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Use of courtesy titles and honorifics in professional writing

Use of courtesy titles and honorifics in professional writing

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The use of honorific
An honorific is a word or expression with connotations conveying esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term is used not quite correctly to refer to an honorary title...

s (Mr
MR, Mr, mr, or mR may refer to:*Mr. an honorific title of menPlaces:* Morocco country code * Martinique country code...

, Mrs
MRS can refer to:* Magnetic resonance spectroscopy* Mandibular repositioning splint* Marginal rate of substitution, in economics* Marseille Provence Airport, IATA airport code* Materials Research Society* Melbourne Rectangular Stadium...

, Miss
Miss is an English language honorific traditionally used only for an unmarried woman . Originating in the 17th century, it is a contraction of mistress, which was used for all women. A period is not used to signify the contraction...

, Ms.
Ms. or Ms is an English honorific used with the last name or full name of a woman. According to The Emily Post Institute, Ms...

) and styles
Style (manner of address)
A style of office, or honorific, is a legal, official, or recognized title. A style, by tradition or law, precedes a reference to a person who holds a post or political office, and is sometimes used to refer to the office itself. An honorific can also be awarded to an individual in a personal...

 (HRH, His Holiness
His Holiness
His Holiness is the official style or manner of address in reference to the leaders of certain religious groups. In Christianity, specifically the Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, Armenian Orthodox Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Roman Catholic...

, etc.) differs greatly among publication
To publish is to make content available to the public. While specific use of the term may vary among countries, it is usually applied to text, images, or other audio-visual content on any medium, including paper or electronic publishing forms such as websites, e-books, Compact Discs and MP3s...

s in both journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

 and academia
Academia is the community of students and scholars engaged in higher education and research.-Etymology:The word comes from the akademeia in ancient Greece. Outside the city walls of Athens, the gymnasium was made famous by Plato as a center of learning...

. The differences are based on tradition, practical concerns (such as space), and cultural norms. There is a continuum among publications between using no honorifics at all, using some honorifics but not styles, and using all honorifics, including styles. In certain cases honorifics and styles may be used according to some other pattern, or selectively only for certain persons. Note that this discussion deals only with the use in the English language; others, for example German, are very different.

Titles, honorifics, and styles

Only some title
A title is a prefix or suffix added to someone's name to signify either veneration, an official position or a professional or academic qualification. In some languages, titles may even be inserted between a first and last name...

s are honorifics. For example, it is customary to address people holding those positions as Alderman
An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions founded upon English law. The term may be titular, denoting a high-ranking member of a borough or county council, a council member chosen by the elected members themselves rather than by popular vote, or a council...

, Chairman, or General Secretary
General Secretary
The office of general secretary is staffed by the chief officer of:*The General Secretariat for Macedonia and Thrace, a government agency for the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thrace...

; but these titles are not honorific. Other titles, such as Ma'am, Doctor
Doctor (title)
Doctor, as a title, originates from the Latin word of the same spelling and meaning. The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre . It has been used as an honored academic title for over a millennium in Europe, where it dates back to the rise of the university. This use spread...

, or Lord
Lord is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior . The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its predecessor countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'...

 — and sometimes also Ms.
Ms. or Ms is an English honorific used with the last name or full name of a woman. According to The Emily Post Institute, Ms...

 or Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

—are both titles and honorifics. As a rough guide, an honorific can often stand alone or be prefixed to another title (such as Mr. Mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

, Mister President
A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

, or Your Honor
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

) as terms of address, without an attached surname.

A certain class of honorifics are known as styles
Style (manner of address)
A style of office, or honorific, is a legal, official, or recognized title. A style, by tradition or law, precedes a reference to a person who holds a post or political office, and is sometimes used to refer to the office itself. An honorific can also be awarded to an individual in a personal...

. Styles are generally accompanied by a pronoun or article, pertain to holders of royal
Royal family
A royal family is the extended family of a king or queen regnant. The term imperial family appropriately describes the extended family of an emperor or empress, while the terms "ducal family", "grand ducal family" or "princely family" are more appropriate to describe the relatives of a reigning...

, religious, or political positions, and contain a descriptive term. The description attached within a style is of an attribute the holder of the style is purported to have. For example, "the Right Honourable John Smith", "the Rev. John Doe", or "His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI." Styles are generally not thought of as titles and usually cannot be used without the full name (i.e. "Right Honourable Smith", "Reverend Doe").

