Friday, June 20, 2008

We're All Entitled, Part 2

I think titles are fascinating. I’ve already shown this in Part 1 (“We’re All Entitled”) in which I discussed Mr., Mrs., Miss, Master, and Ms. But we’ve got lots more titles in English, titles that reflect our cultures and our linguistic histories, things well worth talking about. Some titles are used wherever English is the primary language; some are used exclusively in the UK. And some of the same ones are used differently, depending on the English-speaking country they’re used in.

For starters, there are some titles that are normally used “correctly” if a name goes along with them. Remember, I’m talking about titles, not job descriptions. Here’s a sampling of these
titles, normally used with a name:

  • Mr.
  • Mrs.
  • Ms.
  • Master (old fashioned, for a boy)
  • King
  • Queen
  • Prince
  • Princess
  • Lord
  • Lady
  • Sir (British English; a knighted man)
  • Dame (British English; a knighted woman)
  • President
  • Vice President
  • Attorney General
  • Ambassador
  • Doctor (a dentist or Ph.D., not an M.D.)
  • Uncle
  • Aunt

And we have two British titles that are used differently from all the others:

  • first name, Duke of Duchy/Dukedom (e.g., Prince Andrew, Duke of York)
  • first name, Duchess of Duchy/Dukedom (e.g., Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall)

There are some interesting things I’d like to say about Mr. before we move on. If used alone, it’s considered an unrefined or low-class way to address a man: "Hey, Mr! You can’t park there." I remember years ago, it was quite common to hear Mr. used with a man’s first name if he happened to be a hairdresser. In fact, it was basically a stereotype.

A current phenomenon I’ve noticed, at least in my part of the US, is to hear Mr. used with a first name, possibly because the speaker is ignorant of how the man’s last name is pronounced and too lazy or embarrassed to ask, or it may be cross-cultural interference. It actually bothers me when somebody calls me Mr. Richard, and I often correct the person and say my name’s Mr. Firsten, not "Mr. Richard." That may not bother others, but it bothers me.

In a similar vein, I don’t particularly like when a perfect stranger, like a salesperson, decides on his/her own to call me by my first name. Maybe the culture is changing more quickly than I am, but I still adhere to the rule that, when appropriate to do so, I should ask people if I can call them by their first names rather than assume I can. I think salespeople do that as a way of sounding chummy, making you think you’re among friends. Well, it doesn’t work on me.

Then, of course, there’s the opposite situation in which a colleague will continue to call me "Mr. Firsten" even after we’ve worked in the same place for years. I think that’s typical of the public school system. I finally get to a point where I say, “Please call me Richard.” I mean, you can carry formality just so far, don’t you think?

Moving right along, we also have titles that can be used with or without a name, including:

  • Miss
  • Madam
  • Judge
  • Doctor (an M.D.)
  • Nurse
  • Officer (policeman or woman)
  • Father (Roman Catholic priest)
  • Mother (Mother Superior, head of a convent)
  • Grandfather (very formal)
  • Grandmother (very formal)
  • Grandpa
  • Grandma
  • Sister (nun; also a nurse in the UK and Australia)
  • Brother (monk)
  • Cousin (without a name, considered archaic; with a name, considered old fashioned / doesn’t universally work for uncle and aunt, but among some ethnic groups, Uncle and Auntie are used without a name)
  • Reverend
  • Pastor
  • Preacher
  • Rabbi
  • Imam
  • Governor
  • Mayor
  • military titles such as General, Admiral, Sergeant
  • Captain (airline pilot)
  • Professor
  • Maestro
  • Ma (rarely used with a surname, but does occur among people in Appalachia and the Ozarks in the US; used without a name in many areas as a very informal way of addressing one’s mother)
  • Pa (rarely used with a surname, but does occur among people in Appalachia and the Ozarks; used without a name in Appalachia, the Ozarks, and some other areas as a very informal way of addressing one’s father)

And finally, there are titles that are normally used without a name, among which we find:

  • Your Majesty; His/Her Majesty; Their Majesties*
  • Your (Royal) Highness; His/Her (Royal) Highness; Their (Royal) Highnesses*
  • (Your) Excellency; His/Her Excellency; Their Excellencies* (Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops; foreign ambassadors; heads of state in some countries)
  • Your Eminence; His Eminence; Their Eminences* (Roman Catholic cardinals)
  • Your Holiness / His Holiness (the Pope or Dalai Lama)
  • Your Grace; His/Her Grace; Their Graces* (for a duke and duchess; the archbishop of Canterbury; sometimes a Roman Catholic archbishop)
  • Your Lordship / His Lordship; Their Lordships*
  • Your Ladyship / Her Ladyship; Their Ladyships*

    *When addressing this person or these people directly, we say Your ___, but when talking about this person or these people, we say His/Her/Their ___.

