Call me by my name

Best: Get rid of Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms, Dr., etc. Just call people by their names.

2nd Best: Get rid of Dr. The honorific make society even more unequal.

3rd best: Apply Dr. only to people with Doctorates that did not become medical doctors. They make less than MDs and thus giving them this honor boost equality among those with PhDs.

4th best: Apply Dr. to all people with PhDs.

Worst: Apply Dr. only to physicians.

Of course we choose the worst option in America.

What’s wrong with this country?

PS. On the other hand, at least we are not Great Britain (Lord this, Sir that). And that abomination “Her Majesty”? How can anyone say something like that without laughing?



25 Responses to “Call me by my name”

  1. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    20. December 2020 at 11:40

    I believe quite strongly against calling people with a PhD, doctor, because a title should be about who you are and not some pedestrian achievement. I get concerned that while doing science (and I expect in other disciplines, but I lack experience), those who do not have fancy titles/pedegrees are undervalued which places barriers to progress.

    Using the above argument, one could argue that newly minted PhDs should be called doctor.

    On the other hand, I think that professors, even ones who do not have PhDs, should be titled. This is because it recognizes what they are doing and who they are.

    This is the reason why I call medical doctors, doctor. Because it is who they are/what they are doing. It isn’t based on some achievement, which for anyone who graduated more than a couple years previously should be relatively minor, years in the past.

    I guess I wouldn’t be averse to someone still calling me a professor. But after next year I will start correcting people, as I am now a scientist and not a professor, and I have been so for some time.


  2. Gravatar of ChrisA ChrisA
    20. December 2020 at 13:44

    I call people by what they want to be called, it’s just polite. I might think someone is being pretentious by insisting on a certain honorific, but I would keep that to myself. Similarly with pronouns, I am a very traditional minded person in terms of sexual identity, but I can recognise other people are not the same as me. So if someone wishes to be addressed in a way that initially seems strange or even odd, I still go with it. Perhaps this is due to all my time working overseas, I got used to being called Pak Chris in Indonesia for instance, and calling my colleagues by the same. Or in Japan, Chris-San (or even Chris-Sama!). Similar to titles in the UK, I recognise it is the culture there and follow accordingly. There are so many bigger issues in the world to worry about.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. December 2020 at 14:21

    Jonathan, In my view, anyone who insists on being called by some title is an elitist snob. But Chris is right; there are much bigger problems in the world.

    Chris, I agree. I call people by what they ask to be called.

  4. Gravatar of Jerry Brown Jerry Brown
    20. December 2020 at 14:23

    I liked to call you Professor Sumner at times when asking a question. Generally that helps in avoiding being dismissed as a nincompoop or worse if you really are asking a question. Or so I have found at least from other sites. But I am happy to call you Scott if that is your preference.

  5. Gravatar of Val Val
    20. December 2020 at 14:32

    I’m a medical doctor. The only place I introduce myself as Dr is my work. Pt sees various health care professionals in the hospital including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc. When introducing myself as Dr So and so, I signal to the pt in what capacity i am see him/her today. Outside of work, i always introduce myself by my name and there is no MD following my signature.

  6. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    20. December 2020 at 15:15

    I never introduced myself using the title professor, although I accepted it. But that may have been because I saw myself more as a facilitator/partner/mentor rather than as an instructor/sage/master.

    However, I appreciated the dynamic, and observer it for many other professors/teacherss and I don’t think that professors/teachers who desire to be referred to by such a title are being elitist.


  7. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    20. December 2020 at 16:20

    From now on you can be Herr Professor Doktor.

  8. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    20. December 2020 at 18:32


    I find it funny how this issue is once again being treated purely political and how each political camp has an opinion based on their political affiliation. Reminds me of the masks issue.

    I have always admired the US so much for not having this stupid tradition of “Herr Professor Doktor Doktor”. This admiration seems to be obsolete now.

    There is now one half of the US that suddenly says: wait a minute, we never had this tradition, the opposite is true, it is an expression of humility and liberation if you want to be addressed as “Dr” instead of just your name. – One can only roll one’s eyes at this utmost hypocritical bipartisanship.

    Or imagine if Trump had a doctorate and he had insisted on being addressed as “Dr. Trump” during the election campaign. The other camp would have correctly pointed out that he was a stupid arrogant snob.

