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Akpo Uyeh: The Problem with Some Salutations



dreamstime_l_59205584The other day at the market while buying food items, the yam seller- a young man probably older than I am or possibly within the same age bracket as myself, kept on addressing me as ‘Ma.’ As I was negotiating with him, the ”Ma”  was just coming out from his mouth continuously. Somehow it was annoying because he made feel like I was very old or something. I decided to respond by referring to him as ‘Sir.’ Maybe I needed to put on invisible earphones because it sounded derogatory to me. After being addressed in that manner, I  had to do a physical check up-did I overdress, was I sending the wrong signal, how was my body language or was I acting up? Everything was virtually in check.

Personally,I don’t like to be addressed as ‘Ma’ by adults. If it were some primary or secondary school students and I was their teacher then that would permissible but for someone in my age bracket or obviously way older kinda appeared awkward to me, the addressee. Some guys add salt to injury.

A  male friend of mine refers to me as ‘Ma’. He has drawn boundaries already that our friendship is that of respect. Imagine while we were chatting on social media, he used the word” Ma” repetitively. I was wondering when at another time, he referred to me as ‘baby’. My first reaction was- like seriously?  Only for him to tell me later on that the message was not for meAt least that clarified the message cause I could not connect the word with the person in question. I literally endure the Mas as they come or respond back in a similar manner. Some people do it out of courtesy but I think some others do it with a reminder attached that “omo you getting old oo‘.

For crying out loud,I’m not old now maybe older,yes.The trend is usually to create an impression of aging. I have been in situations where addressing young mommas as Ma had been an issue. My own school of thought believes that Ma should be reserved for elderly women. Even as that some women take it personal. Though this is a case of different strokes for different folks.

Another form of address i find appalling is ”Miss”. Call centers agents do not help matters. You call them to lodge a complaint or make inquiries and the next thing they are ask after your name is are you a Miss or Mrs.  And I would be like –all join. My thoughts….. call me by my name ni. That sounds sweeter and pleasant to hear.This guy who I did not eventually go out with but somehow got talking after a while kept on hammering that I was Miss.  I had to politely excuse myself from the conversation. I noticed some bus conductors would calling  me ”Ma-ma”. I do not know if I am to entertain such address. In this case, I think ”Aunty ” would serve as a better substitute.  On a safer side, ”Mama” is much better than ”baby” from a bus driver or conductor.

Doing my industrial training some years ago,my supervisor, a young mother disliked being referred to as Ma. She preferred to be called Ma’am or Madam with the E i.e Madame. It was not an issue and we got along very well.  Different strokes for different folks.Once upon a time, a colleague got offended that I referred to as madam. I became so conscious of the word. All of a sudden, I have started having issues with the word ”madam”. I think madam is for already ‘made women’,abi?  I wondered why I allowed it to affect me to a point when a woman in a cab had called me madam non-stop, I got tired at some point and responded back: ”U too madam”. That was how she started giving history lessons. The woman told me that she calls any woman older than her daughter ” madam”. And I was like really? Okay then.

An elderly woman who worked in a daycare as a cleaner did not appreciate the fact that she was referred to as “Mama” even if it was clear that she was the oldest. I think it made her feel older. She preferred the sound of “Big Momma” . That was her perfect name substitute that made her beam with smiles and carry on her duties happily.

Well…I am not promoting disrespect. Africans are very cultured and one of our values is showing regard for our elders. The only comma is when showing respect is in form of mockery or scorn. The whole essence of this write-up is to draw the line between sincere reverence and killing of the other person’s morale.  For the latter,my strategy would be to put on invisible earphones to act deaf to any address that I detest. Another way out would look at it in a positive light and not read negative meaning. But seriously,do not Ma me, it’s not funny!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime


  1. Bola

    September 14, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    this sounds like a silly rant addressing some deep seated personal issues

  2. Oluchi

    September 14, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    I hate it too. In fact, I abhor it. Was at the barbershop with my younger brother the other day, barber kept referring to him as ‘sir’. A 17-year-old boy who you are clearly older than! Was tempted to tell him off. For me, once you start with the whole ‘ma’ business, I respond in kind. ‘Sir’ becomes your default name. No more no less.

