‘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. I re-posted to the Longhouse Council Facebook page and the overwhelming response was Mr./Mrs. as appropriate and the first names were too informal for an adult/youth mentoring relationship.

  2. Scouts address adults by title & last name. What we’ve found to be a little bit of a challenge is when Scouts age-out and then become an adult volunteer, the youth that they were Scouts with are then expected to call them “Mister”.

  3. This issue is bigger than how we adults feel individually about how we choose to be called. Society has changed with regard to title and name conventions. I feel this was primarily pushed forward by Baby Boomer adults who chose never to grow up and refused to by called by Mr./Mrs. Smith. Wrong or right, good or bad, our societal name/title conventions have changed. As scouters trying to teach young men and women to have respect for the environment and others, then encouraging or even demanding the more respectful Mr./Mrs. Smith convention is not only the best move for these future leaders, but for all of society.

    • GUILTY! I refuse to grow up. And that includes how you address me. To me scouting should be fun and addressing me as Mrs or Miss takes the fun out of it. MY CHOICE. IF you want to be called Mr then I will honor that and do so, but you should not force ME to be called that if I do not choose that. As many have already said….calling a person the title DOES NOT in anyone’s dreams actually mean they respect anything. It’s a requirement, like doing your homework. You do it because you have to. The APPEARANCE is respect, but it has nothing to do with respect in reality. If that child does not respect you, calling you Mr. will not make him respect you any less or more.

  4. As I posted on Facebook, Mr. Cleary in Cub Scouts, Shawn in Boy Scouts. My father and grandfather are Mr. Cleary. I can say that the Scouts in my troop were always calling me Mr. Cleary when we first started the troop, but they warmed to calling me Shawn after a short time.

    James P said it along the lines of how I think…a name doesn’t command respect, the actions do. The Scouts around me have shown they respect me, not for what they call me, but because I respect them back.

    On another note, some of the Scouts have nicknames based on the moment. One Scout was talking about Finding Nemo, and the “Sharkbait, Sharkbait…who-ha-ha!” popped into my mind. The nickname stuck, and the Scout loved finally getting a nickname. Other Scouts in the troop are Tee-Tee, Fluffy, Rigatoni, Jacques, Jimbo, Brutus, Antler, Stick and Peanut. Mine is Lord Cleary, based on the first Scouts that started the troop, and one of them presenting me their book for a signature. All in fun, but the respect is there.

    • Often times I will address youth with “Mr. ” to set the example. I find that by respecting others, the same respect is shown and then this just becomes a natural thing.

  5. Oddly enough, this has never come up in our troop. All Scouts address the leaders with the title and last name. Even Scouts who have made Eagle still do. I know, too , that this is reinforced by the parents, who will address the leaders in the same way, in the presence of the scouts.

  6. My kids have always called me by my last name with the honorific, and when they try to use my first name I take them aside and let them know that in a less formal situation, a one on one talk, at my home, some social gathering, my first name is ok and appreciated, but when we’re at a meeting or scouting event they must call me Mr. They grasp the need for decorum, discipline and respect. They do get a kick out of using my first name when we see each other at the store or at a party.

  7. When I first became an adult Scout leader, I asked this question of a very experienced Scouter who I respected. Her answer was that as adult leaders, we are friendly with the Scouts, but we are not their “friends.” Our job is to teach respect, among other character values, and demonstrating this respect by addressing their adult leaders as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” is one way we can do so. By living this value in the unit, we help avoid confusion when Scouts address other adults outside of Scouting. I know that some Scout leaders disagree and believe a first-name basis is OK and I will say that for the Scouts from their units, I have sometimes felt the need to explain that until they are adults themselves at 18 years old (including Eagle Scouts), I prefer that they address me as “Mr.” and my last name. In that way, I make the exchange with them friendly and respectful and I don’t criticize the policy within their own unit.

    • It’s all in your own choice. I don’t even think it should be a troop rule…it should be an individual choice. And I disagree. I AM friends with our scouts and I wouldn’t want it any other way. A situation arose in my old troop, long story….let’s just say our CO and a rep they placed over us (who had been kicked out of our troop 6 years before for mentally and emotionally abusing the boys) became liars and attackers and killed our troop. They would not remove him even after all our parents threatened to quit, and they then started making up lies.

      Because we are all friends, including the boys, I had the complete and utter backing of the entire troop, so much so, that they said where I go, they go. How many leaders can say an entire troop will desert a CO when they have become the devil in disguise.

