When it comes to wrestling with what to call people, if you’re a boomer and you haven’t already “been there done that,” you will soon! That is what former San Francisco Chronicle humor columnist Nick Hoppe deals with when he says, “Just don’t call me late for dinner.”
I’ve had a problem with names all my life. Now that I’m 66 years old, one would think I would have moved on from worrying about calling people by their first or last names.
Nope. I was flummoxed again when addressing the orthopedic surgeon who replaced my hip a few weeks ago. She is 36 years old, and I’m 66. Surely I was entitled to call her by her first name, Jessica.
She was calling me “Nick” during our office visits. Quid pro quo. But then again, I wasn’t going to be holding a scalpel and cutting into her. The last thing I wanted to do was offend her. I just couldn’t stomach calling someone 30 years younger Dr. Hooper, so I didn’t call her anything.
My anxiety over names began long ago with Mr. Wilson. He was my dad’s best friend while I was growing up, and we spent many summers on vacation with him and his family. Mr. Wilson would always be Mr. Wilson, or so I thought.
Then I grew up. I’d see Mr. Wilson occasionally, and I’d silently beg him to ask me to call him “Ken.” No such luck. I was 30 years old, and I’d sheepishly continue to call him Mr. Wilson, because I was afraid to sound insolent.
He was a kind, wonderful man, but maybe he relished torturing me. I vowed to be the opposite as I grew old.
When grown children of my friends address me as “Mr. Hoppe,” I quickly instruct them to call me “Nick.” Some are relieved and grateful to be free from the shackles of childhood. Others can’t bear to make the change, secure in their patronage. I tell them having a 30 year old whom I’ve known all their lives call me by my last name simply makes me feel old.
On the other hand, there are those who call everyone by their first name. This is especially true of salespeople, who would be wise to change their tactics.
“How is your day going, Arthur?” I get asked all the time on a cold call from someone trying to sell me something. “Arthur” is my formal name, and they got it off some database. I’m not fond of the name. Their chances of selling me something immediately went below zero.
Those who somehow manage to realize I go by “Nick” have a slightly better chance, but not much. I called Mr. Wilson by his last name for far too long to have some young whippersnapper I don’t even know call me by my first name.
Every generation has become less and less formal. Most kids today call their parent’s friends by their first names right from the start. Maybe that’s a good thing. They’ll never experience the anxiety I went through with Mr. Wilson.
It comes down to age, respect and familiarity. If I don’t know you, and you’re much older than I, you deserve to be addressed by a salutation and your last name, unless you instruct me otherwise. That’s the rule of my parent’s generation, and to a lesser extent, my generation.
The problem for me is that there aren’t too many left that are that much older than me. I can call pretty much everyone by their first names, unfortunately. But I have also lived long enough to deserve a little respect from people with whom I have had no connection. Mr. Wilson got it, and now so should I.
It will never happen, though. The younger generation likes it casual. Precocious 12 year olds will call me “Nick” within minutes of meeting me, clueless salespersons will call me “Arthur” and only a select few will be respectful enough to call me “Mr. Hoppe.”
Which brings me back to my dilemma of what to call my young surgeon. I want to show respect for her profession, but a lot of us have post-graduate degrees. Besides, she’s younger than my oldest daughter. Something has to give.
On my post-op visit, two weeks after she had masterfully replaced my hip, I decided to take the bull by the horns. I asked her what she preferred to be called, “Jessica, or Dr. Hooper.”
“In the office,” she replied, “I prefer Dr. Hooper.”
I quickly thought about this young surgeon, almost half my age, calling me “Nick” but insisting on me addressing her more formally. Then I thought about that scalpel and her expertise, and had only one answer.
Nick Hoppe’s latest book is, “Some Books Aren’t Meant To Be Sold: A Collection of Humor Columns.”