A honorific is a title that conveys esteem, courtesy, or respect for position or rank when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term "honorific" is used in a more specific sense to refer to an honorary academic title. It is also often conflated with systems of honorific speech in linguistics, which are grammatical or morphological ways of encoding the relative social status of speakers. Honorifics can be used as prefixes or suffixes depending on the appropriate occasion and presentation in accordance with style and customs.
Typically, honorifics are used as a style in the grammatical third person, and as a form of address in the second person. Use in the first person by the honored dignitary, outside a relevant context, is uncommon or often considered very rude and egotistical. Some languages have anti-honorific (despective or humilific) first person forms (expressions such as "your most humble servant" or "this unworthy person") whose effect is to enhance the relative honor accorded to the person addressed.
Main article: English honorifics
The most common honorifics in modern English are usually placed immediately before a person's name. Honorifics used (both as style and as form of address) include, in the case of a man, "Mr." (irrespective of marital status), and, in the case of a woman, previously either of two depending on marital status: "Miss" if unmarried and "Mrs." if married, widowed, or divorced; more recently, a third, "Ms.", became the more prevalent norm, mainly owing to the desire to avoid identifying women by their marital status. Further considerations regarding identifying people by gender currently are raised with varying prevalence and details; in some environments, honorifics such as Mx, Ind. or Misc. may be used so as not to identify people by gender. In some environments, the honorific "Mstr" may be used for a boy who has not yet entered adult society; similar to this, "Miss" may be considered appropriate for a girl but inappropriate for a woman (but unless parallel to "Mstr" the reasoning is not explicit). Note: all the above terms but "Miss" are written as abbreviations—most were originally abbreviations (e.g., from "Mister", "Mistress"), others may be considered as coined to directly parallel them for consistency. Abbreviations that include the initial and final letters (a type of contraction) are typically written in most English dialects (British English, Australian English, South African English as examples) without full stops (periods) but in American English and Canadian English always end with a period.
Other honorifics may denote the honored person's occupation, for instance "Doctor", "Esquire", "Captain", "Coach", "Officer", "The Reverend" (for all Christian clergy) or "Father" (for a Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Anglican Christian priest), "Rabbi" for Jewish clergy, or Professor.[a] Holders of an academic doctorate, such as a PhD, are addressed as "Doctor" (abbreviated Dr).
Some honorifics act as complete replacements for a name, as "Sir" or "Ma'am", or "Your Honour/Honor". Subordinates will often use honorifics as punctuation before asking a superior a question or after responding to an order: "Yes, sir" or even "Sir, yes, sir."
Judges are often addressed as "Your Honour/Honor" when on the bench, the plural form is "Your Honours" and the style is "His/Her Honour". If the judge has a higher title, that may be the correct honorific to use, for example, for High Court Judges in England: "Your Lordship" or "My Lord". Members of the U.S. Supreme Court (as well as some state-level appellate judges) are addressed as "Justice".
Similarly, a monarch ranking as a king/queen or emperor and his/her consort may be addressed or referred to as "Your/His/Her Majesty", "Their Majesties", etc. (but there is no customary honorific accorded to a female monarch's consort, as he is usually granted a specific style). Monarchs below kingly rank are addressed as "Your/His/Her Highness", the exact rank being indicated by an appropriate modifier, e.g. "His Serene Highness" for a member of a princely dynasty, or "Her Grand Ducal Highness" for a member of a family that reigns over a grand duchy. Verbs with these honorifics as subject are conjugated in the third person (e.g. "you are going" vs. "Your Honour is going" or "Her Royal Highness is going".) Protocol for monarchs and aristocrats can be very complex, with no general rule; great offence can be given by using a form that is not exactly correct. There are differences between "Your Highness" and "Your Royal Highness"; between "Princess Margaret" and "The Princess Margaret". All these are correct, but apply to people of subtly different rank. An example of a non-obvious style is "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother", which was an official style, but unique to one person.
In music, a distinguished conductor or virtuoso instrumentalist may be known as "Maestro".
In aviation, pilots in command of a larger civil aircraft are usually addressed as "Captain" plus their full name or surname. This tradition is slowly diminishing in the United States and most European Union countries. However, many countries, especially in Asia, follow this tradition and address airline pilots, military pilots, and flight instructors exclusively as "Captain" even outside of the professional environment. In addition, such countries' etiquette rules dictate that this title must be placed on all the official letters and social invitations, business cards, identification documents, etc. In the U.S., when addressing a pilot, common etiquette does not require the title "Captain" to be printed on official letters or invitations before the addressee's full name. However, this is optional (akin to "Esq" after an attorney's name, in the U.S.) and may be used where appropriate, especially when addressing airline pilots with many years of experience.
