Who’s Your Daddy? – Calling a Parent by Their First Name

Summary: My daughter calls me by my first name. Oh well. At least there’s no mistaking who she’s talking to.

It’s me, my daughter, my buddy and his daughter, and we’re figuring out what we’re going to do. My daughter is the first to speak up.

“Clay, are we going to the park soon?”

Dude, she calls you by your first name?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s always been that way.”

“Weird. That wouldn’t fly with my kids. No way they’re calling me by my first name.”

“I think it’s kind of funny.”

“Clay, are we going to the park soon?”

“Yeah, in just few minutes OK.”

“Dude, that’s trippy.”

For as long as I remember my daughter’s called me be my first name. Not dad, not daddy, just Clay. She tried calling my partner by her fist name but she quickly shut her down.

“Call me mom or mommy. Don’t call me by my first name.”

Curious, I asked he why it was so important to be called mom.

“There’s only one person in the world that can legitimately call me mommy and that’s our daughter. It’s special and I’m not going to give that up.”

Interesting point. I never thought about it like that but then again I was never one for ceremony, protocol or hierarchies.

Unless I was a character in a Dickens novel, it would be weird to  address her as “daughter” wouldn’t it?

“My beautiful daughter, have we collected enough bread to eat well tonight? Tis Christmas Eve lest you forget.”

“Yes papa, it will be a glorious Christmas as our bellies will be full of the sweetest breads in all of London!”

So for me, it seems normal for her to refer to me by my real name as well.

At least she doesn’t use my full Christian name which apparently is “God Dammit Clay”. As in “God Dammit Clay” it told you to put your shoes to the left side of the chair, or “God Dammit Clay” don’t run the microwave while I’m blow drying my hair or it trips the breaker, or “God Dammit Clay” don’t leave the stove on or you’ll burn down the house.

I know that I’m in the tiny minority on this one. Most parents would find it creepy to have their children address them by name. But I’m cool with it, and quite frankly the fact that it is so unusual is kind of kick for me. The first time someone hears my daughter call me by name they do a double take.

“Did she just call you Clay?”

“Uh, yeah, it’s always been that way”

“That is so weird.”

Yeah, it’s a bit weird, but a good weird in my book. It’s also a darn good conversation starter.

As for disrespect, using a first name is not disrespectful in itself. Tone, inflection, purpose and actions are how you determine respect. I can address someone as Dr, Mr, Miss or even Officer and it gives no indication on whether I respect them or not. In fact, by using a sarcastic tone, a child could be making a very disrespectful comment precisely by calling you mom or dad. Just as a teenager could show his displeasure with a police officer’s request by saying ” Yes, you are so right officer Mc Fadden”,  so can a child manipulate the words “mom” and “dad”.  Tone, context, and purpose is everything in language. If anyone confuses my daughter’s use of my first name with disrespect then they clearly aren’t paying any attention.

Right now my daughter is too young to know how unusual it is to call a biological parent by name. When she does, I’m curious what she’ll do. Will she switch to dad? Who knows. Will her friends follow her lead and just address me as Clay? I’m curious to find out.

Either way it’s fine with me as long as she doesn’t use my full Christian name.

That’s it for now.

Further Reading:

How about this funny article on using first names instead of titles.

File Under: Children Calling Parents by Their First Name – Daddy Versus Using Real Name – Child Using First Name to Refer to Mom or Dad

20 Responses to “Who’s Your Daddy? – Calling a Parent by Their First Name”

  • Erik Says:

    Hmmm… I remember growing up with friends that called their step parents by their first name. Maybe it was their way of distinguishing themselves from the addition or keeping the new parent in their place, but it always through me off. Your reasoning is sound, even convincing, but there is something intensely sour about having my son call me by my first name. I’ve sucked on a raw lemon, stuck my finger in a light socket, and downed a few shots of wild turkey, so maybe I’ll give it a shot and see how it feels…But there’s probably a shiver and a pucker-face in my future. Interesting post… Thanks DD.
    .-= Erik´s lastest blog ..How to Juggle Flaming Chainsaws =-.


    Straight Dope Dad Reply:

    Hello Erik. Your comment made my day. Thanks.


    Andy Reply:

    I always called my step-parents by their first name because I thought it disrespectful to call them anything else. I have a mother, who I call mom, and she is not my father’s wife… and I hate the idea that the two could be interchangeable in any way, shape, or form.


  • Rob Says:

    Thank you so much for this post!

    My son calls me Rob, and I’ve never cared because I know my role and I know he loves me and knows who I am, but it’s “weird” for him to call me that by society’s standards, and my mom comments about it and that gets to me.

    I think your post will really help me deal with it. It’s really not a big deal, and if I make it a big deal it’s not going to help my son at all, and that should be my concern, not how other people feel about my relationship with my son.

    Thanks again!


