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FIRST-NAME FAMILIARITY IS THE LAST STRAW

SHARE FIRST-NAME FAMILIARITY IS THE LAST STRAW

It just happened again. The first several times, I thought it was a fluke. But now I know: it's a trend.

"Say hello to Betsy," the woman instructs a 3-foot-tall person. A person who counts his age on one hand.I looked behind me. Surely there was another 3-foot-tall person I had overlooked who happened to be a Betsy, too.

But that was not the case. The woman, the mother of this tiny tot, was introducing her child to me and using my first name.

Perhaps I look young for my age, I thought. Perhaps she really thinks this child and I are contemporaries who should be out on the playground duly taunting each other, coming up with the nastiest derivatives possible for each other's monikers.

But no. The mother, like so many others I've met since delivering my own little one, feels her darling precious little one and I should be on a first-name basis. That her child should feel he's on the same level with me.

But wait a minute. I don't want to be on the same level as a 3-year-old. I worked hard to get where I am. It took me forever just to graduate from the kids' table to the grown-up table at holidays. I've earned some respect for that alone.

And does the 3-year-old have a mortgage? Can he get into R-rated movies? Is he upset when he gains a few pounds?

By the same token, if I dribble or scream bloody murder when I bump my head, or threaten to stop breathing every time I don't get my way, do people think I'm cute or precocious?

I should hope not. No, the adorable 3-year-old and I are most certainly not contemporaries.

I first learned this when I, myself, was an adorable 3-year-old and attempted to address an adult by his first name. Unfortunately, I chose to try it out on my father. Big mistake. It might have earned a life sentence without parole had not my mother intervened.

I learned to respect adults' authority and their experience. The fact that they addressed me by my first name and I always addressed them by their last meant that there was an appropriate gulf between us. That they were in a position of responsibility that I had not achieved. In fact, that I was not supposed to achieve for quite some time.

I suppose the trend of children and adults being on a first-name basis with one another isn't the worst pathology facing today's America. It certainly doesn't rank up there with drug use, absentee parents and teenage pregnancy.

But then again, maybe it's all of a piece. By treating kids to the privileges of adulthood, long before they are able to accept the responsibility, aren't we letting them down and asking for trouble?

A name is a little thing. But it means a lot. You can bet that my little guy won't address you by your first name until after his college graduation - and then only with your permission.