I am going to do an overseas internship in Canada next month. Since I have never worked with foreigners before, so now I wonder what I should call my boss or colleagues.

My supervisor is a Chinese, I don't know her English name, she is much older than me and I do know she is married. Her family name is Liu (not her husband's). So may I call her Ms. Liu, or Mrs. Liu, I am not sure which one is correct. How about other foreigner supervisor? Should I call them MR. XX, MS. XX, or just call them first name directly. Can I ask them directly "Can I have your name or What should I call you"

For the colleagues which are older than me, I think I just need to call them first name?


  • 1
    In the U.S. at least, Ms. is considered “safe” to use. It was designed to combine “Miss” and “Mrs”, so that the address was not tied to a marital status.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 10:51
  • 4
    Ms. signifies woman without reference to marital status.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 13:20
  • Can you clarify what you mean by "English name". Do you mean her "given name" (the one that comes first in English order of names). What do you mean by "First name" (Chinese order is different from English order) Also are you asking about which name to use when speaking to them or about them.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 20:32
  • Sorry, I will explain it... Chinese Name in here means... For example, First Name (Xiu Qin) + Familiy Name (Liu). However, in order to facilitate communication with foreigners, Chinese people usually choose an English name for themselves. E.g. Judy Liu. So that people can just call her Judy. Emmmm, I am asking about which name to use when speaking to them, thank you!
    – user71032
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 7:11

3 Answers 3


One uses "Mrs" for a married woman, "Miss" for an unmarried woman and "Ms" when you don't know if the woman is married, or if the woman prefers "Ms". When women marry, many will change their family name to that of their husband, however if your supervisor hasn't changed her name then she is Mrs Lui or Ms Lui depending on what she prefers (there is nothing wrong with asking directly)

On first meeting use "Ms Lui" it cannot cause any offence.

You will soon pick up the way that people talk to other people at your organisation. At some organisations everybody uses "Mr" or "Mrs". At others everybody uses first names. Just follow what other people do.

You will probably find that most people just use First Names all the time, except when talking to people outside the organisation.

First Meeting:

Good morning Ms Lui, I'm the new intern. It's good to meet you.

General talk. (assuming Ms Lui is Ms Kathy Lui)

Hello Kathy. How was your weekend?

Speaking to outsiders

Ms Lui is busy right now, can I take a message?

Always use a title with a family name ("Ms Lui" ok, "Lui" not ok)

Never use a title with a given name ("Ms Kathy" is not ok, "Kathy" is ok)


In my organisation (UK Govt, legal) it is usual to use 'Ms' for a female person where her marital status is unknown, or if she has used it herself on documentation.

  • Yeah, I understand. I know she got married, but I don't know the family name of her husband, so I cannot call her "Mrs. xx, ", cuz “ "Mrs (last name of her husband)" is the correct expression, Right?
    – user71032
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 14:15
  • It is the usual custom to use Mrs + husband's surname for a married woman, but there is no rule that says you have to. Some married women call themselves Mrs + their own birth surname, and some use Miss + their birth surname as a "professional name". I know judges and lawyers who do this. I would ask this person what she prefers to be called, or ask a colleague. It is probably best to wait until you start your internship and just ask what the custom is. Nobody will mind, and it will be to your credit that you asked. Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 17:36

In my opinion, it's respectful to first refer to your colleagues, regardless if they are your peers, supervisors, or direct boss, by "Mr" or "Ms/Mrs" and to never refer to them by only their first name even if you know it, ever. Referring to them as "Mr/Ms/Mrs (first name) (last name)" is perfectly fine I think. There are a number of ways you can find out what they prefer to be called for sure and it helps to practice those ways with friends, family, or your current colleagues if you'd like to prepare yourself.

For women, it can sometimes be tricky to choose between Ms/Mrs. I suggest referring to them by "Ms" initially; it usually refers to younger, single women and most women I meet regardless of marriage status and age seem flattered or find it endearing you refer to them as such.

After the introductions are set, they usually say what they prefer to be called. For example, they'll say "Please, call me (first name)" or "It's actually 'Mrs', nice to meet you." But just a heads up, if what you referred to them is what they prefer, this won't come up.

  • "It's respectful to first refer to your colleagues...by "Mr" or "Ms/Mrs" and to never refer to them by only their first name even if you know it, ever" - this is extremely culturally dependent. In most of the US, you would definitely be the odd one out if you did this.
    – stangdon
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 12:14
  • In case when I got someone's name, but I don't know whether need to add a title, Can I ask them directly " What should I call you"?
    – user71032
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 14:25
  • 1
    @user71032 Of course you can ask the person in any Western country, anyway.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 16:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .