In my classes I always include as part of my first-day introduction a comment about names. Having gone by my middle name my whole life, I’m sensitive to the fact that students might want to be called something other than the name I have listed on the roster. I also want make it clear to them what they should call me, and I always give them two options. I tell them they can either call me Dr. Settle or that they can call me Amber. I emphasize that I’m fine with either option.
What is fascinating to me is that which name to call me elicits strong reactions from students. Some have no problem calling me Amber, even from the first day. These are almost always American-born students and more commonly men. Some students simply are not comfortable calling me Amber. No matter how much we interact, even outside the classroom, I remain Dr. Settle. Many of these students were not born in the U.S., but there are also Americans that fall in this category. In fact, I’m working on an outside project with an American student I had in classes two of the three quarters this year, and I’ve had to insist that he call me Amber. The insistence on Dr. Settle has gotten stronger the older I get and is more prominent among undergraduates.
There are clearly a lot of dynamics involved in naming. I understand that the title and last name conveys respect and authority, but I don’t think it’s necessary for either. I may well be biased by my graduate-school experience where every single University of Chicago professor insisted we call them by their first name. They were some of the best theoreticians in the world, but I knew them by the names Lance, Laci, and Janos. They had authority and our respect, and they didn’t need their last names or titles to get it.
So as always in my life, what people call me is tricky and complicated. But it’s fun having a sort of litmus test for students, and I love the insight their choice of names gives me.