Question: Honorifics

A reader asks…

Does anyone have a preferred gender-neutral honorific, à la “Sir” and “Ma’am”?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on August 21st, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 37 comments »

37 Responses to “Question: Honorifics”

  1. Kim

    I like “Doctor” and “Professor”, those titles are one of the reasons I want to go higher than graduate studies.


  2. Meike

    I agree with Kim. My plan is to become Dr. C or Prof. C and teach gender studies–and those students will never know what gender I am! Also, my girlfriend calls me “Commandant” on those days where I just can’t decide how I identify.


  3. Bellatrix

    in the late middle ages troubadours used the title “milord” (my+lord) to mean either woman or man of greater importance. Although the use of the masculine “lord” does negate its neutral state. “Friend” might be a good one to throw around. WHo doesn’t like a friend?


  4. kendall

    I get comrade by certain activist friends, I love sir, I don’t hear it enough, when its said, its usually in jest or by mistake, but it feels knightly. I will not be a doctor though that is a neutral yet epic title.


  5. Jack

    I’ve alwyas loved “sai”, from the Dark Tower series :D


    Ethan replied:

    I also tend to use sai, as a gender-neutral honorific.
    As in “Thankee-sai.”

    If I think the person may get confused at ‘sai’ I generally just do a little half-bow.

    (Those books are excellent by the way.)


  6. Anonymous

    your highness
    my friends call me Doc
    I’ve heard of ‘mix’ and ‘mixter’
    My lord is brilliant


  7. Sammy

    I’ve always been a fan of Captain or Cap


  8. Ari

    “Monseigneur” is gendered as a French word, though.


  9. Matthew

    Mon Capitaine… Though that may come from far too much Star Trek TNG… (The character Q uses it to refer to the captain of the Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard)


  10. ZE. Berryman

    I use ZE. as in ZE Berryman.


  11. Jake von Slatt

    I rather like “gov’nah” or “gov” but often go with “comrade.”


  12. anon

    I like sir for males and females, like in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.


  13. ElegantAndrogyne

    I live in Poland, and we use “pani” [?pã?i] for women and “pan” [pãn] for men. And, a husband of friend of mine came up with “panipan”, which is a compound of these. I quickly adopted the word and use it as a positively-charged name for androgynous/transgendered people.


  14. Jay

    That’s really neat, ElegantAndrogyne! Panipan. Cool. Not that I speak Polish, but!

    I like Captain, and Commandant (or Commodore, or any military rank at all). And Doctor and Professor are good too. And Your Highness. And ‘the Honourable’. But on a more practical/not dependant on job/education/royal birth level…

    “Comrade” is pretty good, as is “Friend”, both very gender neutral. But I think the only one I’d ever use would be ‘hey, you!’ or more politely ‘excuse me/pardon me’. :/ I really can’t think of a good, practical replacement for sir/ma’am.


  15. Jaye

    It’s not my preferred mode of address, but I’ve been known to answer to “Hey you!”.


  16. A

    My closest friend calls me “sir”, which is so refreshing to hear after a day full of “miss” and “she” and “ladies”. However, I must say that I like ElegantAndrogyne’s “panipan”. Maaaay steal that. Also, “Comrade”. Oh man do I ever like “Comrade”.

    (unoriginal boy is unoriginal.)


  17. Astra

    I tend to go with just saying last names without honorifics or forgoing saying names at all. I’m bad with them.


  18. Nox

    i like Mx (mixter) or Zir


  19. Jasper

    I use “comrade” a lot myself, but less as an honorific and more as a greeting, and usually with a bad Russian accent. “Comrade! ((Spreads arms))” That kind of thing. I call myself the Right Honourable Bastard, but I suppose that doesn’t really work for most people XD Comrade’s probably the best one, seeing as it actually was used as an honorific.


  20. Jessica

    If your gender is queer, maybe that makes you a Mixter…


  21. Bellatrix

    about the “hey you” I really hate to hear that thrown at me. Someone addressed me as such at work yesterday, and I was more offended than I can really describe. “Hey you” for me as always been a prelude to “i-am-a-rude-person-who-cares-not-for-the-effects-of-my-action-only-that-my-actions-have-an-effect-no-matter-how-painful-for-the-other-person”

    however I really like panipan.


  22. Lea

    Argh i think about this ALLLLL the time. I’m a PhD student but before i can get that awesome, neutral and authoritative title i still have to teach classes and tell undergraduates what to call me. For now i just ask them to use my first name, but that tends to convey that i’m rejecting the authority of Ms/Miss/Mrs when it’s really the gender. Sigh. I like authority.

