Why do I need to be called “Ma’am, Madam”?

      29 Comments on Why do I need to be called “Ma’am, Madam”?

A pet peeve of mine  is being called “Ma’am”. The first time someone addressed me as “Ma’am” was from a news reporter over nine years ago. Hearing “Ma’am” shocked me mainly because it meant I am OLD. I often cringe when I am being addressed as “Ma’am”. When I became a blogger and met new bloggers, I often requested them to just call me “Noemi”. A few bloggers still call me “Ma’am” which I don’t bother to correct sometimes because I also understand that maybe they are not comfortable calling me by my first name. I understand that our parents often teach us to respect our elders.

But really, why do I need to be called “Ma’am, Madam, Miss Noemi”?

In a reddit discussion, yeh-nah-yeh says “Australian culture values egalitarianism, that is every being equal. An average taxi driver would address the Prime Minister by first name or “mate”. It often results in better outcomes as ideas are judged for their quality not for the seniority of the person proposing them and junior people are free to question and criticise the work of older people leading to improvements.” That’s what I mean. In the internet, people should argue and discuss amiably without the nagging thought that this person has an honorific title.

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Sylvia Claudio has a take on the penchant for titles:

The penchant for titles besets other cultures, but Filipinos take it to the extreme. At a recent international conference a Filipino participant put the title “Atty.” before his name. This prompted a Malaysian participant to ask me what that meant. My reply that this was an abbreviation for “Attorney” resulted in a long side explanation – much to the detriment to our appreciation of the attorney’s presentation. Later, my foreign colleagues were even more befuddled by a recitation of titles like “Engr.” (for engineer), and “Arch.” (for architect).

Though we should be proud of our professional attainment, titles do not happen in other countries. There is no “Atty” appended before a lawyer’s name in the United States. Claudio addes that “We are also a society where an atty., an arch., and an engr. may be the first person to have finished college in their entire family and tribe.” Pinoy culture, just like in most of Asia, value hierarchy and seniority.

title fetish

I agree with Claudio that “Our title fetish is indicative of the social inequality and resulting patronage that plague Philippine society. In a just society, it would not be difficult for anyone to become a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, a geologist, a ballerina, a soprano, social worker, and whatever else they should desire.”

As University of the Philippines professor Tet Maceda observes, senior professors and administrators were addressed by their first names. “Despite our increasing seniority we have not taken to calling ourselves “Ma’am.” There are, after all, many Filipinos who reject these titles. Maceda fondly remembers being answered on the phone with “Emer here” and not “President Emerlinda Roman here.”

Claudio adds that there is a proper use for titles such as President Aquino is called “Mr. President” . She adds that in a democracy, such honorifics should be reserved for the highest government positions.


It is one reason I use the monicker “momblogger” because it is a nickname that anyone can call me. I always believed in using my first name in social media accounts but almost everyone would call me “ma’am” . In 2007, I created my internet name as “momblogger” (well I am a mom plus a blogger) for people to address me in case they felt awkward calling me “Noemi” . How would I have known that it would also be my “personal brand” today?

Now that you know my pet peeve… just call me plain old …Noemi. Or if that bothers you, call me momblogger.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (1385 Posts)

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ gmail.com) for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.

  • liz

    personally, i think “Ma’am” is condescending already. I think calling people by the name that they have lived up to since they were born is more respectful.

  • Like you, growing up in a Visayan household and being in one now, it is indeed alien for me to go around saying po/ho and opo/oho. But out of respect for those who grew up in this island, I consciously say so when I do remember.

    I do get called Ma’am sometimes (esp. in shopping malls) but in the office, they call me Ms. Jane. Jane sounds better though…

  • Reading this post made me cruise memory lane.

    I remember a time when a new teacher flew into a rage because my classmate just couldn’t say po or opo. She thought my classmate was being rude and defiant. We knew that the poor girl couldn’t do it because she was 100% Visayan and it was in fact, her first time in Manila.