    Straight Dope Dad Reply:

    True that. There are unwritten laws that govern our society. A good one is “don’t cut in line”. There is no law against it, and you can’t get sued for doing it, but it’s a useful rule based on fairness. We should follow those. All others, like don’t address a parent by their first name, have no basis for existence other than personal preference. These I believe we should all ignore or follow based upon how well it aligns with our own beliefs.


  • Chris Says:

    My husband and his brother have alternated calling their parents mom and dad and Margo and Jim. I thought this was really weird until one day Margo said very matter of factly “I didn’t mind if they called me mom in the house, but in public, there are too many moms. Its confusing.” Hard to argue with logic like that!


  • rrp Says:

    Always felt a little strange when I heard a friend call their step-dad by his first name.
    .-= rrp´s lastest blog ..Lead In Bounce Houses =-.


  • Edutxt Says:

    I would hate my kids to stop calling me mum, and I know their dad would feel the same (about been called dad obviously). I remeber seeing an episode of the Simpsons where Homer looks very hurt when Lisa calls him Homer when she is upsaet with him.


  • Katharine Says:



  • Sparkina Says:

    @ Chris — that reminds me of a joke I read when I was a kid

    A little boy had gotten separated from his mother in a store and ran through the store hollering, “Janet! Janet!”

    The mother found her son, hugged him tight, and then told the boy

    “You shouldn’t call me Janet. I’m your mother.”

    “Yeah, but the store was full of mothers.”


  • Bob Collier Says:

    My now 15 year old son has never called me anything other than Bob. My grown up daughter used to call me Bob before she started school and then it became Daddy. I was her at-home parent so we spent a huge amount of time together.

    Occasionally these days she’ll call me Bobby as a kind of in-joke. She knows she’s the only person on the planet I allow to call me that. 🙂


  • Christina Says:

    Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language. – Dale Carnegie

    I always loved that quote. Thought I would share.

    I called my parents by their given names because as my mom said I am not defined by a job tile, I am a person and I have a name.

    Since moving away from home as an adult I only refer to my mom as mom when speaking to others; who have not met her, otherwise it is just Linda.


    Straight Dope Dad Reply:

    Your mom…er, I mean Linda, sounds pretty awesome.


  • Anise Blue Says:

    If you are receiving the amount of respect that’s due a father, I would say it’s no problem. But that’s rarely the case. Calling a parent by a first name may be playful but it’s also a demotion – you’re not a father, you’re just a guy, a friend, a pal. That may be fine while she’s young and you are in control of her environment. But when pubescent boys are trying to get in her pants as a teen and she’s out of your sight for long hours at a time, you may not appreciate her saying, “Whatever, Clay.” At that point, I’m pretty sure you’d appreciate a more child-appropriate response of, “OK, Dad, I’ll be home on time.” Because you’re her father. Not just some guy. (You establish that now, or you don’t have it established when it counts.)


    Straight Dope Dad Reply:

    Hmmm. I just don’t buy that line or reasoning. Never have. She knows I’m her dad. When referring to me to others she calls me her dad. Between us we use first names. You also used a straw man argument. The real comparison is “Whatever, Clay” versus “Whatever, dad”. In this example the level of disrespect is the same. Using dad or Clay makes no difference. To think that a child will confuse your role as parent simply because of a title places zero value on what goes into actually being a parent. This doesn’t hold up when you examine love, bonding, or any element of human development.


  • Robin Says:

    I think you have a good point, it’s really all in what you are comfortable with, and the disrespect is all in tone,inflection and intent. Our children refer to us as “mom” & “dad”, as it is just how we were raised,etc. My father is old school and would’ve beat the portuguese out of me, and my mother grew up in a military family , so yeah we had no other option. However is someone asks you to call you by their first name or says that is ok, then I would think that it would be disrespectful NOT to call them by their first name.
    .-= Robin´s lastest blog ..Sleep Is For The Weak!!! =-.


  • Marie Says:

    I serious love this. My kids call me Marie and it never entered my mind that I should be offended. It’s my, ya know, NAME. And I think titles are lame. *shrug* They call me mom, mama, mommy and hey you as well. It’s all good.


  • Matt Says:

    I use to call my parents by their first name when I was little (4 or 5). It didn’t bother anyone, although some people thought it was “cute”. I started calling them “mom” and “dad” as I got older. I think I just called them by their first name because that was what they called each other. They still tease me about that habit to this day, 25 years later. 😛


  • Dominica Says:

    I see nothing wrong with calling one’s parents by their first names. I’m 26 and I have never referred to my mum as anything other than Kate. My mum always called her parents by their first names so it just felt normal for me. I called my grandma by her first name too. Aunties and uncles too. I don’t know, maybe we are an unusual family but I can assure everyone I have loads of respect for all of them.


  • Larry Says:

    My 27 yr old daughter calls me by my first name.
    I suppose its my life punishment for not being in her life for the past 25 yrs.


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