Occupants of state and political office may be addressed with an honorific. A president may be addressed as Your Excellency or Mr/Madam President, a minister or secretary of state as "Your Excellency" or Mr/Madam Secretary, etc. A prime minister may be addressed as "the Honorable". In the UK, members of the Privy Council are addressed as "the Right Honourable ...". A member of Parliament or other legislative body may have particular honorifics. A member of a Senate, for example, may be addressed as "Senator". The etiquette varies and most countries have protocol specifying the honorifics to be used for its state, judicial, military and other officeholders.
Former military officers are sometimes addressed by their last military rank, such as "Admiral", "Colonel", "General", etc. This is generally adopted only by those officers who served and at least obtained the rank equivalency of Major. In the U.S., veterans of all ranks who have served during wartime and were honorably discharged may 'bear the title' of the highest rank held, as codified in law, 10 USC 772e, both officer and enlisted.
In areas of East Africa where the Bantu language Swahili is spoken, mzee is frequently used for an elder to denote respect by younger speakers. It is used in direct conversation and used in referring to someone in the third person. Other honorifics include mukubwa (for ministers, employers, and authorities), dada/kaka (for peers, friends, colleagues), and mama/baba (for parents and grandparents). Additionally, some Arabic loanwords are used in coastal regions as honorifics, too, such as ami (paternal uncle) and haloo (maternal aunt), the familial roles for which are more often described elsewhere in the Swahili-speaking world as baba mkubwa/mdogo (older/younger father) or mama mkubwa/mdogo (older/younger mother). Furthermore, parents are oftentimes addressed by a combination of their parental title and the name of a child, e.g. Baba Zekiyah refers to the father of Zekiyah. While Swahili is Bantu, it is highly influenced by Arabic and Hindi languages and cultures. Babu is a prefix honorific used with elders, similar to mzee, but may also mean grandfather. Other prefix honorifics are ndugu, for brother or a close male friend, and dada for a sister or close female friend; thus, John and Jane would be Ndugu John and Dada Jane, respectively.
Amongst the Akan ethnic groups of West Africa's Ghana, the word nana is used as an aristocratic pre-nominal by chiefs and elders alike.
In Yorubaland, also in West Africa, the word ogbeni is used as a synonym for the English "mister". Titled members of the region's aristocracy are therefore called oloye instead, this being the word for "chief". Although the former of the two titles is only used by men, aristocrats of either gender are addressed using the latter of them.
Some honorifics used by Ancient Romans, such as Augustus, turned into titles over time.
Main article: Chinese honorifics
Chinese honorifics (敬語; Jìngyǔ) and honorific language are words, word constructs, and expressions in the Chinese language that convey self-deprecation, social respect, politeness, or deference. During the ancient and imperial periods, Chinese honorifics varied greatly based on one's social status, but with the end of Imperial China, many of these distinctions fell out of favour due to the May Fourth Movement. As such, honorific usage today is mostly used in formal situations and business settings only. Although Chinese honorifics have simplified to a large degree, many classical constructs are still occasionally employed to convey formality, humility, politeness or respect. Honorific language in Chinese is achieved by using honorific or beautifying alternatives, prefixing or suffixing a word with a polite complement, or by dropping casual-sounding words.
In general, there are five distinct categories of honorific language:
Indian honorifics abound, covering formal and informal relationships for commercial, generational, social, and spiritual links. Honorifics may be prefix, suffix, or replacement types. There are many variations.
Italian honorifics are usually limited to formal situations. Professional titles like Ingegnere (engineer) are often substituted for the ordinary Signore / Signora (mister or Mrs.), while Dottore or Dottoressa (doctor) is used freely for any graduate of a university. For college professors on academic settings, the honorifics Professore or Professoressa prevail over Dottore or Dottoressa. Masculine honorifics lose their e ending when juxtaposed to a surname: e.g., Dottor Rossi, Cardinal Martini, Ragionier Fantozzi. Verbs are conjugated in the third person singular (as opposed to the second person singular) when addressing someone using an honorific and the formal pronoun Lei (with a capital L) is used instead of the informal tu.
