Quaker Myth Busters

Quakers don't use titles

| Category: Truth

TRUE Quakers have traditionally as part of both Plain Speech and the Testimony to Equality refused to use titles in reference to others. For those with whom the speaker is not intimately familiar enough to be “on a first name basis,” the tradition was to simply use both first and last name. Quaker children tend to refer to adults by name, and at Quaker educational institutions it is common to call teachers by first name.

It may sound funny to some Americans to suggest that titles promote inequality, and indeed for many American Quakers, the common titles “Mr” and “Ms” are non-objectionable these days. In societies where strict hierarchical titles are still common (such as the UK which retains a nobility and monarchy), titles as a whole are still more strongly opposed. I have heard British Friends refer to their monarch as simply “Betty Windsor” to avoid using her title. The history of titles as tools of inequality is well-founded, however.

For example, why is it necessary to distinguish between married (“Mrs”) and unmarried (“Miss”) women but not men (universally “Mr”), as though availability for marriage was an extraordinarily important part of a woman’s identity? In the US, in the Jim Crow era the rules of the time included that Black folks must use titles (such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss”) to refer to White folks, but that when White folks referred to Black folks, it was simply as “boy” or “girl” or some arbitrary first name (“Jack” or “George”). It was also common until recently (and perhaps still occurs in some workplaces), that a boss may refer to a secretary by the first name, while the secretary would be expected to answer the boss using a title. These are just a few examples of sexist, racist, and classist uses of titles which Quakers attempt to avoid.