The use – or not – of first names is generational; the older you are, the more you think it natural to be Mr, Mrs or Miss; the younger you are, the more unimaginable this seems.
At some point in the middle, you come to expect your title and surname in your dealings with professional people: when seeing a doctor, a lawyer or the head-teacher at your child’s school. But there’s a struggle for many in being called Mrs X by their cleaner or by their children’s friends because of the automatic formality that it seems to generate.
The use of first names is meant to imply intimacy but this has become a cheapened currency when used, for example, by waiters. “Hello-my-name-is-Terry-what-can-I-get-for-you-this-evening?” trotted out in a monotone, actively puts a distance between you and him. Cheaper still is the catch-all ‘darling’ or ‘mate’ of modern parlance, which is often just a lazy way of avoiding the first name/surname issue altogether. Don’t confuse natural courtesy with the packaged, processed wholesale adoption of over-familiarity: waiters, call centre operatives and salesmen are not aiming to be your friends, so why are they telling you their first names and calling you by yours?
The curmudgeonly might argue that there has been a breakdown of respect in our society – but perhaps we should applaud the increasing lack of empty formalities. Surely it is better to have agreeable manners and call someone by their first name, than be rude to someone while rigidly adhering to correct form and using their surname