Is sir or doctor a higher title

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Of titles and forms of address

[72] In connection with the "large animals" it is useful to think about their titles and how to address them. We do not consider this problem to be very important: A person with a title would certainly rather be addressed incorrectly and otherwise treated well and tactfully than that [72] an adverse person correctly addresses him with all his titles.

We will therefore only deal with a small selection of all the possibilities here4.

The group of "titled" people with whom a normal citizen is most likely to enter into conversation are not aristocrats, but rather doctors and professors. Incidentally, their titles are often not referred to as "titles" outside of the German-speaking area.

Perhaps it is not pointless to remind you again that the two titles belong to different categories. "Doctor" is a degree, "Professor" is a function. So: "Doctor" refers to the rank or degree achieved through a dissertation and an exam (possibly also honoris causa) acquires; you keep this degree regardless of your profession. "Professor", on the other hand, is basically someone who is employed as a regular teacher at a university. In most cases, a professor has previously obtained a doctorate. If his name is then "Professor Doktor", it is in principle the same - allow the military comparison - as if a lieutenant (degree) is a platoon leader (function).

The matter is somewhat confused by the fact that some countries also award the title of professor on an honorary basis - which makes it a designation of rank - and that on the other hand doctors are generally referred to as "Herr or Frau Doktor", whereby the name "Doktor" also becomes a professional title is. But in principle the following still applies: doctor = degree, professor = profession.

How should one address these ladies or gentlemen? In general, there is a tendency to use fewer and fewer titles in the salutation [73]. The custom of transferring the title of a man to his wife has been extinct for about fifty years. The "Frau Oberst" and the "Frau Oberrichter" have disappeared for good today. That's right: if titles are used at all, they must be your own: "Frau Doktor" should only be used to address a woman who has acquired this title herself.


One should never use the title together with the name as a salutation; you should never use two titles either. A form of address like "Hello, Herr Professor Meier" is therefore wrong in principle; it may only be permitted if you want to make the person in question explicitly aware that you still know their name. It is also uncommon to use two titles in the salutation. The person addressed would react rather angrily to "Hello, Herr Professor Doktor"; he would think the other would make fun of the "numerous" titles. Of course, one always uses the higher of two titles, in this case Professor.

As I said, the use of titles in salutation is dying out more and more. Usually this happens gradually. But sometimes there are also sudden changes; one of the consequences of the student movement in the years around 1968 was the almost complete disappearance of the title "professor" in university circles. A professor there today is usually addressed as "Herr Maier", "Frau Fischer". "Herr Professor" is now only used: on the one hand by particularly polite students from the provinces, on the other hand to old professors to whom you can tell that they are used to other things. And of course the use of the title is always a wonderful way out if one is not sure about the name.

Everything that has been said so far applies to oral address and direct address in letters. All titles should still be mentioned on addresses.

A count with whom one is not closely acquainted is addressed with [74] "Herr Graf", a countess with "Frau Countess"; the same applies to grand duke, duke, prince, prince, baron and the corresponding female titles. Addresses like "Your Royal Highness", "Your Highness", "Exalted" are rarely used in "uninitiated" circles. Cardinals are addressed as "Eminence", ambassadors as "Excellency" or by name.

In dealings with the English, one should note the following: If a man is "sir", that is, a member of the lower or meritorious nobility, then the title "sir" must be used both in relation to him and in relation to third parties:

- either together with the first name, thus: "Sir Randolph",

- or (e.g. for clarification) together with the first and last name, thus: "Sir Randolph Brewer",

- but not with the mere surname: "Sir Brewer".

On the other hand, after "Lady" the last name is the rule: "Lady Brewer".


In general, one should not torment oneself too much with the forms of address: First, today titleholders are used to being addressed imperfectly and respond in a friendly manner unless they are naturally surly. Second, in most cases there is more than one salutation, and it depends on who is speaking to whom. This is what the next section deals with.