “Dr.” is used.

      For a very long time, it was true SOCIALLY that only M.D.’s were addressed as “Dr.” That is what all the etiquette books will tell you (I used to write a wedding etiquette column, so I’ve researched this).

      And there are a lot of people who do not subscribe to the idea that their doctorate is unimportant compared with an M.D.’s degree or certification. (given that M.D.’s have to pass state medical boards, there is an argument that their status has greater relevance to a larger population)

    2. Anony McAnonface*

      I believe in the UK it’s quite different and that at a certain level of being a medical doctor you actually reach a point where you revert to being called Mr/Mrs/Ms. I won’t swear to it, but the whole thing is so stupid I don’t even care. I’ll use Dr for academics. They worked plenty hard to be where they are.

      1. TootsNYC*

        If I remember right, it’s surgeons that go back to Mr. and are proud of it.

        From the Royal College of Surgeons,

        Why are surgeons in the UK called Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs, rather than Dr?
        In most other parts of the world all medical practitioners, physicians and surgeons alike, are referred to as Dr while in the UK surgeons are usually referred to as Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs. This is because, from the Middle Ages physicians had to embark on formal university training to gain possession of a degree in medicine before they could enter practice. The possession of this degree, a doctorate, entitled them to the title of ‘Doctor of Medicine’ or Doctor.

        The training of surgeons until the mid-19th century was different. They did not have to go to university to gain a degree; instead they usually served as an apprentice to a surgeon. Afterwards they took an examination. In London, after 1745, this was conducted by the Surgeons’ Company and after 1800 by The Royal College of Surgeons. If successful they were awarded a diploma, not a degree, therefore they were unable to call themselves ‘Doctor’, and stayed instead with the title ‘Mr’.

        Outside London and in the largest cities, the surgeon served as an apprentice like many other tradesmen, but did not necessarily take any examination. Today all medical practitioners, whether physicians or surgeons have to undertake training at medical school to obtain a qualifying degree. Thereafter a further period of postgraduate study and training through junior posts is required before full consultant surgeon status is achieved. Thus the tradition of a surgeon being referred to as Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs has continued, meaning that in effect a person starts as Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs, becomes a Dr and then goes back to being a Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs again!

    3. Cassie*

      That’s not actually true. A PhD, like an MD, is a doctorate degree. You wouldn’t call someone with a PhD a medical doctor just like you wouldn’t call a medical doctor a doctor of philosophy, but both are doctors!

      1. Cassie*

        Certainly if someone with a PhD tells me they prefer to be called Mr./Ms./Mr. either outside of work contexts or all the time, I would obviously do that, but the point I’m making is that it is not wrong or pretentious for a PhD to call themselves Dr. some or all of the time. It is a doctorate degree!

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I know many will go by Mr/Ms/other preference purely to avoid being called on if there is a medical emergency (a family friend once adopted this after being woken at 2 in the morning by hotel staff when travelling, trying to explain that they were not a medical doctor, and being shunned by fellow travellers the next day who thought he just couldn’t be bothered to help) … but it’s a choice, not a requirement.

            1. Rosemary7391*

              That’s annoying, and disappointing that people didn’t get it after explanation, but probably much less frequent than people assuming it’s Mrs and having to explain your marital status or caring about it to a stranger. If I’m gonna get marked as being fussy about something I’d rather it be my education !

    4. Cheryl Blossom*

      Ok, but if she’s calling some (male) PhDs Dr and some (female) PhDs Dr, then I’m pretty sure the issue is not that she doesn’t think PhDs should be called Dr. And Dr it’s perfectly professional to use for a PhD in a professional setting.

    5. clara*

      So in a university people shouldn’t use their titles because they aren’t MD’s? Or what about in a scientific lab where someone is a doctor of Chemistry for example? Socially I would agree but there are plenty of professional settings where it is appropriate.

      Also these PHDs want to be addressed by their first names so I don’t see how they are being pretentious they merely feel if they can’t be addressed by their first names men and woman should be recognized equally for having the same qualifications (which is fair).

    6. Rosemary7391*

      Pretentious? Hardly! It’s an earned title. When I get there I won’t be pretending to be anything, I’ll literally be a doctor of philosophy. I think it’s appropriate anywhere Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs would be. That’s a UK perspective though. We have a bit more variety in titles generally I think.

  41. Sk*

    As someone who made similar mistakes in a non native language (being overly formal because I was taught it was the safest way to be polite and had no experience to grasp who used formal and informal language with whom and when – which just made me come off as cold more than it did polite) — yes definitely explain the difference to her and why it matters!

