‘That’s Mr. West to you, mister’: Are your Scouts on a first-name basis with leaders?

names-jamesewestIf BSA founder James E. West were around today, how would your Scouts address him?

Mr. West? James? Mr. James? Jimmy E.?

The way Scouts and Venturers address leaders was on the mind of Scouter Terry (or is it Mr. Scouter Terry?) yesterday when he sent me this email:

My wife and I have always made our children address adults by title and last name, Mr. or Mrs.

I have explained to our young Scouts on several occasions that as an adult I felt it was appropriate that they address adults by title and last name, yet they continue to refer to the adults by first name.

It seems as though many adults are lax on this as well, never correcting the children.

My Wood Badge Troop Guide said that his rule was: Once a boy earns Eagle Scout, first names are acceptable. Until then, use Mr./Mrs. and the last name.

Are there suggestions on how this needs to be addressed? Am I off base with this one? What do others think/suggest?

Good question, Terry. After your email, I polled our Facebook friends and saw an overwhelming response of 335 replies in less than 24 hours.

Some Scouters are OK with first names; others require Scouts to use honorifics and last names. Still other leaders use a combination method: Mr. Bryan, for example.

Here’s a representative sample of the responses, broken down by subject. Take a look, and then weigh in by leaving a comment.

Title/honorific and last name

For many Scouters, this comes down to simple respect. They tell Scouts to use the appropriate honorific (Mr., Mrs., Dr., Father, etc.) and the adult’s last name.

  • “We always have the Scouts address adults by title and last name. However, as soon as a Scout ages out, I let them know they can call me by my first name. Some do immediately, some never do. We feel that Scouts may be one of the few places that they learn respect and manners. It was odd at first, but now I couldn’t imagine it any other way.” — Lou S.
  • “When I was a Cubmaster, I let the kids call me by my first name, then realized after a while that I goofed. It was a tough transition, but we got through it, and the boys are all more respectful to their elders. We are their leaders, mentors and educators, not their buddies.” — John C.
  • “When working on camp staff, I tried to address my Scouts as ‘Mr. Anderson’ and ‘Mr. Richards,’ etc. Thought it built respect both ways.” — Dan S.

First names only

In many units, especially Venturing crews, everyone uses first names.

  • My name is Andy. Mr Sissons is my father! I am only 46!” — Andy S.
  • “I always insisted that my Cubs call me by my first name. It’s friendlier, and they tend to open up more when they think you’re on the same plying level as them. It’s been six years since I crossed my first set of Webelos, and I still have some of them coming to me for advice.” — Stephanie M. 
  • “First names are fine. Respect isn’t developed through an enforced construct.” — Diane G.
  • In our crew we are all on a first-name basis. Adults are referred to as Advisors rather than leaders in the Venturing program because the goal is for the youth to lead themselves.” — Chris M.

Leave it up to each Scouter

Why set one policy? Some Scouters argue you should leave it up to each adult to choose a name he/she prefers.

  • “It’s totally a matter of personal preference. The key is showing respect, regardless of which is preferred.” — Rich W.
  • “The short answer to this is… how do you want the Scouts or any youth to address you? Then introduce yourself that way and correct them if they do it differently.” — Orinda W.
  • “Several of our leaders have nicknames. Like, I am ‘bigpoppapork,’ but the other leaders go with what make them comfortable. I don’t think a name commands respect; your actions do.” — James P.

Title/honorific and first name

Get the best of both worlds, some Scouters wrote, by combining a title with a first name.

  • We compromise. We like the informal first name but we use the title: Mr. Brad, Ms. Mary, Mr. Jason.” — Brad B.
  • “Ms. Sarah. I am a leader, not a teacher. I call them by their first names.” — Sarah O.

Other thoughts

Some of these great ideas didn’t fit into any of the above categories:

  • My Scouts earn the right to call me by my first name when they earn the Eagle rank — not before.” — Lou K.
  • “I have Scouts who address me as Mrs. Lindsay at Scout meetings and Mrs. Foster at school (where they are my students). In our explanation, it commands a level of respect, but also recognizes a level of friendship/mentorship.” — Lindsay F.
  • Over here in Australia, Scout leaders and Cub leaders are given names by the youth members. Cubs will pick names out of the Jungle Book; the only restriction is the name must be a good name not an evil name. With Scouts they can select a name they think best suits that person, but it must be a “socially acceptable name.” We have three leaders: Batman, Gecko, and I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. The leaders name badges have that name on them, and even leaders will refer to other leaders by their leader name.” — David R.

Your turn, Mr. or Ms. Scouter

Please weigh in by leaving a comment below.

