There are many questions here on how to address someone by their title or current status.

What should one do in the case they are addressed by a title they do not have?

Some example of this:

A student submitting a paper and the editor emailing using the Professor/Dr. title. A PhD in a research lab (not university) being invited for a talk and a letter stating "Dear Professor..." A researcher (non PhD) being referred to as Dr.

If this is too broad, the question can be edited to just one situation.

In this type of case, should one reply and directly address the title?

  • 7
    I reply and correct (I had people address me as "Professor Grinberg" even back when I was in high school -- I suspect someone taught them it is better to be safe than sorry, and they are doing it to everyone). If you ask me, the very idea of addressing people by title belongs in a museum. Jan 2, 2015 at 14:15
  • 1
    @darijgrinberg "This belongs into a museum!" (cue Indiana Jones theme song)
    – xLeitix
    Jan 2, 2015 at 14:17
  • 3
    @darijgrinberg: Good luck with that, especially in Germany. . . .
    – aeismail
    Jan 2, 2015 at 14:33
  • Closed as a duplicate of a question that was posted 10 months later? Jan 21, 2018 at 22:55
  • @user1938107 Yes, this happens sometimes: when a high-quality question and answer set emerges that people do not realize is a duplicate at the time, then people may choose to close the earlier answer if they judge it lower quality than the later.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 22, 2018 at 0:14

4 Answers 4


The standard answer to such issues is to ignore. By and large, these situations arise because the editor etc. did not care to look up the recipient's real title. There is no malicious intent, actually there is likely no intent at all other than trying to use a catch-all title that the editor assumes will not offend anybody (typically Dr. or Prof.). No harm is done by not rectifying this error, and indeed spending more than a short chuckle on this is too much effort.

(also, being addressed by the wrong title is, at least for me, so common that I mostly stopped noticing it)

  • 4
    I am not sure about "no harm is done" -- the author might view your silence as a confirmation that you, in fact, hold that title, and then the title will wind up in the press or on the internet, often in a context that will create the impression that you have agreed to its use. (Back when I was the only schoolkid in my town taking part in math contests, I had a fair share of press about me, and I learnt a lot about not leaving things to be misunderstood...) Jan 2, 2015 at 14:17
  • 1
    @darijgrinberg: It needs to be corrected if it's a "persistent" issue.
    – aeismail
    Jan 2, 2015 at 14:34
  • 2
    I'd go with calmly correcting them at the next easy opportunity to do so without causing them too much public embarassment, just as you would if they got your name slightly wrong. Drop them an e-mail, or bring it up next time you're talking with them: "For future reference, I prefer to be called Mr. Blanc, not Doctor Blanc." (With or without explanation of why the other form is incorrect.)
    – keshlam
    Jan 2, 2015 at 17:21

When I was a graduate student, I was often called "Doctor", and now as a working research scientist I am often called "Professor." I also frequently have people misattribute my affiliation, e.g., saying that I'm at my alma mater rather than my current affiliation.

How I respond depends on the context. My main categories are:

  • Interactions with an organization that doesn't care about me (e.g., review request from a journal, conference spam): I don't bother to correct: they aren't making a judgement based on the title, and they may not actually have a reasonable ability to correct it if they do, given that many journal and conference management systems use atrocious software.

  • Interactions with an organization that really does care about credentials (e.g., serving on government review panels): Here, I note the misattribution and check to make sure that my actual credentials satisfy the requirements of the organization, because otherwise I might be wasting everybody's time and money.

  • Interactions with colleagues and long-term interactions with students (e.g., co-advising): Gentle correction when I feel the misattribution could be perceived as giving me status that I do not have.

  • Brief, role-based interactions with students (e.g., questions at a guest lecture in somebody's class): I feel it would be actually rude to correct a student who really doesn't care about the title at all, and just wants some help understanding something.

Mostly, I take the stereotypical American position that we shouldn't care too much about title and affiliation, because we are all ultimately judged by our works, and most of the time nobody involved in the interaction really cares all that much about your title. In those cases where getting it right might actually matter, though, don't be shy about inquiring and correcting as needed.

  • 1
    Point #4: As a student, I do my best to use the correct title, but I often get it wrong with professors who I don't know well, especially at the start of of a new semester. That said, the majority of students just don't really care and default to 'professor', with the exception of introductions at seminars/presentations where the speaker has introduced themselves with a specific title. Jan 3, 2015 at 0:13

There is going to be a large cultural bias depending on the country.

I have been addressed "Professor" even though the person speaking to me had "Dr" in front of his eyes, just because this was the tradition there.

In Italy you are a "doctor" when you get a MSc.

In Germany titles are very important, you do not want to make a mistake there.

In many other countries you address someone who graduated from medical studies as "doctor", however in Poland they do use "lek. med." as opposed to "dr med." -- the first one being the generic title for someone who graduated and is licensed, while the second clearly indicates that he or she has a PhD. You would still address that person as "doctor" in a conversation, but would refer to him or her as "lekarz" (the official name, where the abbreviation lek. comes from) when talking in 3rd person.

So it really depends on the place.

The only case where I would care is if this gets formalized (in a book, in proceedings, ...) or at the beginning of a long-term relationship.


Before I finally finished the doctorate, my syllabus said, "Call me Bob or Mr. Brown, whichever is more comfortable for you. but not 'doctor' or 'professor.'" Other than that, I didn't worry about it with students. Faculty all call each other by first names anyway, so it never came up in that context. (Now the syllabus says, "Call me Bob or Dr. Brown, whichever is more comfortable for you.")

My professional correspondence (email and postal mail) includes both my degree and my academic rank, so anyone corresponding with me has the correct information whether they need it nor not.

Outside school, I corrected those with whom I expected a long acquaintance, such as a new dentist, by saying, "Please call me Bob." If that didn't work, I added that I did not hold a doctorate. For everyone else, I ignored it.

In my institution and many like it, "professor" is used as a courtesy title by students for faculty who do not hold the doctorate, and less as a title of academic rank. How one reacts to "professor" will depend on local custom. Whether to correct those who call you professor depends on how it's used where you are. If one is a faculty member and "professor" is used as a courtesy, no correction is necessary.

I am reminded of a novel in which a character addressed as "doctor" says, "Oh, no! Not 'doctor." I'm only a humble F.R.C.S."

  • Yeah, addressing someone as "teacher" just feels wrong in college, somehow (or Mr./Mrs./Ms., if you're using their last name as well).
    – SamB
    Jan 3, 2015 at 5:59

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