The Dark Side of Titles

I remember visiting Bell Labs in New Jersey in the late 80s.. before our organization was merged into theirs.. and what struck me was the many 8x12 framed photos of Distinguished Members of the Technical Staff that lined the halls.. being a tech-head.. especially the ilk that held a patent.. was an issue of honor in those hallowed halls.

I wonder what it is about titles that so attract human beings? Several years ago I wrote a post titled On Rabbis, Monsignors & Pastors where I talked about being creeped out when folks called me "Pastor Bob". But I have to say that early in my life I aspired to titles such as "Distinguished Member" or "Manager".. albeit no one ever called my boss Manager Joe.

The preoccupation with titles is certainly not limited to the religious or technical ranks. In the medical field we call people "Doctor".. in legal circles some are referred to as "Your Honor".. we honor political leaders using terms like "Madam Secretary" or "Mister President".. in the military all officers, commissioned and non, are addressed by their rank.. and don't ask me about the titles of Honorary British Knights and Dames.. it is all a weird phenomenon. Of course we cannot forget our most important titles - mom and dad.. grandma and grandpa.

I think that the dark side of titles comes to bear when we lose ourselves in those titles.. when we see them as more permanent than they really are.. when our identities become wrapped up in what we do rather than who we are. An extension of this darkness is the way that people react to our titles. For some strange reason people seem to want to refer to people by their titles. My wife's family referred to her aunt as "Sister" because she was a nun and her cousin as "Father" because he is a priest.

Now don't get me wrong.. I am not against honoring others for their achievements.. and in professional settings it may be very appropriate to address a person using their title. It just gets a bit weird when titles are used in social settings. When a religious leader is referred to as "Pastor" or "Father" in such a setting is seems to contradict Jesus' instructions. The same seems to apply when other professional titles bleed into social settings.

I will end by saying that I may be way off on this one. Perhaps the desire to be known by a title is not as dark as I am making it? Maybe it is a bit more normal than I think that it is? It could be that most of these titles are simply terms of endearment? I would be interested in what you all think about this. Please comment if you think of other titles that I have not listed. While you are thinking.. just call me Grandpa.. it is my favorite title.. if you need to refer to me by a title.


  1. @jrchaard - Got me on that one! I just wish that it came with some honor.. or at least money :)

  2. Well, Grandpa . . . :D

    I believe the problem isn't so much with the use of titles as it is with the sinful inclinations of our pride. When the title becomes our identity, there is danger. When it is a gentle reminder of the relationship with the person it can be a delight.

    I love when my church family call me "pastor" (I'm not offended or even bothered when they don't) because it reminds me of the responsibility and relationship that is inherent in that name. Probably similar to when you hear "Grandpa."

    Also, I think titles can be an expression of respect. I call my physician "Dr." out of respect for his expertise, skills, as well as the effort he put into earning that. I refer to other adults as "Mr." or "Mrs." unless they request I don't or I know them well enough to feel comfortable on a first name basis. However, titles ,like respect, shouldn't be demanded. They should be earned.

  3. @nephos - Good thoughts addressing both the dark and bright sides of titles.

  4. I think it was a good day, after serving years in the same church, that Don became to many, Pastor Dad, rather than Pastor Don. When we retired, some of the small children wondered why Grandpa Don had to move.... That's the value of longevity in a church.
    Miss that.... I became Wanda Mom too.. My favorite title if one must have one.

  5. @Wanda - Pastor Dad and Wanda Mom.. heartwarming for sure.. so very intimate and endearing names.


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