    Somebody dared squeak our classmate’s roots, but the teacher was saying that, it was being taught to her already so she should be able to speak it. it was difficult to reason with the teacher because she was stark raving mad.

    I remember how my classmate looked, she was very uncomfortable, imagine being made to do something you have never done before right that moment. I could see that she wantd to obey the teacher, but she just couldn’t. she looked like a Prep student answering a Physics question.

    I wish the teacher just gave her an A for effort and left it at that, but no, she was very insistent on making po and opo second nature on her student.

    Sigh, I can still remember that moment in class as if it happened only yesterday.

  • oo nga… even in the english vocab, which we use at home more than Filipino. I then even forget to use po and opo most of the time when I speak the Filipino language, because I have gotten used to speaking in English… huhu!

  • hahaha… i have the same problem. i went to college in laguna, far from my visayan province. i was forced to use po and ho because everyone else did. during the process, i butchered thousands of sentences because i inserted the words ho and po in the most awkward places. but now, it seems natural for me to use po and ho. just a matter of getting used to.

  • the word PO and OPO is also non-existent in Bacolod. that is why i grew up not used to saying these words. but not saying po and opo doesnt necessarily mean that one is rude.

  • coincidentally, i thought about this yesterday after watching Wheel of Fortune where the contestants were kids. One of the phrases to fill up was ‘pagsasabi ng po at opo’.

    Now that you blogged about it, i just felt a little guilty, too, not really teaching my kids use po at opo. Maybe because, when i was growing up, my parents didn’t pushed us to do so. We just use po and opo when they’re angry (hehe) or when they call us and we would answer, Po! We used to talking with them without po and opo, but it didn’t mean we didn’t respect them. Even until now, i talk to my tatay without po or opo, but we talk like we’re buddies. Ironically, when i talk to other oldies, i use po and opo.

    About my kids, maybe i am not trying too hard on teaching them the use of po at opo. One reason, my first two kids learned to talk in english first since we stayed in Oz for more than two years. And now, here in the Philippines they are attending schools strict in the use of english. But definitely, i am teaching them how to respect and be polite with people specially to older ones. I think that’s more important.

  • I’m Ilonggo and we don’t have a concept of ‘po’ and ‘opo’. I think it’s not really a Filipino trait since it’s mostly in Luzon. I think what’s truly Pinoy is not the use of ‘po’ and ‘opo’, but the value of respect. 🙂

  • @liz- I get sad when I am addressed as “ma’am”

    @jane- I used to say po and opo but I tend to address anyone that way so I just stopped using it.

    @cess- teachers can be so mean. I bet she was like my aunt. She was a teacher too.

    @aries- why use po and opo when one is speaking in English? It’s not part of the sentence structure. But to each their own. I know a lot who use po and opo even when speaking in English.

    @issai- haha I butchered the sentences too. It was more embarassing than NOT using it all

    @eric- that’s why I am blogging about it so those based in Manila are more understanding

    @maline- I watched that show yesterday too. In fact, that’s what inspired me to blog about it.

    @Earving- yes the value of respect and practicing it is more important.

  • ia

    Maybe Ma’am does feel a little old, but somehow when soldiers in movies say it, it feels different…nicely different. Though I don’t know how it feels in real life because it never happened. 😉

    When I was a kid I spoke in straight English, but we were also taught to use “kayo” and “ninyo” instead of “ikaw” at “mo” when we use Tagalog. (So if I’m not using the former instead of the latter, it says a lot about what I think about the older person I’m talking to. Haha.) Also, if we’re at our relatives’ house we were always supposed to address them in the “proper way” when answering, i.e., “yes Tita” instead of just “yes”. I’m curious if anybody else does those things.

  • When I meet people who can’t say po or opo, ok lang esp. when I know he or she came from the Visayan province. But when house staff are older than me, they call me Ma’am instead of the usual Ate. Though I prefer to be called by my first name.

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  • coming from residency training, where the hierarchy demands a form of address to denote respect, “ma’am” or “sir” is something that has become second nature to me by necessity. i carry it with me now wherever i go. “po” and “opo” is also something i learned late – again, only during residency. 🙂

    that being said, as a resident, we do a lot of teaching to the medical students, and i must admit it does feel a bit weird to be called “ma’am” by them – especially when some of them are just younger than me by a year or two.