      OFF TOPIC! the CO rules need to be revised. They should not be able to kill a troop….especially when caught in lie after lie (the CO – not the troop). We tried to get a new CO, but they wouldn’t release our troop number, funds or equipment. We had no way to start over – so we all quit. There is no troop in our town anymore after more than 60 years.

  8. I agree that scouters should be addressed by title and last name. This separates them from the youth which empesizes their role.

    • Sorry, I don’t agree. Well, yes, it does separate you. To me, too much so. I want the kids to be able to joke around in front of me and not worry that I am going to come down on them. I’m not talking about inappropriateness. I would not hesitate for a second to correct them in that case. But if they want to tell me about girlfriends I want them to feel comfortable doing so, or I don’t want them to STOP talking because I happen to walk up during a discussion. I, personally, think it DOES put up a wall. IF they respect you, they will respect you whether you are called Mr, Mrs or first name. The title has nothing to do with it.

  9. When I was in my troop as a scout everyone was Mr. Lastname except one really informal leader. When I was active in OA it was half and half. In the OA I called some very informal but wonderful advisers by their last name yet other very professional yet just as wonderful advisers I called by their first name.

    I think it depends on one main factor, what does the leader want to be called. The relationship an adult leader has with scouts is not defined by a name so it should be based on what makes the leader happiest.

    I understand if a troop may want all leaders to be called Mr. or Ms. or some version of such to present a certain atmosphere but in my opinion that same atmosphere can be created with actions and those scouts will tie respect with those actions without the need of the title.

  10. I think it depends on how the individual adult likes to be called- in our troop our Scoutmaster is Mr. A ( his first name is Aaron), there are other adults that go by their last name or even initial ( Mrs. G) . Other committee members that partake in events like to just be called by their first name- myself included… if you call me Mrs ( last name) that is my mother-in-law so I normally will not even pay attention to that name.

  11. It is very strange to me that a youth would even consider addressing an adult without title. Our troop uses title/lastname for adults, but it natural and not forced. My father taught me this early on, perhaps it is the military background of our family, or maybe other factors, but I would get it if I ever addressed an adult by their first name.

    In fact, my Scoutmaster was Col. Miller. Always Col. Miller. Even now I call him Col. Miller :-)

  12. In the Cub Scout Pack we do title and first name (Mr. Dan) and when they cross over to the Troop it changes to title and last name (Mr. White).

    • To elaborate further, as a Cub Scout leader I call the boys by just their first name but in the Troop I often refer the boys the same way that they refer to me (e.g. Mr. White) to show that it’s not just a one-way path of respect.

  13. In general, our troop uses Mr. Y, Mr. M, Mrs. U, etc. I on the other hand, am always Father Bob–it’s who I am as an ordained Orthodox Priest. I don’t see it as disrespectful to me and that one carries over to Round Table and Council activities. Not right or wrong, it just is! Have a great summer…Fr. Bob

  14. with our cub unit, we go for the less formal first name, but have them add the title, as well (Mr., Ms., Father, etc). it commands that level of respect, but still keeps us on their level and helps the cubs to open up with us and overall it’s a friendlier environment in which to teach and learn.

  15. I view anyone who insists on an honorific as a sign of respect as a person who neither deserves respect nor an honorific. Boys deserve the same respect which you might demand. If the honorific is important to you then it is only appropriate that you use the same courtesy and use the honorific when addressing boys. Respect is earned, not assumed. Boys have called me by my first name since I began my adult scouting career in 1970. The only issue I have ever had with respect was from so-called adults who have had issues of their own and were incapable of commanding respect from others. When I am confronted with such individuals with whom I have no respect, I then insist that they call me Dr. Heilbrunn. To everyone else, I remain Fred.

    • I love this! Exactly how I feel. However, I don’t have a problem addressing someone with the honorific if they choose – that’s their choice. However, for me, it DOES put up a wall. I joined a new troop and I am working hard at learning their rules – a very large troop. I come from a small, very close and personal troop. The boys are friends OUTSIDE of scouting. This new troop is very friendly and I told the boys to call me by my first name….and the adults. But I do notice that mostly they use Mr. with everyone else. That’s fine. I just do not want to be called Mrs or Miss. I’m old…(60), but I don’t FEEL old and I don’t ACT old, so I do not want to be made to feel the age I am. I enjoyed it (made me laugh) when my dad would kiddingly tell me to act my age not my IQ. My dad was VIGIL, a past scoutmaster and started both the troop and pack in our town….as was my brother. So scouting is in my blood. I grew up a Girl Scout and completed the GS’s equivalent to Eagle, so I have a deep love for scouting. Just USE MY FIRST NAME!

