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Tips For Adulthood: How To Manage Your Title

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...

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.

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  1. Sally October 28, 2009 at 10:34 pm #

    Your post made me wonder about titles and their relevance going forward ?

    email/facebook/twitter/blogs – none of our online identities use titles relating to gender or marital status which I find preferable.

    Or is that still a way off ? As in some circles I think it might still be the case,that a married woman would be referenced by her husband’s first name as in ‘ Mrs Joseph Bloggs’ ?

  2. C.M. Mayo October 29, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    Re: “Madam is not OK.” Yes, but used in the title of a blog, it brings in a heap o’ webtraffic (though not necessarily of the kind one would welcome…) I chose “Madam Mayo” as the title of my blog after a playful poet addressed me as Madam Mayo— and I was, at first, offended, taking it as a play on Madam Mao (as in Gang of Four member). But then I realized the fact that I was offended was a hoot! Then I realized no one gets that Madam Mao reference anyway— anyone under the age of 45, or so it seems. But say I, Madam Mayo, to you, Real Delia, blog on!

  3. delialloyd October 29, 2009 at 8:11 am #

    Sally-interesting point. Ties to the way in which the internet allows us to assume yet more identities (I’m often flummoxed by the gender of commenters if no picture.)

    Madam Mayo-I always make an exception for Madam Mayo. She rules supreme! (And I love the story of your blog title!) x

  4. Maria del Mar Paredes Maña October 29, 2009 at 10:20 am #


    I agree with you a great deal. I absolutely don’t like saying, when someone asks me about my Studies title, that I’m a Doctor, Dra. Paredes, sigh!, it sounds pompous or pretentious, doesn’t it?. Last month, for instance, I’ve taken up again my German classes in a Language School and when I had to fill my profile, I simply put “Master in Science”, instead of Ph. D. in Biology in the Studies Box…I still don’t get used to it, though I’ve got that title since 12 years ago and I didn’t buy it…

  5. Jenny October 29, 2009 at 1:40 pm #

    Interesting comment about the “Dr” title. I know PhDs (in science, virology etc) who say they are the ones entitled to call themselves doctors, not the people who used to be barbers and called “Mr”!
    In the Anglo system, medical students who graduate receive the degrees MB BS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), not MD.

    And those purchase a title things are a rort. You have to change your name by deed poll.

  6. delialloyd October 29, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Didn’t know that about scientists-fascinating! In general, doctors much lower down on the status totem pole over here. I think it has something to do with public medicine and lower pay, etc. Thanks for chiming in!

  7. Alba November 24, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    Hey … I stumbled on this oage by mistake. I was looking in Google for PDF software that I had already bought when I came upon your site, I have to say your website is really informative, I just love the theme, its amazing!. I don’t have the time this minute to totally read your entire site but I have bookmarked it and also will sign up for your RSS feed. I’ll back in a day or two. thanks for a great site.

    • delialloyd November 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm #

      thanks so much, alba. delighted to have you here!


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