    1. Marillenbaum*

      I’ve been in that boat! I have been getting tutored in French for the past month, and while I initially defaulted to vous with my tutor (because she’s teaching me, and I’d always been taught that teachers are addressed with vous), she pointed out that we’re both adults and it was fine to default to tu under those circumstances.

  42. Amtelope*

    I agree with the commenters who’ve said that the Dr./Mrs. thing is worse than being inappropriately formal across the board. Because it’s sexist and may have serious repercussions for her, I think you have to address it as part of your feedback. She really needs to get three points: in your office, people use first names, and she should too; when she uses Dr. for men, she needs to use it for women, too; and when she doesn’t know the title a woman prefers (and it doesn’t make sense to default to “Dr.” or “Professor”), she should use “Ms.,” not “Mrs.”

    1. clara*

      My friend is an MD, her husband is not. She is Dr Smith and he is Mr Smith yet so many letters meant for the household get addressed to Dr and Mrs Smith as if assuming women can’t be doctors despite the fact in my country there are more female than male MDs.

  43. stitchinthyme*

    I always wonder why it seems like so many people have a problem with the simple concept of “Address people the way they want to be addressed.” Seems like a no-brainer to me. If you introduce yourself to me as Robert and you do not use “Bob” or “Rob” as a nickname, I will call you Robert. If you introduce yourself as “Ms. Smith”, that’s what I’ll call you.

    It would seriously annoy me to be called “Mrs”. I’m married but I did not take my husband’s last name.

  44. amanda_cake*

    I used to tutor in my college’s writing center. I saw a lot of international students. There were several that insisted on calling me Professor Amanda. I told them countless times that I was a student just like them… eventually I gave up.

    I heard this happened to other friends who tutored across campus.

  45. I Coulda Been a Lawyer ;)*

    I wonder what happens at my doctors home. Both she & hubby are MDs, and they have 3 kids still at home – an MD, a DVM, and a PhD!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      “Hi, can I speak with Dr. Smith please?”
      “Which one? There are five of us.”

    2. Cat Herder*

      Haha, my husband, his sibling, and his parents all have PhDs. I love walking into a room and calling “Dr LastName” and having all four pop their heads up like meerkats. Never gets old…

  46. YuliaC*

    I’m completely with Darlingpants. A lot of sexism and racism is getting excused like that – oh, they just didn’t think that through. Poor muddled dears.
    Doesn’t matter. If their half-conscious processes end up in insulting the person, they need to make their processes more conscious.
    People who talk condescendingly to other races also frequently don’t consciously think “this person is not as able or advanced as I am.” People who talk over and interrupt women in meetings frequently don’t consciously think “this is a woman talking so it doesn’t carry as much weight as what I have to say.” These people are not innocent and need to wake up.

  47. Annoyed*

    If someone called me “Mrs.” despite the fact that I am and have been married since the beginning of time, I would be very angry. It is absolutely sexist.

    Also sexist: I have a PhD and they call me “Mrs” or even “Ms” but refer to male PhDs as “doctor.” Nope. Would.not.fly.

  48. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1… you said she’d been asked several times to cut it out… I think this is where you have to stop asking and start telling. Blunt is good… especially if English is her second language, then, with kindness, stating what is requires may be easier.

    So instead of “i prefer …” it’s OK, and a kindness, to say “calling me (title) is disrespectful. I need you to call me, and others, by our first names. This is not negotiable. Are you able to do this?”

    If she tries to say she finds it rude, then reiterate that calling someone by their title when they have asked you not to is very rude… and that calling a female colleague “Mrs”, especially when it should be “Dr” is not on!

    1. clara*

      This. She is (I assume) not trying to be rude but she is coming across as sexist and out of touch. Use the phrase “you are being rude” if she pushes back and it might hit home, many non native speakers of any language revert to being ultra polite (in their opinion) due to lack of confidence and feeling that way they cannot make mistakes (not true and I’m speaking from experience here). I strongly suspect this is what is going on.

  49. Willow*

    This is most likely a cultural thing, but someone should definitely (nicely) say something. Otherwise, this intern is going to have issues in all of her other jobs as well.

    It might be the equivalent thereof — for those who have learned other languages such as Spanish and German — using the polite “you” forms all the time since that was how it was done in school, but not knowing that real live conversations are different from school. Though I would be willing to bet that in Germany, one would still use “Sie” and not “Du” when addressing one’s manager.

    1. nnn*

      The funny thing is in every language I’ve studied, I invariably find the polite version easier to conjugate. More than once I’ve been in a situation where someone tells me I can call them “tu” or “du”, but then when speaking off the cuff I get stuck in the middle of the sentence and forget how to conjugate so I revert to “vous” or “Sie”.

