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What's in a title?

May 8, 2019


I watched a final episode of Line of Duty yesterday and was struck by the start of the chilly interview between Detective Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael and Superintendent Ted Hastings where he asks that he be addressed by his full professional title - even though he is under investigation for corruption.  One can't help noticing in this tightly written and gripping drama that everyone is carefully given their full designation and surname in the workplace: Constable Manor, Detective Constable Beat, Chief Superintendent Hunch etc. 

This is refreshing because in most walks of life now we are descending into a world of 'Tom, Dick and Harry'.  People do not willingly reveal their surnames on any but the most formal occasions and seem quite affronted if one does not use their first name or even their nickname from the get-go of your acquaintance.

I envy the French who have forms of address that do not require the surname anyway - simply Madame, Monsieur - and who have retained the right to use them without being made to feel by the addressee that they are 'keeping their distance' or treating them as their social inferior. Indeed, being the French, they use such terms with great style and exuberance.

Just as my husband is conducting a small campaign to bring back the warm, friendly handshake (as opposed to promiscuous social kissing), I am hoping to bring back the proper - and more convenient - use of the title and surname for those we encounter whom we barely know.  What are the chances it will catch on, do you think?  

As for promoting correct titles in my editing work it comes down (as always) to a matter of consistency. I worked on a text recently where a US evangelical clergyman was referred to as the Very Reverend Michael Tempest (or something like that) and the names of his UK counterparts - well-known public figures in the Church of England - remained unadorned with their correct ecclesiastical titles.  I suppose it's the usual way of things that familiarity breeds contempt - in which case we should be wary of too much familiarity.

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