  • Saying ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ does not connote that you are already old. It’s a salutation to address a person of respectable status. I am saying this because the last time I saw you, I believed I have addressed you as Ma’am. It’s my way of showing respect to an honorable person like you.

  • I grew up in Manila. My parents were not strict in enforcing the traditional po & opo on me and my sister, but we were always reminded to keep a calm intonation so that we won’t sound rude to others.

    My mom always sounds mad when she is speaking with our relatives, but knowing that they are from Quezon province, it is normal for them to speak out loud even if they are just beside each other. They even use curses, like “PI”, as periods to their sentences.

    Most of my Visayan employees who are having a hard time speaking tagalog often come out as if they are impolite. Before, I usually get irritated by the way they speak to me especially through the phone, now that I am accustomed to the way Visayans speak tagalog and the way they act, I have acquired a deeper understanding on what they are trying to relate. But I still sometimes remind them to speak slowly and calmly because they always have the tendency to speak fast.

  • @ia- I think most Filipinos still use the “yes, tita”. I have never been taught to use ma’am. One time I was in a show with Gina de Venecia. People kept addressing her as Ma’am Gina or Manay Gina. But I called her Gina. I wonder if she found me rude but still she was gracious enough to talk to me. So I think it didn’t matter to her just like it doesn’t matter to me.

    @Rowena pareho pala tayo. I want people to address me with my first name but due to force of habit, it’s also okay if they call me Ate Noemi or Tita Noemi.

    @dr clairebear- I find it even weirder if someone OLDER than me calls me “ma’am”

    @edong – it’s okay if you called me ma’am. Now that you know I like to be called Noemi, maybe when we meet, you’d feel comfortable enough to call me by my first name.

    See in the blogosphere, I believe thoughts and opinions are valued rather than the age of the blogger. The only difference is the older bloggers like me have more experiences to share …but our thoughts like yours create value to our readers. We are all equals in that sense.

    @joey- haha, I know. Good thing you realized the regional differences. The quirks of being a Cebuano, Waray, Tagalog is often a cause of misunderstanding.

  • Technically, my parents didn’t teach me and my siblings to say “po” and “opo”. But they practically did (by example) because they say those words whenever they talk to their elders, except if said elders are relatives. Weird.

    Also, I often wondered what to call you in person. I believe the only thing that came out of my mouth when I met you was “Hello po!” LOL

  • c5

    Hello Noemi,

    Finally I got myself to bloghop. 🙂

    First, I’d like to thank you for coming to my site always (at least my MBL shows your face always). I hope there is something that you find of value to YOU. 🙂

    Regarding your post, I remember my mom. We were raised having English as the mother tongue so “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” are the common communication respect for the elder or someone in office. I learned Tagalog when I finally got into first grade in a public school (no private school experience here),

    My parents are disciplinarians. I’ve often heard her remark when she hears someone talking to someone older without the ‘po’ and/or ‘opo’ that probably the said person is from the Visayas, generalizing the trait. My husband, thought he lived his whole life in Manila, earned the same comment from my mom. His mom is from Leyte. He now knows how to use po and opo out of not wanting to offend others.

    Here in San Pedro, the locals (those who lived their lives here) are VERY respectful in terms of addressing someone. You will often hear vendors call EVERYONE ‘ate’ or ‘kuya’ even if they are much younger. A senior citizen woman who is a neighbor calls me ‘ate’ offering her husband’s trike service, so it’s still more of servant to customer relationship and respect.

    I believe that calling someone on a first-name basis is rather sweet. It denotes closeness. It’s easy to see by one’s utterance if he or she is disrespectful or not but sometimes, it’s better not to offend so it’s still safer to address ma’am or sir unless, like in your case, you let it be known you don’t like it.

