Prefix + FN

In yesterday’s posting on “Address terms in service encounters”, I looked at an unfortunate confluence of two patterns of vocatives: one in address terms used to me by some Hispanic servers at the restaurant Reposado in Palo Alto (in particular, the address term Mr. Arnold), and one in address terms used by slaves to their masters in plantation days (in particular the address form Mr. FN, as in Mr. Simon used by slaves to address their master Simon Legree) and (historically, a continuation of the slave practice to post-slavery contexts, but still involving blacks addressing whites) by employees in some parts of the South to their employers (again, the address form Mr. FN, as in Mr. Keene used by a stableman to address his employer Keene Daingerfield in Lexington KY a couple generations ago). The two address forms are formally identical, and both are used by speakers providing a service to the addressee, but the sociocultural contexts are very different, and the (inadvertent) echo of slave usage in a Mexican restaurant is unpleasant.

Now it turns out that Prefix (Mr./Miss) + FN turns up in a number of circumstances where providing services is not at issue, including some in which the form is not at root a vocative, but functions instead as a kind of professional name, which can be used referentially or vocatively. In these contexts, race is not in the mix, and there are no unfortunate echoes of slavery. Get ready for teachers of young children, psychics, and male hairdressers.

[Digression: the employee to employer usage I reported on yesterday is, as far as I know, restricted to (parts of) the American South and to blacks addressing whites (as in Dick and Minnie Mitchell addressing their employer Keene Daingerfield and his wife Libby as Mr. Keene and Miss Libby), As it happens, my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother was, like Minnie Mitchell, a domestic all of her working life, but that was in southeastern Pennsylvania and my grandmother was, like her employers, white. She addressed her employers as Mr. LN and Mrs. LN, and I believe they addressed her as Sue, though perhaps sometimes as Mrs. Rice.]

Kids addressing adults. I’ll start with a comment on yesterday’s posting from Drew Smith, which I reproduce in its entirety here:

I grew up in upstate South Carolina, where it was common for children to refer to [that is, address] the adult friends of their parents as “Mr. FN” and “Miss FN”. Calling them by their first name only would be inappropriate for a child, and calling them by their last name would be too cold. We did this with our Sunday school teachers, too. So when I get it from the Starbucks employees in my library (they like to use Mr. Drew), I take it in the same way, as friendly but respectful (since I’m old enough to be their parent, at least).

This is about kids addressing adults, and kids not in a serving role, so there’s unlikely to be any echo of slave usage. But the practices are still interesting.

There are two cases here: kids addressing adult friends of their parents and kids addressing teachers. Prefix + FN manages to combine the respect of the prefix with the friendliness of FN, so it’s a good solution. In the case of kids addressing teachers, especially for very young children, the kids might find FNs easier to deal with than LNs, so that’s an additional motivation for using FN.

Schoolteachers. One development from young children using Pref + FN to address teachers is that  some teachers, especially of very young children, have adopted the form as a kind of professional name, usable referentially as well as vocatively. Maybe the most famous of these is Miss Frances of the tv show Ding Dong School:


Frances Rappaport Horwich (born Frances Rappaport, 16 July 1907–22 July 2001) was the host of the popular US children’s television program, Ding Dong School [1952-56]. (Wikipedia link)

And now we have things like Miss Ann’s Home Child Care in Mountain View CA.

Psychics. Psychics often use their FN professionally, and many of them prefix Miss (or Madam(e) — everything goes better in French) for a touch of gravity. In the US, surely the most famous psychic is again a tv personality, Miss Cleo:


Youree Dell Harris (born August 12, 1962), better known as Miss Cleo, is an American who describes herself as a psychic and shaman, and who achieved fame as a spokeswoman for a psychic pay-per-call service from 1997 to 2003 [when she ran afoul of lawsuits over her service]. (Wikipedia link)

Similarly, Miss Ann, Miss Janet, Miss Bonnie; Madame Diana, Madame Bonnie, Madame Vera; and Madam Carolyn, Madam Sophia (some black, some white, in all parts of the country).

Male hairdressers. Many male hairdressers use FN as a professional name, and a fair number add the prefix Mr. (or Monsieur) to project some seriousness. A famous example, from the Mr. Kenneth page on Wikipedia:


Kenneth Battelle (April 19, 1927 – May 12, 2013), more usually known as Kenneth, was a leading New York hairdresser from the 1950s until his death. Sometimes described as the world’s first celebrity hairdresser, Kenneth achieved international fame for creating Jacqueline Kennedy’s bouffant in 1961. He counted Marilyn Monroe [seen with Mr. Kenneth in #3], Audrey Hepburn, and many of America’s most high-profile socialites such as Brooke Astor and Happy Rockefeller among his clients.

And Mr. Vincent, Mr. George, Mr. Tom, Mr. Stephen, Mr. Leo, Mr. Julius, etc., plus Monsieur Marc.

2 Responses to “Prefix + FN”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    An odd reversal of the kids-to-schoolteachers usage (admittedly fictitious, but I assume it’s based on something real): In the comic strip Heart of the City, which is set in present-day Philadelphia, the title character is a little girl whose FN is Heart (I don’t remember her last name, or even if it’s actually been mentioned); her teacher addresses her as “Miss Heart”.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Chris Hansen on Facebook:

    There is now a tendency in Roman Catholic and Episcopalian churches to address clergy as “Father FN”, as “Father Mike”, or for Episcopal female clergy as “Mother FN”. My bishop here in London is normally referred to as “Bishop Christopher”. When I was a lad it was “Father LN” or “Bishop LN”.

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