While going through the mail recently, I noticed “Esq.” appended to my name on some of the letters. I’ve been practicing law for years, so I’m used to this common notation, which is short for “Esquire.” But since writing about the proposed Titles of Nobility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I’ve been sensitive to the risk presented by royal titles. If three quarters of the states ratify the amendment, then anyone who claims “any title of nobility ... shall cease to be a citizen” of the U.S. Prudence called for a closer look at this Esquire business.
What I found was troubling: according to Wikipedia, “Esquire” includes those “who bear any office of trust under the Crown,” as well as “Foreign noblemen.” Oh, being an Esquire would never do, especially since it didn’t pay anything. I needed a different title.
A colleague of mine jokingly (I think) insisted that anyone with a Juris Doctorate degree may call himself a Doctor. That didn’t sound right, but at least going by Doctor wouldn’t cost me my citizenship. So I researched it. I discovered that only physicians may properly be addressed as Doctor – at least according to some folks, i.e., physicians. Because more nurses are getting doctorate degrees these days, this is currently a big issue for the medical profession. Just ask Roland Goertz, board chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Goertz – excuse me, Dr. Goertz – told the New York Times, “There is real concern that the use of the word ‘doctor’ will not be clear to patients.” Oh, give me a break. He’s just being pretentious, I thought to myself, shifting uncomfortably in my stiff new laboratory coat.
MDs like Dr. Goertz even bridle when university professors use the title. But it seems that the MDs may be the upstarts here. As Wikipedia tells us:
The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre [dɔˈkeːrɛ] “to teach.” It has been used as an honored academic title for over a millennium in Europe, where it dates back to the rise of the first universities.
Millennium – well that’s like, almost a thousand years. So HA! Take that, Doctor Goertz, or should I say, Rollie. Sigh. That still doesn’t help me, since I’m not a professor. And it happens that many state bars consider use of the title Doctor by lawyers to be unethical. Plus, most people think it’s plain silly.
I sadly removed my lab coat and decided to just stick with Mister. Oh, folly! It turns out that’s even worse than Esquire or Doctor. Members of the Royal College of Surgeons of England graduate from the title Doctor to Mister, upon obtaining a surgical qualification. This custom is also followed in Ireland, Australia, Barbados, New Zealand, South Africa and other Commonwealth countries. And everyone knows that surgeons are much nastier than mere doctors when it comes to protecting their turf and prestige. (What’s the difference between God and a surgeon? God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon.)
So going by Mister is not only wrong, but could also jeopardize my citizenship. I was right back where I started. Maybe I needed to approach this scientifically, I thought. After all, I am a scientist; well, I have an undergraduate degree in political science. Oh, don’t give me that nonsense about not being in one of the “hard” sciences; it was plenty hard to me. And it is well known that competition for the Nobel Prize for Science and the other great scientific honors of the world is political. You can trust me on that: I’m a political scientist (and a lawyer).
Bah, I’m not even convincing myself. I give up. Maybe I should just go sans title ... or pick one so unpopular and disreputable (other than lawyer, I mean) that nobody would object.
Hmm, Congressman Stutler does have a certain ring to it.
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