    Also sticky – family relational titles. My sister just had a baby so i’m her…? Aunt nor uncle really feel right. I think i’m going to invent Zaza as my title.

    I use comrade a lot too – so interesting to hear that this has been picked up by so many of you folks as gender-free when i picked it up as just equality implying. I had a wonderful facilitator once who would always address “ladies and gentleman and everyone in the room.” Beautiful.


  23. DeGrey

    I really appreciate this question, though not really for me-I try to not let either side of the binary affect me much. I answer phones for my job and it is rude (i think) to assume someone’s gender at all and especially just by their voice! I would love to have an honorific that applies to EVERYONE.


  24. Jessica

    I always remember my friend Frank, who was black and upon receiving his first Master’s degree, he strutted about saying, “I’s de Massa now! You bet, jus call me, Massa girl.” he was such a laugh, when the mood was on him.

    Titles are tough. My partner and I were at the store the other day and the clerk referred to us as “you ladies” – always makes me think of being called “Sir” or “Ma’am” – I always look around wondering who they’re talking to.


  25. Alex

    @Lea: I reeeally like “zaza.” I just might use that one day. :D


  26. Bob

    I prefer ‘Sir,’ but I do sit around and mull this over a lot!
    When I was small I thought that one grew from a ‘miss’ to a ‘ma’am’ and finally, became a ‘sir.’ I had heard people call my mum ‘ma’am’ and I asked when she would be a ‘sir.’ I was very disappointed when she said she never would be. I asked hopefully if I would ever be a ‘sir’ and she said never. But I still feel that I’m just not finished growing up, and that some day I’ll have grown from a ‘ma’am’ into a ‘sir’ the way I always expected to…


  27. Alex

    I use “m’dear” as a gender-neutral alternative to “sir” or “ma’am,” but I feel like that’s probably inappropriate in some circumstances. I dunno which ones though. ha


  28. Aleclare

    I use “Beau” or “Missir” as in, Beau Ehmann or Missir Delamount :3


  29. Alan

    People at the grocery store check-out, or waiters, or the people who take orders at Jamba Juice or Starbucks frequently call me something that I’m not quite sure if it’s ‘ma’am’ or ‘man.’ I would like to think it’s ‘man,’ but then I think that might be too informal for a workplace environment, so I’m not sure.

    In the Cyteen books, the word ser is used for sir or mister, and sera is used for ma’am or miss, but I prefer to think of ser as something that works for anybody. To me, it looks like a mix between sir and her, so that’s cool.


  30. Qaiel

    I personally prefer Your Highness or Hir Majesty. :3


  31. Anonymous

    When dealing with others, I often use the phrases “my dear one” or “my friend”; I feel like formalities such as “ma’am” and “sir” are antiquated and distancing.


    tigr replied:

    That’s true, and I don’t like “ma’am” or “sir” — But how do you address people you ARE distanced from? People you don’t know, whose name you don’t know or who you just don’t feel like being close with? I’d neither want to be called “my dear” or “my friend” from someone who isn’t, nor would I want to call strangers “my friend” … so what to use ?


  32. Jessica

    I’ve always been fond of “Your Grace” – maybe because the honorific is the same whether you’re a Duke or a Duchess. Of course then they ruin it by announcing you as “Her Grace or His Grace Duke/Duchess of XYZ.”


  33. eren

    following the comments that headed quick for honorific titles:

    I personally have fondness for simply “M”, pronounced em and gender-neutral, in place of Mrs., Ms., or Mr.. I always though Mz. was just an alternate spelling of Ms. (both of which avoid a marital status announcer) but I haven’t seen Mz. much recently.

    Also I love Mx. pronounced mix/myx. I think of it as mystery or M- with a variable x term. Also helps me to get though being called ‘miss’, re-purposing my interpretation towards ‘mys’.

    my mom would get sir’d occasionally while out shopping. My early glimpses of what has become a shared experience.


  34. Ace

    Not *quite* the question, but I’ve been known to address myself to gaggles of fellow queers and gendernauts with, “Gentles and ladymen…”


  35. Dazza

    I don’t know how often americans use it

    but “mate” is great for everyone.

    However I love the made-up ones as well.

    Massa and Zaza, brilliant. I also love beau, and mix, and my friends sometimes joke and call each other “suitors.”

    And personally I would love someone to call me Zaza Dazza.


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