  3. Spunky

    September 14, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    Perharps you are on the big side,It isn’t so serious. You can educate them on how you’d like to addressed. Personally, because of my job description or schedule, I get the “sir” or “bros” vibe consistently( especially from very mature folks). That said, I politely ask to be addressed by my first name. The prefix attached to one’s name does not neccessarily connote sarcastic undertone. It is only a mark of respect. Someone who doesn’t recognize your first name will most likely address you with a prefix.


    September 14, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Lol isn’t it like when we say Oga? Policeman, Okada, gate men and then bosses are ogas ???! I can’t really be bother, in fact I have become use to it that u can call me what u want. Sista, aunty, madam, ma’am! Whateva rocks ur boat.

  5. 47Ronin

    September 14, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    This is a total non-issue and this rant is unnecessary in my opinion.
    There is no sure way to know how you or anyone would like to be addressed.
    The smartest thing people do is to address everyone with respect. If you feel uncomfortable with the level of respect shown, kindly open your mouth and say something to that person.

    People have been known to get very bitter about being wrongly addressed as a miss or a mrs, There is nothing wrong with a call center agent confirming what your preference.

    • Mee

      September 15, 2016 at 1:33 am

      I couldn’t agree more. I read it and thought… “Wait, why is this an article? *confused face*”

  6. chic wen sabi

    September 15, 2016 at 12:01 am

    Whatever rocks your boat you can adddress me. I work in an environment that am called madam all the time, I think is really cool by me. It shows a whole lot of respect though.
    For those call centers I really do not understand the reason they need ones marital status before they addresss the complaint.

    Thats how the other day I went to the gym and at the end of the session was payment time, Na so the asssistant was asking if is a miss or mrs…….. how that come epp for payment.
    All the same does it really matter with the sir and madam tin…..

  7. EE

    September 15, 2016 at 1:34 am

    Really six comments and nobody thought of saying sorry……….Ma.?

  8. Ajala & Foodie

    September 15, 2016 at 6:09 am

    I actually do not agree with those stating this is a none issue, and I hope my experience will explain why:

    I had contacted a vendor that was recommended to me recently and I had introduced myself by my full name and told her she could address me by my first name. She gave me hers and I called Ms. … I understand Ms or Miss all sound the same. Nevertheless, the next statement that would proceed out of this lady’s lips were ” are you married or single”? Mind you, my marital status had nothing to do with the situation at hand. My first thought to myself; ” that’s a weird question?” but I could tell I had somehow offended this person by her tone. I was however not certain because I figured she really could not be upset over Ms. or Mrs., could she? This entire conversation took place over the phone, there was no way she could know my age nor do I know hers.

    Reading this has however provided with some insight into what may probably be this individual’s thought process. My guess is she is married and probably expected me to ask her the same question she had asked me and then address her as Mrs. … But I mean I had invited you to call me by my first name, it can’t be that complicated.

    So in a case like mine, I mean customer- vendor and over the phone situation how do you make your preferences known???
    I am not big on titles, from sister, to madam or Aunty….none of that works for me, I cringe at ma or ma’am, I had a boss that always called me ma’am, it was not cynical either but because of my age and experience (he was my boss because I was cross training, to grow in my then company, so I was starting from the bottom in this new area and he knew that), but I could not tell dude not to address me that way, i mean he was my boss.

  9. Bodunade

    September 15, 2016 at 7:20 am

    As in ehn.

    Cultural stuff.

    if you are at the market, gym or wherever you are going to pay for stuff, even if you are 2 years old, as long as you are potentially going to add to the sales /revenue you will be addressed as Sir/ma.
    And the call center peeps etc are trying to be on the safe side by asking.

    It doesn’t mean they think you are old, mocking you or even giving you respect. It’s just what it is.

    You might as well be mad at the sun for shining

  10. Loki

    September 15, 2016 at 7:36 am

    One thing’s for certain- the writer doesn’t have any problems.
    It is generally polite to refer to someone as Sir or Ma (Ma’am) before they tell you their preference. It’s called erring on the side of caution before you will hear “am I your mate? See how you’re just calling me by name”. This is Nigeria after all. I tend to be the type who never uses titles and I know just how much trouble I’ve gotten into.
    My boss refers to all the ladies in the department as Ma’am and the only person he isn’t older than is God.
    But truly even outside the country, try checking into a hotel, you’re going to be hearing a lot of “How may I help you ma’am, would you like some breakfast Ma’am?”. It’s jut being polite. And to answer the unspoken question, I’ve always looked insult-invitingly younger than my age…

  11. Roma

    September 15, 2016 at 8:59 am

    I live in a country where people easily addressed each other as Ma/Sir. I see nothing wrong in it.
    Humans of these days will always find something to rant about!

