Titles and Academe

Eszter Hargittai reports that, despite it being clear from the context of her professional website that she’s a university professor with a PhD, she is often addressed by emailers as “Mrs.” and that this has also happened to her at panels where male colleagues are addressed as “Professor” or “Dr.”

Perhaps it’s because she looks like she’s around 18?

I will note that it’s not purely a gender thing. In my teaching days, both my then-colleague Steven Taylor and I had similar experiences. I would answer the phone with some variant of “Good morning. Dr. Joyner.” And the caller would respond with something like, “Is this Mr. Joyner.” Students–and this is in the South, where formality is still more prevalent–would sometimes address me as “Mr. Joyner,” too.

There’s an interesting discussion in the comments section of Hargittai’s post about regional and international variation in the use of titles and whether only MDs deserve the title “doctor.” While I admit that there is some confusion about “doctor” being both a title for someone with a doctoral degree and a synonym for “physician,” there are no good alternatives available. “Professor” is often used by American universities to refer to instructors without a doctorate and it is also a rather odd title to assign to someone, such as myself, no longer employed as an academic.

Update: Taylor weighs in on the subject as well, agreeing that women are more likely to be referred to by first names, contrasting the treatment of the last two Secretaries of State. He also points to some commentary by Kevin Drum on how announcers refer to male and female tennis players, but the link is down at the moment.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    It’s because she’s pissed that her parents named her ‘Eszter’. Reference: Sanford & Son.

    People need to get over titles. Too many are easily offended. What do they expect when they put four sets of letters after their name on the business card? She can politely correct the person addressing her as to her title (Dr.), then get over it and move on. There is no conspiracy here.

  2. Patrick McGuire says:

    You can call me anything you want as long as you show me the money.

  3. ICallMasICM says:

    Vets and dentists get the Dr. as well.

  4. eszter says:

    Please don’t take my comments out of context. I explicitly state in the post that the first thing I tell most people who send me an email with “Dear Professor Hargittai” is to please call me “Eszter”. In the examples I cite, there seems to be a gender component to the story. In the email I cite, I get called “Mrs” while my male colleague is referred to as “Professor”. In the conference example I mention, everyone on the panel was young so there was no reason to call me “Miss Eszter” while referring to the male Master’s student as “Professor [Lastname]”. And fyi, I don’t sign my name with “,Ph.D.”.

    For those curious about “Eszter”, it’s the mainstream way of spelling Esther in Hungarian, the language of the country where I was born and raised.

  5. G A Phillips says:

    M.D. is also a tittle given to liberals “ME DONKEY” whats the big deal?

  6. akjklja says:

    I always find it funny how The NY Times always refers to Condi Rice as “Dr. Rice.” Of course the precedence for this was Kissinger’s insistence on being called Doctor when he was Sec. of State.

    Why doesn’t the Dr. apply to other cabinet members and other high officials? I don’t believe that former Labor Secretary Robert Reich was ever called “Dr. Reich” in the press. How often is Paul Wolfowitz referred to as Dr. Wolfowitz? Is John Snow ever referred to as Dr. Snow? How about Dr. Sam Bodman?

    The double standard on Rice is weird.

  7. LJD says:


    I apologize for poking fun at your name. I was having fun at your expense and I am truly sorry.

    People make incorrect assumptions all the time. Believe it or not, racism and sexism still exists. There are also a lot of stupid people in the world. e.g. I would never call any one Mrs. unless I knew they were married. Otherwise, I defer to Ms.

    I wouldn’t concern yourself with it. You have earned the right to be called Doctor. You know that very well, so why concern yourself others’ misgivings. Politely correct them, and if they still have a problem, it’s theirs.