Is it Really a Jewish Thing?


Lately I’ve been struggling with how my son’s friends address me and how he addresses his friends’ parents or my friends. I grew up calling all grown-ups by their first names, with the exception of teachers, of course. My parents’ friends were always Bob and Susan, Karen and Rich, Sam and Michelle. My friends’ parents were always Michael and Sarah, Carol and Fred, and George and Harriet. My husband grew up calling everyone Mr. and Mrs. He hardly ever called any adults by their first names.

Now I am finding myself in uncomfortable situations where I am addressing friends by their first names, but they are addressing themselves to my children as Mr. and Mrs. I am also dealing with the issue of how to ask children to address me. While  I would prefer to be called Heather, rather than Mrs. Martin, I don’t want to undermine my friends’ desires to have their children address adults with Mr. and Mrs.

It got me thinking – is this difference due to general upbringing or religion?  I grew up in South Florida and my husband grew up in New England, so could it be geography? I grew up Jewish, he grew up Roman Catholic, so could it be religion? In my circle of Jewish friends, there was never really a question about how people are addressed–everyone used first names. Today I also move in circles of friends where most are not Jewish and their preferences are more mixed between Mr. and Mrs. and first names. 

As a person navigating an interfaith relationship for a relatively short period of time (we’ve been married seven years and together nine) and the mother of young children (2 and 5), I seem to happen onto these things more and more as we embark on each new phase of life.  While some of it has nothing to do with religious upbringing, I cannot rule out the role of Jewish religion or culture as a possible reason for our differences. As I mentioned in my last blog post Learning from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, being aware of the differences in upbringing between partners of different faiths can help the Jewish community be more welcoming.

The solution to my issue is, to me, pretty straight forward. I ask parents and friends what they would like my children to call them. I also let them know that I am fine with having their children refer to me by my first name.  The answer to whether or not religion is the reason behind these differences, I may never fully figure out.

2 thoughts on “Is it Really a Jewish Thing?”

  • There are probably aspects of it that are regional, generational, etc.

    If you want a few more anecdotes that we can pretend are data:

    I come from a (non-jewish) family who have lived in New England and with a wide range of ages for the siblings (mid-teens to late forties.) The kids in their forties were taught to refer to adults as Mr. and Mrs. The kids in their 20s and younger more often refer to them by their first name.

    My wife has lived around the greater Boston area and was raised Jewish. Her mom (especially) taught her kids to refer to adults with the Mr. or Mrs. title and preferred children to address her as Mrs.

  • I’d say this is more a regional thing, actually. Most of the Southerners I’ve met want the kids to address adults as Mr. or Miss First Name and say “sir” and “ma’am.” People in the Midwest are more informal. I called my mother’s friends by their first names. My teachers were Mr. or Mrs. something or other and older people I didn’t know were Mr. or Mrs. I don’t know many Easterners but maybe there’s more formality there too. I don’t know that religion makes a difference one way or another, though there may be more Jews on the Coasts and maybe the countries of origins encourage a more informal style. I’ve noticed that some of the people I’ve met from Mediterranean cultures (Italian, Greek) use their hands more when they talk, seem a little louder, and are far more tactile than the people from Norwegian, Swedish and German cultures I grew up surrounded by. The Greek father of my college classmate was always “just George.” I’m Catholic.

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