Last week, just after news broke of Osama bin Laden’s death, The New York Times issued an internal memorandum telling staffers to strike the honorific “Mr.” from before bin Laden’s name.

The memo got me thinking. Maybe it’s time my husband and I issue a family memorandum about honorifics. Not for Bin Laden, for everybody else.

New York Times staffers are not to write Mr. bin Laden. (REUTERS)

Does anyone tell their kids to call adults Mr. and Mrs. Last Name anymore? What has replaced that? Mostly first names, as far as I can tell. But that’s weird in its own way.

Talking to adults was, in some ways, much easier in the stiffer days of yore. I didn’t know my friends’ parents’ first names and certainly never considered calling them anything but Mrs. So-and-so. The honorific established a comfortable separation. Mr. and Mrs. were people who should be accorded respect and mostly avoided.

Standards have loosened since then. Mrs. became a loaded term. Family names became a loaded question. Parents began to understand that children deserved some respect too. And some parents resist the formality of those titles just as they resist growing up: We do carry our kids to happy hours and wear skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.

This is fine for us, but our kids have been left without clear guidelines. What should they do when they encounter an old-school adult who doesn’t necessarily want little Jack referring to him as a pal?

Rebecca Czarniecki feels their pain. She teaches children manners at her Tea with Mrs. B locations in Bethesda and McLean. “We teach them that there are different levels of respect,” Czarniecki said.

First level: Call the parent Mr. or Mrs. If the adult insists on a first-name-policy, “then we teach them it’s not rude.”

Lately, she has noticed a new trend.

For women, it’s Miss — not exactly the most politically correct honorific. But Czarniecki said women are encouraging children to use Miss before their first names to introduce some formality. Because younger children especially don’t understand the difference between Miss, Mrs. and Ms., she said the term Miss can be used without baggage.

For dads, pair Mr. with their first name. Maybe not for Osama, but for everybody else. Or at least for those ready to take a bigger step toward adulthood.

What do your children call your friends and neighbors?

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