Friday, January 12, 2018

January Q & A: Question #2 - How Mennonites Address People

Question #2:

"I have noticed among Mennonites when referring to a family, they refer to them by the husband's first name. Like for example , 'Tims are coming to visit' ....or when referring to Grandpa and Grandma were at church, they would say, 'Grandpas were at church'."

I guess I am a true dyed in the wool Mennonite. I must confess, this question had me scratching my head at first. How else would you say it? Do non Mennonites actually say it a different way? Hmm...

And then, one day I was telling my daughter about this whole Q & A thing and describing some of the questions and, wa-la! Light bulb. I then checked back with the person asking, just to make sure I wasn't way out in left field.

So, here's my guess. Generally people would refer to a family as "The Brown family" or "The Jones family". Among Mennonites, this gets complicated very quickly. In our church, for example, there are eight Miller families and five Weaver families. If I say, "We had the Miller family over last Sunday evening", I'm going to answer a lot of questions before everyone understands that it was actually the Daniel Miller family who was at our place.

Now, I'm not sure why we don't refer to a family by their first and last name. Maybe because we're lazy? But I'm guessing the fact that there are often multiple families with the same last name among Mennonites circles is likely the reason we refer to families by the husband's first name.

I haven't come up with an answer for saying, "Grandpa's were in church today" instead of "My grandparents were in church today", although some of that just depends on the context. I think it is also a Mennonite thing for a husband and wife to address each other as "mom" and "dad".... Maybe I'm wrong; I'm painting broadly here and I'm sure it's not true for everyone.

I do think that Mennonites generally do not place an emphasis on addressing people respectfully. Teaching our children to say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" is not common. As a teen-ager, I babysat for some neighbor children and they were strictly taught to address me and my family as "Miss Bethany", "Miss Lavina", "Mr Elmer"; no Mennonite child that I know ever did that! It's kind of shameful and sad, really. I wonder why that is a part of our culture? Any insight?


Anonymous said...

Another way of referring to a family is by the husband and wife's first names, such as "Christopher and Debbie" or "Grandma and Grandpa". My sister-in-law who did not grow up in our culture says (if Debbie were her sister) she would be much more likely to say "We are going to Debbies" rather than "to Christophers".

Another thing that is unique about our culture is calling a woman by her husband's first name, then hers: like David Mary. We used to have four Mary Millers in our church, but Mom was the only David Mary. There were other Mrs. David Millers in the community too.


daybreaking said...

This is very interesting and helps me understand better why Mennonite children call adults by their first names. (I remember being shocked at first, since I was raised that it would be considered highly disrespectful to refer to an adult by their first name without some sort of title (Aunt, Uncle, Miss, etc.) Your explanation makes sense. :-)

Regina said...

Thank you Bethany. I've wondered about why families were called by husband's first name. The feminists have hissy fits over being called Mrs. Husband's First Name Last Name.

Carol W. said...

Southern manners, that's where the Miss Bethany or Mr. Christopher comes from. I came from a family of German origins from New England and we were taught to say Mr. Miller or Mrs. Miller, never an adult's first name. guess it depends on what part of the country you come from.

Anonymous said...

When I was a child, I was expected to call people Mr. or Mrs. and their last name. We were taught to call them that because they were adults and not our peers or friends. It was a sign of respect. We were also made to say yes sir and yes ma'am when we were talking to our parents. My daughter is allowed to call people Mr. or Miss and their first name. However, here in Hawaii, the custom is to call adults Uncle or Aunty and their first name. You will also hear a lot of yes sir and yes ma'am due to us living on a military installation. I am enjoying your questions and answers. Thank you for taking the time to do this.