Friday, June 15, 2018


The Tweet that kicked it off.
There's been an ongoing thread on Twitter about the use of the title "Dr." for someone with an earned doctorate.  The debate got kicked off by Canada's Globe & Mail's new guidelines. (It and a variety of other publications confine the use of "Dr." to medical professionals, on the grounds that the public so tightly equates that title with medicine that it would confuse their readers.)  Dr. Fern Riddell objected and Twitter lit up. (Follow #immodestwomen)

This poster identifies as female and says its not about the 
use of Dr. or gender.
This is a fraught space, where women's titles (M.D. and Ph.D.) alike tend to be downplayed or simply ignored.  Women who insist are told you shouldn't flaunt your credentials like that, it's unseemly.  "Humility Dr Riddell"  Or, I'm male and I'm not insulted by the use of Mr. or my first name, why are you?  And well, if you don't want to advertise your marital status, just use Ms.! (I note that Emily Post has lots of advice about titles, and virtually all of it is about women and their marital status.)  And if the Post Institute's advice matters to anyone on Twitter, Ph.D.s and M.D. alike may use "Dr." socially as well as professionally, and if you don't know their preference, stick with "Dr."

I'm with Dr. Riddell on this.  My title lets you know that even though I'm a grey haired sixty year old woman, I have some seriously earned expertise.  It distinguishes me from the Food Babe - otherwise we're just two women arguing about common sources of vanilla flavoring, and it might be useful for a reader to know that one of us has a bachelor's in computer science and the other a doctorate in chemistry.  And because, at first glance most people don't think I look much like a scientist at all.  Even in contexts where they might reasonably guess that I was.

At the last professional conference I went to, I was at a social event, populated entirely by conference attendees wearing name badges.  As I stood chatting with a group of five colleagues, someone I didn't know joined the circle.  He shook hands and introduced himself and got each person's name in return. Well, not mine. Because when it came to me, he moved right past my outstretched hand, to the next guy.  Emily Post would have called it "the cut direct."  It was awkward.  It got more awkward.  No, I'm not here with my husband.  Yes, yes, I understand that the print on these name tags is small, so you mistook my institutional affiliation for a marital one. No, thank you, I'm passingly familiar with electrons and their spin states.  Yes, I had heard someplace that they aren't really spinning balls.

I'm writing about this triviality because I'm so spitting mad about the so-called biblical justification for tearing children away from their parents, I couldn't put two coherent sentences together about it. (They are getting a bath?  I really hope that is not true.)

In truth, my name is a complicated thing, and outside of the very narrow professional realm, I respond without comment to a variety of monikers.  I'm Mrs. Donnay to various friends of my kids, for example, and Michelle Francl-Donnay, no title, when I give retreats.  And to one dear, now departed friend, I was always "Dr. Michelle."


  1. I can’t wait to be your “Dr. Sister,” Sister!

  2. Putting the biblical justification into perspective, take about 5 minutes and watch this:

    And then, act on it.

  3. I'm with you and Dr. Riddell! It depends on the context. I respond (I hope politely) to most names, except Mrs. "Broad-er"! I am a member of an interfaith clergy group, where most are referred to as "Pastor" or "Chaplain." One chaplain always calls me "Dr. Doris." I like that.