Monday, June 20, 2011

Madam, Teacher or Cikgu?


IT is acceptable to call a doctor whose name is Siti, Dr Siti and a police inspector whose surname is Lee, Inspector Lee? Is it all right to call a teacher whose name is Siti, Teacher Siti? Do we call a married teacher whose name is Lucy Lau Madam Lau? Is it correct to call this teacher Madam Lucy? Or is it more accurate to call her Madam Lucy Lau? – Bryan Yap Jet Rong

It is acceptable, in fact usual, to call (or more formally “address”) a police inspector whose surname is Lee, “Inspector Lee”. But a lady whose first name is “Siti” usually has another name after that, like “Siti Fatimah”. So, you should address her as “Dr Siti Fatimah” unless she has told you to address her as “Dr Siti” only.

You don’t address a teacher as “Teacher + her/his name”, but you may say “Cikgu + her/his name”. When addressing a Malaysian teacher, you may also use one of the following words before her or his name, whichever is appropriate: Puan, Encik, Cik, Mrs, Mr, Miss or Ms (pronounced Miz). When you have a new teacher, it is a good idea to ask the teacher what she or he would like to be called. (Ms, by the way, is a fairly new term that doesn’t indicate a lady’s marital status.)

As for the term “Madam” for married Chinese women teachers, a Chinese friend of mine (who was a teacher) explained the following to me. You use “Madam” with the lady’s father’s surname, but “Mrs” with the lady’s husband’s surname. Thus if Lucy Lau is married to Mr Lau, you call her “Mrs Lau”. If her original surname is Lau and she is married to a Mr Lim, for example, you can call her either “Madam Lau” or “Mrs Lim”. But as I said before, ask her what she would like to be called.

I don’t think you should call her “Madam Lucy” or “Madam Lucy Lau” unless she tells you to.

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