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Don't Call Me Mrs.

Photograph by Twenty20

Not long ago I was at a soccer gathering chatting with my son, his friend Nick and Nick's father, Dan. I hadn't met either of them before.

When Nick wanted to ask me a question, he used my name, or what he thought it was, based on my son's name. "Mrs. Santello ... ?"

I waved him off. "Please call me Sandra," I told him.

Nick looked uncomfortably at his father, who was quick to explain. "We've taught our children to use Mr. and Mrs. with adults," Dan informed me. "It's more polite."

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"But I prefer Sandra," I said in the lightest tone I could muster. "And Santello isn't my last name. It's my husband and kids' last name."

"Oh," Dan said, clearly surprised by my reaction. "So, you would be Mrs ...?"

"No Mrs.," I said, making an X with my hands. "Men don't have titles that distinguish them as married, so I don't need one either."

Because my son was there I stopped short of a full tirade, but it would have been easy. What is this? The 1950s? I wanted to say. Is the assumption that every woman cheerfully tosses out her name when she gets married, in favor of being the "Mrs." to her husband? And this should be the default form of address for children to use when speaking with adult women?

"My name is Sandra," I told him. "Sandra Miller."

I hate that in 2016 women my age and younger still want to be called Mrs., a dubious honorific if ever there was one.

"I see," said Dan, who is a professor at a liberal Boston university but seems to know shockingly little about equal rights. "So, if you don't like Mrs., a polite form of address would be ... ?"

"I suppose it would be Ms. Miller," I said. "But I really have no problem with Sandra, especially since no kid is easily going to remember the "Ms." or the "Miller," which means they'll end up not using my name at all." I thought of all the times that I felt uncertain about someone's name, so I just avoided talking to them. "Anyway, most of my kids' friends call me Sandra."

Dan looked at me bewildered, like I, Sandra Miller, had violated an essential rule in his Mr. and Mrs. World (which by the way, used to be abbreviations for master and mistress).

Crazy, I know, I wanted to say. But as a girl who grew up in the '70s addressing thank you notes to the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Eric Smith, I hated that my mother's friends' names just disappeared behind their husband's. I hated that those same women who lost their names couldn't have the jobs or the lives they wanted. And I hate that in 2016 women my age and younger still want to be called Mrs., a dubious honorific if ever there was one.

If only so our daughters can embrace their feminine power, isn't it time to evolve this a bit?

Nick and my son drifted as far away from the conversation as they could, but I was happy to keep going.

"So what is it?" I asked. "I guess it's about respecting their elders. But what is the harm in children calling adults by their first names?" It was rare in my circle of friends, but I knew plenty of families who still did it.

"Well," Dan continued, "We really like to impress on our children that they aren't equals to adults. And they'll never be friends with them."

I laughed out loud. "Really? I have several young people and teenagers in my life that I'm proud to call friends. And despite the vast age difference, I see them as equals. They just happen to be at a different stage in their lives. But no one's better than anyone else."

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I could tell Dan thought I was a whack job, one of those crazy liberal feminists who inappropriately hangs out with children, who has no boundaries, who was very confused about friendships. I could see by the way his eyes shifted around the room that he was trying to spot my poor husband who had to put up with this nonsense from his outspoken wife who can't abide his preferred patriarchal form of addressing women.

"Did your wife take your last name?" I asked.

"She did, although we're divorced," he said. Then he paused a moment like he wasn't sure about sharing anything else. But he did. "Now she's in the process of changing her name back."

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