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First Names

May 08, 1988

Referring to David Benjamin Oppenheimer's column "In Public Life, First-Name Familiarity Isn't Always Affectionate" (Op-Ed Page, April 28): Neither is it in certain segments of private life. To me, it used to be in our culture that use of a first name signified friendship, or at least close acquaintance. Increasingly, it seems to be the basis for misguided and unprofessional communication in public relations, marketing and personal services.

There is little more irritating than a phone call at dinner time from a bond salesman or charity baseball game tout who starts out with the greeting: "Wilfred?" I icily inform the person that I'm not sure who he or she is asking for; I don't use that name with my friends. The response, of course, is to ask what that code nickname is. The ploy, needless to say, never works. I don't commit money to a stranger over the phone, even though he does know my legal first name.

More pervasive is the superficial familiarity almost universally used in the health delivery business. When a patient's turn comes in the doctor's waiting room, it is somehow depressing to hear the signal expressed as "Elsie?" or "Edward?" or "Wilfred?"--this more than likely from a pimply-faced young receptionist whom I wouldn't trust to retrieve files for my secretary. I have been successful in changing this practice in a few offices by pointing out that it is an unwise perversion of familiarity reserved for friends.

WILFRED H. SHAW

Hermosa Beach

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