  16. I was a scout from 1958 till 1970, as a youth. We always showed respect to our leaders, by referring to them as Mr. Jones or Mr. Smith, etc. Even when I was in Cubs it was Mrs. Johnson. When I was scoutmaster, I heard one of my boys address my assistant by his first name. I had a meeting with the entire troop, saying that while they were here at troop meetings it will be a sign of respect to address your leaders/adults as Mr./Mrs.. My dad was scout master for many years. Now, some 50 years later, he will meet some of his ‘boys’ at the market and they still address him as Mr. Casias . Even in social settings, I address elders that I knew as a youth, by Mr. Only when they say, “you can call me ‘Sam’.
    But even then it feels strange.

  17. I was a Scoutmaster for 22 years and my Scouts always refered to me as Scoutmaster or Scoutmaster Robert then when we started de Venturing group evereything changed to just Robert or Leader, never had any problems with that as long as there was respect between the leaders and the scouts / ventures.

  18. West preferred to be called “Dr. West” after he was awarded his honorary doctorate.

    Rowan, Edward L (2005). To Do My Best: James E. West and the History of the Boy Scouts of America. Las Vegas International Scouting Museum. ISBN 0-9746479-1-8.

  19. 31 years of Childcare has proven to me that if you allow children to call you by your given name, they fail to see and honor the respect that should always be there.

    Calling me Mrs. Bell or my husband, Mr. Bell lends an air of respect and awe… it doesn’t put a barrier up between the boy and you. Not if you have an easy going manner and are approachable.
    The one thing I can’t stand is when a child walks up to adults and jump into a conversation as though they are 30-50 yrs old. Not appropriate.

    Yes we are there for the boys. That said, they still need to know by calling me Mrs. that I have authority. There are to many children out there who don’t respect authority and that is because to many parents haven’t set a level of expectation.
    Just look at the news. See the trouble the kids are getting into.

    I feel we are there to set an example and a level of expectation, not be their best friends. We are there to guide. and teach.

    • Unfortunately, calling someone Mr. or Mrs. is often a ‘requirement’ and has absolutely nothing to do with respect. They do it because they have to not because they respect you. Not you specifically ‘you’ in general terms. Kids today quite often respect no one. Summer camp has always been a place I felt comfortable bringing my expensive cameras and computers (I take lots of pics of the kids and the leaders). Recent situations have shown that thefts were occurring while the boys were at badge work. Now a leader has to not enjoy their time with the boys and stay in camp to make sure nothing is stolen. THAT IS ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS! It means SCOUTS were doing the stealing because it had to be someone who could get in and out of camp without question and know the routine. IT sickens me. This happened all over camp – not just our troop. So scouting does not exclude criminals unfortunately. They are among us – so respect IS EARNED by both the boys and the adults. PS: I, personally, have never had anything stolen, KNOCK ON WOOD!

  20. As an ault leader, especially now in Venturing, I prefer to be more of a big brother than an authority figure. The kids know they can kid around with me, but listen when I have something important to say. They also know that I’m there for them if they need me.
    The kids are my customers. I work for them. But this is Venturing…

  21. I don’t mind if the boys in our troop call me by my first name. I agree with what others have said – respect is earned not forced. I know the boys respect me and I have no problem with them calling me by my first name. The only exception is my son. Due to religious rules he calls me “Mom” not Beth or Mrs./Dr/Prof. Ginsberg (I go by all of those since I am a PhD and college professor). I think it is a matter of personal preference and should probably be discussed at a troop committee meeting for an official troop policy.

  22. I grew up old school in a military home. I would have never, EVER thought to address my leaders by the first name even to this day. I think it shows a lot about a boys upbringing and family if they address me by my title and last name. I have always told my Scouts when they are out of High School, they an address me by my first name. Until then, like me or hate me, you address me with the proper title and my last name.

  23. It depends on the individuals, both youth and adult. We typically refer to each other by title and first name; Scoutmaster Dan, etc. I come from a military background as well. Scouting is NOT the military and we won’t force our boys to be that way.

