Why “Ms”?

Posted on January 29, 2020


One of the most annoying aspects of being a teacher is constantly being called out of my name. No, I don’t mean when a student loses their temper and goes off using profane phrases.

I mean when students and colleagues insist on calling me “Miss” eddy, or, worse yet, when a principal shortened my first name to “Lease,” –because all 2 syllables of “lisa” was just too much trouble for him. Of course, he also shortened Dorothy’s name to Dorth–who instantly became “Dorth Vader, from the Dark Side.”

On my very first day in Adrian, the chemistry teacher, well-meaning, I’m sure, bless her heart, came to my classroom to tell me not to allow students to call me my first name, “lisa.” I ignored her counsel and introduced myself the same way for my entire career, without a problem:

My name is ms. lisa gay eddy. You may call me “ms. eddy,” or “lisa.” Please do not call me “miss” or “mrs.” My identity has nothing to do with whether or not I’m in a relationship with a man. Also, my middle name is “gay.” Do not use my name as an insult or put-down. It’s my name…AND we don’t put other people down for traits they have no control over, like their sexuality.

It seems I’d been thinking about this in 1992, when I wrote the following poem.

Why Ms?

A mister is a mister, married or no.

I’m wanting for myself the same.

Who I am sharing my world with now

has nothing to do with my name.

Historical perspective is part of it, too:

like property rights, the rule of thumb…

It’s my way of saying, “I own myself.”

It’s the way I like it, though it’s not for some.

To those who do the other thing,

who take another’s name by choice:

I say, “Live and let live, you’ve your own song to sing,

but aren’t you glad to have legal voice?”

Expression, identity, assertiveness,

and surely a good deal of stubbornness–

things for too ingrained for mere words to express…

that’s why I’m “ms. eddy,” not “mrs.” or “miss.”

Names are very important. Almost every memoir and novel includes a discussion of the narrator’s or character’s name, its origins, and its significance. I always wanted to communicate the idea of respect for everyone’s identity and demonstrate how to advocate for one’s name. I did get student names wrong sometimes, and for that I am truly sorry. In fact, I still feel a pang over a student whose name I said incorrectly for weeks, but he was too kind-hearted to correct me. I found out when his mom came to conferences how to correctly say his name.

A couple of things that still bother me are that many international students change their names to simple, one- or two-syllable, common-sounding, “American” names, like Mike or Sam, when they come to Adrian. I’d like for them to be able to use their real names, and I’d like all the adults they interact with to take the time to learn their real names. A second issue is that of names and pronouns for transgender students. I really hope that all adults will take the time to learn to use the correct pronouns and names of their transgender students. It is a matter of basic respect, and it signals to students that adults SEE and really care about each individual person with whom they work.

I remember how pleased I was when the nameplate arrived for my classroom door. It read:

ms. lisa eddy

It was an incredible moment of knowing that I had been seen! And this is how my name should look. Yes, it IS lower-case! (Shout-out to e.e. cummings!)

Featured Image Above: Drama Performance at SHU, 2000?

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