Suppose you are talking to your friend about a third person called Mrs. Firstname Lastname. Suppose you are not on a first name basis with this third person; that is, if you spoke to this third person directly you will only address that person by their last name.

You to the Third Person: "Good morning Mrs. Lastname. How are you?"

But when talking to your friend (in the absence of the third person):

You to your friend: "I like Firstname. She is good at what she does."

Is this wrong? Is your friend correct to retort with the following?: "Firstname? Are you on a first name basis with her now?"

Merriam Webster defines first name basis as "having a close personal relationship where each person addresses the other by their first name". The key appears to be the phrase "each person addresses the other" which I believe you are not doing with the third person in the above example.

There is a caveat that I may be understanding the verb "to address" wrong, which the Merriam Webster does not appear to clarify whether it only means speaking directly with the third person, or it also includes speaking about the third person with your friend.

So is it still a wrong or unacceptable use of language to refer to a third person by their first name if you're not on a first name basis with the said third person?

  • Would this be a better fit in EL&U?
    – ADTC
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


Yes, in normal circumstances you would refer to a third person by the name that you would use to address them directly. Exceptions that I can think of are:-

Using the 'first name' to distinguish between siblings.

Talking about famous people. For instance, many English people would refer to our current Prime Minister as Boris, because he's a colourful character with a distinctive given name, but if you met him formally you would call him Mr. Johnson.

  • 1
    Not at all. If the person is not present, you can call them anything you like, especially in a private conversation.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 16:08
  • 🤔 Better if I ask this again in EL&U?
    – ADTC
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 19:35
  • Well, of course you can call them what you like; I was assuming, perhaps wrongly, that you would naturally think of a person by the name you usually use for them. Commented May 17, 2020 at 7:48

You must log in to answer this question.

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