"Can't you just tell him to call me Uncle Ira?"

We were sitting on the covered back porch behind our friends' Cape Cod-style home, having a barbecue. An early June evening was sweetened by a breeze, and the sun was setting behind my son's energetic running and playing with preschool-age children. Chicken sizzled on the grill.

Our host "Dr. Winer"—as we've instructed our son, Asher, to call him—cringed whenever he heard the title. "Sounds like my father," he said, as if to explain his discomfort.

Since he began speaking, 2-year-old Asher has learned to call adults by proper titles, much to the dismay of our friends, parents and colleagues. "You want him to call us what?" they ask. "It makes us feel old," they whine. And sometimes, they override our instructions, completely confusing my impressionable little boy.

Although it was my husband who first insisted that our children use proper titles for adults, I am totally on board. I have come to appreciate the respect that is inherent in calling me Mrs. Schreiber.

It's more than a power trip. Propriety, like the values espoused in Victorian times, is all about carrying oneself with poise and following a social covenant of how individuals should be treated. In every culture, those who want to appear dignified walk with a slower gait, cover more skin than they show and refer to colleagues, the elderly and mentors formally.

In a society that celebrates nose-, brow- and navel-piercing, and sleeveless, strapless, midriff-baring shirts, as well as casual relationships, I believe that teaching my children to use formal titles for adults is one step in the direction of a refined life. I'm not an old fogey with old-fashioned ideas; I am part of a revolution, perhaps a reaction, to all the value-less violence. I want my children to elevate themselves above the muck.

When I was a kid, the rule of our house was to call my parents' friends by their first names. No questions asked. I don't remember hearing "Mr." or "Mrs." roll off my mother's tongue—not even in the presence of my grandparents' peers! So it never occurred to me to question that until I moved out on my own and started becoming religious.

In my twenties, I got to know adults and clergy in a fairly modern religious community in suburban Maryland. When I moved back to Michigan, I came home with a different sensibility. I said prayers where my family didn't, observed holidays more meticulously than they cared to. Already, I was separating myself from the format of my upbringing, so it was a no-brainer that I would question some of the etiquette lessons, too.

Back home, I began referring to older adults more respectfully. In fact, I learned to do so from a rabbi and rebbetzin who took me under their wing—in their early 30's with a brood of five kids. Yael and Steve addressed neighbors, elders and colleagues as "Mrs." or "Mr.". It showed a mark of respect that I had really never seen, and it just made sense.

When I met my husband eight years ago, the issue never surfaced. But when our eldest son started speaking, we faced the dilemma. Avy's parents taught him to address adults more formally, so he was pretty firm that our kids should do the same. At first, I found it strange to instruct our little boy to call my parents' friends—people I'd always known by first name—as Mr. and Mrs. But now, I like the message it sends.

I am constantly revisiting this topic, as I meet more and more adults who are uncomfortable with formality. In some casual settings where adults go by first names, I tell Asher "Miss and a-first-name" will suffice. And some of my friends' kids, who called me by my first name before I was married, find it hard to make the switch to Mrs. Schreiber. I'm flexible; but for the most part, I want Asher to know that there is a difference between a child and an adult, and that a person who has lived longer and learned more should absolutely get the respect she deserves.

Children love structure, so Asher never challenges me on this. It's just what we do. As he gets older though, I wonder how he'll respond to the balking and discomfort of the adults who can't handle formality. Will he notice? Or will he just be part of an etiquette revolution, where it's okay to set limits, and manners are back in?

For now, I'm pretty insistent that Ira is not my little boy's uncle, and he'll just have to deal with that.