Who are you? Who am I? OR Greetings on the Church Steps

Who are you? Who am I? OR Greetings on the Church Steps

By Anna Worden Bauersmith

            A few years ago, in An Introductions to Introductions, I discussed the guidelines for introducing individuals to each other. An essential part of introductions or greeting each other is how a person should be addressed.

In the twenty-first century, our modes of address are significantly more casual than the formal, public addresses of the nineteenth century. In our living history activities we need to be aware of the differences between how we great each other today and the prescribed way of greeting each other in the mid-nineteenth century. All to often we attempt to formalize our greetings but fall short by fully understanding the rules.

Before we proceed, let us review the order of introductions so we can consider them as we look at forms of address:

1st – Gentlemen are always introduced to Ladies. A woman is never introduced to a man.

2nd – Younger people are introduced to older people.

3rd – A person of lower social status is introduced to a person of higher social status.

Now, on to forms of verbal address to use when we meet each other in the nineteenth century. The proper verbal address of a person included his or her title and their proper name. A person’s proper name was the name he or she was given at birth or at marriage. For use in introductions this includes the last name or the combination of first and last name.

            In the United States, a person’s title was due them either by nature, occupation or election. In European countries titles among the gentry and peerage were due by heredity, marriage or bestowment as well as election and position within the Church . In these countries, a detailed system of ranking determined the social hierarchy for these titled individuals. Back in the United States, the most common titles for women included Miss, Mrs. or Mistress. At times, in the case of a visiting European woman the title Lady would be used. For men titles included Mister, Reverend, Doctor, Professor, Senator, Governor and military rank in some situations.

            The use of titles for men is fairly simple because a man maintains the title of mister unless he has achieved one of the other titles through occupation or election. If you were greeting your neighbor, Joseph Alexander, at the entry to Church, you would address him as “Mister Alexander.” If Nathan Masters, a new local doctor of medicine, joined you on the steps you would greet him as “Doctor Masters.” Lets assume that these two men have not yet been introduced. Your neighbor is in his forties, while the new doctor is rather young. Since a young person is introduced to an older person, regardless of social or economical standing, you could say “Mister Alexander, may I introduce Doctor Nathan Masters, our new physician.” The method of use of the title Doctor would apply to the titles of Reverend, Doctor, Professor, Senator and Governor as well. It appears, looking at period literature, that military titles of rank were not used as frequently in civilian situations frequently until considering higher officer rankings.

            Minor boys would also be addressed as Mister. For example, Mr. Alexander has a son, William. He would be addressed as “Mister Alexander” or “Mister William Alexander” denoting his youth. The title master is sometimes mentioned in period literature with minor boys. Back at Church, your son, Sam, and William Alexander have just arrived. William too has yet to meet the new doctor. As Sam is a minor, he does not have the social position to make the introduction in this situation. Either Mr. Alexander or you should make the introduction. As Mr. Alexander knows his son’s clumsiness and likelihood of being a frequent visitor to the new physician’s office, he takes the opportunity to make the introduction – “Doctor Masters, may I introduce my son, Mister William Alexander.”

            Titles for women change more frequently then for men. A women’s title depends on her marital status and her order of birth. The title Mrs. is for a married women. It is used in conjunction with her married last name. For example, your neighbor’s wife, Charlotte, is “Mrs. Alexander”. The title Miss is used for unmarried women regardless of age. The title Miss is used in conjunction with a woman’s last name or first and last name depending on her order of birth. The oldest unmarried daughter is title Miss followed by her last name. For example, the 20 year old eldest daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Alexander is Elizabeth Alexander. She would be addressed as “Miss Alexander”. This title of address would be due her until she is married. Younger daughters would be addressed with the title Miss followed by their first and last name. In the case of the Alexander family, their younger daughters, Isabelle (19) and Mary (17) would be addressed as “Miss Isabelle Alexander” and “Miss Mary Alexander”. The title Miss should not be used with the first name along. (The exception to this is occasionally the instance of a governess.)

            If you met any of your neighbors, who you are acquainted with rather well, in public you would address them as:

            Mister Alexander

            Mrs. Alexander

            Miss Alexander

            Miss Isabelle Alexander

Mister William Alexander

            And Miss Mary Alexander

            Recall how I said women’s titles change more frequently then men’s? Let us suppose Elizabeth has a fiancé James Augustus. James would call Elizabeth “Miss Alexander” in public. Elizabeth would call James “Mister Augustus”. Depending on the family and local proprieties, these individuals may still call each other by their proper addresses in family situations rather then use their first names. In the spring, Elizabeth and James marry. Elizabeth is no longer “Miss Alexander”; she becomes “Mrs. Augustus.” That is the easy part. But, Elizabeth’s change in title also effects her sister, Isabelle’s title. Isabelle has become the oldest unmarried daughter. As such, her address becomes “Miss Alexander.” Mary will keep her title the same until either she or Isabelle marry.

            To review, let us suppose it is a year later and we are again on the steps of the Church. Nathan Masters’ cousin Jacob Masters, has come to visit. Doctor Masters wishes to introduce his many friends in town. As they arrive James and William are chatting on the steps. In the past year, James was elected Alderman for the town. As an introduction, keeping in mind James socio-economic ranking, Nathan says “Alderman Augustus and Mr. William Alexander, may I introduce my cousin Mister Masters.” As our group of gentlemen discuss Jacob’s travels, Elizabeth and Mary approach. Since men are introduced to women, Nathan proceeds with the introduction “Mrs. Augustus, Miss Alexander, I would like to introduce my visiting cousin Mister Masters.” Upon this introduction, Jacob smiles and Mary’s heart flutters. It appears the titles of the Alexander family may change in another year’s time.

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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