‘Please use them appropriately’: When professional titles become ‘social titles’

November 06th, 2018
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Everyone should have a grip on reality that higher education is becoming unattainable. And with the seismic shift in the current education system, what is supposed to be everyone’s right has turned into a “bastion of privilege.” From how the students are learning to the academic materials they’re using — everything seems to be prohibitively expensive.

Because our “future lies in our education,” we struggle so hard even though we find ourselves spiraling in debt. That’s why most of us get a sense of fulfillment after finishing a degree and landing a job at one of the biggest companies in the country. However, getting promoted or achieving a “professional title”, doesn’t just make us happy and content.

Sometimes, holding on to titles leads to a toxic narcissistic trait called self-entitlement.

A few months ago, a Twitter post by University of Exeter lecturer Siobhan O’Dwyer went viral after a member of a check-in staff at Aussie Airline Qantas “allegedly” dismissed her title. Before getting on the plane, a staff looked over her boarding pass that was printed with the name “Dr. O’Dwyer.” Instead of calling her “Doctor,” the staff decided to address her as “Miss O’Dwyer.”

Of course, people on the Internet were quick to comment on her post. Some mocked her for complaining about her “first world problem,” while others accused her of having an inflated ego.

Hey @Qantas, my name is Dr O’Dwyer. My ticket says Dr O’Dwyer. Do not look at my ticket, look at me, look back at my ticket, decide it’s a typo, and call me Miss O’Dwyer. I did not spend 8 years at university to be called Miss.

— Dr Siobhan O'Dwyer (@Siobhan_ODwyer) August 31, 2018

Meanwhile, Norlan Martinez shared on Facebook his encounter with this attorney. In his post, he mentioned that the commotion happened inside the Gaisano Toril’s Department Store in Davao City.

“I was inside Gaisano Toril’s department store when a person, obviously not looking where he was going, suddenly bumped me by accident. I was also in a bit of haste and did not see where he was going because I did not want to miss the movie scheduled at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.” 

He apologized immediately, but the man wasn’t too pleased about it. 

Me: Hala ka, Sir! Sorry.

Siya: Don’t call me, Sir. I am a lawyer. Call me Attorney.

Me: I will not call you “attorney” because I am not your client. Besides, “sir” is still a very high form of respect.”

That escalated quickly, right? 

via GIPHY

Instead of calling out the man for his rudeness, the situation made Martinez question Filipinos’ obsession with professional titles. 

“Just because they worked hard for the title and think not everyone can do what they do? It really amuses me to see a name of a person with prefix and suffixes on the name” he said. 

He even gave examples of what he meant by that: 

DR. JUAN DELA CRUZ, EdD
ENGR. JUAN DELA CRUZ, MME

He pointed out that, “when you have the prefix, a suffix may not be placed and when you have the suffix, a prefix may not also be placed.” 

Then he went on to say that there’s a proper way to write these titles. 

For example: JUAN DELA CRUZ, MAED

According to him: As a general rule, we only write our TERMINAL DEGREES. If that’s not a terminal degree, then do not place it. Unfortunately, a great number of people who possess certain terminal degrees believe wholeheartedly that they belong to a higher class — a class of people who hold greater professional, personal and overall human value than others. I know so many people.

We all know how these titles can be very intimidating; that’s why some people often take advantage of these. Martinez believed that this is high-and-mighty — a form of arrogance and superiority that has been going on for millennia. 

Need more? Here’s another example from his previous employment: 

JUAN DELA CRUZ, BSN

For him the the BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) is not even a title, but the RN(Registered Nurse) is. 

He also questioned those people with USRN added as suffix to their names: “I also have another question in mind. What is with the USRN as a suffix to one’s name? Is it being able to practice nursing in the United States? I think each state has different state board examination, which I think cannot really make you place the title at the end of your name.” 

Some would write:

JUAN DELA CRUZ, RN, USRN-TX, USRN-CA

“Great minds take many forms and brilliance can be camouflaged. Creative geniuses do not get various titles such as ‘doctor’ and ‘attorney’, but they get through life just fine. It is the narcissistic traits that are more difficult to camouflage,” he shared. 

Looking back, he remembered his British teacher in graduate school who’d rather be called by his first name than “Sir” because he was not a “knight.” He also had a professor who never wanted to be addressed as a “doctor.”  

“‘It is easy to get a doctorate degree in Math but to get married? Ang hirap makahanap ng asawa given my age. Please call me Mrs. Padilla.'” 

Now why are we so obsessed with these titles?

Here’s Martinez’s opinion on the matter, “Others would like to be called ‘doctors’ who are graduates of Doctor of Philosophy for they spent their damn years at a university. If you spent a lot of years in a university just to be called doctor, then you are in the wrong profession. There are medicines for such an obsession.”

Even Martinez himself claimed that he never used the “doctor” title whenever he was abroad, “I never tick the ‘Doctor’ title because I did not graduate from a medical field. Whenever there are emergencies on the plane, watch all the PhDs duck for cover if they shout, ‘Any doctors on board this plane?'” 

“As a teacher and technical writer in higher education, I use credentials in bylines (PhD, EdD, MD, JD, et. al.) but in biographies and speeches, I consistently use their last name or first name without honorific specifically to avoid this sort of outrage.”

For everyone’s “dose of reality,” Martinez left a friendly reminder: 

“The hard reality is that the term doctor is usually reserved for an MD or those who are in the medical field. Sometimes, only other teachers and students can call a teacher with an advanced degree a doctor WHEN THEY ARE IN THE RESEARCH ARENA OR INSIDE THE CAMPUS.” 

Nowadays, we don’t just look at these titles as “currency” to move up the corporate ladder. Rather, we let these titles be our identity badge. And that we always associate bigger or higher titles with greatness. 

The university you graduated from, how long you studied, and even the “awards” you’ve achieved since then will not make you superior to everyone else. Because at the end of the day, what would really matter is your relationship with people.

“Being addressed as Mister, Miss, Madam, or Sir does not make you less of a person. If it is so important to you to be called by your title, stamp it on your forehead. To sum this up, a ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ as an address is still the highest form of respect and it will not make you less of a person if you are not addressed as attorney, doctor, engineer, captain, or what!”

“I have nothing against social titles, but please use them appropriately,” he said.  

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