  • Mr./Madam Prime Minister
  • Mr./Madam President
  • Mr./Madam Vice President
  • Mr./Madam Attorney General
  • Mr. Speaker (in the US Congress)
  • (Mr./Madam) Ambassador
  • Waiter/Waitress (quickly going out of fashion)
  • Driver (taxi, bus, limousine)
  • Steward (on a ship)
  • Your Honor (judge); His/Her Honor; Their Honors
  • Mother (very formal way of addressing this parent)
  • Mom [AmE] / Mum [BrE] (informal); Mommy [AmE] / Mummy [BrE] (usually what little children say)
  • Father (very formal way of addressing this parent)
  • Dad/Papa/Pop (informal); Daddy (usually what little children say; sometimes daughters of any age)
  • Pops (irreverent way for a younger person to address an older man)
  • Son (parent addressing a male child)
  • Daughter (parent addressing a female child, considered archaic)
  • Sister (for a sibling, considered archaic)
  • Brother (for a sibling, considered archaic)
  • My Son (Catholic priest addressing male parishioner, considered archaic in some places) Notice that My Daughter was never used for female parishioners.
  • My Child (Catholic priest addressing male or female parishioner)

You might not think that there could be so much to look at when it comes to titles, right? Well, I hope you’ve had fun looking over these lists. I know I have in compiling them! If anything’s surprised you, if I’ve left something out, or if you’ve got comments on this topic, I’d really enjoy hearing from you, Mr. Reader / Ms. Reader / Madam Reader – whoever!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about Reverend? I here people referring to Reverend So and So, but also hear The Reverend So and So. I've been taught that the last is correct, but maybe it's a regional preference.

June 20, 2008 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Wondering on Whidbey said...

Dear Grammar Guy,

I never know what to call my medical provider. Her title is Physician's Assistant. She is referred to in the third person as "P.A. Young" at the clinic. But when I want to address her directly, that seems like an awkward mouthful. What would Grammar Guy do in this situation?

Wondering on Whidbey . . .

June 21, 2008 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

Hi, Anonymous! Glad to hear from you again.

That's a great observation you've made, which shows us a very interesting little trick of the language. I think that if we use "Reverend" as a noun in the title, synonymous with "minister" or "clergyman," we only say "Reverend So-and-So," but if we use it in the title as an adjective, we add the definite article and say "the Reverend."

It just dawned on me that we also have the title "the Honorable So-and-So," used in American English when speaking about a judge or some illustrious member of the government. Once again, we see how "the" is used together with the adjective to form this title.

Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention, Anonymous. Your input is always appreciated!

Hey, Wondering on Whidbey! What a terrific - and tough - question you've raised! It's funny ... when I used to be taken care of by my doctor's physician's assistant, I just called her by her first name, which is what everybody did. It didn't even cross my mind that she might have a title. Yes, there was a name for her job, of course, but nobody ever considered what her formal title (like "Dr.") might be.

Hmm ... I guess the best course of action would be to ask her directly if she has a title or how she prefers to be addressed. When you get a chance to do this, please let us know what she says.

Thanks so much for bringing this up and for contributing to our discussion! I hope to hear back from you.

June 22, 2008 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Confused in Florida said...

Are the titles "great aunt" and "great uncle" correct? It seems to me that "grand aunt & uncle" should be used because we have a GRANDmother/father before we have a GREAT grandmother/father, so wouldn't the generation after "aunt/uncle" be "grand" and then the following generation be "great" or "great grand"?

June 24, 2008 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

That' a great observation! Even though it doesn't seem to be what the majority of English speakers say, grand uncle and grand aunt are used by some.

What I find very interesting is that we seem to have something going on here between Norman French and Anglo-Saxon; in other words, I see here another example of the dual vocabulary that still exists side by side between those two languages that met each other back in 1066 after the Norman invasion of England.

Just a couple of days ago, I answered a question on the Grammar Exchange ( about the words understand and comprehend. The member wanted to know if there was any difference in meaning between the two. The only difference is that the former comes from Anglo-Saxon, while the latter comes from Latin through Norman French. The difference doesn't like in meaning; it lies in usage.

I think we've got a similar case here. Great is from Anglo-Saxon, and grand is from French, but they mean the same thing. So when we say great uncle or grand uncle, we're just reflecting one origin or the term or the other. In fact, uncle is a French word!

