Friday, March 23, 2007

Professor Nomenclature

From the combined forces of careful parenting and an unnecessarily formal hometown, I have never felt comfortable calling adults (let's assume that I don't count myself in that demographic, at least for the next seven months) by their first names. Ever. Even the closest of family friends were always "Aunt" Irene or "Uncle" John -- never just a given name. And above all, teachers, professors, and bosses were always addressed with some sort of appended title.

Recently, however, I've found that every single one of my architecture professors insists on being called by his or her first name. I find it terrifying in the extreme. While they're all perfectly approachable and amiable human beings, they're all professors and practicing architects, and -- though clearly this judgment is both unfair and untrue -- the last department I would expect to be so informal with students. All of my other professors (some tenured, some not -- some even not actually professors at all, but rather hopeful grad students) have insisted on the title.

One of the more notable side effects of being an only child is that I've spent most of my life interacting primarily with people anywhere from one to five decades my senior. Now, the only difference is that they all want me to address them as if I'm their equal -- and though flattering, it secretly pains me. My boss is Nick. My studio professor is Madeline. Even Mrs. Amanpour, apparently, is Christiane.

Though I can't say I miss it, childhood was so much simpler.


Shira said...

At my elementary school, we called all of the teachers and the principal by their first names. I didn't really know to call anyone Mr. or Mrs. until high school - it just never really came up.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm on the other end of the stick - the gray haired architecture faculty/practicing architect going by a first name. It definitely blurs lines of authority, but I think this good. My interns have to have the same standing with our clients as I do - and my students need to start thinking of themselves as responsible partners in the process.

My students occasionally get trapped in the "what do I have to do to get the grade" role - while I am nudging them into taking on projects with self-directed fascination. I am more interested in my role as a coach ( like a music teacher, not in a sports sense) - than in being a traditional spoon feeding teacher. Somewhere in this is the core of the first name habit - but, in the middle of a busy Monday morning at the office, it escapes me.

Thanks for jogging my thoughts - I'll think of you tonight when my students are presenting projects.

J said...

The grad students who teach your classes want to be called professor? That's just pretentious. :-p

But I sympathize with your dilemma. I'm currently in the awkward position of being on a first name basis with some of my instructors but not others.