Main article: Japanese honorifics
See also: Honorific speech in Japanese
The word in Japanese for honorifics, keigo (敬語), is used in everyday Japanese conversations. Japanese honorifics are similar to English, with titles like "Mister" and "Miss", but in Japanese, which has many honorifics, are the parts of Japanese language, their use is mandatory in many formal and informal social situations. Japanese grammar, as a whole, tends to function on hierarchy; honorific stems are appended to verbs and many nouns, primarily names, and in many cases one word may be exchanged for another word entirely with the same verb or noun meaning, but with different honorific connotations.
In Japan, there are three rough divisions of honorifics:
Indonesia's Javanese majority ethnicity has many honorifics. For example:
Main article: Korean honorifics
Korean honorifics are similar to Japanese honorifics, and similarly, their use is mandatory in many formal and informal social situations. Korean grammar as a whole tends to function on hierarchy; honorific stems are appended to verbs and some nouns, and in many cases, one word may be exchanged for another word entirely with the same verb or noun meaning, but with different honorific connotations. Linguists say there are six levels of honorifics in Korean but, in daily conversation, only four of them are widely used in contemporary Korean. Suffix -ssi-(씨) is used at most honorific verbs, but not always. It is considered very impolite and offensive not to use honorific sentences or words with someone who is older or has a higher social status, and most Koreans avoid using non-honorific sentences with someone they have met for the first time. In Korean, names, first or last, always precede a title, e.g., Park Sonsaengnim, Park Kwanjangnim, etc.
A complex system of Titles and honorifics is extensively used in the Malay language-speaking cultures in Brunei and Malaysia. In contrast Singapore, whose Malay royalty was abolished by the British colonial government in 1891, has adopted civic titles for its leaders. Being Muslim, Malay people address high-ranking religious scholars as tok imam (grandpa imam). Tok dalang is a honorific used to address a village leader.
Pakistan has numerous honorific forms that may be used with or as a substitute for names. The most common honorifics in Pakistan are usually placed immediately before the name of the subject or immediately after the subject. There are many variations across Pakistan.
Persian honorifics generally follow the second name, especially if they refer to gender or particular social statuses (e.g., Name Agha [= Mr. Name], Name Khanom [= Ms. Name], Name Ostad [teacher or cleric], Name Rayis [manager, leader or director]). Such honorifics are used in both formal and informal situations. A more formal honorific referring to gender would be Jenab [His Excellency], which precedes Name Agha [= Mr. Name] and Sarkar [= Her Excellency], which precedes Name Khanom [= Ms. Name]. A newer honorific is Arjomand [esteemed], which comes after other honorifics (except those referring to gender), and is not gender-specific (e.g., Ostad Arjomand Name Surname, or Rayis Arjomand Sarkar Khanom Name Surname). They are generally used in very formal situations.
Main article: Filipino styles and honorifics
The usage of Filipino honorifics differs from person to person, though commonalities occur like the occasional insertion of the word po or ho in conversations, and their dependence on age-structured hierarchies. Though some have become obsolete, many are still widely used in order to denote respect, friendliness, or affection. Some new "honorifics", mainly used by teenagers, are experiencing surges in popularity.
The Filipino language has honorifics like Binibini/Ate ("Miss", "Big sister"), Ginang/Aling/Manang ("Mrs.", "Madam"), Ginoo/Mang/Manong/Kuya ("Mister", "Sir", "Big brother") that have roots in Chinese culture.
Depending on one's relation with the party being addressed, various honorifics may be used.
As such addressing a man who is older, has a higher rank at work or has a higher social standing, one may use Mr or Sir followed by the First/ last/ or full name. Addressing a woman in a similar situation as above one may use "Miss", or "Madam" and its contraction "Ma'am", followed by First/ last/ or full name. Older married women may prefer to be addressed as "Mrs." The use of Sir/Miss/Madam or Ma'am, followed by the first name, nickname, or surname is usually restricted to Filipino vernacular and social conversation, even in television and film. Despite this, non-Filipinos and naturalized Filipinos (such as expat students and professionals) also address older people in the Filipino way.
On a professional level, many use educational or occupational titles such as Architect, Engineer, Doctor, Attorney (often abbreviated as Arch./Archt./Ar., Engr., Dr. [or sometimes Dra. for female doctors], and Atty. respectively) on casual and even formal bases. Stricter etiquette systems frown upon this practise as a sign of Filipino professionals' obsession with flaunting their educational attainment and professional status. Despite this, some of their clients (especially non-Filipinos) would address them as simply Mr. or Mrs./Ms. followed by their surnames (or even Sir/Ma'am) in conversation. It is very rare, however, for a Filipino (especially those born and educated abroad) to address Filipino architects, engineers, and lawyers, even mentioning and referring to their names, the non-Philippine (i.e. international standard) way.
