So what’s in a name, or more specifically, a title? I’ve been thinking about this subject recently since a former student of mine, Holliann (who recently graduated from University), wanted to get together for a chat concerning some of her strange and unusual experiences while away at school.
“Thanks Professor. I will see you then,” is how she concluded our social media conversation.
“Please, call me Jimmy,” I told her.
“I don’t think I can,” she said, “but I’ll try.”
“Just do it,” I told her.
Such formal titles make me somewhat uptight and uncomfortable. I understand why certain people would rather stick to formal convention, yet it still does not set right with me.
This exchange really got me to thinking. What are the criteria for determining whether we call someone by their first/last name or their title/position?
I teach for crying out loud…I am not part of some kind of regal Monarchy.
If someone asks me what I do for a living I will say Professor. When someone, anyone—students and non-students alike—ask me what I would prefer to be called, I usually instruct them to call me Jimmy. Yet I have found over the years that students, both past and present, are very reluctant to call me anything but Professor.
As a result, now I simply instruct students to refer to me in the moniker they feel most comfortable calling me, provided it is not disrespectful.
So I feel like “Comedian” Seinfeld when I ask, “What is the deal with this whole title thing?”
Please understand…I realize most companies have a myriad of job titles from CEO’s to Janitors, yet we do not call the Janitor, “Janitor Fred,” rather they are Fred -who happens to be the Janitor. Or we refer to Frank Jones, CEO of such and such a company, rather than CEO Jones.
I wanted to find out more so I went where most of my students go for research, Wikipedia. The site did not provide much help though did offer me the following definition: A title is a prefix or suffix added to someone’s name in certain contexts. It may signify either veneration, an official position or a professional or academic qualification. In some languages, titles may be inserted before a last name.
Yes, I knew that. Thanks Wikipedia. You reminded why you are a crappy source and my students cannot cite you.
I get the whole old school idea of respect, professionalism and appropriateness, yet where do we draw the line and why? I do not refer to Baseball Player Kershaw (ironically we do call his coach, “Coach”), Plumber Stan, Musician Slash, Model Klum, Artist Nick, Accountant Jones, Neuroscientist Williams or Announcer Scully. Then when it comes to 5 specific fields—namely religion, politics, education, military and medical—we engage in a mad orgy of title-driven monikers.
If one contends that those 5 areas are more deserving of respect than some others, how unnecessarily disrespectful is that to those other professions? Are there commonalities in these 5 areas that might designate them for fancy titles? Or is just random cultural bullshit that we have just adopted because, as one of my students recently observed, most people are just “sheeple” and usually do not ask such questions.
I do. In particular when I give a shit about something.
It does seem that within each of the title-driven fields the one common theme is that the various “titled” people directly exert a certain amount of power and control over others. Yet, so do directors, producers, and most business owners and they do not warrant a title when others refer to them.
Then I think about nobility. Are religious, medical, education, military and politics more noble professions, hence a fancy title? Hmmmmm…I wonder what my musician and artist friends would have to say about that?
When I was telling Holli about this blog I was writing, she suggested that maybe we place more trust in the people in those 5 areas, hence the titles. Yet we still must place trust in our engineers so our bridges and buildings will not fail us. In fact, we must place the most trust in our babysitters and childcare workers and they are not referred to as Babysitter Mary.
Therefore it is not about power, importance, nobility or trust…why the titles?
It would seem to me to be an issue of basic identity. When we refer to someone by their title, it is important we see them as first and foremost by their profession. Is it that when we speak to Pastors, Senators, Professors, Generals and Doctors it is imperative that we see them through this lens exclusively? Why? What if I would prefer to be known as Jimmy first, Father second, Partner third and then, maybe, just maybe, Professor would land around fourth. Blogger? Maybe 20th.
A title really is a show of power and authority. As a low power distance person in general -meaning I do not gravitate toward separating myself great distances from those over whom I have power- I have no great need to be thought of in terms of title first, person second. In terms of authority, separating yourself from others by slapping on fancy titles is hardly an effective means of gaining respect. I would rather be respected for the quality of what I do over the quality of the title that has been bestowed upon me.
For those who do not respect my style of teaching or leadership, throwing an ornate title to my profession is not going to change that anyway.
I am not dismissing titles as worthless or in some way negative, rather I am questioning the inconsistent use of them and whether or not they are entirely necessary.
So call me Jimmy. You can do it Holliann! But, hey, if you can’t, I get it. Just try.