Coworker: “You know what kiddo, I think you’re right.”

Me: *Dies a little inside*

That name, along with other generic terms of endearment like honey and sweetie, are often thrown my way by older coworkers. To the people using them, they are innocuous or maybe even affectionate.  Perhaps I remind you of your daughter or you’re from the country and that’s “just the way we talk.” But to me, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.

These names have been chasing me since I started my professional career at 22. Eight years later, I still regularly receive these verbal equivalents of a pat on the head.  I want to interrupt the usually self indulgent speech that follows the offending nickname with,  “I am aware I am young enough to be your child. But here’s the thing: I am not your child.  I am your peer. I do the same job, have the same authority, and take home the same paycheck  (in some cases I make more.) So please stop.” But fearing I’ll sound petulant, I let it slide. Instead my annoyance hides behind the facade of a weak smile.

The same words used outside of the office roll off my back. When a gas station attendant calls me dear it’s a little irritating but ultimately inconsequential.  There is very little at stake in the interaction with the person who swipes my credit card at 7-Eleven. I will probably never see them again.  Not at all like the office I report to 5 days a week, where my reputation, source of income and future are all tied together.

This practice of infantilization is not exclusive to older men talking down to young women. Women have also called me “dearie” and male friends report being called “honey” more times than they care to remember. Regardless of gender, calling your younger coworkers by a term of endearment, whatever your motivation, is obnoxious and unprofessional.

I think I speak for most of my peers when I say: Don’t call me kiddo.