Even foreigners who work in the Philippines or naturalized Filipino citizens, including foreign spouses of Filipinos, who hold some of these titles and descriptions (especially as instructors in Philippine colleges and universities) are addressed in the same way as their Filipino counterparts, although it may sound awkward or unnatural to some language purists who argue that the basic titles or either Sir or Ma'am/Madam are to be employed for simplicity, as they are unnecessary when he or she is included in a list of wedding sponsors, or when their name appears in the list of officials of a country club or similar organization. They are uncalled for in public donations, religious activities, parents–teachers association events, athletic competitions, society pages of newspapers, and in any activity that has nothing to do with one's title or educational attainment. It is also acceptable to treat those titles and descriptions (except Doctor) as adjectival nouns (i.e., first letter not capitalized, e.g. architect (name)) instead.
Even though Doctor is really a title in standard English, the "created" titles Architect, Attorney, and Engineer (among other examples) are a result of vanity (titles herald achievement and success; they distinguish the title holder from the rest of society) and insecurity (the title holder's achievements and successes might be ignored unless announced to the public), even due to historical usage of pseudo-titles in newspapers when Filipinos first began writing in English.
Possible reasons are firstly, the fact the English taught to Filipinos was the "egalitarian" English of the New World, and that the Americans who colonized the Philippines encountered lowland societies that already used Iberian linguistic class markers like "Don" and "Doña." Secondly, the fundamental contradiction of the American colonial project. The Americans who occupied the Philippines justified their actions through the rhetoric of "benevolent assimilation". In other words, they were only subjugating Filipinos to teach them values like American egalitarianism, which is the opposite of colonial anti-equality. Thirdly, the power of American colonialism lies in its emphasis on education—an education that supposedly exposed Filipinos to the "wonders" of the American way of life. Through education, the American colonial state bred a new elite of Filipinos trained in a new, more "modern", American system. People with advanced degrees like law or engineering were at the apex of this system. Their prestige, as such, not only rested on their purported intelligence, but also their mastery of the colonizer's way of life. This, Lisandro Claudio suspects, is the source of the magical and superstitious attachment Filipinos have to attorneys, architects and engineers. The language they use is still haunted by their colonial experience. They linguistically privilege professionals because their colonizers made them value a certain kind of white-collar work. Again, even expatriate professionals in the Philippines were affected by these reasons when they resided and married a Filipino or were naturalized so it is not unusual for them to be addressed Filipino style.
Spanish has a number of honorific forms that may be used with or as substitutes for names, such as señor or caballero ("Mr.", "Sir", "Gentleman"); señora ("Madam", "Mrs.", "Lady", "ma'am") and señorita ("Miss", "young lady"); licenciado for a person with bachelor's or a professional degree (e.g., attorneys and engineers); maestro for a teacher, master mechanic, or person with a master's degree; doctor ("doctor"); etc. Also used is don (male) or doña (female) for people of rank or, in some Latin American countries (e.g., Puerto Rico), for any senior citizen. In some Latin American countries, like Colombia, "Doctor" is used for any respected figure regardless of whether they have a doctoral degree (for instance Colombian presidents are often referred to as Doctor ___); likewise "Maestro" is used for artistic masters, especially painters.
Additionally, older people and those with whom one would speak respectfully (e.g., one's boss or teacher), are often addressed as usted, abbreviated ud., a formal/respectful way of saying "you" (e.g. Dra. Polo, ¿cómo está usted? Dr. Polo, how are you?). The word usted historically comes from the honorific title vuestra merced (literally "your mercy"). This formal you is accompanied by verb conjugation that is different from the informal you tú. Intimate friends and relatives are addressed as tú. In some regions, addressing a relative stranger as tú can be considered disrespectful or provocative, except when it is directed to a person notably younger than the speaker, or in an especially informal context.
Pingelapese is a Micronesian language spoken on the Pingelap atoll and on two of the eastern Caroline Islands, called the high island of Pohnpei. Pingelapese does not employ many honorifics into their speech. Their society is structured in a way that everyone is seen as equal, most likely due to the fact that there are so few of them due to emigration. There is no structured hierarchy to enforce the use of honorific speech. There are not many polite vocabulary words and the language they use can be classified as a commoners' language.