    2. Julia*

      Usually you would, but it depends on the office and how your relationship with the manager is. The good thing about German Sie and Du is, however, that they have to be used symmetrically, so if your boss calls you Du, you are well within your rights to call them Du as well. (Actually, using Sie in that case would be very weird. Only children have to call adults Sie and get called Du.)

      1. Onyx*

        Yeah, the Du vs. Sie distinction definitely seems to be a matter of formality and/or familiarity, *not* rank. Which was driven home for me by the listing in my German classes of categories you use “Du” with: family, friends, children…and *God*. (Incidentally, that’s the same reason you see “Thou” used to address God in old-fashioned translations–that’s not formality; it used to be the English informal form of address that you’d use with your family and your buddies.)

        I was also amazed when I did an exchange program in Germany how little I ended up using formal address with people I regularly interacted with. My (whole, extended) host family immediately told me we could “duzen” (use “Du” with each other), fellow university students customarily are addressed with “Du” (as was taught in my German classes), and my internship was in an office full of young people in a university lab who all used “Du” and first names, including our manager (but not the Professor in charge of the lab, who was addresses and referred to formally).

        1. Onyx*

          I.e., the people I most commonly addressed formally were not people of high “rank,” etc., but rather store clerks, university admin staff, etc.–people who I simply didn’t know.

          1. Julia*

            These days, store clerks in “hip” stores (so clothing, not the supermarket) address customers with Du, which personally irks me a lot. I never know whether they do it because I look young for almost 30 or because it’s store policy, but my mother still gets a Sie, so I think it’s the former, which I find super rude.

  50. Shelly*

    I have always found this blog to be insightful and professional, however, these comments calling the intern sexist and racist are just as culturally insensitive, which is just as rude. I work at an international NGO with people of all ages and cultures. I have many colleagues from Africa, Latin America and Asia who find it incredibly disrespectful to call someone by their first name. The intern is in the U.S. and this is an opportunity to educate them about the workplace culture here. But jumping to conclusions about this person’s intent or character or ridiculing them or jumping to conclusions is ridiculous. This is a very disappointing chain.

    1. Cheryl Blossom*

      Okay, but when they *keep* doing it after they’ve been told it’s incorrect? (Which they have!) That’s the intern being disrespectful *at best*

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      No one is jumping to conclusions. The intern has been told how to address people and is not doing it.

    3. Someone else*

      When the person first uses the wrong form, it’s sensitive to point out to them how/why they should change what they’re doing. After that, if it’s an occasional slip up, sure fine, cut ’em some slack. But what the OP described was the intern having been repeatedly corrected and still not changing the behaviour at all. Once you get there, the intern’s the rude one. That’s not jumping to conclusions. That’s a logical sequence of events. When someone says “don’t call me that, call me this” and intern continues to always call them that, that’s the intern failing to follow instructions.

    4. Observer*

      As others have pointed out, she’s been told more than once what the norm here is. But, it’s not just that she won’t use first names. She is ALSO not using correct titles for the women and using Mrs. instead of Ms. Those are both serious problems in the US workplace. And, while the second thing could really just be ignorance, the different uses of titles for men and women is far harder to overlook, imo.

      So, the intern may not be terrible or even consciously sexist. But she IS doing something that’s going to legitimately rub a lot of people the wrong way and which comes off as really sexist.

    5. Iain*

      They’re not accusing the intern of sexism because of excessive formality, but because:
      John Smith PhD ->Dr Smith
      Jane Brown PhD ->Mrs Brown.
      So, the intern has two issues as has been spelled out above. Over formal which may be forgiven due to culture but still should be corrected as learning is the point of interning, AND sexism.
      Clear now?

    6. Anna*

      One can be from another culture and also sexist. These things are not mutually exclusive, especially if their culture of origin is sexist as well.

  51. Good, Cheap, or Soon. Pick Two.*

    I’ve actually had to have this conversation more than a few times… the best approach I’ve found is a calm, but firm, sit down that simply states the facts as this.
    You understand that it is a force of habit for the person to address others as “X” but that is not the way people here prefer to be addressed. Further, it alienates their coworkers when the person ignores requests in how they wish to be addressed. Referring to all female coworkers as “Mrs.” is actually considered sexist in our culture. It assumes women are sexist and ignores hard earned honorifics. If you are not using first names, you must be careful to use proper titles for everyone, regardless of gender. This is not up for discussion because not following these cultural norms can create a lot of resentment and frustration in the work environment.

    If they continue to flub after this, gentle correction is used for one week. After that, people are allowed to default to (approximately) “Okay, you’ve got three choices: First name, Doctor, or Boss.” territory and reporting the intern to HR EVERY time she flubs. Why? If she continues after that, it is sexism and general boorishness because she’s been informed that what she’s doing is hurtful and sexist and she’s chosen to continue doing so.

