25 Feb 2022

Do titles matter?

We recently came across a Twitter thread posted by Professor Suzannah Lipscomb, commenting on the inconsistent use of titles in an interview featured in the Sunday Times. The tweet read:

If anyone doubts the existence of an #authoritygap, consider how striking it is, given the content of the piece, that we have ‘Professor Sir Richard Evans’ but not ‘Professor Suzannah Lipscomb’, ‘Dr Lucy Worsley’, ‘Professor Dame Mary Beard’ or ‘Professor Kate Williams’.

In today’s society, where we strive to be egalitarian and inclusive, insisting on the use of titles can seem outdated. But the correct and consistent use of prefixes, suffixes and postnominals remains important.

Here are five reasons why titles matter:

  1. They confer authority

As Professor Lipscomb points out, an individual’s professional title is associated with a level of knowledge and expertise. Whether it’s a military rank, an academic title, or a form of religious address, a prefix underlines a person’s status and standing in a particular field. This in turn gives confidence to clients, colleagues, patients or students. 

  1. They recognise achievement

Whether it’s a doctorate in astrophysics or a damehood for philanthropic work, a person’s title reflects accomplishment and hard work. Using titles correctly implicitly acknowledges achievement.

  1. They demonstrate respect

Using a formal title –‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ as well as professional prefixes and honours – is courteous and respectful. Older generations, in particular, often appreciate formal address, while younger ones may be gratified to see their identity acknowledged by a judicious use of gender pronoun or professional title. If titles aren’t possible, use both first name and surname.

  1. They provide links with the past

In the case of hereditary titles, adopting the correct use of an individual’s style of address recognises ancestry and an often lengthy history of succession. This link with the past is similar to someone incorporating a maiden name or parental name into their married surname. If addressing a duke as ‘Your Grace’ feels a little antiquated, that’s because it’s been done for centuries. 

  1. They show you’ve done your homework

In both social and professional situations, correctly using a title shows attention to detail. Omitting titles, misusing them, or using them inconsistently, can seem sloppy or even discriminatory, as Professor Lipscomb rightly points out.

For up-to-date information on titles and styles of address, as well as extensive forms of address tables covering academia, the military, religion, law, politics and more, subscribe to debretts.com for £4.99 per month (you can cancel any time).


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