Working Wounded Blog: What's in a Name?


I like doctors and senators as much as the next guy. But I'm confused about why they are the only ones who consistently get their job title before their name (Dr. Welby and Senator Hillary, for example).

Read any newspaper or magazine and you'll notice that the docs and politicos are usually the only groups granted this courtesy. Nuclear physicists? No. Rocket scientists? Uh-uh. Teachers? You must be joking. And the funny thing is, I never hear anyone mention this. I can only assume this means that we've become conditioned to assume their professions are more important than others and warrant the special treatment of a printing of their honorific job titles.

It's not that I'm jealous. And I've never tried to get anyone I know to call me Columnist Bob. But I've often wondered why a small group of people get their job title listed before their name even when they are far away from serving in any official capacity. Don't the rest of us work hard too?

Let me anticipate the pro-honorific position -- doctors have to go through a lot of school and are charged with protecting our health. Politicians have to eat a lot of bad chicken dinners at fundraisers, and their job description is to run the government that rules our country. Shouldn't these sacrifices be acknowledged by all of us?

Then again, many lawyers, engineers and Ph.D.s in literature have a lot of schooling. And most public speakers have stared down a lot of bad chicken dinners (that is a comment based on 25 years on the speaking circuit). Don't the rest of us work hard too? By boosting a few professions, are we cheapening the efforts of the rest of us as we hold our nose to the grindstone at work week after week?

I was in a quandary about how to address this issue, and then the answer came to me in the form of an article in the New Yorker that brought a smile to my face. It talked about the form needed to sign up for Skywards, the frequent-flier program of Emirates (the international airline of the United Arab Emirates). When you list your name on the Web sign-up page, it offers you a drop down menu that goes way beyond -- Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss and Dr. Some would say too far beyond.

Just a few of the choices are listed below:

Admiral, Air Comm, Air Marshall, Al-Hag (denoting a Muslim who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca) Archbishop, Archdeacon, Baron, Baroness, Colonel, Commander, Corporal, Count, Countess, Dame, Deacon, Deaconness, Deshamanya (a title conferred on eminent Sri Lankans), Dowager (for a British widow whose social status derives from that of her late husband, properly used in combination with a second honorific, such as Duchess), Duchess, Duke Earl, Father, Frau, General, Governor, HRH, Hon, Hon Lady, Hon Professor, JP, Judge, Khun, (the Thai all purpose honorific, used for both men and women), and many, many more.

After reading the article, I worked hard to encourage all my friends to refer to me as Khun for the last week. Heck, one of my books was even published in Thailand. I loved the idea of an all-purpose honorific, but it didn't stick.

As I went down this list I realized that it would be cumbersome and confusing for all of us to cart around an honorific. On the other hand, why honor only a few professions? Either let's drop doctors and senators (preferably on their heads -- maybe that would knock some sense into them) or let's let everyone join in the fun.

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