Definitions

lance of courtesy

Use of courtesy titles and honorifics in professional writing

The use of honorifics (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms.) and styles (HRH, His Holiness, etc.) differs greatly among publications in both journalism and academia. 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 titles are honorifics. For example, it is customary to address people holding those positions as Alderman, Chairman, or General Secretary; but these titles are not honorific. Other titles, such as Ma'am, Doctor, or Lord — and sometimes also Ms. or Professor—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, Mister President, or Rabbi) as terms of address, without an attached surname.

A certain class of honorifics are known as styles. Styles are generally accompanied by a pronoun or article, pertain to holders of royal, 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 Honorable John Smith", "the Rev. Jane 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: The AP does not use courtesy titles except in obituaries, 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 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 popes, 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.
  • United Press International:
  • Reuters:

Newspapers

  • The New York Times: 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, with the queen or Elizabeth II used on later references. Curiously, upon his death, Pol Pot 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 "renown" (e.g., Stalin, Lenin), no need for a courtesy title was deemed necessary.
  • The Wall Street Journal:
  • The Times:
  • The Guardian:
  • The Los Angeles Times:
  • The Globe and Mail:
  • USA Today:

Magazines

Reference works

Styles used sometimes

  • The Nobel Prize Nobelprize.org Style/honorific used in the biography of the Nobel Laureate the Dalai Lama But no honorific used of (The Honorable) Jimmy Carter, (The Rev. Dr.) Martin Luther King, Jr., (The Most Rev. Archbishop) Desmond Mpilo Tutu
  • The Scotsman. One of the most, if not the most important newspapers in Scotland. E.g. Prince Charles styled in , but not in or Styles in small minority of articles where potentially applicable. cf and Notice that in both searches roughly half of the hits on first two pages are not applicable to this discussion.
  • Pravda. Style used for Pope Benedict XVI in opinion column, e.g. , but not in news articles, e.g.
  • The Nation, Thailand. Style used only for King of Thailand (per Thai law), e.g. ; not for Popes or foreign royalty
  • Times of Oman. Style used only of Sultan Qaboos bin Said (and other Omani royalty), but not of Saudi royalty in same article, e.g. ; nor of Catholic popes, e.g.
  • CNN. Styles generally not used, but sometimes in "human interest" section, e.g. His Holiness, referring to the Dalai Lama Also here (but this looks like implicit quotation)
  • The BBC: Styles usually not used. E.g. somewhat encyclopedic bias of Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Benedict XVI, John F. Kennedy Some "human interest" stories use styles for British royals, e.g. ,
  • Two newspapers based in Brunei. See and
  • :Brudirect.com more commonly omits styles for foreign monarchs than includes them
  • Gulf Daily News Styles used of Bahraini royalty, e.g. His Majesty King Hamad, but not of foreign religious figures (e.g. Pope Benedict XVI) or royalty (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II or Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah).

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 Councillors or "Royal Highness" for Princes, but does use "Sir" and "Lord Firstname," and peerage titles.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica 2004, The Complete Home Library CD: Styles not used. JP2, QE2, Byron.
  • Microsoft Encarta. Styles are not used. , ,

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