I read this news article, where 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts went missing. Her name is Mollie Tibbetts. If I get it correct, Mollie is her first name and Tibbetts is her last name or surname. As we can see from the article, most of time the author uses Tibbetts, like:

Laura Calderwood, Tibbetts' mother, told ABC News there are ...

Tibbetts, who was the middle child in her family, ...

There is one time her mother uses Mollie:

Calderwood said. "As that date gets closer, it's like closing in on me, because I'm thinking about these two people that are getting married that were also really close to Mollie. [It's] supposed to be the happiest day of their life."

Also, her mother's name is Laura Calderwood, but the author uses Calderwood all the time in his article, instead of Laura.

From my observation, in our daily speech, we tend to use people's first name to address someone. For example, I address one of my American friends as Brain, which is his first name.

So, I'm wondering if there is a rule or something? In other words, in which case(s) we should address someone's last name/surname or his first name?

  • Why would the mother refer to her daughter by her last name? Keep in mind it is a direct quotation. Also, I hope you address your American friend as Brian. Anyway, which to use depends on context. Reporters would tend to be more formal by using last names.
    – user3169
    Jul 25, 2018 at 2:32

1 Answer 1


In formal writing and reporting, such as a newspaper article or court proceeding or official report, the person's last name is used. In informal or familiar settings, such as when speaking directly to a person or wanting to show a closer personal relationship with the subject, the first name is used.

In this case, the reporter is showing personal distance from the subject by using her last name, except when quoting the subject's mother who claims a direct personal connection and uses the subject's first name instead to do so. It would seem very strange and distant for a member of a family to refer to someone else in the same family by their last name, especially because they often have the same last name.

An exception to this might be a coach referring to his/her players by last name, because the last name is printed on the player's jersey and makes an easier identifier; the last name also makes criticism a little less personal. So as to create more equality among teammates, a coach who does this would continue to do so even if s/he was the parent of one of the players.

The typical rule for nonfiction writing is: the first time you introduce a subject use both first and last names, and after that only use the last name. The Associated Press Style for Names reportedly says

"In general, use only last names on second reference, unless an individual requests otherwise."

  • A side question: Is it court proceeding or court proceedings?
    – dan
    Jul 25, 2018 at 4:44
  • @dan you could say court proceedings (plural) or a court proceeding (singular), just like you could say newspaper articles or a newspaper article, and official reports or a[n] official report. I went with the second of each of these here, with the indefinite article intended to carry through. Sorry if that caused any confusion.
    – WBT
    Jul 25, 2018 at 12:11
  • The reason why I confused is that according to dictionaries: "You can refer to a written record of the discussions at a meeting or conference as the proceedings." You can refer to this: collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/proceeding
    – dan
    Jul 25, 2018 at 12:22
  • @dan Yes, that's true. It's relatively confusing and if you scroll down on that page you can see the singular being used in the same setting. Consider asking a new question on that!
    – WBT
    Jul 25, 2018 at 12:55

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