Formatting Note – Let’s kill Mr. and Ms.

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A lot of progress has been made in shifting professional language toward gender neutrality. We refer to firefighters rather than firemen, press for the acceptance of the singular they1 instead of the clumsy he/she, and employ metonymy to use chair in place of chairman.

One dirty little corner of our communication, however, clings to the often irrelevant nomenclature of gender. When discussing persons without professional titles like Reverend, Doctor, and Senator, we often substitute Mr. and Ms. which signify nothing but the presence of adult genitalia of one of the two standard-issue types.

It’s time to put an end to this, and NewGovOffice suggests two alternative rules of increasing professional rigor:

SOFT RULE: When referencing a person with no professional title, never use Mr. or Ms. with their full name. On first reference simply use the full name and, afterward, either their first name (if informal) or their last name preceded by Mr. or Ms. (if formal). For example:

  • In an address block write “Roberta Xavier” and in salutation “Dear Ms. Xavier,” or “Dear Roberta,” but never “Ms. Roberta Xavier” under any circumstance.
  • In an intro paragraph write “Samir Nouri heads our acquisitions team” and later “Mr. Nouri graduated from Virginia Tech…” or “Samir graduated from Virginia Tech…” but never “Mr. Samir Nouri” under any circumstance.

HARD RULE: When referencing a person with no professional title, simply never use Mr. or Ms. under any circumstance. Use their full name upon first reference and either their first or last name (depending on formality of occasion) on subsequent references. For example:

  • “The new CEO is David Laurens … David comes to our company from the public sector…”
  • “Brenda Hume founded the Hume Trust in 2005 … Hume has since created several charitable organizations in other countries…”


1 Contrary to the gripes of many half-informed grammar traditionalists, using they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun dates back at least to Elizabethan times. It’s good English.

Category: Communication
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