Forms of Address

Titles / Forms of Addresses

Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'

In today's fast-paced world, titles and forms of address are in a constant state of flux. Seems like every time you turn around, there is a new government office, with an additional 50 or so high-ranking officials deserving of "DV" status. In this chapter we'll try to give you a feel for how to address (conversationally and in writing) various high-level dignitaries. We will also give you a "conversion matrix" of foreign to U.S. military rank, as well as comparable ranks among our own services and proper abbreviations for those ranks. However, we cannot provide full coverage of this important area --one text on the subject has over 120 pages alone! Two excellent references that provide super coverage are Protocol - The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage by Mary Jane McCaffree and Pauline Innis and Service Etiquette by Oretha D. Swartz. You will want these on your protocol bookshelf!

We can not overemphasize how important this subject is closely linked to order of precedence in the area of things that will get you "killed" as a protocol officer. Be extremely careful that you research properly and choose the correct form of address. There are few things that will upset people more than using the wrong title! For example, one of our protocol officers bristles when addressed as "Ms." when the correct form is "Captain". Other female military members prefer to be addressed as "Mrs." ( if they're married, of course) when in an informal setting. It is a veritable minefield out there! A good rule of thumb is to make a valiant attempt to find out what the person prefers to be called (including a nickname). This may take a little extra effort. but it could save your life, not to mention a large chunk out of your hide!

Use of "The Honorable"

The preferred title for most federal government of officials is "The Honorable" (this is also usually the case for local and state elected officials). It is not to be used, however, when speaking directly to the person. It is occasionally used in platform introductions, but should not be used with the surname alone. "The Honorable" is always spelled out. If it appears in the text of a letter, "the" is not capitalized. The following is a partial list of American officials using "The Honorable." (For exact listing of titles for American officials, you can consult the Congressional Directory or the U.S. Government Organization Manual.) Note: The President of the United States through the Cabinet are verbally addressed by their titles alone, without surname, such as "Mr. President," or "Ms. Secretary." Address of spouses (of either sex) follows the form stipulated in the section on Military Women/Women with Titles.

Executive Branch
  • All members of the Cabinet
  • Deputy Secretaries of the executive departments
  • Under Secretaries of the executive departments and officers of comparable rank
  • Special Assistants to the President
  • Deputy Under Secretaries of executive departments
  • Assistant Secretaries, Legal Advisor, Counselor, and officers of comparable rank
  • American Ambassadors
  • American Ministers
  • American representatives, alternates, and deputies on international organizations
Judiciary Branch
  • Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Former Associate Justices of the Supreme Court
  • Judges of other courts
  • Presiding Justice of a court
    (Current Justices of the Supreme Court are called "Justice")
Legislative Branch
  • The President of the Senate (V.P. of the U.S.)
  • President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  • Senators
  • Secretary of the Senate
  • Sergeant-at-Arms
House of Representatives
  • The Speaker
  • Representatives
  • Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico
  • Delegates from D.C., Guam, and the Virgin Islands
  • Clerk of the House
  • Sergeant-at-Arms
  • Head Librarian of the Library of Congress
  • Comptroller General of the General Accounting Office
  • The Public Printer of the Government Printing Office
  • Heads, Assistant Heads, and Commissioners or members of equal rank appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate
State and Local Governments
  • Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Acting Governor of a state
  • Secretary of State
  • Chief Justice of State Supreme Court
  • State Attorney General (except Pennsylvania where it is not an elected position)
  • Treasurer, Comptroller or Auditor of a state (only the treasurer in PA.)
  • President of the Senate of a state
  • State Senator
  • Speaker of the House/Assembly/House of Delegates of a state
  • State Representative/ Assemblyman/Delegate
  • Mayor (elected)
  • President of a Board of Commissioners

Forms of Address

At the end of this chapter are several examples of how to address certain dignitaries, both conversationally and in written correspondence. We have tried to pick those that you may have occasion to use. Again, for complete coverage, refer to Protocol - The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage or Service Etiquette. (If for any reason you need to address correspondence to foreign heads of state, the Department of State maintains a current listing, by name, for: {text ends in 'Til Wheels Are Up!}

Academic Titles

There are two forms of academic titles, the doctorate and the position. If the person holding the doctorate is also a professor, either "Dr." or "Professor" is correct. This also holds true for those holding a title such as "Chancellor," "President," etc. If the title-holder does not also have a doctorate, address him or her by his or her title.

Foreign Title-Holders

This is a really tough one! A few of the more oftenly used examples are: "Your Excellency" when addressing a foreign ambassador, a foreign chief of state, a president of a foreign republic, the head of government, a foreign cabinet officer, or other foreign high or former official. "Your Highness" is used to address foreign royalty other than a king or queen (such as a baron, earl or princess, etc.). "Your Majesty" denotes a king or queen. Since the forms of address are legion, if you need more information, some excellent references are: The Statesmen's Yearbook, Brook's Peerage, Whitaker's Peerage. Debrett Peerage. and the Diplomatic List (Department of State pub. 7894). Also, once again, McCafree's Protocol - The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage is extremely useful.

Courtesy Titles

Military Chaplains.

Always address military chaplains as "Chaplain." When addressing her/him in writing, it should read, "Chaplain, Colonel Jill Smith."

Military Doctors/Dentists.

Doctors and dentists can be addressed as either "Doctor" or by their rank. Always use their rank when writing.

Military Lawyers.

Lawyers are entitled to the use of "esquire" following their last name. Take note: for military lawyers this is never done. Only their rank is used. (It is perfectly fine for a military lawyer to use this designation without their rank when they are communicating with civilian friends in an unofficial capacity. For your purposes, you will always use rank.)

Military Women/Women With Titles

When a woman holds rank or title, always use it! This rule is no different than that used for men. The problem for many people occurs in addressing correspondence when the woman is married. The following should help you out in that situation:
  • When the woman is military and the man is not, her name comes before his. Same goes for when she holds a title and he does not. Ex: "Lt Col Jane Smith and Mr. John Smith;" "Lt Col Jane and John Smith" is also correct.
  • When they are both in the military or hold titles, the ranking person's name comes first, unless the invitation is especially for the lower-ranking member (an awards ceremony honoring the lower-ranking member, for instance) and their spouse as their guest. Ex: "Capt Susan Doe and Lt. Mark Doe;" "Capt Susan and Lt. Mark Doe" works too.
  • When both spouses are of equal rank, the man's name comes first, unless the invitation is particularly for the woman, with her husband as her guest/escort. Ex: "Colonel Bill Jones and Colonel Mary Jones;" "Colonels Bill and Mary Jones" has an even nicer flow to it.
"Man's rank is his power to uplift"
George MacDonald

Foreign Military

Members of a foreign military should be accorded the same honors and respect we render to our own. A few foreign militaries use the same rank names we use, often with different symbols for these on their uniforms. Most foreign militaries have totally different names and symbols for their rank. As a protocol officer, you will, of course, be in contact with a foreign member's liaison office (or equivalent) when you have them for a visit. This is the appropriate time to find out the rank and correct form of address. A good safety tip: If you get confused ( or just plain forget) what to call a foreign military member, a polite "Sir" or "Ma'am" will always get you by with no recriminations.

Lieutenant comes from the French lieu (place) and tenant (holding). He is one who "holds the place (job) of" another. Although we have the ranks of Lieutenant Commander, Lieutenant Colonel and Lieutenant General, the "Lieutenant Captain" is called simply "Lieutenant."

Origin of Major and Mayor
"Major" means simply "greater;" the Sergeant Major was the "greatest sergeant." The political title of mayor comes from the fact that this man occupies an office "greater than" that of the other city officials