The dentist I went to see the other day called me Susan, and I hated it. The telephone banking people call me Mrs Hepworth, which is fine (I think they must have a note on their files.) I don’t like people who don’t know me, and who are in one stroke business relationships with me, calling me by my first name. As my name on their official records is Susan, they tend to call me that, which is even more alienating.
But I’ve been puzzling a lot over why this is, when I’m essentially a very informal person. I don’t mind strangers using terms of endearment, because they are generic terms, and they’re friendly while being impersonal. When the woman on the hospital appointments switchboard says “I’m sorry, darlin’ but I’m having trouble with my computer,” I like it. And I’m perfectly happy for bus drivers or nurses or shop assistants or whoever to call me love, me duck, sweetheart, etc etc. (But I’d rather they didn’t call me dear because it sounds as if they think I’m elderly.)
Some of you might not know I’m a Quaker. Quakers have always (i.e. since the 17th century) avoided using titles when they are addressing people. This stems from their testimonies of equality and simplicity, and their desire to use plain speech. Mostly it’s about treating everyone equally. They would not use the terms Lord, Lady, Sir, Madam, etc, or Mr, Mrs or Miss. This means that if you’re a Quaker and you don’t know someone well, you call them by their first name and last name, as in “Good morning, Sue Hepworth.” Children are treated with equal respect, and they would not be expected to use titles when addressing adults. When Quakers write letters to people they don’t know, they don’t write Dear Sir or Madam, they tend to write either Dear Friend, or Dear first name last name.
My children and grandchildren call me Sue and that’s fine. And it may or may not be relevant.
I think I’ve worked it out. When the dentist I have never met before (and who I shan’t be meeting again because of his skimpy check-up) said “Hello, Susan,” it smacked of an assumed intimacy, in the same way that when he asked me what I was doing today, it implied that he had the right to know. It could be because I can’t do small talk, and maybe it’s because I’m too honest (see last post) and if I chose to answer him I would feel impelled to answer him honestly (e.g. “I’m going home to write a letter to my MP about the deterioration of NHS dentistry due to poor funding”).
This post is an example of how I understand myself better, and find out what I think, by writing it out.
Sadly, my conclusions gives the lie to one of my favourite sayings - “I don’t care what you call me as long as you don’t call me too late for dinner.”