Yes, Ma’am: Rules for Calling a Thirty-something “Ma’am”

When I moved to the south as a ten-year-old, one of the things that stood out to me the most was the use of the words “sir” and “ma’am”.  This was a huge culture shock for me and took a very long time for me to get used to because NOBODY talked like that in California, where I grew up.  Nobody talked like that in Montana or Connecticut (where my parents grew up) either, so this was very foreign to my whole family.  Fast forward twenty-something years, and I actually love the mannerly way here.  Or so I thought I did.  That was until I transitioned from someone who said, “yes, ma’am” to someone who hears it.  I get it.  It’s a nice thing to say.  But I’m frantically doing my best to cope with my fine lines, sagging breasts, and hairy toe knuckles; the last thing I need is you coming along and calling me “ma’am”.  It’s mean.

And I have decided that, while saying “yes, ma’am” is a way of life here (and a very polite way of life, mind you), not all uses of “ma’am” are created equal.  So, here are my simple rules for calling a thirty-something “ma’am.”COFFEE


  1. If you are a hip college student, or even a non-hip college student, DO NOT call me ma’am.  I still think I look exactly like you, and this hurts my feelings.  Other words you may call me instead: “girl” (like, “Hey girl, what’s up?), “friend” (because we are BASICALLY THE SAME AGE, right?), or Megan (because that is my name).  If I ask you a question, just let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  No need to add anything insulting to the end of it!
  2. If you are slightly younger than me and have children older than mine, DO NOT call me ma’am.  This happened to me the other day, and I almost cried on the spot.  Up until the moment she called me “ma’am”, I would have guessed we were the same age.  She probably would have guessed that I was fifty.
  3. If you are reading this blog, chances are you shouldn’t call me ma’am. 🙂


  1. If you are a child younger than fifteen, DO call me ma’am.  If you are older than fifteen, I’d rather you accidentally think I’m in my early twenties, so don’t call me ma’am.
  2. If you are my husband, and I have asked you to do something out of frustration, you may say sarcastically, “yes, ma’am” (because sometimes that is the thing I need to hear to realize I’m being bossy).
  3. If you are a man, preferably older than sixty, DO call me ma’am.  For example, tipping your hat and saying, “Well, hello, ma’am.”  That’s cute and totally respectful.
  4. If you are my child, DO call me ma’am.  All of the time.

I am doing my best to cope with my aging self.  And I actually prefer being a thirty-something to being in my twenties.  But, please, use caution before calling me ma’am.

Megan Wall
Megan is a wife and stay-at-home-mommy to Matthew and Benjamin. A Navy brat, she spent her childhood moving and traveling throughout the country. Her family finally settled down in Louisiana, and she has called Baton Rouge her home since she became an LSU Tiger in the fall of 1998. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and her Master’s in Secondary Education, she and her husband, Kenny, were married in 2004. For nearly ten years, Megan taught literature on the middle and high school levels. She is passionate about reading and instilling the love of reading to children. After four years of struggling through infertility, they were ecstatic to enter the world of parenthood in 2010. A true lover of lunching with friends, pedicures, exercise, literature, and lattes, her latest interests include tractors, pirates, climbing, and superheroes.


  1. Hi Saw blog by doing a “search on yahoo under “yes ma’am” Im a teen moving to the SOUTH If I was babysitting for you would you expect the yes ma’am and no ma’am? One girl said I should say it when called? Also when told to do something? Wasn’t sure what she meant because thats not answering a question/? I was 2 embarrased to ask lol Maybe you can help? When do you all expect it for sure from young teens lol Thanx if u could help? Please email me miss wall my aunt said I should ask that this not be publiched 4 safety reasons lol

    • I think that, if you are a teen, you should always refer to an adult as “sir” or “ma’am,” without question. Not only is it polite and a term of respect, but most adults here are so accustomed to hearing it that they expect it. Here are a few examples of how it should be used:
      1) When someone calls for you, you should respond with, “Ma’am?”
      2) When an adult asks you a question, you should respond with, “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am.”
      Really, it’s nothing to fear, and you will get used to it quite quickly. Just practice. It took me time to get used to it when I moved here, but it now rolls off of my tongue quite easily.
      Good luck on your move!

      • Thanx everyone! What do you mean “when called though?” I just wonder because its not a question I want to start babysitting 2 so maybe you both have examples in that type of area? Thanks 4 helping!! It does sound nicer I think

        • If an adult calls, “Katy?”, rather than responding with “Yes?” or “What?”, you would respond with, “Ma’am?”

          I’m so glad that you are asking all of these questions! Don’t worry about it; you will learn fast and will eventually come easily to you.

  2. The nuances of “ma’aming” can be tough… You can’t forget it’s appropriate to ma’am positions of authority and respect regardless of age. If you get ma’amed by someone in a service job is not personal, everyone is a ma’am when service matters.

    • Oh I totally agree, Michelle! I am a teacher and a parent, and I fully appreciate the respect that comes with the phrase. In fact, I expect it (just ask my kids or students). I just cannot get used to people my age (or close to it) calling me ma’am! And I am certainly not referring to service workers…I mean people who I am hanging out with! Thanks so much for your response!

      • Oh ok juust “Ma’am” by itself? 🙂 As a teacher do you ever have to to remind kids? Just curious. I just called the library at the new town and gave it a try. Sounded hard to get out at first . lol

        Oh if i was babysitting would I call you “Miss Megan”? Thats what the lady at the library said! She also said I should use it “when being told to do something” too? I was to embarrased to ask. That’s not a question either Thanks again for all the help!

  3. I grew up saying , “yes, sir” and “yes, ma am”. I still say it today, to those older than me or younger than me, it makes no difference. I don’t mind when someone says it back to me. I think it shows respect for that person and is much better than saying, “hey, you”.


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