Thursday, August 16, 2007

The name game

Titled lords and ladies

I cringe whenever it happens—which is at most education seminars or campus forums. Someone will step up to the microphone and address the audience with an introductory statement:

“Hello. My name is Doctor Jane Doe.”

“Good morning. My name is Professor John Smith.”

Betcha it's not! Unless your parents were even wackier than you.

“What shall we name the baby, dear?”

“Oh, I'm really fond of professional titles. How about ‘Senator Robert Roe’?”

“That's a great idea!”

Sad to say, I knew Senator Robert Roe. No, that was not his real name and his parents did not actually name him that way, but I did know a state senator in Sacramento during my time on the legislative staff who got hung up on his title. He had his driver's license changed so that it included “Senator” in front of his name. He became an object of ridicule later when he petitioned the court to make “Senator” officially part of his name. His lame excuse was that he had signed legal documents that way during his tenure in office, and he was concerned that those documents would no longer be valid if he reverted to his pre-elective name. We rolled our eyes and shook our heads—if we were nice. Others pointed and guffawed. Senator Richard Roe had not been a bad legislator, but he stumbled badly on his way to becoming a senior statesman, ending up as a laughingstock instead.

Look, people. Your title is not part of your name. It is a prefix to your name. If you must use it, this is how you do it:

“Hello. I am Doctor Jane Doe.”

“Good morning. I am Professor John Smith.”

Now I'm mollified.

By the way, you can spare us the titles outside an academic context. If you introduce yourself as Doctor Doe at a social gathering, someone is going to tell you where it hurts. If you make a point of your professorship in casual company, folks may well be put off. Feel free to dredge it up if they ask you what you do. Then it's cool.

And that's the prescription from Doctor Zeno (not a real doctor).


John Armstrong said...

Well, I've just moved to New Orleans, so in non-academic cocktail-party conversation I'll still introduce myself as "Dr. John".

Ratatosk said...

There was an immigrant in the Raleigh, NC area that actually changed his name, his children's first names, and his wife's name to "Dr."

Oh the things you learn when you work in the deed vault . . .

Kristjan Wager said...

I find the whole US habbit of using titles a bit puzzling. I have never addressed anyone by their title, and probably never will, unless it's a foreigner (e.g. an American), or a member of the royal family.

I have yet to hear anyone introduce themselves with their titles.

People get introduced with their titles at formal occations, but that's the only time I can think of.

Rhoadan said...

I worked with patient files at a local hospital. At one point, I came across a file for, I kid you not, Lieutenant Kelly. I have this really weird impression of some immigrants named Kelly hearing a character referred as "Lieutenant Kelly" on Mash and deciding that "Lieutenant" sounded like a good name for a kid.

mc2 said...

Most people do not go around refering to themselves as Plumber Jack Frost or Baker Jim Pine. So why should medical professionals do the same.

Now the situation is a little different if it is a title you have earned like by becoming a member of the British peerage for example. Or perhaps getting a doctorate.

The origin of the word doctor comes from teaching and I think that the only people who should ever be refered to as Dr are those with doctorates (and an MD degree does not count as it is the US equivilent of the rest of the worlds Bachelor of Medicine (and/or surgery))

Geetha said...

Good one. Infuriating when people introduce themselves with their pompous can we get...And how humbling it is to think of people like Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Richard Dawkins and so many other people who really contributed by their work...