The crucial first name etiquette rules. The appropriate ways to use someone’s first name and avoid offending them.
What first name etiquette is
First name etiquette is the set of rules to properly use someone’s first name. Such rules include:
- When it is appropriate to use someone’s first name.
- The most common mistakes.
Follow first name etiquette to properly address people without disrespecting them.
General first name etiquette principles
Addressing someone by their first name is informal and sometimes can imply an acquaintance or relation with the person. Thus, some people may be uncomfortable if someone they are not acquainted with addresses them using their first name. Under some circumstances, the improper use of the first name can even be perceived as aggressive.
First name etiquette is based on two main principles:
- Avoid making the other person uncomfortable.
- Avoid being perceived as abusive.
First name etiquette rules
1) Wait for permission before using someone’s first name
We can use someone’s first name only upon receiving permission to do so. Without such permission, you should address others by their last name or title. Such as “Professor” or “Mrs. Smith”. Wait for the other person to say “call me John” or a simple “John” if they prefer to be addressed by their first name.
When you meet someone for the first time, if they introduce themselves by saying their first and last name, you should address them by their last name or title. You can address them using their first name if they introduce themselves by their first name alone.
Addressing someone by their first name alone is most appropriate among younger people in social occasions.
2) Use of the first name with established acquaintances
In general, it is polite to address by first name anyone who you are acquainted or have a close relationship with. The exception is when there is a difference in age or role, such as with seniors or with a former professor. In such cases, it is appropriate to keep addressing the other person by their title or last name to show respect.
3) Consider the occasion
On formal occasions, it is best to always use titles and last names and avoid first names. The same applies to formal communication. In general, if you are in a situation where the majority of the people address each other by title or last name, do not address anyone by their first name. Even if you have a close relationship with them and normally address them by their first name.
Similarly, on every occasion where the other person has a somehow institutional role, such as a professor or doctor, it is best to address the person by their title.
4) Respect the local first name etiquette
The use of the first name can greatly vary by geography. In the United States, the social etiquette is rather informal and the use of the first name is widely accepted. In more conservative cultures, such as the United Kingdom or Germany, the use of the first name is perceived as very informal and thus restricted to fewer occasions.
5) Do not over-use someone’s first name
In general, it is polite to use a first name when greeting someone. After you greet them, you can use the first name again to draw someone’s attention. However, it is unusual to use someone’s first name during a conversation with them.
6) Use first names equally: do not discriminate
Do not discriminate in how you use the first name. It is the best etiquette to address every person in a group in the same way. As an example, in a class or in a team, if you address most of the members by their first name, do the same with everyone. Do not address someone by their first name, and others by their last name.
First name etiquette on specific occasions
Use of the first name at work or in the office
Follow your company’s culture when addressing your manager and coworkers. If your company is rather formal, it is best to address others by their last name. If coworkers address each other by their first name, do the same.
Schools and universities
At schools and universities, students are expected to address their teachers and professors by their title and last name. The use of the first name is inappropriate and should be discouraged.
Use of your first name without permission
If someone addresses you by your first name without permission, you should clearly ask them to avoid doing so.
Usually, it is sufficient to keep addressing the other person by their title or last name. Often, the other person takes the cue. Otherwise, you can simply ask to please stick with each other’s last names or titles.
First name etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst etiquette mistakes.
- 8/10. Using someone’s first name without permission.
- 7/10. Not adapting to the local customs.
- 6/10. Discriminating in the use of the first name.
- 6/10. Using someone’s first name on an inappropriate occasion.
- Do You Use Somebody’s First Name or Last Name? wsj.com