How news outlets handle all kinds of titles

Published 11:35 am Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

Careful newspaper readers know that most newspapers like to follow style guidelines set forth by the Associated Press Stylebook. It’s why newspapers write “adviser” instead of “advisor.” They write “OK” instead of “okay.” They write “29” instead of “twenty-nine.”

The reason you might see it differently in, say, a book or a journal is they might follow other style guidelines or have their very own style. Many literary publishers follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Academic writers often use the MLA Style Manual. The Elements of Style (aka “Strunk & White”) is common for general writing and in business writing. The New York Times has its own stylebook, and it is why you see courtesy titles before last names on second reference. The Times writes, as examples, “Mr. Tebow” or “Mrs. Solo” on second references to Tim Tebow and Hope Solo.

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Here are some entries from the Associated Press Stylebook:


titles: In general, confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual’s name.

Lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual’s name: The president issued a statement. The pope gave his blessing.

Lowercase and spell out titles in constructions that set them off from a name by commas: The vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, declined to run again. Pope Benedict XVI, the current pope, does not plan to retire.

Capitalize formal titles when they are used immediately before one or more names: Pope Benedict XVI, President Barack Obama, Vice Presidents John Jones and William Smith.

A formal title is generally one that denotes scope of authority, professional activity or academic activity: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Dr. Marcus Welby, Pvt. Gomer Pyle.

Other titles serve primarily as occupational descriptions: astronaut John Glenn, movie star John Wayne, peanut farmer Jimmy Carter.

The following formal titles are capitalized and abbreviated as shown when used before a name both inside and outside quotations: Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Rep., Sen. and certain military ranks.


courtesy titles: Refer to both men and women by first and last name, without courtesy titles, on first reference: Susan Smith or Robert Smith. Refer to both men and women by last name, without courtesy titles, in subsequent references.

When it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in married couples or brothers and sisters, use the first and last name, without courtesy title.

In cases where a person’s gender is not clear from the first name or from the story’s context, indicate the gender by using he or she in subsequent references.

(Note: The Albert Lea Tribune allows letters writers to use courtesy titles on subsequent references, to maintain the writer’s tone, but first references must have first and last names.)


military titles: Capitalize a military rank when used as a formal title before an individual’s name.

On first reference, use the appropriate title before the full name of a member of the military. In subsequent references, do not continue using the title before a name. Use only the last name.

(The book provides abbreviation examples for each branch, but for space reasons, I show in the breakout box the examples for Army, skipping warrant officers, which aren’t abbreviated anyway.)

For plurals, add s to the principal element in the title: Majs. John Jones and Robert Smith.

For firefighters and police officers, use the abbreviations listed here when a military-style title is used before the name of a firefighter or police officer outside of a direct quotation.


military units: Use Arabic figures and capitalize the key words when linked with the figures: 1st Infantry Division, 5th Battalion, 395th Field Artillery, 7th Fleet. But: the division, the battalion, the artillery, the fleet.


nobility: References to members of the nobility in nations that have a system of rank present special problems because nobles frequently are known by their titles rather than their given or family names. Their titles, in effect, become their names.

The guidelines here relate to Britain’s nobility. Adapt them as appropriate to members of nobility in other nations.

Orders of rank among British nobility begin with the royal family. The term royalty is reserved for families of the living and deceased sovereigns.

Next, in descending order, are dukes, marquesses (also called marquises), earls, viscounts and barons. Many hold inherited titles; others have been raised to the nobility by the sovereign for their lifetimes. Occasionally, the sovereign raises an individual to the nobility and makes that title inheritable by the person’s heirs, but the practice is increasingly rare.

Sovereigns also confer honorary titles, which do not make an individual a member of the nobility. The principal designations, in descending order, are baronet and knight.

In general, the guidelines in courtesy titles and titles apply. However, honorary titles and titles of nobility are capitalized when they serve as an alternate name.

Examples: Capitalize king, queen, prince and princess when they are used directly before one or more names; lowercase when they stand alone: Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the queen. Kings George and Edward. Queen Mother Elizabeth, the queen mother.

(This entry gets quite lengthy, addressing lords, ladies and knights and such. How about we stop here?)

doctor: Use Dr. in first reference as a formal title before the name of an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine or doctor of podiatric medicine degree: Dr. Jonas Salk.

If appropriate in the context, Dr. also may be used on first reference before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees. However, because the public frequently identifies Dr. only with physicians, care should be taken to ensure that the individuals speciality is stated in first or second reference.

(It goes on, but basically, don’t use Dr. for just anyone with a doctorate. As a sidenote, the Tribune allows Dr. to refer to veterinarians, too.)


Religious titles: The first reference to a clergyman or clergywoman normally should include a capitalized title before the individual’s name.

In many cases, the Rev. is the designation that applies before the name on first reference.

Do not routinely use curate, father, pastor and similar words before an individual’s name. If they appear before a name in a quotation, capitalize them.

(It goes on to describe when terms Monsignor, Rabbi, Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Sister, Mother and so on can appear before names.)


Well, now you know some of what we do every day here at your newspaper.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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