I'm writing an article that cites some scientific works of a religious sister. I noticed that some authors cite her works including the title "Sister", as in "Sister Surname [ref] was the first..." or "see (Sister Surname, year)", but other authors use only the surname.

Of course, this can be a matter of personal preferences. However, I wonder if the scientific community has considered the issue of using or not religious (or other scientific-unrelated titles) when referring to an author. On the one hand, I understand the use of the title as a courtesy. On the other hand, I understand if somebody does not want to use the title because she/he thinks that it is irrelevant to the scientific work, or even does not recognize it.

Are there some recommendation about that?

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    Do whatever you like. Thankfully science still leaves us room to be human and to have human foibles and preferences. Not every single dilemma must be enshrined in some rigid style manual rule that everyone must follow like mindless automatons.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 15:04
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    @Aruralreader she came to my mind too. There’s also Charles Dodgson, often referred to as the Reverend Charles Dodgson, and at other times as Lewis Carroll. Another famous mathematician, Alfred Young, was a priest, but I am not sure what his proper religious title would be and do not recall seeing a title added to his name in an academic reference.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 15:09
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    Oh, and of course Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest, was the originator of the big bang theory. A uniquely fascinating figure in the history of science.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 15:16
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    Not sure if this is always the case, but don't women who become Sister Surname adopt this name and still have their original name which is totally different? Does it then make sense to separate the religious name? Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 17:15
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    What field? I imagine this might be different in theology vs. astronomy Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 19:10

3 Answers 3


It is mostly a matter of recognition. In papers, it is indeed uncommon to include titles (we write "XYZ, 2009", not "Prof. XYZ, 2009") when referencing results. By contrast, when writing a historical/sociological article (full disclosure: I'm not an expert in either area) it seems to make sense to include honorifics (say, it stands to reason to see "Pope Pius II mentions this in Epistles" as opposed to "Piccolomini mentions this in Epistles").

In the context of your question, historical scholars who were also religious figures are most commonly referred to without relevant honorifics/titles, and the same probably would apply in your case if you want to focus solely on a person's work, not any of the other circumstances about their life, seeing them as irrelevant to the work itself.

We do not - as a general rule - refer to Mendel as The Right Reverend Gregor Mendel.

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    The Pope is kinda a special case, given that his name actually changes to his regnal name when he becomes Pope.
    – Vikki
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 0:36
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    @Vikki Oh, I'm apparently that poorly educated. TIL, thank you. Should've kept it at historical scholars who were also clergy.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 11:02
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    @Vikki: I'm hardly an expert on the matter, but my impression is that a similar thing happens with at least some British nobles (they keep their given name, though). Unless I'm wrong, pope is not the singular exception you make him out to be. In any event, I think using the newly adopted name does seem appropriate, in line with what you would do if someone changes their name for other reasons (e.g. marriage or gender confirmation).
    – tomasz
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 16:16
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    @Zach: Judging by the English Wikipedia, it seems that it does (it cites Francis as "born Jorge Mario Bergoglio"). Not very strong evidence, admittedly.
    – tomasz
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 16:20
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    @Zach his legal name probably does change as the Vatican is a sovereign state, of which the pope is the absolute monarch. I'm by no means an expert in Canon law though.
    – PC Luddite
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 20:00

Since one does not even cite other academics as "Dr." and "Prof.", I rationally tend to think one would not cite "Sister", "Mullah", "Guru" or whatever religious role may have a specific person.

However, different bibliographic standards may have different suggestions and I am not aware of the details.


OP, as always it is worthwhile to contact your trusty librarian, for example Citing Theological Sources: How to do a Bibliography: Church Documents mentions that

In MLA style, honorific titles like "Pope," "Father" or "Cardinal" or "D.D." are not added after, or before, a name.

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    I think it might depend on the context of the writing. I could see a paper including titles like "Doctor" when saying something like "In his 2004 paper Insert Title Here, Dr. So-And-So argued the case that..." rather than using a formal citation along the lines of "So-And-So (2004) argues that...".
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 3:23
  • @nick012000 I agree, but the OP question mentions explicitly a formal citation as "in "Sister Surname [ref] was the first..." or "see (Sister Surname, year)"
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 6:36
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    The problem here is that a "Dr." and "Prof." usually has the same name with or without the title. In religious orders people might choose different names, and these adopted names might become more widely known. If the current Pope happened to author a scientific paper, would he be more recognizable if writing it as "Pope Francis" or as "Jorge Mario Bergoglio"? And if he decided to publish it under the name "Pope Francis", would if be right to only cite him as "Jorge Mario Bergoglio"?
    – vsz
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 7:09
  • @vsz the pope changes its name in his documents as well, similarly to married people changing their family names. So the paper is most likely to be cited as "Bergoglio" if <2013, as "Francis I" (or II, I don't know) if >2013.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 7:16
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    @EarlGrey traditionally you don't specify the numeral (as in Francis I) until there is a second. I'm not sure if Francis followed this tradition, but I seem to recall it being unusual when Pope John Paul I specifically used the numeral when there wasn't a Pope John Paul II yet.
    – PC Luddite
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 20:45

The only case of which I am aware is in the acknowledgements that Hungerford made in his book Algebra. He references "Raymond Swords, S.J.," a Jesuit priest at Holy Cross. So, if you know the nun you are referencing is a member of a particular order you could follow Hungerford's example. Other than that, I agree with others that it is largely a matter of personal choice.

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    As another, non-religious, example: Justice Learned Hand and other Supreme Court Justices are often referred to with their titles. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 15:25
  • This led to an interesting discussion about the role of religion in the US Government and its founders; this conversation has been moved to chat
    – cag51
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 16:22

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