Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.
One of the biggest quandaries we face in adulthood is what to call ourselves.
This is true for our professional lives — some jobs come with a built-in title (e.g. Dr.), some don’t. It’s also true in our personal lives – should my son’s six year old’s friend call me by my first name or by Mrs. X? And what if I’m not a “Mrs.”?
As a freelance writer, I’ve struggled with the whole title thing for a long time (not to mention what my last name is.)
So here are five tips for how to manage titles in adulthood:
1. Ms., Mrs. and Miss are all ok. As Nancy Gibbs pointed out in a recent article in Time Magazine, one of the great triumphs of second-wave feminism was that women obtained a title – “Ms.” – that didn’t identify them by their marital status. But now that we’ve won that battle, many women (myself included) don’t really care what they’re called, and revel in the multiple identities afforded by Ms., Miss or Mrs. Be careful, however. Some people are very sensitive about these things. I’ll never forget a grumpy senior colleague addressing a young, fellow co-worker as “Missy” many years ago. She responded: “That’s ‘Ms.’ to you, Sir.” You said it, sister!
2. Madam is not ok. For reasons that elude me, Brits continue to use the term “Madam” to refer to married women. I mean, I know the English like to sound formal and all that, but seriously…Madam? What, do I look like I run a brothel?
3. Freelance Writers are now Professional Entrepreneurs. In her blog WordCount, Michelle Rafter argues that freelance writers in today’s world are performing many different tasks across many different industries, including writing, copyediting and web content. And because journalism is morphing so rapidly into…something else, freelance writers must also do a ton of self-promotion. Thus, they now resemble entrepreneurs much more than just plain old “writers.” To which I say, Hallelujah! You mean I don’t have to describe myself as a writer/journalist/blogger anymore? Bring it on, baby.
4. Calling yourself a “Dr.” may be unnecessary. I have a Ph.D. But whenever someone addressed me as “Dr.” back when I was still a practicing academic, I always found myself turning around to see if there was a doctor in the house. It’s a personal thing, of course, and some people like the honorific. But for me the term “Dr.” should be reserved for those who wear a stethoscope around their necks and write prescriptions.* (*Unless you’re trying to do research in Mexico, in which case I’d mine that PhD as much as you can or you won’t get the time of day. Trust me.)
5. When in doubt, buy a title. When the school nurse at my son’s new school revealed that she was actually a Lady, I was momentarily flummoxed. What on earth should I call her? (I tried writing a letter to her and the co-Matron (old-fashioned term for nurse, speaking of titles) which read “Dear Ladies,” but that didn’t seem quite right.) But then a friend of mine told me that you could actually purchase titles on line. Yes, you, too can become a Lord or Lady for a mere pittance. Who said feudalism was dead?
I remain your humble servant, Herr Lady Dr. Ms.Delia, professional entrepreneur.
While we’re on the subject of freelance writing, if you haven’t checked out Susan Johnston’s Urban Muse blog, it is well worth a visit. Susan provides incredibly handy writing and publishing tips with a sunny, upbeat tone. I’m a regular.
Image: My Doctoring Toolz by Churl via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.