Honorifics and Gender Neutral Alternatives

Honorific with definition

Most honorifics in the English language are usually placed immediately before someone’s last name as a more formal or polite way to address them. However most traditional honorific titles tend to be assigned to genders and marital status, or occupation. Here are a few of them, including gender neutral, or non-gendered alternatives that may be appropriate when addressing someone from the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community.

Honorifics have always been designed to address people with respect. By including alternatives into our language, we expand that respect as the role of gender in our language continues to change and evolve.

Miss., Mrs., Ms.

Let’s begin this discussion with ways our language has identified people. Historically, we have used many different prefixes to identify many things about a person.

For instance, the prefix Mrs. is used to describe any married woman. Even in case of a woman who is married but has chosen to keep her maiden name is still referred to as Mrs. Not much has changed there in several hundred years.

When referring to a child who identifies as female, Miss is the appropriate title. If unmarried and an adult, go with Miss or Ms. The title of Ms. is often used to refer to an older (thirty years of age and up) woman. Ms. is also used by many females who do not wish to be identified by their marital status.

Master vs Mister

The use of Master as a prefixed title is used to refer to a male youth. According to Leslie Dunkling, “a way of addressing politely a boy … too young to be called Mister.” 

Mr. is the abbreviation for Mister. It is typically used for males who do not have a higher title, such as Dr. or Professor, or they were born with a title from royal descent. In Great Britain however, males are often referred to as Esquires.

Gender Neutral Mx.

So how do you refer to a person who does not identify by a male or female gender? Mx. is a title commonly used by non-binary people. It is also important to note that it is also used for those who do not identify with the gender binary at all.

Many of the activist groups like GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) or Trans Educators Network have identified Mx. as an appropriate way to address someone who prefers a gender-neutral salutation.

Mx.” was first used as a honorific in print in 1977 by Single Parent Magazine and published in the USA. Since the 1970’s the movement to adding Mx. to our repertoire in the English language has only increased. In fact, Webster’s Dictionary made the salutation as it was added to Merriam-Webster Unabridged in April 2016.

Additional Alternatives for Non-Gendered Salutations

Ind.

Ind., short for “Individual,” is often used as a gender-neutral title. The title of Ind. may be more appropriate for individuals for whom Mx. fails to be enough to identify their gender-neutral standards. The specific reason for this seems to stem from the feeling that Mx. is mistaken for a term mixing the two genders together rather than identifying a person as gender neutral. So, Ind. was created to accommodate an even more neutral way of addressing those who do not identify with any gender. This is often referred to “agender” or “nonconforming people.”

M.

M. is the first letter of most gendered salutations, like Mr., Mrs., Ms., Mx., both masculine and feminine. By removing all by the first M. it takes away the identifiers associated with gender specific

Misc.

Derived from the Latin word “miscellus,” meaning “mixed,” this honorific is thought to be a good alternative for those who identify as non-binary. Many non-binary individuals feel that they identify with both male and female gender traits and do not identify as one or the other. The idea of Misc. as an honorific is to honor that the individual cannot be identified as either male or female but as both.

Conclusion on Honorifics:

The English language, as well as any other living language, is always changing. In 2019, the Merriam-Webster added over 600 new words in April and another 500 or more in September of the same year. Words are added as lexicographers warrant their inclusion, and then they create the definition.

In the case of honorifics, it is important for all of us to remember that we use these in our language to show respect to others. Using them appropriately is not always the easiest for all people, so if you have a question on how someone would like to be identified, simply ask. When in doubt, use their name without an honorific.

NOTE: If I have not covered this subject correctly, or you feel that you can contribute to the conversation in helping others understand how to include something different, please contact us.

This website was designed for inclusion, not exclusion. On the same note, this blog was not intended to convey any religious perspective or belief and is not meant to be a political statement. Be kind to all who cross your path and give grace to everyone you can, including yourself.

Elizabeth Orley

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