16

How should I address a knighted academic in a letter or in an email? The person in question is a chancellor of a university, so the odds are that he has at least a PhD. He is a CEO of a multinational company, too, so it is difficult to guess whether he has been a professor at any given time (at least there's no search results for "prof. [name]").

  • 10
    This is probably country dependent. – StrongBad Jul 10 '14 at 20:19
  • 7
    If you're at a UK university, I wouldn't expect the Chancellor to be a professor or even necessarily to have a PhD. The Vice Chancellor is usually a promoted academic; the Chancellor is usually somebody from outside the academic system, appointed to represent the University. This is reinforced by him being CEO of a multinational company: such a person might have a PhD but it's very unlikely that they'd get a top position in academia (professor), leave and then work their way up to get a top position (CEO) in a completely different area. – David Richerby Jul 11 '14 at 8:14
  • 12
    "the odds are that he has at least a PhD" -- never address someone based on a title you think they might have or ought to have. Either look up their title or just refer to them by name and the titles you know they have. Naturally the "proper" way is to look it up. – Steve Jessop Jul 11 '14 at 11:28
  • Not only is the Chancellor of a university in the UK almost certainly not a professor, I think it's pretty misleading to even call them an academic. I'm very skeptical that the Chancellor is even the right person for you to be emailing. – Noah Snyder Aug 29 '19 at 23:30
  • 1
    Anecdotal evidence: Wendy Hall refers to herself using both titles in her website: wendy.ecs.soton.ac.uk – Spark Aug 30 '19 at 0:58
23

The canonical reference for this subject is Debrett's (via the Wayback Machine). They recommend that a letter to a knight should begin "Dear Sir [given name]," regardless of whether they have other titles such as "professor".

In fact, they advise against mixing titles granted by the sovereign (such as knighthoods and ranks in the armed forces) with titles not granted by the sovereign (such as professor) but, as others have observed, "Professor Sir [Given name] [Surname]" is common usage.

In an academic context, your alternative option for a salutation is "Dear Professor [Surname]". However, as I noted in a comment to the question, it's unlikely that somebody who's the CEO of a multinational company would, in fact, be a professor.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    It says "In social usage it is not uncommon to find titles conferred by the Sovereign combined with styles emanating from other sources (eg Alderman Sir William Green, and Professor Sir Edward Hailstone), though this is deprecated by purists." I don't see them making a recommendation one way or another. – StrongBad Jul 11 '14 at 9:21
  • 4
    @StrongBad I think it's safe to assume that Debbrett's are purists but you're right that they don't make an explicit recommendation. – David Richerby Jul 11 '14 at 9:39
9

Within my university, knighted professors tend to use the Professor Sir {calling name} {family name} form as given by EnergyNumbers but I think that it is down to personal preference.

Just to add that the Sir / Dame is associated with the first name while Professor / Dr is associated with the surname. As you asked about a letter, if you would normally put 'Dear Professor {surname}' then that would still be correct. In order to use Sir / Dame you would need to also include the first name, or only use the first name.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    You have a lot of knighted professors within your university, then? :) – Cthulhu Jul 11 '14 at 10:55
  • 6
    @Cthulhu: it's not all that rare. People get knighted for "services to whatever their academic field is", plenty of those are also Prof. This article mentions 5 professors knighted in the last honours list (bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27835298). There are two honours lists per year. – Steve Jessop Jul 11 '14 at 11:21
9

Some of the answers and comments above are just plain wrong. In my professional career in the UK I have written hundreds of official letters from the highest branches of the UK government to academics who have been knighted. The correct form of salutation to a knighted professor, with the sole exception of a letter to one who is also a personal friend, is: 'Dear Sir [given name]'.

It is a quite separate question as to how such a person should be described, for example on the address of the letter. Whatever Debrett's might say, the predominant practice is "Professor Sir [given name][family name]".

There are various types of knighthood and it would be discourteous in a formal letter to omit such post-nominals as apply. So, for example, a letter to the late Peter Swinnerton-Dyer would have been addressed to "Professor Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer Bart." after he inherited the baronetcy in 1975, but after he was knighted for his own services in 1987 you would need to add 'KBE' after the 'Bart.'

If anyone reading this thinks that the previous paragraph is ridiculously pedantic, I can only say that experience has taught me that some of the recipients of knighthoods are very proud of their honours and take offence if they are not properly recognised. If you are writing to a knighted professor you do not know, it is wiser to err on the side of formality until you are told clearly that he does not care about such things.

| improve this answer | |
4

In Britain, the usual form is "Professor Sir {calling name} {family name}", e.g. "Professor Sir Peter Hall".

So to start a letter or email use:

Dear Professor Sir Peter Hall

or, alternately,

Dear Professor Sir Peter

if you're already acquainted.

| improve this answer | |
  • I disagree, I think the Professor title is commonly dropped. – StrongBad Jul 10 '14 at 20:38
  • This is incorrect. You wouldn't start a letter "Dear Mr Peter Hall", so, likewise, you wouldn't use "Dear Professor Sir Peter Hall". Likewise, you wouldn't address him as "Professor Peter" if he didn't have the knighthood, so "Dear Professor Sir Peter" is also incorrect. – David Richerby Jul 11 '14 at 9:41
  • 2
    I believe that once someone is knighted, there is considerable latitude for dropping their surname. You can and should address or refer to someone as "Sir Peter" even if you've never met them and would otherwise (if they had no knighthood) address or refer to them as "Mr Hall" (or in this case "Professor Hall"). David's reference to Debrett's suggests that the generalization does indeed apply to this specific case. – Steve Jessop Jul 11 '14 at 11:36
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby Your basing it on "likewise" is incorrect. In the British system at least, it is standard to address a Knight as "Sir/Dame <given name>" only, both in letters and conversationally (i.e. instead of "Good morning Mr Smith", you say "Good morning Sir John"; it is never Sir Smith). – Semaphore Jul 11 '14 at 12:24
  • @Semaphore My "likewise" is correct. "Dear Sir Peter" is, as you say, correct; my objection was to "Dear Professor Sir Peter". – David Richerby Jul 11 '14 at 14:10
3

In the UK, for Knighted Professors, it seems the professor title is often dropped. For example, the Sir Peter Mansfield Centre drops the professor title. Both the knightly title and the professor title can be used, for example Professor Dame Sally Davies, but it can also be omitted (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Davies_(doctor))

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    This doesn't answer the question, which is about how to write the salutation of an email. The Sir Peter Mansfield Centre is an institute or building and such entities almost always drop the "Professor": this has nothing to do with the knighthood. Most buildings on campus are probably named after professors or donors; if they didn't drop "Professor", every second building would be the Professor So-and-So Building. – David Richerby Jul 11 '14 at 8:07
0

Personally, I would always address business communications to persons based on context. If I were writing to 'Sir Professor Richard Hall' on a personal level, I would address my email 'Dear Sir Richard'. If however, the learned gentleman was a professor at my University, I would switch to his academic title, and write 'Dear Professor Hall'.

Context is key here folks.

| improve this answer | |
  • That would be "Professor Sir Richard Hall", not "Sir Professor". As you say, "Sir" goes with the given name and "Professor" with the surname. – David Richerby Jul 11 '14 at 11:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.