L’Imperatrice, c’est moi

I'm doing my annual donations (more on that later, no doubt), and just got to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Their online donation form requires that you specify a title for yourself, like "Mister" or "Ms." or "Doctor." Annoyed at this policy, I tried submitting the form without a title, but the page wouldn't let me.

But then I noticed that the list of possible titles is huge. There are 235 titles/salutations in their pop-up menu. Some examples:

  • Abbot
  • Admiral & Mrs.
  • Admiral & Mr.
  • Bishop & Mrs. (but not Bishop & Mr., of course)
  • Committee to Re-Elect
  • Congressman & Mrs.
  • Congresswoman & Mr.
  • Dame
  • The Duke & Duchess of (on the list twice)
  • Dr. and Dr.
  • Doctor & Doctor
  • Doctor & Reverend
  • The Emperor & Empress of
  • FRAU
  • Master (but no Mistress)
  • Mr. and Dr.
  • Mr. & Dr.
  • Mr. & Mrs.
  • Mr. & Mr.
  • Mr. and Ms.
  • Mrs.
  • Mrs. & Mr.
  • Mrs. & Mrs.
  • Mrs. & Ms.
  • Ms.
  • Ms.'s (but not Mr.'s or Messrs.)
  • Private & Mrs.
  • Private & Mr.
  • Senora (but not Senor)
  • Sheik
  • Speaker of the House
  • Speaker & Mrs.
  • Speaker & Mr.

Nicely gender-liberated and even same-sex-marriage-friendly (except that a congressperson who's married to someone of the same gender is out of luck), but goes to a ridiculous level of detail in some areas while entirely missing others. Like, they've got "Frau" (weirdly in all-caps) and "Señora" (without the tilde), but not "Fraulein" or "Señorita" any other non-English title. Some titles are on the list twice; some are listed both in full and as abbreviations; and then there's that wacky "Ms.'s." They've got "Lieutenant" and an impressive list of other military titles, but not "Leftenant." (Maybe this is just the American version of the list?) They've got "Brother" and "Sister" and "Abbot" and "Reverend Mother" but not "Father" or "Abbess" (or "Costello"). Also no "Archbishop" or "Pope." They've got "Queen" but not "King." They've got "Rabbi" but not "Imam." (I'm not sure what the right title/salutation is for an imam, but I'm not seeing any plausible candidates on the list.) They've got "President" but not "Prime Minister" or "Minister." (Again maybe this is just the American version, but then why don't they have "Secretary"?)

Also, they mix up titles, forms of address, and salutations. A quick look at the "Forms of Address" section at the back of most dictionaries will show the differences between those things. It's not clear whether the idea is that they'll prepend the "title" that you select to your name on their mailing labels, or whether they'll use it in addressing you in the salutation line of a fundraising letter.

But the silliest thing of all in my opinion is that they don't let you leave off the title entirely. Why do they care? And what if you're a Quaker and you don't hold with titles?

So I decided to pick the title "Empress" for myself. Then I sent them an email in which I said, in part:

I confess to being a little annoyed that you require donors to provide you with a title to address them by. I'm impressed at the amazingly wide range of choices you provide, but I very strongly prefer no title at all. In protest of your requiring me to choose a title, I've chosen the title "Empress." If you feel the need to address me as "Empress Jed Hartman," you may do so, but I hope that you'll feel as silly doing that as I did choosing it, and that this will help convince you to remove the requirement for a title.

On an only marginally related side note, I find it interesting that about once a month I'll get a piece of junk papermail addressed to "Ms. Jed Hartman." I'm surprised that "Jed" isn't an obviously gendered name; I know it's a fairly rare name, but most Americans have heard it in connection with The Beverly Hillbillies if nothing else. But then again, sometimes I suspect that someone signed me up for a couple of mailing lists with "Ms" as my title, for a joke. If you're tempted to do that, please don't; I really hate getting junk mail.

10 Responses to “L’Imperatrice, c’est moi”

  1. SarahP

    Hee. MSF was our big holiday donation this year, too. And I wondered, when filling out the form, whether we should be “Dr. and Dr.” or “Doctor and Doctor”.

    *Empress. Har.*

    Happy holidays, Jed!!!

  2. Shmuel

    They’ve got “Lieutenant” and an impressive list of other military titles, but not “Leftenant.”

    Which is as it should be, because the British spell it “Lieutenant” also. They just pronounce it “Leftenant”.

    Happy holidays!

  3. John Schoffstall

    There was something similar on an airline site on which I signed up for something-or-other a few years ago. I decided I wanted to be ‘Swami’.

  4. Jed

    Sarah: So which did you end up deciding on?

    Shmuel: Wow! You get the “correcting Jed on something he thought he was certain of but was totally wrong about” award for December. I would have sworn that I had seen “leftenant” in written English (and am embarrassed to admit that I’ve used it myself), but I just did some checking and,yeah, you’re right. Thanks for setting me straight! I guess I must’ve heard it in movies and just assumed it was written as it sounded. A quick web search reveals that there are or have been a fair number of people with last name “Leftenant,” but that’s not actually relevant to the issue at hand, just an interesting side note. Another side note: an old RootsWeb posting talks about old spellings of “lieutenant” from the OED (“He [God] maid Natur to be his luff tenande”), but those spellings are apparently no longer in use. (At first I thought RootsWeb must be an etymology site, but no, it’s a genealogy site. But then I saw the particular list that posting was from was called OLD-ENGLISH and thought it must be an etymology list within the genealogy site, but no, it’s apparently for people trying to make out hard-to-read words in old genealogy documents.)

    John: Hee! Now I’m tempted to write to MSF and ask them to add “Swami” to the list.

  5. SarahP

    Dr. and Dr.

    I figured ‘Doctor and Doctor’ meant the medical kind, not the PhD kind…

    Someday I aspire to Shmuel’s glory.

  6. Benjamin Rosenbaum

    Das Fraulein ist tod, es lebe die Frau!

  7. Tempest

    sometimes I suspect that someone signed me up for a couple of mailing lists with “Ms” as my title, for a joke. If you’re tempted to do that, please don’t; I really hate getting junk mail.

    I wish I had known this before I signed you up for the Young Empress Society mailing list, magazine, and monthly cardboard crown cut-out. You should really be more upfront with people about this, Jed!

  8. Jed

    Tempest: Well, my comment doesn’t apply in any situation that involves monthly cardboard cut-out crowns. It’s fine to sign me up for those. Or at least for one of those; there’s only so many cardboard crowns a girl can wear in a given month.

  9. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan

    Ahh, yes, I knew about the LJ being just a feed, but I’m so used to commenting that I forgot.

  10. Jenn Reese

    Long live Empress Jed! Hee hee hee

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