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  1. #1
    Plexike is offline Newbie
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    Question Call me by my first name/last name

    Dear Everyone, I'm a college student from Hungary, I study English, and as this is my last semester here I am writing my final thesis right now.
    In one of the chapters of my thesis I am writing about how we Hungarians can express distance or familiarity, power or solidarity and politeness toward our partner in communication through our mother tongue and about the social rules that govern our choice from among those language elements and sentence structures that can express the mentioned factors.
    In another chapter I would like to write about the same things in relation to the English language and the English people. And at the end I will discusse what are those things that only one of the two languages are capable of expressing and how. So the reason for why I'm writing here is that I would be really glad if you could help me with that.

    So the Hungarian language is similar to the French and the German languages in a way that we have the so called 'T-V distinction' which means that we have two (actually three) personal pronouns that we can use to refer to the second person singular: 'te' = Fr. 'tu', Gr. 'du' and 'Ön'/('Maga') (Ön is more often used as it is more elegant) = Fr. 'Vous', Gr. 'Sie'.
    'Te' denotes familiarity and solidarity while 'Ön' denotes distance, politeness or the power of the addressed.

    I now that in English there was once such a distinction, too and I know that, too that today if someone call the other by his/her first name that means that they are in a close relationship.
    I also know that for example the use of some auxiliaries like 'may' or 'could' is considered to be polite in some situations, but I would be really glad if you could write me some sentences or something which show that you and the person you are talking to do not know each other (and that there is distance between you).

    What is it that makes somebody ask the others to call him/her by his/her first name?
    If you knew the name of the new post-person or the new shop assistant would you call him/her by their first name? Or how would you call them?

    I am interested in these and such things.

    Thank you for your help in advance!

  2. #2
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Call me by my first name/last name

    The US is a very informal society. I call my CEO by his first name. He calls me by mine. In many ways, it's assumed (outside of the job application process) that a first name is okay. My children's teachers write to me as "Mrs. X" in their first e-mail, but I consistently sign mine as "Barbara" so they use that by the second or third time. I've never said "Oh, please call me Barbara."

    My husband has worked in retail (men's clothing) for a very long time. He thinks anything that shows you consider that person to be a real person instead of a non-feeling robot is a good thing. He always uses the person's name if that person is wearing a nametag and says things like "Thank you, Mary, you've been very helpful today" or will joke with the person and say "Everyone on the street says Peter is the guy who will take good care of you." Most of the time, when you say things like that, "Peter" will indeed start taking a more active interest in helping you because you've shown interest in them as a person.

    Very rarely, when I get a bad feeling about someone (they are tyring to sell me something I don't want on the phone, or whatever) if they say "May I speak to Barbara X" I will say "Yes, this is Mrs. X" instead of "Yes, this is she." Using Mrs. X. gives a signal that I do not consider them my friend and I do not want a personal relationship with them. This is rare.

    I cannot imagine ever saying to someone "Please call me Mrs. X" if they call me Barbara.

    An exception to all of this, of course, is children and adults. My children's friends all call me Mrs. X.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  3. #3
    TrishaC is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Call me by my first name/last name

    Hi!
    I'm living in the UK, and typically it's been my experience that politeness/wordiness = social distance. Like in the words you mentioned...
    (for example, at a restaurant)

    To a complete stranger: Excuse me, sorry to bother you but could you be so kind as to lend us your salt? We don't have one on our table.

    To a friend: Pass the salt please.

    If I were to use the 1st expression when speaking to my friend, they would be a bit confused because of the unnecessary formality.

    **Some people/families my always use these extremely polite phrases because they feel that it shows respect but this varies a great deal from person to person. Generally, I tell my students, with a stranger, it's safer to be too polite than to be considered rude.


    As well...
    I'm not sure if this is the kind of information you are looking for, but the pronoun 'you' is still very powerful in English when you want to be very direct.
    For example, in a boss/employee conversation.

    B: You have a problem. (very rude because it is too direct)
    vs
    B: We have / There is a problem. (creates personal distance so the problem is the focus)

    or even the passive....

    A problem has been found.
    Last edited by TrishaC; 07-Apr-2012 at 07:11.

  4. #4
    Raymott's Avatar
    Raymott is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: Call me by my first name/last name

    Quote Originally Posted by Plexike View Post
    What is it that makes somebody ask the others to call him/her by his/her first name?
    If you knew the name of the new post-person or the new shop assistant would you call him/her by their first name? Or how would you call them?
    Yes, in Australia. Anyone working in a non-professional job is called by their first name. Rarely, a person will insist on their surname.

    I am interested in these and such things.

    Thank you for your help in advance!
    In professional circles, it depends on where you are in the pecking order and the social milieu of the office/workplace. The easy way is to find out what your peers call the boss, and call him the same. Many managerial staff like to maintain a distinction where they are called Mr X, but they get to call their staff Peter or Mary.
    People with special titles tend to like to be called Dr A., Prof B., etc. But this varies a lot. One Professor I had used to say, "You can call me Bill, as long as you do it politely."
    This is very different from 40 or 50 years ago (in Australia) where people in the professional workplace used to be called by their surnames. I'd attribute the change to American influences, television, and the general libertarian mood of the 1960s and 70s, compared to the 50s and before.

  5. #5
    Plexike is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Call me by my first name/last name

    Thank you very much!! You all helped me a lot!

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