Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Personal Titles (Honorifics, etc.): a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

We had an interesting discussion. Titles include things like the Japanese suffixes for names, including:
-san on names, and also on professions when you don't know a person's name
-chan for intimates, usually young women but not exclusively
-sensei for teachers, doctors, dentists, and artists.

In English we have Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Ma'am, sir, and (I hear) Mx.

If you don't know someone, what do you call them? Honey? Sir? Ma'am? In Japan, you usually use a kin term that approximates their age and gender.

There are also professional titles. Doctor can be a profession, or it can indicate the completion of a degree. Whether people use the title "Doctor" after they have earned it depends on public perception of its use - and this is something to keep in mind when designing titles in a secondary world. Lawyers in our world don't use the title "doctor" though they have earned the academic equivalent. Using a title can create a social distancing effect, even as it creates a certain type of respect. Whether you drop the title or add it creates a different effect depending on the title.

Another important question to ask is how you get a title. How is membership in this social group awarded? Is it hereditary, like "Your Highness" or "Your Majesty" for kings and queens? Is it awarded by a king or queen, like "Dame" or "Sir" the knighthoods? What about Baron, Count, etc?  Do you get this title because you are married?

Who is entitled to award titles? Is it a "God-given" title requiring a religious figure to award it?

The details will vary depending on the world and its cultural influences.

Morgan told us about her title system, which has a special name for the Ruler, one for the Ruler's Spouse, the Heir, and then family members not in the order of succession. A title tells you about relationships between people in this world.

Titles often come with strong associations, such as the word King, which should be used with care if you don't want all its associations to come with it. Mayor has a very specific definition, as does Governor. I made up my own title, Alixi, for city rulers in Varin, because that position doesn't fit with the associations of either Governor or Mayor.

There are also military ranks and titles. These can be defined differently depending on which branch of the armed forces you are talking about. Titles tend to be conservative, in that they reflect the social order and authority of the past.

Ms. came to be because of a demand for a title that did not have the marital implications of Mrs. or Miss.

Varin uses caste names that come before the first names because they used to be titles.

Many military titles came from French. In fiction we often see Captain or Lieutenant. Sometimes we see Roman ranks like Decurion or Centurion.

If a group of people gets conquered by another people, they will often be forced to use the conqueror's titles.

When you choose a term different from the expected one, in fiction, what you are doing is telling the reader to be on the lookout for differences in the social relationships.

Thank you to all who attended! Here's the video:


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