However, among the Micronesian languages, Pohnpeian is the only language that uses a thoroughly developed honorific speech. This demonstrates that a highly structured hierarchical society was very important in their culture. There are multiple ways that Pohnpeic speakers show respect through their language. In the Pohnpeic language there is royal language, which is used for the two highest-ranking chiefs. Next, respect honorifics are used with other superiors and people who are considered respected equals. There is not only the use of honorifics, but humiliative language as well, which is used to lower oneself below higher-ranking people, showing respect and reverence. This speech was lost in Pingelap when Pohnpei speakers migrated to the Pingelap atoll and adapted their more casual way of speaking.
Even though the younger generation of Pingelapese speakers does not use honorific speech, elders in the language report being taught a form of 'language of respect'. This language was to be used to address elders and leaders in the community. Women were also told to use it towards their brothers and with their children. Phrases could be made polite by adding the second person singular possessive suffix -mwi. Other ways to utilize honorific speech is by changing words entirely.
According to Thai translator, Mui Poopoksakul, "The Thai language is absolutely immediate in its indication of the speaker and addressee's places in the society and their relationship to each other. Thai has honorifics as well as what I like to call 'dishonorifics': it has a multitude of pronouns that are extremely nuanced—for example, there are so many ways to say 'I', and most of them already indicate the speaker's gender and often their age and societal standing relative to the person they are speaking to."
The most common Thai honorifics are used to differentiate age between friends, family, and peers. The most commonly used are:
Turkish honorifics generally follow the first name, especially if they refer to gender or particular social statuses (e.g. Name Bey [Mr.], Name Hanım [Ms.], Name Beyefendi [literally meaning "Lord Master"], Name Hanımefendi [literally meaning "Lady Master"], Name Hoca [teacher or cleric], Name Öğretmen [solely for teacher]), Name Agha [high official]. Such honorifics are used in both formal and informal situations. Another honorific is Sayın/Muhterem [esteemed], which precedes the surname or full name, and is not gender-specific. (e.g. Sayın/Muhterem Name Surname, or Sayın/Muhterem Surname). They are generally used in very formal situations.
Honorifics in Vietnamese are more complex compared to Chinese, where the origins of many of these pronouns can be traced, and many have fallen out of usage or have been replaced due to the changing times. An honorific, or a pronoun, in Vietnamese when referring to a person acts as a way to define two peoples' degree of relationship with one another. Examples of these pronouns include 'chị' older sister, 'ông' male elder and 'chú' younger uncle (younger brother of father/only used on father's side). The exclusive use of the Vietnamese words for 'I' and 'you' are considered informal and rude. Rather honorifics are used to refer to oneself and to others. These terms generally differ from province to province, or region to region. As with East Asian tradition, the surname is written prior to the given name (i.e., Hoang Khai Dinh: Hoang is the surname and Khai Dinh is the given name). This occurs in all formal situations. However, placing the surname last has become a commonality in order to cater to westerners, for example, on social media sites such as Facebook. When referring to a person as Mr or Mrs (teacher, painter, etc.) as in the English tradition of 'Mr Hoang', the given name is more commonly used e.g., "Mr Khai Dinh") in order not to cause confusion. This is due to many Vietnamese sharing the same surname (e.g., up to 40% of Vietnamese share the surname Nguyen).
Wuvulu-Aua does not normally incorporate honorifics as it is reserved for only the utmost respect. Originally without any honorifics, the semantics of pronouns change depending on the social context. In particular, the second person dual pronoun is used as an honorific address. The dual reference communicates that the second person is to be respected as two people. This honorific is typically reserved for in-laws. It is undocumented if any other honorifics exist beyond this one.
People who have a strong sense of egalitarianism, such as Quakers and certain socialists, and others, eschew honorific titles. When addressing or referring to someone, they often use the person's name, an informal pronoun, or some other style implying social equality, such as "brother", "sister", "friend", or "comrade". This was also the practice in Revolutionary France and socialist countries which used Citoyen[ne] ("Citizen") as the manner of address. Also, some revolutionary governments abolished or banned the use of honorifics. One example is Turkey, which abolished honorifics and titles in 1934. Although it was abolished, titles such as "ağa" (for landlords) and "paşa" (for high-ranking military officials) continued to be used by people.
Feminist criticism of the use of separate honorifics for married and unmarried women (Mrs. and Miss) has led to some women adopting the honorific "Ms."