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Mr Brandon

November 3, 2015

Here’s a tricky problem of etiquette. Recently, a woman who had been on a training course I’d run sent me an email to ask for some information about the written assignment; and she opened it with “Hi Mr Brandon”. This of course is not my name. English is not the woman’s first language so she probably thought she was being extra-polite. The English convention of using “Mr” only for surnames is not universal: in Japanese, for example, the honorific san can go after the first name or the surname. Still, in English it is a firm rule that you can’t put “Mr” before a first name; and someone who does so sounds untutored and unsophisticated. So, here’s the dilemma: should I have told the student she was getting it wrong? I could have said, “My name is not Mr Brandon; it is Mr Robshaw. Or Brandon if you want to be friendly.” But then she might have thought me rude; she might have felt rebuked. But she would have learned something important. But then again, I’m not paid to teach her English, just to mark her assignment.

In the end I decided to say nothing about it. But was I right?

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  1. Should I correct you when you say Mr. Christian then?

  2. Erm… yes, I suppose so. Unless you decide that’s not your job.

  3. Max permalink

    I run into this type of dilemma often where I work (a large NGO where English is the working language, but where most are not native speakers). I think that if you’re comfortable using the smiley face, either using punctuation or an emoticon, you can soften the blow. If not, then I would wait for another opportunity when your face can show that you mean well. Text can be very cold.

  4. John Dunn permalink

    There is one circumstance where it is perfectly correct to use Mr + first name, though it hardly applies in this case. This form is often used in family-owned businesses to distinguish between different members of the controlling family. I once worked as a lift operator in department store where two of the directors were invariably and quite properly known as Mr Michael and Mr Ambrose (though it was probably wiser to address them as Sir).

  5. Duncan permalink

    It might have been more valuable to her to know the proper form, than to be saved a little embarrassment. Like when someone tells you your fly isn’t zipped.

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