Tag Archives: titles

Addressing Captains, Headmasters, and Evil Overlords: Capitalization

You probably know that Captain James T. Kirk is capitalized, but did you know that James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise, is not? The same goes for Doctor Thorndyke, but not Thornedyke, the sadistic doctor.

What’s up with this? Well, individual titles are not capitalized in writing unless they precede the bearer’s name. Neither do you capitalize a title when it stands on its own, as in,

The captain thrilled to see so many green, alien women aboard the Enterprise.

The same rule applies to titles separated from the bearer’s name by a comma, as in “the headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.”

You would, however, capitalize a title when it is used as an address independent of the bearer’s name. So, for example, if a character is pleading with an evil overlord not to burn anyone at the stake this week, your character would say,

Please, Master! Too few minions are left for you to burn Hildreth and Edric!

The exception, in my opinion, is the deliberate capitalization of a title that stands on its own, independent of its bearer’s name, when you want to indicate self-importance. For example, say you are writing a story about an extremely arrogant professor. He thinks of himself as indispensable to his university’s lab experiments, and so, when you are referring to him, you might write,

The Professor, of course, knew that the chinchilla experiments could not continue without his expertise in chinchilla psychology.

Now, what are the titles that you should capitalize? Here follows a quick list.

  • Civil titles (judge, mayor, governor, and so forth)
  • Military titles (captain, admiral, lieutenant, and so forth)
  • Religious titles (pope, archbishop, presbytera, and so forth)
  • Academic titles (professor, doctor, and so forth)

See? Not much to remember, and even easier to properly introduce your evil overlord. After all, we wouldn’t want him to burn you at the stake.

How to Address a Mad Scientist: Or, Titles in Dialogue

Say you have a character who’s a hardened detective, Detective Barebones. He must bring in Mr. and Mrs. Florestan, the parents of a missing teenager, to inform them that no leads exist in the case. Barebones brings them into his cluttered office and asks them to sit down. How would Barebones invite the Florestans to sit?

You would write:

Detective Barebones led the kid’s parents – a stiff-lipped older man with greying hair and his little, mousy broad of a wife – into his office. With one arm, he swept aside a stack of manila folders from his old desk chair, and with his other arm, he gestured to the couple to sit on the battered black and orange couch across from the desk.

“Sit down, Mister and Missus Florestan,” Barebones began.

Mister and Missus? Why write out “Mr” and “Mrs”? Well, because nobody actually says the letters M-R or M-R-S when he or she addresses another person. We sound the titles out: thus, “Mr” becomes “Mister”, and “Mrs” becomes “Missus.”

You might think that because this is a written dialogue, you wouldn’t have to write the titles out. However, your goal in writing dialogue is to write what people actually say, the way they say it. You would no more write “Mr” or “Mrs”, which no one says, than you would have Barebones address Florestan as “sirrah” (unless, of course, everyone in your story speaks Elizabethan English).

As another example, suppose you have a mad scientist with a degree from King’s College in your story. The scientist, Dr. Audric, is about to turn on the electricity that will bring his automaton, Clarabelle, to life. But his young assistant, who has scrofula, is in love with him and is jealous of Clarabelle. The assistant, Egberta, she wants to stop him. How would she address her erstwhile lover?

“Please, Doctor Audric!” Egberta cried, rushing for the switch. “How could you treat a woman so callously as to cast her aside just because of a little scrofula?”

Notice that I wrote out Doctor. Again, I did so because no one says the letters D-R when he or she addresses a mad scientist. Just as with the Florestans, you’d always address Audric the correct way – as Doctor Audric. Otherwise, you risk getting turned into a lab experiment.