Names You Call Your Mother-in-Law

I met my mother-in-law when I was in high school at best, though it may have been middle school. Like all adults those days, I called her Mrs. with her last name. My kids’ friends do not call me by my last name today; they use my first name just like everyone else. But back then, we called adults by their last names, so that’s how I knew my mother-in-law. And then I grew up and married her daughter.

At some point over those years, she insisted that I start calling her by her first name. Seems reasonable. I have also had teachers that I later became associated with professionally, and they always tell me to use their first names. This is, obviously, impossible. How can I go through years (if not decades) of calling somebody one thing, and then suddenly call them something else? I cannot. Or I can, but the back of my mind always reminds me that I am wrong, and that their name is actually “Mr. so-and-so,” or Dr. something-or-other.” I know a couple of transgender people who have transitioned and now have new names, and I will call them by whatever name they ask me to. But it will be weird, and my brain will tell me it is wrong. My poor mother went back to her actual name (instead of a childhood nickname) in her 30’s, and her entire family still calls her by her nickname. They just can’t call her anything else.

So I was thinking about this today, and I realized that I don’t really call my mother-in-law anything at this point. I will say hello, and have conversations, but I will not use any sort of name for her unless I really, really have to. Like if I need to get her attention from across a large field, I will shout out her first name, but otherwise I will say “Hey,” and “Oh, excuse me,” with no name attached. I know I am not supposed to call her by her last name, and yet it will always feel weird to call her by her first name. So no names. Names are out!

Most of the members in my church choir that I currently direct have been in that choir since I was a kid myself, and I knew them all by their last names when they were my Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders. Now I have to call them all by their first names. I am getting used to it, but it is not easy.

I am tempted to write this off as just another brain problem situation that comes from being me, but my external research has led me to believe that I am not the only one with this issue. Names are powerful, and the names that we give people and objects at the beginning tend to stick. There is deep magic in original names, and it is hard to undo. Sorry. I’m working on it. And if I accidentally call you a name from your past, I apologize. It’s not that I don’t want to call you whatever you want to be called, Guy From High School Who Shortened His Name To A Nickname In College, it’s just that my brain will not cooperate. I’ll have a chat with it. Can’t promise anything. So please don’t be offended if I call you “Hey you.” It’s just safer that way.

Posted in Choir, High School, mother-in-law, Names, Teachers.


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