111 thoughts on “‘That’s Mr. West to you, mister’: Are your Scouts on a first-name basis with leaders?

  1. Here in the UK Leaders are never called by Mr of Mrs etc. That includes everyone up to UK Chief Commissioner. Beaver adn Cub Leaders have titles such as Akela etc and slme Troops still use “Skipper” for Scout Leader and so on. I’ve been in UK Scouting for 50 years nd it’s always Alan – from youngest Beaver to eldest Scout.

  2. I insist they either call me Ms Rhonda or by my last name. We have a few that will use my first name but I tell them that they can only use that name after they achieve Eagle, if they still want to. 🙂

  3. I used to work in an intensive residential psychiatric facility for adolescents, and it was protocol to use Mr. ___/ Ms. ____. It was a created structure to help establish respect and authority; and a tool for the patients to create power struggles. I worked in this hospital for 15 years, and over time, I began to realize that my authority was not founded in what the patients called me, but in their voice tone and how genuine they were in their interactions. I still ensured, “Mr. ___” was used (theoretically), but I found that I didn’t have to enforce the behavior; the patients self-regulated. The level of structure found in the hospital is 3rd in line behind the military and jail. I was military for 8 years and worked with inmates for over 5 years.

    In Scouts; I am “Mr. Bo.” This was the general “rule” before I got involved. I found it awkward initially, but grew to accept this name. While Scouts have a structure, and mutual respect is necessary for a good working relationship; I have found throughout my life that I prefer respect that comes from the building of positive relationships and not from control and fear.

    If Scouts call me, “Mr. Hunt;” I answer. If they call me, “Mr. Bo,” I answer. If any were to ever call me, “Bo,” I’d answer. The only correction I would ever make is if a Scout were to call me something derogatory. It wouldn’t be a direct confrontation about my name; but a check in with them to see what was going on that they feel name-calling is needed. I would recognize this as an escalated Scout, in most instances, and my intention would be to help the Scout begin to diffuse the situation…. not further instigate.

    What I’m called? As long as it is respectful; then I’m flexible. How I am referred to does not affect the level of respect I am offered by the Scouts. It is my relationship with the Scouts; the gift of trust that the Scouts provide me, and the genuine interactions that create mutual respect. I am comfortable in my skin, and don’t require a “Mr.” to know that I hold the respect of my Scouts.

    The “name-game” is not a power struggle in which I need to engage.

  4. For those of us that stayed in Scouting, and became adult leaders at the age of 18, there was never an “appropriate” time to tell everyone to stop calling me by my first name, when at that beginning, many of the scouts were still my peers, more or less. Staying with the same troop all these years just automatically did not lend itself to a “stopping point”. I know this example is more of an exception than the rule, but it definitely applies to my situation.

  5. In Scouting it is important to make a distinction between Scouts and Scouters. While I don’t have a burning desire to be addressed with title I know that there are some adults that this is important to them … To be honest I am of a generation that was taught that the appropriate use of titles was important. There was a close personal friend of the family that I would at family social gatherings address by his first name. However, when I would encounter him in his work setting or in public I would never consider addressing him without the title of Professor or Doctor. It was a sign of respect. Also to do otherwise would sent the wrong message to those that did not know the Professor socially.

    As our society erodes these social decorum’s Scouting if one of the few places that a youth might learn these expectations. My standing rule is that until a Scout comes of age he or she is to address me and any other adult with the appropriate title. Often I have found that it is not the Scouts that have trouble with this unwritten social decorum but rather adults that are not used to or have never been address by title. It becomes a subtle training issue … No specific correction is made other than set the example by always address other Adult in the public setting with the appropriate title.

    The Scouts in our unit seem to appreciate formality and decorum. And one or two have come back after going off collage and the work force and reported that they were glad that they learned the appropriate use of “Titles” in Scouts as that when they got out in the real world it set them apart from their less formal peers.

  6. I agree with others here that what I am called is not so important among the Troop boys and adults – their respect for me is not determined by my title. Tone and intention are far more important!

    I am fine with them using my first name, but the boys and I do discuss appropriate ways to address those with whom we interact. I address other Scouters as Mr. or Mrs. when in the presence of the boys, modeling the manner in which I feel it is appropriate for the boy to address that person until/unless that person directs the boy to do otherwise.

    Although I am surely not perfect, my belief is that kids are always watching what I do… basing their behaviors more on that observation than upon anything I tell them. With this in mind, I try to fly right for them. My Dad and my grandfather made me understand that kids will rarely remember what you said, but they will forever remember how you behaved and how you made them feel.

