John Larrysson's Column: Noting And Combining Titles

My school asked me if someone should be called *Mrs Dr or *Dr Mrs1. The answer is neither! Titles put in front of a name are not to be combined with any other title. These include Mr, Miss, Ms, Mrs, Dr and Sir. (Common Titles) This also includes speciality titles such as Captain, Justice and Principal. Choose the most important title and only use that one. Trying to combine them looks arrogant and clumsy. Instead we can use any of the following forms:

Our principal, Dr Wong ...

Dr Wong, principal of ABC Secondary School ...

Principal Wong, who has a Ph.D. in ...

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Sometimes a person has a title, but is commonly known without it. Some people, especially writers, change their name for publication. An alternative name is called an alias, pseudonym or pen-name and may be noted with the abbreviation aka, standing for also known as. The terms alias and aka are most commonly used within law enforcement to denote the false names used by criminals, but can be used elsewhere. In such a case, use the commonly understood form and, to be polite, mention the title in brackets. 

    Arthur C. Clarke (later Sir Arthur) was a famous science fiction writer. 

    James Tiptree Jr. (pseudonym of Alice Bradley Sheldon) chose a male pen name,

    to avoid the problem of sexism.

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In the west women traditionally change their surname when they get married. The unmarried surname is called the maiden name. It can be indicated with the word née.2

    Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts, later Baroness Thatcher) was first elected to

    the House of Commons in 1959.

There are also various rules for tiles used by British aristocrats, but these are only of importance to people in such social circles. Remember that only one title is put in front of a person's name. If it would be easier to understand, other titles can be mentioned in brackets.

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1. In linguistics texts an asterisk (*) is often put in front of an error used as an example to avoid confusion.

2. French for born

Related Article: How To Shorten A Name In English

by John Larrysson [email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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