Vol. 50 No. 1 (2002)
Research Article

A New Look at Address in American English: The Rules Have Changed

Published 2002-03-01



This essay replicates the landmark research done by Roger Brown and Marguerite Ford (1961) on forms of address in dyadic encounters in American English-more specifically, on the choice speakers make between the use of an addressee's first name and his or her title plus last name. The results show that many of the rules governing address have changed greatly over the past two generations: the use of first names is more common now in encounters involving two newly-introduced adults, in other adult encounters in which there is a difference between the speaker's and addressee's occupational status and/or a 15-year-or-greater difference between their ages, and in encounters in which the speaker is a child and the addressee is an adult. These changes are linked to Americans’ evolving perceptions of what criteria are important in determining a social pecking order, and to semantic shifts in Americans’ concepts of distance, formality, intimacy, and status.


  1. Brown, Roger, and Marguerite Ford. 1961. "Address in American English." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 62: 375–85.
  2. Brown, Roger, and Albert Gilman. 1960. "The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity." Style in Language, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok. Cambridge: MIT Press, 253–76.
  3. Centers, Richard. 1947. "The American Class Structure: A Psychological Analysis." Readings in Social Psychology, eds. Theodore M. Newcomb, Eugene L. Hartley, et al. New York: Holt, 481–93.
  4. Christiana, Laura M., ed. 1987. "What's in a Name, Anyway?" United States Banker (Dec.), p. 8.
  5. Davis, Lawrence M. 1990. Statistics in Dialectology. Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press.
  6. Ervin-Tripp, Susan. 1969. "Sociolinguistics.n Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 4. Ed. L. Berkowitz. New York: Academic, 94–165.
  7. Gassner, J., ed. 1947. Best Plays of the Modern American Theater: Second Series. New York: Crown.
  8. . 1952. Best American Plays: Third Series. New York: Crown.
  9. . 1958. Best American Plays: Fourth Series. New York: Crown.
  10. Hinton, Leanne. 1992. "Sex Differences in Address Terminology in the 1990's." Locating Power: Proceedings of the Second Berkeley Women and Language Conference, vol. 1,eds. Kira Hall, Mary Bucholtz, and Birch Moonwoman. Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group, 263–71.
  11. Hodges, Robert W., Paul M. Siegel, and Peter H. Rossi. 1964. "Occupational Prestige in the United States, 1925–63." American Journal of Sociology 70: 286-302.
  12. Labov, William. 1975. What Is a Linguistic Fact? Lisse: Peter de Ridder.
  13. Linn, Michael D. 1983. "Informant Selection in Dialectology." American Speech 58: 225–43.
  14. Mundy, Liza. 1998. "Roles." The Washington Post (15 Mar.), p. Wll.
  15. Nakao, Keiko, and Judith Treas. 1994. "Updating Occupational Prestige and Socioeconomic Scores: How the New Measures Measure Up." Sociological Methodology, 1994,ed. Peter Marsden. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (for the American Sociological Association), 1–72.
  16. Parkinson, Dilworth. 1985. Constructing the Social Context of Communication: Terms of Address in Egyptian Arabic. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  17. Philipsen, Gerry, and Michael Huspek. 1985. "A Bibliography of Sociolinguistic Studies of Personal Address." Anthropological Linguistics 27: 94–101.
  18. Potter, Terrence M. 1999. "'Si Mohammed!': Names as Address Forms in Moroccan Arabic." Names: A Journal of Onomastics. 47: 157–72.
  19. Spencer, Paula. 1998. "First-name Basis." Woman's Day 61, no. 12(14 July), p. 178.
  20. Sutton, Laurel. "Bitches and Skankly Hobags: The Place of Women in Contemporary Slang." Locating Power: Proceedings of the Second Berkeley Women and Language Conference, vol. 2. Ed. Kira Hall, Mary Bucholtz, and Birch Moonwoman. Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group, 560–72.
  21. Underhill, William. 1997. "The Art of the New." Newsweek (19 May), p. 16.
  22. Williams, David R. 2000. Sin Boldly1.: Dr. Dave's Guide to Writing the College Paper. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.