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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Name Game

In response to Professor Wexler's interesting post (all posts with Lebowski allusions have intrinsic value), the apparently almost universal practice in my experience is for students to refer to faculty as Professor. I suspect that there are good reasons around that, rooted in a need to maintain a certain professional distance and to instill respect for professional standards.

There seems to be no universal practice with respect to addressing students and I have done it both ways. I am far more likely to use "Mr." or "Ms." in class and less likely to do so outside of class. Unlike Jaywex, I do not seem to desire consistency.

What I find interesting, however, is what happens after graduation. My view is that, when you grab the diploma, I become "Rick." With the exception of one woman, who is the same age as I am, they all refuse to comply, including one former student with whom I have frequent ongoing professional interaction. I wonder, if others here, including the Wexmeister, have noticed the same thing. My colleagues have. 

Does this mean that the formality is not something that is simply imposed on students, but reflects something of value to them, e.g., the belief (perhaps unwarranted) that the teachers that they spent all that money on actually deserved it? Or is it just too hard in the same way that the parents of my childhood friends have always been "Mr." and "Mrs." 

I've noticed the same thing between lawyers and judges. Although there is no need to refer to a judge by title or honorific off the bench, most lawyers do so anyway.

Perhaps they are trying to curry favor. (When I sit as a Referee in attorney discipline cases, the lawyers always call me "Your Honor" - something which makes me think that someone else has entered the room.)

Perhaps judges encourage it ( "... as the Court was saying to her husband this morning ...").

Or perhaps it reflects an expression of that we believe - or want to believe - about the judiciary.


Posted by Richard Esenberg on December 10, 2008 at 10:49 AM | Permalink


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I've asked my research assistants to call me by my first name and they struggled with doing so. Eventually they became comfortable with it, but it seemed like a very difficult process for them.

Posted by: David S. Cohen | Dec 10, 2008 11:39:15 AM

When entering academia, I had a terrible time making the transition from "Prof. Last Name" to "First Name" for my law school mentor - he insisted (and I of course understood) that we were now colleagues and I couldn't refer to him as Professor. But it was a heck of a hurdle to cross and I often failed to address him as anything because I felt awkward shedding the respectful title.

On the flipside, the Judge I clerked for was "Judge" - no matter what. Even his spouse called him "Judge" at least around us clerks - even if we were sitting around his backyard at a social event. His grandkids called him "Grandpa Judge". :)

Posted by: anon_prof | Dec 10, 2008 3:19:39 PM

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