    This does NOT mean you worry about make them “feel good” about all they do – on the contrary – you need to let them feel like crap for some of the mistakes they make.. that’s natural. What it DOES mean is that you let a boy know he matters to YOU… that his successes or failures matter to YOU. Then, you won’t need to worry about what he calls you.

  7. One of the problems I find in this world is that we seem to have forgotten that positions of leadership command respect. You do not just show respect for the person, that is earned, but you show respect for the position. You refer to the President of the United States as Mr. President or Mr. Obama, because he is the president. You put your personal bias aside. I think this is a lesson we need to teach scouts. Respect for position and authority is as old as the scouts. I am pretty sure the first scouts did not call him Mr. Baden, he was Lord Baden Powell. He was Lord and a General. Further, I have seen many problems arise when we blur the line between leader and scout. Remember, these boys are not your friends. They are your responsibility. And because, as a leader, you accept that responsibility, you earn respect.

  8. The Scouts get enough of the Mr. and Mrs. stuff at school. Part of growing up is learning to deal with adults as equals and being on a first name basis helps in this way.

  9. Our Scouts call all the Assistants ‘Mr’
    I will begin referring to myself by my first name for the seniors in high school. Many of my previous Scouts call me Mr. well into their 40’s and 50’s, but I’m at the stage where they think I’m their father/grandfather’s generation so their comfortable doing so.

    • Love it! Although my dad is already gone. I feel old enough without anyone calling me MRS anything. Use my first name, or even HEY YOU as long as it isn’t any disrespectful manner. Well, not really on the last thing. But again, respect is earned, and is displayed in the tone and mannerisms of the boys. Calling me Mrs. doesn’t mean anything other than they were told that’s what they had to do.

  10. We joined Scouting fresh from a parenting class that suggested that teaching children to use titles and last names was appropriate. It signifies authority and respect. While we want to be able to have fun with the scouts, we also need for them to understand who is ultimately in charge. The formality of the address is a reinforcement of that message. If it was not, school teachers would have dropped the rule long ago. There are scouts I am very good friends with who, though invited to, have not dropped the Mrs. The name has not affected our ability to become friends.
    One way to develop the “formality habit” is for the adults to refer to one another that way. This helps to reinforce the name use with the scouts.
    It’s okay that there are some things that kids need to do just because they are kids. We don’t need to be so afraid of drawing that line of distinction. I have always been proud of my son when he addresses an elder formally, and the adult is pleased as well. I have felt like the adults who are uncomfortable being called Mr. or Mrs. and brush off that usage are out of line and just need to accept, that as an adult, titles are appropriate. I am not militant about it, but I have on occasion gently said that I would prefer Mrs. I have found instead that if the adults offer this respect to one another (at least in front of the scouts) that it becomes plain what name use is expected.

    • I take offense to you saying that those of us who CHOOSE not to use titles are out of line. YOU choose to use it, I choose to NOT use it. It is inappropriate right there for you to insult others for the choice they make.

      We are not the boys’ parents. Parenting class? What does that have to do with scouting? Did they teach you that your kids should use titles with YOU? I’m assuming they did not. If they did, I have no respect for that class.

      Respect is earned, and cannot be forced. The tone of voice displays the respect, not the words. How many times have kids said the ‘respectful’ words and then if you were to see them right after they say it, you would see their snickers and laughter under their breath. It truly has nothing to do with true respect. It is a trained behavior.

      But bottom line, it is your choice to use titles, it is my choice not to. I don’t condemn you by saying that IS a militant, formal attitude that I, personally, don’t like with the boys. They have that enough in school and other places. So you should not condemn us by saying we are out of line.

      • “Respect is earned, and cannot be forced.” I completely agree. We all had teachers we were disrespectful to, regardless of what we called them. The title, however, just like “Officer,” “Judge,” and “Mr. President,” courteously reminds us who is in charge in the end.

        If a scout’s parent has trained them that it is respectful to call an adult by their title and last name, and they do so, and a leader declares that they don’t want to be addressed that way or don’t think it is necessary or appropriate, do you think that would be confusing to a young person? Why not just accept the title rather than undermine their parental training? As a parent, I have prefaced my training by saying, “Unless the adult declares otherwise.” It just seems a shame to confuse the child unnecessarily for a harmless act of courtesy.

        For the record, saying a behavior is, in my opinion, out of line, is not an insult. It is an opinion. You can choose what you want. I just happen to disagree and thought I was free to voice my opinion here without getting crucified for it. Happy Scouting!

        • I differentiate between cubs and scouts. Cubs usually do address me as Ms. Goldie, but I don’t require it.

          If SCOUTS get confused over this there’s something more at play here.

          You have a right to say what you want, I just didn’t like the inference that we were doing something wrong. Out of line to me means doing something wrong. And we aren’t, plain and simple.