Comparison of publications

Wire services
  • Associated Press
    Associated Press
    The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

    : The AP does not use courtesy titles except in obituaries, in direct quotations, or when a story on a family may cause confusion without the use of courtesy titles. Instead, using the first and last names on first reference and the last name on later references is preferred. The AP Stylebook
    AP Stylebook
    The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, usually called the AP Stylebook, is a style and usage guide used by newspapers and in the news industry in the United States...

     advises that the first reference to a member of the clergy should include a capitalized title: The Reverend John Smith on first reference and Smith or the reverend on every reference thereafter. For pope
    The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

    s, the AP advises Pope John XXIII on first reference and John XXIII, Pope John, the pope, or the pontiff on later references. For titles of nobility, the stylebook notes that "references to members of the nobility in nations that have a system of rank present special problems because nobles frequently are known by their titles rather than their given names. Their titles, in effect, become their names." In general, AP prefers to follow their general guidelines, but uses the titles "Lord," "Lady," and "Dame." AP never uses styles except in direct quotes.
  • Canadian Press
    Canadian Press
    Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. is the entity which "will take over the operations of the Canadian Press" according to a November 26, 2010 article in the Toronto Star...

    : The CP does not use courtesy titles such as Mr. and Mrs., nor does it use styles (except in direct quotations). Other titles are generally dropped after the first reference.

  • The New York Times
    The New York Times
    The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

    : Stylistic concerns are governed by The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Unlike most newspapers, the Times uses courtesy titles in news stories (but not in editorials or "light" stories, such as lifestyle or fashion): John Smith on first reference, Mr. Smith on later references). This applies even when the person holds a non-courtesy title: Mayor John Smith on first reference, Mr. Smith or the mayor on the second. The Times never uses styles except in direct quotes. For royalty, Queen Elizabeth is acceptable on first reference to Queen Elizabeth II
    Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
    Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

    , with the queen or Elizabeth II used on later references. Curiously, upon his death, Pol Pot
    Pol Pot
    Saloth Sar , better known as Pol Pot, , was a Cambodian Maoist revolutionary who led the Khmer Rouge from 1963 until his death in 1998. From 1976 to 1979, he served as the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea....

     was referred to as "Mr. Pol Pot," although this changed to "Pol Pot" approximately two weeks later. The reason given by an editor was that for the "renowned" (e.g., Stalin, Lenin), no courtesy title was deemed necessary.
  • The Times
    The Times
    The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

    : Generally follows formal tradition meaning each titled role is assigned an appropriate (but not necessarily full) style for introductory reference and one or more options for subsequent references, e.g. "the Duke of Edinburgh
    Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
    Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is the husband of Elizabeth II. He is the United Kingdom's longest-serving consort and the oldest serving spouse of a reigning British monarch....

    , thereafter the Duke or (sparingly) Prince Philip". For untitled persons, full name then title-surname is used except for certain fields (e.g., arts and sports) whose members can be known by untitled single name, convicted offenders (who are intentionally disrespected), and the dead in historical contexts (e.g. Gladstone
    William Ewart Gladstone
    William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

     not Mr Gladstone) or in obituaries. The newspaper changed away from using foreign titles (e.g., M for a Frenchman) in 2006.

Reference works
  • Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
    Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
    Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, often simply called Bartlett's, is an American reference work that is the longest-lived and most widely distributed collection of quotations...

    : Inconsistent usage. "George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron"; "Sir Thomas More"; "Elizabeth I"; "Francis Bacon" (not "Sir"). Most honorifics not used, and styles never.

Styles used sometimes

Styles not used

  • Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 3rd edition: Not used for either Queen Elizabeth (I or II), John F. Kennedy, Pope Benedict (XIV or XV); looked no further.
  • Websters New World Encyclopedia, First Prentice Hall Edition (based on 9th edition of Hutchkinson' Encyclopedia): Styles not used, not even mentioned in article body for Queens Elizabeth I & II, John F. Kennedy and Pope John Paul II. Other honorifics used sparingly. Oddly, George Gordon Byron is described as "6th Baron Byron" (right after the name), but the phrase "Lord Byron" does not occur in article; however, Augusta Ada Byron is described as "daughter of Lord Byron" (as well as her math achievements, of course).
  • Bartletts's Familiar Quotations, 16th edition (not an encyclopedia, but well known): Inconsistent usage. "George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron"; "Sir Thomas More", "Elizabeth I", "Francis Bacon" (not "Sir"). Most honorifics not used, and styles never.
  • Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1972 edition: Styles never used, honorifics sparingly. Not used for Francis Bacon (mentioned six paragraphs into body). Likewise for various other "sirs". No honorific used for Thomas Jefferson, but described as "third president ..." in first sentence. Duc Francois De La Rochefoucauld, "...was known as the prince de Marcililac until..." (first sentence, but after semicolon).
  • New York Times. Styles not used.
  • The Times. Styles not used.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Styles not used, other honorifics are. Does not use "Right Honourable" for Privy Counsellors or "Royal Highness" for Princes, but does use "Sir" and "Lord Firstname," and peerage titles.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica 2004, The Complete Home Library CD: Styles not used. JP2, QE2, Byron.
  • Microsoft Encarta. Styles are not used. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761556932/Elizabeth_II.html, http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761552499/John_Paul_II.html, http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761562315/Dalai_Lama.html.