In case my last post seemed to line me up with the trendy young things, against my stick-in-the-mud colleagues, here is a corrective. I am pleased to announce a return to grumpy old pedant mode.
People call me Andy. Everybody knows this. However, in this semi-intelligent computerised world, I find myself increasingly obliged to type my name in boxes as “Andrew” because it will then be the same as it is in other official forms, and no confusion will ensue. As a result of course I get letters from companies starting “Dear Andrew”, or get phoned by people I don’t know who call me “Andrew”. Well, we can all have opinions about the correct mode of address in various social circumstances, but for me there is this extra irksome twist. Anybody who calls me Andrew is acting like they know me but they transparently don’t. Its not my name. Only my mother calls me Andrew. And only when she’s cross. And she’s dead, so thats not often.
Yesterday I got an email from a central university administrator who I didn’t know that started “Dear Andrew”. I am afraid I ranted about this somewhat in a return email. I apologised for being a bit of a prat, but I still did it. She replied vary graciously and and now she calls me Andy, so maybe its ok – but it shows its a difficult thing to get right as social rules evolve. Even nice people are unsure of themselves. Anyhoo, what I said was that usually people who know me write “Andy – ” and people who don’t write “Dear Professor Lawrence, …”. In the latter case I nearly always sign my reply email “andy lawrence” which then gives them permission to call me Andy. I guess this tells me that I am at the same time both informal but and rule-bound.
I find this a very confusing matter so will be interested to hear what others think. I know that the change we are witnessing is largely driven by a long term decline of formality and pomposity and class structure in society, all of which erosion I thoroughly approve of. And at a personal level, it comes from a desire to signal friendliness, or in the case of commercial contacts, to simulate such friendliness. So I think the niggling is to do with power and respect. Somehow names still do have power. When someone uses your first name without your permission, its like an adult speaking to a child. Its patronising.
Anyway. Better do some work now.