This I Believe

Catherine - Decatur, Georgia
Entered on July 21, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: respect
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe in being “ma’amed.” As in, “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” and “may I help you, ma’am?” Oh, I can hear your howls of protest right now: “Don’t ‘ma’am’ me! That makes me feel so old!” And, don’t think I can’t hear you sarcastically sing-songing behind my back, “Yes, ma’am. Whatever you say, ma’am.” But far from feeling old or, worse, old-fashioned, my belief in being “ma’amed” arises purely from thinking of others. Yes, “ma’aming” helps others help you, and in the process, develops a fine reputation for expressing politeness and respect.

Think how more served I would have felt if I had been “ma’amed” in a recent interaction. The online catalog’s website I was shopping on was shooing customers off cyberspace forcing them to actually dial a telephone number to place an order. The courteous customer service representative, who plucked me from the soothing ad-laden hold queue, entered my catalog 10-digit identification number, and apparently, by magic, my name appeared to her. “What is your first item, Cathy?” she guilelessly asked. Let me state unequivocally, my name is “Catherine,” and I have to assume that is the name that popped up on her screen since it is the only name I have ever used. Well, it is the only name I use except “Mrs. Neiner.”

Now, allow me to digress because being “Mrs’ed” is an important category of being “ma’amed.” Just as there are groans of despair from some women when they are “ma’amed,” there are vehement objections when some women are “Mrs’ed.” They lament, “That is my mother-in-law not me!” Well, “Mrs. Neiner” is, indeed, my mother-in-law. But “Mrs. Neiner” is also me when the person I am talking with on a customer service line has never met me or, more important, certainly doesn’t know that my first name is “Catherine” not “Cathy.”

But back to my selflessness campaign to rehabilitate the use of “ma’am.” So, I pass off the initial “Cathy” and continue with my order. But then she asks, “What credit card would you like to use, Cathy?” This is more than I can stand. “My name is ‘Catherine’,” I surrender. To which she chirps, “Let me review your order, Cathy.”

I am undoubtedly not “Cathy.” But to the customer service representative on the other end of the phone line, I should be, at the very least, “Mrs. Neiner.” However, having said that, her best bet is still to avoid that name too because, and I’m sure a customer service representative knows this better than anyone, the pronunciation of names can be really, really tricky. And people can be very, very persnickety about how their names are pronounced. And let me tell you, when you are looking at the name “Neiner” on a screen and see the unconventional spelling, there is little to no probability that you are going to pronounce it properly. What is a customer service representative to do? Why, call me “ma’am”!

Just consider how much easier her job would be if she “ma’amed” me. She would not have to figure out what my non-existent nickname is. Nor would she have to struggle with the treacherous pronunciations of my surname. With a simple “ma’am” she would come off sounding confident in her professionalism and considerate of me as her customer. AND she would probably advanced her career, because if she “ma’amed” me, I would surely place another order from the business that is savvy enough to employ such an obviously competent customer service representative.

Yes, ma’am. I believe in being “ma’amed.”