Loving the “Miss”

08 Feb

In days long gone, the title Miss was used to denote an unmarried woman. If one was introduced as Miss Grant, with no first  name, it applied to the oldest daughter in the household. If introduced as Miss Karen Grant, it applied to any female siblings. This formality informed every one of the pecking order for the unmarried females in the home. Today, however, it’s rare to even hear the title Miss spoken. So imagine my surprise the first time I heard a 20-something address me as Miss Gwen. This simple endearment was a pleasant affirmation that I had arrived. I didn’t feel old. I didn’t feel weird. I just felt respected.

Somewhere along the way, parents have foregone reverence and basically given their kids carte blanche to address adults informally, an entitlement children have not earned. And if I thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill, watching the celebration of Betty White’s Second Annual 90th Birthday Special, validated my concerns. A child, approximately 10 years old, addressed the elderly actor as “Betty,” a woman 80 years his senior and old enough to be his great-great grandmother. Un-f’ing believable! Yep, I went there. At first, I was proud of the child because he began by addressing her as Miss Betty; then, I guess he forgot his manners and defaulted to an ungentlemanly behavior and said, “Happy Birthday Betty.”

Today, even very young children are given the nod to disrespect seniors and address them by their first name. I cringe visibly every time I witness a coworker or a friend or even a relative introduce their child to an adult — Brittany, this is my friend Gwen. Just the other day, I was at Costco filling my gas tank when I heard a child screeching my name at the top of his lungs. I turned and saw a former co-worker. She is now a grandmother and it was her four-year-old grandson who had never met me, calling me by first name. My first inclination was to ignore them, but his shouting had disturbed the calm, and customers in line were staring. And, if I had ignored them, my ignorance as an adult would have superseded his childish behavior, which of course, wasn’t his fault that he not been taught the etiquette of addressing an adult properly. Thinking back to my days as a youngster, I can actually feel the sting of a backhand slap if I dared to address grownups by their first names. First name exchanges between children and adults — an absolutely, unequivocal no-no. I’m really surprised and disappointed that parents are not laying down the same strict rules as their parents had when it comes to teaching kids the importance of respecting their seniors.

So, to hear my first name preceded by Miss is both a privilege and an honor. First, it tells me that somebody’s parents in the 90s took the time to raise kids who are respectful of people older than them — kudos to those parents. And, second, I’m hearing Miss Gwen more and more these days from the 20-something crowd and I’m loving every minute of it.


Posted by on February 8, 2013 in People


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2 responses to “Loving the “Miss”

  1. Lisa

    February 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    This reminds me of the answers, “yes mam” or “no sir”. In some ways, I see the respect argument and in another it reminds me of blacks being inferior to whites and trained to speak to their masters or whites in that way. I mean, you also speak of a time but left out when adult blacks were called boy or girl – absolutely no respect. So, I understand the respect from child to adult but for me as a black person, I do not feel absolute about this. It brings up bad memories about my great-grandmother when she worked as “the help”. She was never called Miss anything by their children or parents. Blacks often ONLY heard titles within their own race. Public respect was only for non-blacks.

    • Gwen Pegram

      February 9, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      Thanks for sharing the other side of the coin. And yes, you are correct tooand it recallsa dedication to Mrs. Daisy Bates that I watch on PBSthe other night.Mrs. Bates is a forgotten heroine of the civil rights movement who led the charge to desegregate the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in ’57. I had not even heard of her before. This brings me to your personal feelings about the title “Miss.”TheGovernorand everyone else white felt that Mrs. Bates had to be stopped. So, they started questioning the nine Black students about the leaderand one student answeredhe did not even know a Miss Bates. When he returned to his mother, she asked him why he hadlied about not knowing Miss Bates. He said, “Momma, I didn’t lie, I don’t know a Miss Bates.” His mother said, “child, that’s Mrs. Bates who’strying to get you all into Central High.” With shock and incredulity visibly registering on his face, he said, “that’s who they were talking about. Momma, I never heard a white person refer to a black woman as “miss” so I didn’t know they were talking about our leader.” So thanks for reminding me that there are negative connotations associated with “Miss.” But,for me personally, I don’t likea child calling me by my first name.

      Gwen Pegram Follow me at


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