  52. notafairy*

    Well considering that she´s from annother culture, you need to be explicit when talking to her about norms and professionalism. The part about not addressing women with their PhDs is plain sexist but the Ms./Mrs. thing might be a traslation issue going on.

  53. OldJules*

    It is so cultural. I’m from South East Asia (part of the Commonwealth) and before I joined a local Canadian multinational, I grew up with, you will address people by Mr., Ms., Madam/Sir/Lord/fill in the assorted titles possibilities + their name. Even in generic letters, we are expected to place every possible title applicable to our audience. If you are friendly with her, a pro tip would be much appreciated especially when she comes from a different culture. She probably fears to use first names unless someone specifically sits down with her and ask about how names and handled in her local culture and explain the difference to her how it works here in the US.

    1. Dankar*

      Yes, I either get Mr. LastName (which is incorrect) or Respected Madam (which is amazing) from my Southeast Asian students.

      I simply email them back using just my first name in my signature, and most of them seem to catch on from that. For the others, I let them know once they arrive in the US that I should be called by my first name, and our female director should be addressed as Dr. LastName. It takes a while for some students to pick up on US honorifics, but the key is to be consistent in your reminders and to understand that they really just want to be respectful of the Americans they’re working and studying with. It’s very unlikely that this intern intends to be sexist and approaching it that way is patronizing and unkind.

  54. Greg*

    Related question about Mrs. vs. Ms. in formal correspondence: I work in a fairly stodgy industry but previously worked in a looser one, so my default is always to use “Ms.” for a woman. For the most part, I feel like you can never really go wrong that way (the one exception where I would use “Mrs.” is if I’m sending something to a married couple, eg “Mr. and Mrs. MacGillicuddy”.)

    My coworkers, who have all worked there longer than me, often worry that “Ms.” can come across as offensive to older, more traditionalist women, and will do research to try to determine someone’s marital status in order to ensure they get it right. I think that’s overkill.

    What do people think?

    (By the way, the silliest example came when my colleague had to schedule a meeting between our boss and a woman who happened to be a personal friend of mine. She was about to send an email to my friend’s assistant, but called me first to ask about my friend’s marital status. I said, “Well, she is married, but it’s to a woman, and they both kept their names. Stick with ‘Ms.'”)

    1. Greg*

      Just to clarify what I mean by “overkill”, let’s say you’re sending invitations to a list that includes Jane Hassenpfeffer. If I specifically knew beforehand that Jane was married and preferred Mrs., I would use that. But otherwise, I would send it to “Ms. Hassenpfeffer” and would consider it highly unlikely that she would get offended. But then again, I’m not an elderly traditionalist woman, so maybe I’m misreading the situation.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      I usually go with your approach, and even myself go one further and don’t assume a married woman uses Mrs. in a business context even if I know she and her husband share a name- but I’m in a very liberal area here, so your approach is probably right if it’s more in tune with the local culture. I wasn’t sure what to do with my wedding invitations because all the advice was so dated (“you must list it Mr. and Mrs. His full name!” Agh), but Miss Manners has apparently updated hers to basically say to list each person’s full name and honorific separately on their own line. Much better, clear, and I also found that made the mail merge easier!

  55. GreenDoor*

    This is definitely a kind thing to do no matter how titles work in an organization. In my organization, titles are very much important, including calling all Ph.D.’s and Ed.D’s “Dr.” Anyone below you in hierarchy you can address by first names even if they’re a “Dr.”, but anyone above you, you had better address by title. Even people on the same level will use the formal name. Its just our culture here.

    Every workplace is different with names/titles and you’d be doing this intern a kindness if you point out that, in your organization, formal names are actually disrespectful.

  56. Anonymeece*

    I work with international students quite a bit, and the “Mrs.” thing is quite common; it also happens to be a pet peeve of mine, since I don’t like the assumption that every woman over 20=married. My thought is that there’s something lost in translation (if the person’s native language is different) that makes Ms./Mrs. more nebulous (though I also see it with students fresh out of high school who are native English speakers). Definitely inform her! And honestly, you may want to compromise and tackle the Ms./Mrs./Dr./Mr. thing and give up on the first name until a later date. I like Alison’s script, but to me, calling someone by their first name vs. credentials is a weird quirk, whereas the Dr./Mrs./Ms. thing is actively insulting.

  57. Chris Hogg*

    “she is not from the US” so it sounds like this may be a cultural issue (I work with refugees and things like this come up occasionally). I think it would be helpful to have a discussion about culture in general and this issue in particular, with a definite explanation that this person is not in Kansas any more and *this* is the culture in this office. Talk about it in terms of culture, but be specific and be direct.

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