    It is not a good start at all when you frame your election campaign as a new bridge between the elite and a lower class, who thinks the elite is becoming more and more distant and aloof – and then the first thing the FLOTUS is concerned with is: “You have to call me doctor now.”

    The situation also demonstrates once again the inner conflict and fragmentation of left-wing parties in almost all Western countries, who still pretend to be workers’ parties, but in reality these parties are actually made up mostly of academics, fixated on identity politics and their own positions and titles.

    You cannot earn authority and respect in this manner anyway. A king who has to emphasize he is king is not a king. The same is true for doctors and other wannabes.

  9. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    20. December 2020 at 18:53


    This got me thinking. Academic and social titles such as “Mr.” are shorthand for identity. If you get rid of those titles and their attached shorthand identities… maybe eventually we’ll get rid of gender identity too. I’m half tongue in cheek here, but the backdrop for me is this. I consider gender identity more of a nuisance. Not sexuality and sexual orientation mind you, but gender. To me it’s a form of behavioral stereotyping. I never understood transgender feelings, I don’t want to be any other gender, just want to be rid of gender altogether. It’s a nuisance that creates behavioral expectations. The big irony is that just as feminism had softened up gender identities (behavioral and dress code norms), they came back, took on an even more elevated importance (in transgenderism) and even multiplied… ah well.


    how about AO Univ Prof Dipl Ing Dr Dr tech hc … I swear you can find that kind of thing on doors of Germanic academia.

  10. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    20. December 2020 at 19:07

    “How can anyone say something like that without laughing?” Well, you could say it with a straight face if you were an actor, playing in a period drama; and the British monarchy gives you the opportunity to play-act.

  11. Gravatar of Grant Gould Grant Gould
    21. December 2020 at 04:11

    Physicians appropriating the term “Doctor” from academics, moving into it, and then forcing the academics out of it as “not the real doctors” is such an on-the-nose allegory for gentrification that you genuinely have to wonder if this discourse is being written by third-tier 1990s screenwriters.

  12. Gravatar of bb bb
    21. December 2020 at 05:24

    Couldn’t agree more. I hate calling an MD Dr. Everything about going to the doctor is a terrible experience, and on top of that I’m expected to show deference to them by referring to them with a title.
    I’m fine with students referring to professors by titles, but beyond that adults should not feel obligated to show deference to other adults.
    I say this without having read any of the articles about Jill Biden. She seems nice enough to me. No idea if she insists on being called Dr. or if people just call her that. If she does, I don’t love it.

  13. Gravatar of bob bob
    21. December 2020 at 06:01

    Every one hear is mega loser for even discussing this. Uighers are being exterminated by the CCP’, Sumner is trying to turn humanity into collective cyborgs, with the sole purpose of providing slave labor to Bill Gates and George Soros, and you want to talk about calling people Dr. or not. Sumner is a fuck face, and that is what we should be calling him. Fuck Face Sumner. CCP Fuck Face Sumner. Any of the above is acceptable.

    Or extremely Ugly Fuck Face Sumner. Choose your pick. All beautiful.

    We are humans. Not Cyborgs. And we’re coming!

  14. Gravatar of rinat rinat
    21. December 2020 at 06:09

    Why do I feel like none of you have ever been to a proper dinner before?

    Doctor has historically been used to identify those in the medical profession. If you are a mathematician or an economist, then you introduce yourself as a mathematician or an economist. If you are a medical professional, then you introduce yourself as a doctor. You don’t say “I’m an orthopedic”. You say “doctor”.

    That has always been the case. PhD’s who want to be called doctor are either on a power trip, or fail to grasp three hundred years of social etiquette.

  15. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    21. December 2020 at 06:29

    In Jill Biden’s specific case, I hadn’t realized before the current teapot tempest that she has an Ed.D., not a Ph.D.

    IMHO, that explains a little bit – in my experience with some high schools we work with, titles are very common and I think they’re mostly there to instill the students with a little more respect for their instructors.

    At school, the teachers I know use titles in pretty much all conversation. (I don’t know if they do it privately, but they do it with me as a relative outsider – “We’re meeting with Mr. Roe and Dr. Doe in an hour.)

    I still think it’s reasonable to make a little fun of Dr. Biden, though – our leaders can use a little teasing.

  16. Gravatar of Secutor Secutor
    21. December 2020 at 08:53

    People should only be called Doctor once they’ve got a good track record training gladiators at the ludus.

