What’s in a Title (um, Prefix)

Recently I’ve been corresponding with my elected national legislators on a more frequent basis than previously. We’re living through rather fraught times. Some of what I have to say, I believe, may be pertinent to getting ourselves through our multiple crises. Some of the time, I cut, paste and customize verbiage that’s been suggested by one of the many citizen activist groups I belong to. Other times, I compose an individual message. 

As someone with reliable internet access and an email account, I can most quickly communicate my views via email—both my North Carolina senators and the representative for my district in the U.S. House have email portals for receiving my missives electronically. The forms they’ve set up begin with basic information about who I am, starting with “Prefix,” (previously known as “Title.”)  There are various choice options, different for each of the national legislators who represent me.

If I write to Senator Burr, I have nine options as a non-military citizen, or over 100 if I am active-duty military. The first available option is “Mr.,” followed in sequence by “Ms.”, “Mrs.”, “Professor”, “Dr.”, “Father”, “Sister”, “Rabbi”, then “Reverend.” For those in the military, the options are alphabetical by service branch (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy) then in descending order of rank within each branch.  

Senator Tillis’s connection page has more options, but also starts with “Mr.” Among the alternatives that he includes are multiple options for couples, starting with “Mr. and Mrs.” and then branching out into “Mr. and Mr.” and “Mrs. and Mrs.” Multiple variations begin with “Dr.”: “Dr. and Dr.”, “Dr. and Mr.”, “Dr. and Mrs.”. Religious leaders may choose from “Reverend,” “Sister,” “Pastor,” or “Rabbi.” Three options indicate possible political associations: “The Honorable,” “Representative,” and “Senator.” Then there are military prefixes, mostly the same and in the same sequence as those for Senator Burr.  

Representative Ross’s list is simpler and shorter, beginning with “Ms.” Given my gender and my political preferences, I find her options somewhat more to my liking. Other choices include “Miss.” (probably not an abbreviation for “Mississippi”), “Mrs.”, “Mr.”, “Mr. and Mrs.”, “Rev.”, “Dr.”, “The Honorable,” and “Rabbi.” Occasionally I’ve wondered whether all the legislators might include a choice of “Other,” with a blank for specifying my preferred prefix, at this point something like “slightly-bemused-yet-still-hopeful-human.” 

So far, I’ve gotten written or emailed responses to nearly every message I’ve sent. Many are explanations of why the legislator disagrees with my views or assessment. All have used respectful language, if they can seem from my perspective to be slightly condescending. 

Instead of using email, I sometimes revert to postal mail, having heard at some point that such “snail mail” was more likely to get read by a congressional staffer, rather than just put into an appropriate category for a standardized response, especially if sent to a district office rather than to Washington, D.C. The most recent response to one of these letters actually had a staffer’s initials plus the legislator’s. Progress?  

Beyond the incentive to have my thoughts-on-paper read, though, there’s a piece of sending a hand-addressed letter to my legislators that I cannot duplicate via email—I get to assign a title to the addressee. My hope is that the legislator and/or his/her staffer will pay attention to that prefix: “The Honorable.”   

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