    I’d rather be called by my name too. My nick is fine too since in the blogosphere ‘C5’ is just me and no one else. I share the name, though, with mere non-humans: a bomb and a hiway. 🙂

  • I agree that it’s only in the Tagalog regions that “po” and “opo” is used as a sign of respect, notwithstanding age. I am from Leyte, so I didn’t grow up using them. I only learned them in school and when I became and adult. I use these words when I am speaking to a Tagalog person. And sir or ma’am as well. We actually attach “Mana” or “Mano” to the name of a person when we speak to an older woman or man respectively, to denote respect.Like, Mana Susan, pakiabot ng libro. Mano Jun, magbasa ka muna diyan.

  • My grandparents in Bicol were very strict when it comes to saying “po” and “opo” (“tabi” and “umpo” in our dialect) in the household. And before, it’s quite disconcerting to me when I hear a young person who doesn’t use these to address the older ones.

    “Ma’am” and “sir” are a protocol in the military and so I’ve grown to call almost everyone I meet “Ma’am” instead of “Miss” or “manang” or “ate”. And I also get used to being called “Ma’am”.

    In my new job, not everyone calls me “Ma’am” anymore, some address me by my nick and some “Miss Mitch”. The funny and quite irritating thing though is when your superiors call you “Ma’am”. I mean, please, I already find it pa-cute when they call you “Miss” instead of your given name.

    With you, Ms. Noemi, I don’t ever think I could call you “Noemi” without the honorific. ;^^

  • “Ok lang PO Ms. Noemi.” 🙂

    Of course, I’m one of the people guilty of this, and you have reminded me many times not to do that because you jokingly said, it makes you feel old.

    I now realize that… I’ve come to say “PO” and “OPO” now to everyone I want to be polite to those I respect.

    Pagbiyan mo na lang PO ako kung ganun PO ako.


  • @c5- thanks for the visit. I’ve been too busy bloghopping to comment but I do pass by blogs just to see what’s the latest news out there.

    @jane- i don’t even know how to use mano.

    @yoru- aww that’s okay. Whatever you feel comfortable. But I always feel bloggers are equal

    @jozzua- haha you and rico are so guilty of saying “po”

  • Nice post…Added my knowledge about Phillipines culture. Honestly, my parents didn’t taught me too how to speak politely to older person using our local language…

  • Good point there. I myself don’t address anyone with Ma’am or Sir nor end my sentences with Po and Opo. It just sounds awkward to me. I am not used to it. I wasn’t even raised to address anyone with those words.

    I believe that using those words doesn’t denote politeness nor respect. It simply is something Filipinos were used to.

    Just my two cents 🙂

  • Hi Tita Noemi! =) Just kidding.

    Seriously though, a lot of non-Tagalog Filipinos are not used to using “po” and “opo,” especially those who grew up in their native province. In my case, I learned to use them because I basically grew up in Manila, though I still speak good Cebuano. I don’t think it automatically follows that failure to use “po” and “opo” suggests lack of politeness. In this case, the cliche “actions speak louder than words” holds very true.

  • @Viona- my parents didn’t think it was important until we went to Manila.

    @carlo- I think Filipino are just too concerned with titles

    @markku- I know you don’t call me Tita. haha.

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  • jane

    ‘I think it’s not really a Filipino trait since it’s mostly in Luzon’

    it’s neither a Luzon trait. it is a Tagalog trait. Ilocanos and Pangasinenses do not have equaivalent of po and opo. There are terms for respect but usually, it is more flike how you say it. I hope people from the south would avoid generalizing people from Luzon. Not all Luzon people are Tagalog and oppressors. remmber that there are the Igorots who are looked down upon, not only by other Luzonians but also people from the Visayas and Mindanao just because they’re…Igorots.

    For example in Ilocano, Manang and Manong can imply courtesy and affection. The Tagalog equivalent of this is Ate and Kuya. The Tagalog Manong and Manang doesn’t sound good, it is usually use to adress people of lower status. In tagalog, it would be disrespectful to call a bank manager Manong but in Ilocano, although it literally means older brother, it also can be used for respect and affection(familiar)