The minefield of academic titles

People are naturally very proud of their academic achievements and titles and may want them stated in their communications. This is however not as trivial as it might seem.

It’s all a bit of a minefield and easy to tread on people’s toes.

  • English doesn’t use double academic titles. Just the highest ranking one. You don’t write “Prof. Dr” – it’s just Prof.
  • The Dutch ing. and Ir. and drs before the name are meaningless and therefore confusing in English. The first two look like a first name to any English-speaking reader familiar with the Continental habit of sometimes placing two letters such as “Ph.” for Philippe. The latter looks like a double doctorate. So: sorry, they have to be dropped or a rough equivalent used instead, e.g. a postnominal BSc or MSc
  • The most confusing one of all is the Dutch law degree (LLB or LLM after the name in English) that entitles you to a mr. in front of your name… even if you’re a Mrs! One favoured solution was writing “meester” in full, but that’s out of the window now as it sounds like it’s escaped from Game of Thrones.
  • Multiple postnominals (sets of letters after the name) are the correct way to do multiple degrees, but only one set for the same subject, i.e. don’t add the BSc if you’ve got the MSc.
  • Be aware of your target audience: BSc or MSc for the British but BS or MS for the Americans.
  • Dots or not? Style guides vary on that one – personally, I don’t see any good reason to write B.Sc. as the dots just add visual clutter. You may find editors who disagree, though…

One academic and one social title is allowed and correct, by the way. Not that you’ll come across that very often. One of my chemistry tutors at Cambridge, for example, was Prof. Sir Jack Lewis, later Professor Lord Lewis.

Prevalence: low. Rarely turns up other than in correspondence and at the top of academic papers…
Frequency: moderate. …but far from uncommon in those types of documents.
Native: no. Or only when the client gets on their high horse and insists.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

2 thoughts on “The minefield of academic titles

  1. If there is a strictly needed reason for the exact title, e.g. for legal purposes, the exact title may have to remain. Very possibly with an explanation (as it may well be meaningless in the target language). But otherwise: yes, adapt!


  2. For Eline, who liked the examples:

    There’s been a bit of feedback on this one, with my Dutch colleagues tending to say you need to stick with the prenominal titles and that translators are taught to do so. Fair enough… but I do feel that’s pandering to the pride of the preening subject person, rather than thinking of how it will come across to the target audience:

    “WTF does drs mean? Two doctorates?”
    “Does he sign all his letters that way? What a stuck-up little tosser!”
    “You can’t call a woman a mr – who the hell translated this?”
    “Doctor doctor? Sounds like the start of a bad joke!”


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