There are lots of questions about how undergrads should address professors, but this is about the opposite. Context is North American research university.

My instinct and personal preference is to ask undergraduates to address me as Professor Lastname or Dr. Lastname until I let them know otherwise. And I have no problem with explicitly saying this in my syllabus for a class.

But then sometimes I think "actually why aren't I addressing students as Mr./Ms./Mx/(or some honorofic) Lastname".

Should I do so? Do you do so?

  • You are overthinking on this. Calling as "Mr. X" is a plus. I am a lecturer and I call without any salutation.
    – Coder
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 21:28
  • The only time I ever hear "Mister" used in the U.S. these days are primary and secondary teachers and "Mr. President." Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 23:15

4 Answers 4


It is disrespectful to demand more respect from your (adult!) students than you give them. So you should either both go my first name or both by last name. At least this is true in by culture (Central Europe) - I would think it is the same in Northern America. So, unless it is a cultural thing everyone does in your area to call younger people by their first name, by respectful and call them as you want to be called.

  • You say "either both go by first name or both by last name" and then " at east this is true in "..Central Europe. Does that mean you've seen both of these practices in Central Europe? And you don't often see the asymmetric situation that I describe?
    – SBK
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 20:51
  • Yes, I've seen both practices in Central Europe. I've seen the asymetric situation here at most once or twice; and it always was very weird for the involved students. (However, I cannot say it would also be very weird for American students.)
    – user80636
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 21:22
  • 1
    Not answering as I am teaching in Europe, but yeah - if you expect your students to call you Prof. X then referring to them by first name in turn seems rude to me. Consistency is key.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 21:22
  • @user80636 Can I ask, how do you know it was very weird for the students? Were you such a student? Or are you a teacher and a student told you/intimated that it was weird?
    – SBK
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 23:18
  • 1
    As a European, I would find it condescending to be addressed as Mr Surname by someone in a position of "authority" in an informal situation. Surnames communicate a sense of distance and only get used when you're being told off. However, I come from quite an informal department where it would be unusual to address most staff by their titles too, so this is probably a cultural thing. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 5:31

I give students the option to call me by my first name or as "Mr. Lastname". In turn, I address students by their first name. Context: I'm a lecturer in engineering at a public school in North America.

One consideration that has not been brought up here: it is hard for me to reconcile gender fluidity with English honorifics. That is, while I might presume a student is a mister, that student might see themselves as a miss (or some convex combination of the two). In light of this, I have sharply decreased how often I use Mr/Ms.

  • 3
    A+ for trans-inclusive planning :) Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 21:57

In North American universities, I've seen both approaches used, so there's no "definitive" answer to this question. Just do what makes you most comfortable.

  • 4
    Have you really? I have never in my life seen any faculty member address students as Mr or Ms. Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 20:34
  • 1
    @NateEldredge: This was in my undergraduate days (mid-90's). Probably it's fallen out of fashion, but I wouldn't object as a student.
    – aeismail
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 20:35
  • 10
    My feeling is that today it would come across as eccentric. Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 20:36
  • It would be, outside of engineering, where things are a little more traditional.
    – aeismail
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 20:37
  • I have also never seen a professor who routinely addresses students as Mr./Ms/Mx, but I can believe it.
    – SBK
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 22:39

How does the student sign off their own email? Although students differ in what they write, often by cultural background, this is their opportunity to hint at what they'd like to be called, and I think it's fair game, and even good manners, to use this. For instance, many Chinese students adopt an English name for convenience, and transgender students may have chosen an alternative name from the one they enrolled with.

So if they use their first name only, or indicate a preferred name clearly by some other means, then it's reasonable to use that in response.

If a more complex name or title is used in the sign-off then I tend to be more formal, often using the full name in the order given to avoid assumption of given name vs family name (since order various by culture, and the student may have reversed it to what they think is expected, etc).

  • I've seen this "rule" cited in various answers to similar questions on this site and elsewhere but I really don't believe it exists. It is overly formal, even bad taste, to use your own title in a letter. So even if I expect to be addressed as Professor Lastname, I wouldn't sign off with it. The vibe of formal letter writing tends to be overly deferent to the person you are addressing. So you say "Dear Esteemed Colleague..X... Your humble friend, ____Y___" and then they do the mirror image of that. They don't say "Humble Y,......, Your Esteemed colleague X"
    – SBK
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 22:37
  • 1
    @T_M it's not a rule, just a principle I tend to use myself. If a student signs off just with their first name I use that. If they use a full name I address them by their full name unless I'm sure how to address them more formally (Mr ...). That helps when dealing with students from other cultures for whom I can't be sure of which part is family name, etc.
    – beldaz
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 22:49
  • Also, titles can be awkward since they often imply gender, and I have to be careful to avoid this for some of my transgender students.
    – beldaz
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 22:56
  • @T_M I've updated to be a bit clearer on these points.
    – beldaz
    Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 23:04

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