          So I guess its semantics and how you feel about the terminology. I didn’t like the inference so I had to respond.

          This is still America….for the moment….so we all have the right to say what we want. Just pray it stays that way for our kids. Not looking good…but off topic there.

  11. Like most everything in life, it depends. There is a time and place for everything. In general, with my students or my scouts I have been Mr. or Dr. Hobbs. However, in one on one less formal, when Boy Scouts have made Eagle I am Steve. Unless we’re in front of patients other kids, etc. you have to you do what feels is right to you in your situation. There is no right or wrong.

  12. When I became Scoutmaster I kept the existing troop standard of using the Mr./Mrs., giving leeway on whether to use first name/last name, especially with hard to pronounce names.

    When I started the Venturing Crew I was comfortable using first names so I did not impose a specific rule, so that the scouts from the Troop who are dual-enrolled often use the Mr. while the Venturing-only youth often use first names.

    Another reason for vagueness on the Venturing side is that several of my Venturing youth are Troop adults, and in our Troop adults address each other by first name, so it would be weird to have them address me by first name when they are acting as ASM and as Mr. when acting as Crew President.

  13. I’m 52 years old and I still call my boss Mr. Smith, and anyone else I know like the Deacons at church etc by Mr. Mrs/Miss/Ms are a bit cloudier but even as adults you should call them with the Mr./Ms. until THEY tell you otherwise. Sometimes even if they are younger such as in having a younger boss. He would be Mr.
    Of course there is Dr, Pastor, Professor, etc.

    For those younger, especially kids, there is no first name basis unless you are peers and friends.
    If you are 40 and a kid is 15, you are NOT peers.

    • That’s your decision. It should not be forced on those who don’t agee with you. I do not like the formal names….for ME. Others are free to do as they want.

      No, not peers in age, but peers has many meanings. here are a few:

      1. a person who is the equal of another in abilities, qualifications, age, background, or status.
      2. a person of the same legal status as another.
      3. something of equal worth or quality.

      so an adult scout could, in fact, be a peer according to these rules.

      at any rate, it should be up to the individual leader how they are addressed. I don’t like formal.

  14. I’m 20, so I let people in my troop address me by my first name (both younger and older). Certain adults (in and out of my troop) have given me express permission to address them by first name. I usually do title and last name to anyone older than me, and first name to my peers or younger. This policy translates the same for troop events, crew events (I hold both Silver and a VLA), camporees, OA events, and events I staff.

    Even when I’m teaching as part of the Council Training Committee, anyone older than me is addressed by title and surname until I’m told otherwise.

  15. A scout is courteous.

    Scouts should learn and use courtesy in scouting activities as well as elsewhere.

    Using a title like Mr. or Mrs. is courteous.

    Forcing an adult to use a title is NOT courteous.

    Using titles is no different than saying “please” or “thank you” or “sir” or “ma’am”. If you think saying “please” and “thank you” is something a scout should do, then you should consider using titles. Respect does not need to come into play when discussing this – although it might. This is all about the fifth point of the scout law, not forcing someone to show respect.

  16. When I was involved in Girl Scouts with my daughters, we used camp names – even our kids had to call their parents by camp names, so it put all on an even footing – i.e., you didn’t have a momma or daddy to go to while involved in scout activities . Now GSUSA has changed so much, I don’t know what they do now.

    [By the way, I am male, in spite of my name [Carey] – at this time, M*A*S*H was popular, so I had the name “Radar”, and my wife, a nurse, took the name “Hot Lips”]. I would not have any problems with first names, but I think the practice of camp names would be good.

    That being said, when we have Scoutmaster conferences, Boards of Review, or other formal occasions, Ma’am and Sir are enforced. The main interaction between leaders and scouts should follow a chain of command structure, where, except for instruction, announcements, or such, communication between Scouters and Leaders should go, bidirectionally, between SM and SPL, then down into their respective structures

  17. In our Troop most of the time it is Mr. Last Name. However I am a younger leader (I aged out in 2010) so I am trying to get the scouts to at least use Mr. Ian as it is very strange for the scouts who have been on a first name basis with me since they started to now I’m suddenly Mr. Last Name.

  18. When I became Cubmaster, the new Committee Chair and I agreed that we needed a pack policy on what to call leaders to make it easier on parents. If all the adults are Mr. / Mrs. and last name, that’s easy to remember. In our unit, we have the honorific and a first name.

    Cubs are intended to be more family friendly, a bit less structured (not unstructured) than Boy Scouts, which is why we made that choice. It is clearly not the same thing as talking with a friend, but less formal than with a teacher.

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