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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Need for neutral title

I was just typing in a list of names for a mail merge. Since this is a business letter, all salutations begin with a title - either Mr. or Ms, depending on gender of the first name. Which has worked fine for most of the names I found - most pretty common Western/Anglo-Saxon names. There were none of the odd names that seem to be popular today.

Until I hit Leonor. Now, I was pretty sure it was female, but not entirely - no "e" and no "a" at the end, which are the common markers for female. So I did a google search and the most common hit was for a woman. I went with "Ms."

We need a gender-neutral title, and I do NOT mean we should call everyone a masculine title. I seriously don't like it when I read or watch future militaries calling women "Sir" or "Mister". I'm also not fond of fantasies where female experts are called "Master" and female lieges are called "Lord." If the male term becomes the general term, it says that the female term (and the female) are lesser. However, a neutral term wouldn't do that. There's no need to know the gender of one's lawyer in general, just like, in general, there's no need to know the gender of one's physician.

What that title would be, I don't know. Mer? M pronounced "Em"? We're just not set up for this. Which is probably why so many "gender-neutral" fantasies and sf novels settle on the masculine, but it bugs me.

Yes, I loved it when Captain Janeway insisted on "ma'am."


Someone once wrote a letter to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, and not knowing whether the editor was male or female, addressed her as "Pmt.", an abbreviation for "Primate".

OK, that might not go over so well for most people.

How about "Citizen"?

Citizen? Only works for, well, citizens. Some people are subjects, you know?


If the male term becomes the general term, it says that the female term (and the female) are lesser.

Do you feel that's true in Semitic, Romance, etc languages - i.e. languages where everything is grammatically gendered whether or not it is biologically gendered?

No, because the gender in those languages doesn't reflect the value of the objects. However, in English, there's a thing about maleness being "better".

I completely agree that a gender-neutral title is long-past due, but until there's consensus on one, I tend to skip them altogether. they're not required for envelopes - first+last works just fine, and I use "Dear first+last" in the letter. it looks a bit odd to eyes used to the title+last pattern, but saves me from worry that I'll get it wrong.

New York is a formal town, and I'm writing letters to complete strangers asking for their business. And these are lawyers - I had make sure the mail merge used "esquire" for those who used it.

hmm, yeah, that definitely affects the possibilities. my business correspondence generally doesn't need to be quite so formal, so it works for us (though I frequently do include titles if I'm certain of the person's gender)

I don't see why we need a gender-neutral title because I don't see why we need titles at all. We seem to do OK without them in day-to-day life; I'm sure we could do without them in business correspondence. It would be an adjustment, certainly, but perhaps less of one than adopting a gender-neutral title.

I *like* titles, actually. In my neighborhood and synagogue, the kids call me "Mrs. Baker" and I'm pretty happy about it (fannish friends' kids call me Debbie, and I'm happy with that, too.) I don't see a problem with a bit of formality.


When I write about the homeworld, my characters always call each other "Ladwei" or "Ladwei Nal" {Honourable, or Honourable One, from the root ladw (pron. LA-doo): honour}, which does not change relative to gender. And on my homeworld there are three: female, male and Eyan, one of the neuter gender, which includes those who were born that way as well as the intersexed and transgendered.