  12. lollly

    September 15, 2016 at 9:11 am

    for all who see this as a non issue, e pele o!
    for me, this is a big issue..i just cant stand it when obviously older people or my mates call me ‘Ma’. Most of the time, its plain mockery
    i ordered food sometimes ago from a restaurant and the delivery guy who wanted to hand over my food said ‘mummy i dont have change”
    mummy what??? imagine…inside my office o , me feeling/looking young and chic looking . and the guy wasn’t even young looking , he could have been my age mate or older sef!
    i just provoke one time…hehehe..the guy thought there was more to it

  13. Findingatm

    September 15, 2016 at 9:28 am

    I also think it’s much ado over nothing but na your right to complain. I have to say though, it’s not just a Nigeria thing. Also, most of the examples given take place in a business setting. You’re the customer/client ba? Hence the formal greeting nah. Ma is the Nigerian madam. And this happens outside the country. Now that does not mean it’s wrong or right. It’s supposed to be a mark of respect and formality anyway. You can always state your preference after. Plus, when did being old become a problem. It’s not everything we copy o. On the Miss/Mrs./Ms. matter
    , I always tell the customer care people that it’s fine to call me by my first name. I’m usually not in the mood for any ‘getting to know after waiting for so long to talk with those people. But it’s not their fault. Currently, title is part of one’s identity or name but you can choose what to be addressed as. Do, ma binu

  14. tunmi

    September 15, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I prefer my name oh. I totally get your point writer. The ma is not genuine to me at all. I understand the market sellers though, it’s to draw business. The call center though…. It’s a reflection of society, there is a difference in treatment whether single or married

  15. Personal issue

    September 15, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    They call you Ma, you think they meant you are old
    They call you Miss, you think its an insult

    You get plenty issues

    Deep down, you know what this is all about!

    Ageing is a good thing to be proud of, if anyone think you are old, fine. You dont want to grow old? sorry you will. Are you a Miss? Miss refers to someone who isnt married yet. Are you having complex that you are not yet married?

    Omo your issues no be here o

  16. Amakashie

    September 15, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    This is really an unnecessary rant. Bellanaija please you don’t have to post all write ups.
    When people start having issues with being addressed above or below status shows insecurities in my opinion. Buy you items and move on abeg

    • anonymous

      September 16, 2016 at 1:31 am

      Your comment is so uncalled for. Besides the article isn’t for everyone, and for the fact that you didn’t enjoy the writeup and you think it is a rant. I don’t. Please take a seat

  17. Nammy

    September 15, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Ma is generally used to address someone older than you in age and also in status, for example, my boss is clearly younger than More than half of the staff in the office but she is referred to as ma, in fact if you drop the ma then you automatically enter into her bad book, she in turn calls pple by their first names, no madam no Mr.
    I have a friend who is married with two kids, pple see her and call her ma, while they call me by my name or girl, the ma in this case is as a result of her marital nd motherhood status. As previous commenters have pointed out, d ma used by marketers nd customer service pple is clearly for business purposes.
    This ma that you detest soo much is craved by so many others so my advice is that if the situation warrants, let the person know how you want to be addresed.

  18. Yummychickcummummy

    September 15, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    I don’t think it is this serious. IMO

  19. fixnigeriaseries

    September 15, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    If everyone is referring to you as “Ma”, maybe its because you look like a “Ma”. Lay off some of the masquerade makeup, shed some weight or whatever, if it bothers you that much. This is a cultural environment where everybody errs on the side of caution as far as respect is concerned, ma.

    And BN, I think its time you carve out a ‘Rants/Random Musings” section. You have enough content for it; this article, the one from the babe whining about the ban on burkini, there was another similar one last week, and all the other expositions written by people badly out of touch with their environment and more concerned with chasing around random streams of thoughts in their brain. In this economy someone will be using precious data to read another person’s rants. If you like, don’t post my comment.

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