An EiC very politely answered an enquire of mine via e-mail. He signed with his given name. In case I write to him again, should I keep greeting him as "Prof. [His surname]"? That strikes me as perhaps a little too stiff. On the other hand, calling him by his given name sounds way too familiar to me. What is the etiquette in this type of cases?

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    The safe option is simply Prof. X. You simply do not know whether the EiC is hung up on titles. – Prof. Santa Claus Sep 26 '19 at 7:29
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    Isn’t the etiquette for this sort of thing in general that if a social superior identifies themselves with their personal name, it’s okay to use it? Not sure why it’d be different in academia. – nick012000 Sep 26 '19 at 7:44
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    I'm not sure that an EIC is a "superior" in any sense. Nor is the manager of my grocery store. But names and titles are a culturally determined thing. What I do in the US might be different from what I do in Germany, for example. If it sounds too familiar to you, don't do it. – Buffy Sep 26 '19 at 11:06
  • What does EiC stand for? – asquared Sep 27 '19 at 14:36
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    @asquared "Editor in Chief" – Philosopher of science Sep 27 '19 at 15:42

Dealing with a superior is always tricky. And I would say, replying with his first name does not give everyone a pass to just address him like this.

A few things to consider are:

  • How well do you know him
  • Have you done work with him
  • How does he addresses you in the reply
  • How do other people of your social status address him

My rule in a general business is to follow how the person is calling me. If they use my family name or first name, or even use my title or not. Copying this form of address is usually safe.

With a superior, my default would be to use at the very least his family name, and even throw the title in it if I want to show deference (especially if he's doing me a favour). Now, if you know that person and have a good working relationship with him, it might come a point where you want to just skip the formalities and be on first name basis. That's a judgement call and I don't think we can help you with this, as it comes with your personal experience with that particular person. Furthermore, some people are really tight on with being called by their full titles.

In the end, if you are unsure and it is expected that you will have an extended correspondance/work relationship with him in the future, I would just advise you to just ask him if he would be OK with it, and keep using the formal titles until then. The worst that could happen is you're gonna look stiff/strict/pedantic about etiquette maybe... it's not as bad as being painted disrespectful.

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  • I don't know him. Otherwise I wouldn't have asked. He referred to me by my first name. – Philosopher of science Sep 26 '19 at 9:44
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    As I said, it's a judgement call. In your case I would stick to the formal address, there's no permanent downside in doing this for you. Whereas the other has the potential to be very damaging to the relationship. – M'vy Sep 26 '19 at 9:47

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