‘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:

Bryan,
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.

About Bryan Wendell 2880 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.