“Yes, Ma’am!”


I’ve been living the military spouse lifestyle for about four years now, but I am constantly astounded at the new things I learn.  I keep thinking that there’s going to be a day when I will wake up and be a “seasoned” military spouse.  I know that the “powers that be” must have a sense of humor because almost immediately after I have that thought, there’s usually something that happens to smack me upside the head to knock that thought right out of my mind.

This morning, I received a little bit more seasoning in a silly, unexpected way.

I went to the gym to work out with my drill sergeant personal trainer, and I happened to run into my husband’s class doing PT (Physical Training).  I stopped by to say “hello” and was taken aback when some of his classmates started saying, “Hello, Ma’am!”  “Hi, Ma’am!”  “How are you, ma’am?”   I couldn’t help but think, “Wait a minute.  We’ve hung out socially, had a few beers, and let’s not mention that we’re the same age.  Why in the world are you calling me ma’am?”

Now, to understand why I’m perplexed about being called “ma’am”, you have to understand that I grew up in an area of the country where phrases like “yes ma’am” and “no, sir” were not instilled into my vocabulary.  In fact, a phrase like “yes, ma’am” was pretty much used when you were being condescending or snotty.  Growing up we also didn’t refer to our friends’ parents by “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jane”.  They were either called only by their first name or known as “Susie Smith’s mom”.

I felt like I lost a bit of my identity when I became a military spouse.  I was no longer known as “Jessica”.  I became “Mrs. Last Name”, “So-and-so’s wife”, or simply “ma’am”.  I tried for the first few years to get all of the military members I had contact with to call me “Jessica”.  That quest was an utter failure.  My husband explained to me it was because I was trying to work against centuries of military protocol and etiquette.  I finally accepted that he was probably correct – but let’s not tell him that!

Yet, for some reason, I’m still perplexed when military people I socialize with in non-military settings insist on calling me “ma’am” in any setting.  I know it’s a courtesy thing, but I don’t think I’ve done anything to earn that courtesy.   I’ve always wondered if there was more to it.  I was talking with my drill sergeant (who is a fellow milspouse) about this as we were working out, and she offered me a new perspective.  She simply said, “They may not remember your first name, but they can always call you ‘ma’am’ or ‘Mrs. Last Name’ and always be correct.” Hmmm…I think she had an interesting point.  I know I’m terrible with names, but it never occurred to me that others might be just as terrible with names!

Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird to be called “ma’am”?  Do you prefer to be called “ma’am” or “Mrs. Last Name”?  Do you call people “ma’am” or “sir”?  Why or why not?  Are there any other reasons why you might refer to someone as “ma’am” or “sir”?

About the Author


Hi! I'm Jessica! A 20-something Army wife, working woman (well, when I can get a job!), and wannabe Domestic Goddess. I love reality TV (the trashier, the better!), reading, food, exclamation points, traveling, and learning new things. My current project is learning how to play the piano. My husband has a grand plan that involves me morphing into a concert pianist by the end of the year. I'm pretty sure his plans to quit the Army and to live off my performance earnings as a "Kept Man" aren't going to work out if my out-of-tune rendition of "Jingle Bells" is any indication. But we can't blame a guy for trying, right?

Speaking of my husband, I'm married to C, who has lovingly put up with all of my {mis}adventures for the past 6 years, and we have 1.5 fantastic cats -- Hailey and Zoey! Since Hailey thinks she is a dog, she only counts as half a cat - although she's probably "fluffy" enough to count as two cats.

I grew up surrounded by the Air Force, and I swore I would never get involved with the military. Period. I guess the joke's on me! Not only did I marry a military guy, but I have found a passion for being involved in the military community. Thanks to a few PCS moves, I feel like I have not only held almost every volunteer position an Army wife can hold, but I have also worked in a myriad of military support positions. I've worked as a financial counselor, a transition counselor, and a military health care benefits counselor and marketing representative. Even with those diverse experiences, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

I chronicle my military spouse {mis}adventures on my personal blog, so feel free to drop by and say "hello"!

  • Finding out that I was “Mrs. [Call Sign]” was more of a surprise to me than being “Mrs. [Surname],” but “ma’am” still makes me do a double-take on occasion. Luckily, the aviation community laid-back enough that I haven’t had too much trouble convincing my husband’s squadronmates that I have a first name and it’s all right to use it. :-)

    With people I haven’t met, don’t know well, or have no intention of getting to know (*cough* telemarketers *cough*) I’ve found that I don’t mind a little formality. I am not — nor do I wish to pretend to be — best buddies with every person I chance to encounter. A little polite distance, to me, is preferable to the false intimacy of leaping to a first-name basis without an invitation.

  • Amy

    I like being a ma’am! Because it’s a sign of respect for my hubby. … and I like that they respect him. But there’s a difference between a fear ma’am and a friendly ma’am — ya know?

  • Mrs. C Lady

    omg, I say yes ma’am on sir most of the time. I don’t talk to friends like that, but older family I do. Never thought it to be rude, I actually say it with respect. I say it to the cashier, older ladies at my job, dang to just about everyone. I am from Texas and its just how I grew up and I don’t mind myself being called ma’am

  • Andi

    Ditto what Mollie said. It took some getting used to, especially when it came from people the same age or younger than me! But I soon noticed that all the soldiers used the term when dealing with all of the wives – strangers or those they were friendly with. I agree with your husband that it’s military etiquette. Although I’m a little bitter that I was once called ma’am out of tradition and courtesy, and now it’s because I’m old…. :)

  • reasad

    I am still not used to it when Hubby’s fellow soldiers call me ma’am. We have taught our kids that it is respect for who a person is and as they get older it is respect of the position a person may hold whether it is a sir or ma’am. And if you can’t remember a name you will never go wrong with a sir or ma’am.

  • When J and I were stationed in AK and I was still in the ANG, I was participating in an joint active duty/ANG exercise. I friend of ours and someone who I saw a lot socially saw me and asked how I was and I was formal saying Sir. He was an officer and I enlisted. He then went home and asked his wife, who was my good friend, if I was sick because I addressed him as Sir instead of his first name. I laughed and said I was just trying to have military bearing. I still chuckle when I think of it. But as far as being the wife and getting ma’am, I ditto the ladies above and also add that I too am of an age where it just is.

  • Sarah

    I have to admit, I got so tickled being called ma’am that my husband started calling me it too.

  • turtleturtleturtle

    I hate it. Hate it. Hate it.
    I’m Irish and “Mam” is my mother. Every time I hear it I think “I am not your mother!”

  • This is a great piece!! I still remember the first time talking to our CO on the phone and saying “Good Morning Captain (last name). This is (insert my full name). May I please speak to (his wife’s name)?” He scared me, more because I was shocked at how laid back he was..and funny…when he said “Repeat after me. Hi (his first name) this is (my first name). Can I speak with (his wife’s first name).” I repeated like a good (young at the time….not so young now! haha) officer’s wife and we both laughed. I have to say- he set the bar for other COs in the Navy. He was AWESOME to not just the sailors on the ship but also the families!!!

  • Sonya Mooneyham

    I hated it when my husband’s 1stSgt called me “ma’am.” I hadn’t been married long and he was much older than me. I felt like I hadn’t earned that courtesy!

  • Sabal

    I don’t mind an occasional ‘ma’am” but there is such a thing as overkill. Example – How may I help you, Ma’am? Thank you, Ma’am. Is there anything else I can get for you, Ma’am? Enjoy, Ma’am. Have a great day and come again, Ma’am…. and all this in one interaction. Drives me crazy,