Friday, June 20, 2008
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:
- Master (old fashioned, for a boy)
- Sir (British English; a knighted man)
- Dame (British English; a knighted woman)
- Vice President
- Attorney General
- Doctor (a dentist or Ph.D., not an M.D.)
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:
- Doctor (an M.D.)
- Officer (policeman or woman)
- Father (Roman Catholic priest)
- Mother (Mother Superior, head of a convent)
- Grandfather (very formal)
- Grandmother (very formal)
- 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)
- military titles such as General, Admiral, Sergeant
- Captain (airline pilot)
- 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:
*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 ___. 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!
*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 ___.
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!