  17. Gravatar of Anonymous Anonymous
    21. December 2020 at 09:32

    “That has always been the case.”


  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. December 2020 at 10:29

    Jerry, Whatever you prefer. I don’t object if you call me “Hey you”.

    Val, That makes sense.

    mbka, Yes, and I presume the origin of Mr and Mrs is probably sexist societal practices, but I’m not an expert on the topic.

    Bob, You said:

    “We are humans. Not Cyborgs.”

    How can you be sure? Have you seen Blade Runner? And why are your comments so similar to those of other Trumpistas? Might you be an AI?

    rinat, I don’t think you know anything about history. And the correct term is “physician”.

    J Mann, People should not be respected because of their degrees, they should be respected (if at all) because of their behavior.

  19. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    22. December 2020 at 01:41

    Ahh, finally a post of yours I completely disagree with!

    I always call people by their formal title, whether that is Professor, Doctor, Lord, Lady, Mr, Ms, etc, until they tell me to call them otherwise. But I’m also a massive elitist snob and I like hierarchies. I am Prussian, so that’s probably in my blood… I don’t insist that anyone refers to me by my titles, however. People give me enough respect as it is.

    Rinat: doctors, historically, are teachers; physicians are the ones who care for the body; see the connections to ‘physical’ in the word.

    Mr and Mrs were originally honorifics, but, like with so many other titles, they’ve been ‘democratised’ and are now given to everyone. Mr, of course, is just a shortening of ‘master,’ from the Latin for ‘great.’

  20. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    22. December 2020 at 08:34

    I agree that it doesn’t make sense to apply the honorific Dr. to medical doctors only. Doctor in the original sense meant someone who has mastered a subject to the point that they can teach it to others. The honor is probably quite a bit watered down today relative to the past, as it is much easier for any given person to obtain a doctorate degree in something as compared to, say, 100 years ago. Nevertheless, I would be in favor of expanding the doctor honorific to others who have a doctorate degree.

    Like Tacitus I take a favorable view of hierarchies. All people being equal is true in one sense and not true in another sense. In many respects, people are clearly unequal, and in some cases it isn’t necessarily bad for our language to reflect that.

    Calling a policeman ‘officer’ or a judge ‘your honor’ reflects an inherent inequality between them and those under their authority, due to the nature of their office. A child calling the neighbor Mr. Smith or referring to his father’s brother as Uncle Bob reflects the natural hierarchy between adults and children, with the former in authority over the later. Calling Scott ‘Dr Sumner’, though he himself will insist on you calling him Scott, does denote that he does have sufficient expertise in economics to train others in that discipline. With respect to economics, he is an authority.

    Being in a habit of addressing others with honorifics seems likely to help, even in some small way, push things back towards a more polite society. It seems that people have become particularly vulgar in our age, in which honorifics have in many respects been discarded.

    So for me, Scott’s 4th best is 1st best.

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. December 2020 at 22:21

    Tacticus, Culturally speaking, I’m most at home in Australia, which is the least hierarchical society. But I also try to be polite, so I use Mr. and Dr. if that what people prefer.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. December 2020 at 22:24

    Everyone, Oddly, no one has suggested that my most recent Econlog post (on praise and blame) is inconsistent with what I wrote here.

    It might be inconsistent, I’m not sure.

  23. Gravatar of Njnnja Njnnja
    25. December 2020 at 07:39

    I work in an industry with a lot of PhD’s. One colleague just calls everyone “Dr.” whether they have one or not.

    It works great because it adheres to the principle that people should be able to choose their own pronouns, but it annoys people who want the honorific used as a sign of superiority over others rather than personal achievement.

    Highly recommended and very American.

  24. Gravatar of Pyrmonter Pyrmonter
    28. December 2020 at 19:24

    The mode of address to the Queen, in person, is ‘Your Majesty’, and thereafter ‘ma’am’. For other members of the immediate royal family ‘your royal highness’; for dukes ‘your grace’, Marquesses and other peers ‘your lordship’, for archbishops, also ‘your grace’, and other bishops ‘your lordship’. It isn’t that difficult – Debrett’s and Burke’s have little tables. Crockfords has a nice summary online for CoE clergy:

    On the Dr thing: does no-one recall Dr Johnson? (both doctorates were honorary, so it wouldn’t do to use them today)

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. December 2020 at 12:19

    Njnnja, As long as even the janitors are called Dr., I’m fine with that.

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