Now, as to logic in language, my friend, that's not always so easy to come by. I can't say it's more logical to say grand uncle since we say grandfather. All I can say is that you should continue to use the terms that are more common to hear in your own family or region.

Thanks for a great comment!

June 24, 2008 8:18 PM  
Blogger tinkerbellchime said...

I wanted to add that governmental executive officeholders are titled for life, and should be addressed by the last title they held. (Not highest?)

William Howard Taft presents an interesting case. He didn't enjoy being president and wasn't very successful at it. Here is an interesting quote from the White House website: Taft, free of the Presidency, served as Professor of Law at Yale until President Harding made him Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held until just before his death in 1930. To Taft, the appointment was his greatest honor; he wrote: "I don't remember that I ever was President." Wikipedia has handled this in an interesting way. Along the left side of the article about him, they have listed him as the "10th Chief Justice of the United States" before listing that he was the "27th President of the United States".

Andrew Johnson was the only former president to go back to serve in the Senate. I've seen him written about using both titles. Here is an interesting quote where the writer used his then current title: "On July 31, 1875, Senator Andrew Johnson died of a stroke while visiting his daughter in Tennessee."

What a fun post this is! I'm glad you revisited this one, Grammar Guy.

June 25, 2008 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

Wow! What wonderful anecdotes you've given us, Tinkerbellchime! I'm aware that there seems to be a tendency to keep current with a title for somebody in the government.

For example, Bob Graham was governor of Florida for two terms. He then ran and won a seat in the US Senate. So during his tenure in the Senate he was called Senator Graham and not Governor Graham. It only made sense, right?

I think this kind of thing takes precedence over whatever the highest title might be that a person holds. In the case of somebody like Bill Clinton, I imagine that if he never holds public office again, he'll just always be addressed directly as Mr. President.

Thanks so much for sharing these great stories and examples with us, Tinkerbellchime! And I'm very glad you're enjoying my blog! :)

June 25, 2008 2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am trying to figure out the correct way to address a retired judge, i.e. do I write his name as "Judge John Doe" or "Mr. John Doe"? The AP Stylebook says that the formal title should be used "for an individual who presides over a court of law" but neither the "judge" section or the "titles" section addresses what to do about retired judges. Thanks.

July 14, 2008 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...


You have two ways to address a retired judge. You can say Judge John Doe or The Honorable John Doe.

In either case, even though the person is now retired, his/her last title should be retained.


July 14, 2008 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found the site! Love it! Great tips! Now, my question. I've finished writing a business letter and now I need to have a 'carbon copy' (talking about archaic!) or 'cc' of this letter sent to my client's lawyer. Do I write, 'cc: John D. Doe, Attorney at Law,' or 'cc: John D. Doe, Bucks, Does and Antlers, Attorneys at Law'? Or is there a more concise way? My client wants to stress the fact that a copy of this particular letter has been sent to a lawyer--ya know--the 'yikes' factor? The 'cc' will also have others, so should the attorney name be first? Or?
Thanks, Cindy

August 9, 2008 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

Hi, Cindy! Glad you like my blog! : )

If I were writing the letter, I'd put XC: Mr. John Doe, Esq. or P.A.

These days people tend to use XC ("Xerox copy") instead of cc since most of us don't bother with carbon paper anymore.

Lawyers use the abbreviation Esq. after their names for "Esquire," an honorary title meaning "attorney-at-law, or the letters P.A. after their names, which stands for "Practicing Attorney."

August 9, 2008 8:21 PM  
Blogger Asia Vanilková said...

Dear Grammar Guy,

what an interesting blog! I found it while looking for -- and not finding anywhere -- the way to address or refer to His Lordship and Her Ladyship together, ie as a couple. Perhaps it doesn't exist, and one has to keep just mentioning one and the other next?

September 13, 2008 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Grammar Guy said...

I'm certainly glad you've found my blog, Ms. Vanilkova! : )

I'm sorry that I neglected to add the way to address such people as a couple. You have a choice, actually. You can say Your Lord- and Ladyship or Your Lordship and Ladyship.

I hope you get a chance to read other entries. Feel free to make any comments or post any questions you may have.

By the way, I think you would enjoy visiting the Azar Grammar Exchange, a wonderful forum where my co-moderator and I address questions on grammar and other topics of the English language that are posted by English teachers from all over the world.

Just go to and click on "Questions and Answers." I hope to see you there!

September 13, 2008 8:52 PM  

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