  24. In my troop as a youth, the Scoutmaster was George and one ASM was Gary, but all other adults were addressed by their last names. When I turned 18, I had no interested in becoming “Mr.”, so I stayed Aaron, and have remained that way for the last 25 years. In general, though, we do stick with Mr. and Mrs.

    In the OA, everyone has been on a first name basis for as long as I can remember. The only time I ever refer to someone as Mr. is when I’m talking to a scout from that person’s unit who may not know who I mean if I use a first name.

  25. We have just moved back to the South, have been in troops/packs in RI, NY, MD, and NC. most people in the south use “Miss” and first name, but I grew up in the north, and I prefer “Mrs.” Last name. That’s what I teach my children too, and they respect that. For scouts, as a den leader I introduce myself as Mrs. Johnston, and have never had any problems being called something more familiar. And that is how the other leaders are in our packs. I don’t dictate what others request to be called, but my children all use the honorific and last name. A fellow den leader told my teenaged sons to call her by her first name, their response was “I’m sorry, but you are my mother’s friend and that deserves respect”. She understood.

  26. Off Topic: Apologies, but is anyone else bothered that the article credits James West as the founder of the BSA instead of William D. Boyce? Mr. West was the first Scout Executive…

    • Since the BSA was actually founded by a group of people, of which Dr. West was part, no, I’m not bothered by it. The group of people founded the BSA, and Dr. West was chosen (by the group as a whole) to be the first Scout Executive.

      Also, let us remember… Mr. Boyce left the movement after there was a disagreement on where the first magazine about Scouting was going to be published.

    • James West is one of the founders of the BSA and much of the framework was his doing. So it is proper to say founder James West even though it seems a little odd. The others are Thomas Seton and Daniel Beard, all called founders even though it was William D. Boyce that was the catalyst behind BSA specifically.

    • Boyce had the Boy Scouts of America incorporated, but it was Edgar Robinson of the YMCA that kept it from becoming just a club for Boyce’s paper boys in Chicago. Boyce agreed to an offer by Robinson to make the BSA a national organization and use the YMCA’s vast network of camps to get it started. Robinson asked Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard to apply their experience with similar boys’ organizations and share the leadership with him. He soon realize they needed leadership and he asked James West who agreed to come on board for 6 months to pull things together. 32 years later West retired, leaving a very strong national organization that he had wrestled control over. Boyce, Seton and Beard were primarily given honorary titles but had very little real impact.

      • Gentlemen, thank you all for your insight. It’s always good to learn a bit more about our Scouting history from other Scouters!

  27. Our troop is informal and the kids use first names – HOWEVER as a parent , I insist that my son call them by at least a title and name , his leader is Miss. Jen , Scoutmaster is Mr. David – etc – it is a southern tradition and at least it is a form of respect ……….

  28. I’m a young Commissioner (30), and I honestly hated it when people called or referred to me at Mr. Snider… it made me turn around and look for my grandfather. NOW, though… I don’t mind it as much. I address Scouts with title and last name, as both a respectful note and as an attention getter (addressing a room full of boys and saying “Mr. Smith” to one of them lets you know it’s a serious matter). In turn, they began calling me Mr. Snider, and it was a two-way street of respect.

    Adult leaders… there are some who I still refer to as “Mr. X” and “Capt. Y” because that is how I addressed them when I was a youth, and that has still carried over, even though they have said on numerous occasions, “Please, call me Kevin.” Some old habits die truly hard. But, to be fair – there are a couple of adult leaders who asked me (and my mother) to allow me to call them by “Mr. Bob” or “Bob,” which she allowed me to do.

  29. To prepare a boyscout for life, it is essential that they understand when to use first names and when to use Mr./Ms.
    First names have a casual peer to peer emotional relationship connotation. Whereas the Mr./Ms. or if the last name isn’t known Sir/Ma’am is a clear business relationship with respect for the logic or expertise of the other person.
    The saying “its not personal, its business” is important to understand. Often, adult leaders have to make decisions that are best for the boys, even though it may not be the popular one at the time. Just like business people have to make decisions that are best for their business, regardless if they are popular with employees at the time.
    In the Adult/youth mentoring relationship the adults goals can never be the same as the youth’s goals or you no longer have a mentoring relationship. By blurring the relationship by use of friendly first names. We do a disservice to the boy and his preparation for the business world.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s