Gender-neutral equivalents of "sir" and "ma'am"

Hi all,

I’m looking for a good gender-neutral equivalent for honorific forms of address, specifically “sir” and “ma’am”. My main character is an academic, so until now I’ve been using “Doctor” as a gender-neutral alternative to these terms, but it’s just occurred to me that this isn’t always going to work, because not every character they interact with is going to know that they are an academic before needing to address them formally like this. I’d ideally like an equivalent that might plausibly have been used in the 1930s, although I think that inclusivity is more important than historical accuracy, so if I can’t find a good period-appropriate alternative I’m happy to go anachronistic! Any suggestions would be extremely gratefully received.

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For my game, I am giving the option of “Esteemed Individual.”

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Ooh, nice! However, at the moment it’s mostly Deep South police officers who need to use this form of address, and I’m not sure I could imagine them saying that. (Would sound good coming from Jeeves, though).

Is “boss” too anachronistic for the 1930’s?

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In the Deep South in the 1930s, shoot, even today, gender neutral “is fer da m-fin’ hippies!” The “Deep South” is largely Bible-thumping Conservatives so you will not really find many willing to conform to using gender neutral pronouns, especially back when being homosexual meant, at best, being sent to prison, at worst, being beaten to death.

So, if you’re going for historical accuracy, stick with sir and ma’am. If you are trying to appeal to a larger audience, use whatever you wish, I suppose.

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Messere?

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Hmm, “boss” could actually work. It’s a little more informal-feeling, but I already have one NPC (Sam) who regularly refers to the MC as “boss”, regardless of gender, so readers should be used to it! Thanks for the suggestion.

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Yeah, I definitely get that. But I think that, since I’m giving players the option to identify as non-binary, I should then follow through and show them the courtesy of addressing them like that throughout, even if that’s historically suspect. Plus, the setting is actually New Orleans, where social attitudes have often been a bit less rigid than in other parts of the South!

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You mentioned that academia was the context: “Professor” is no longer a widely-used term of address but I think “Doctor” for non-medical personnel, i.e. faculty, is pretentious af*. If that was appropriate I would use “Professor.”

*my two cents posting as me, Mary Duffy, not as “COG Staff.”

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Oh interesting! I come from a background in UK academia, where “professor” is an extremely high honour indeed, and very few academics attain those lofty heights. I know that in other university systems it’s common for even quite lowly academics to have varieties of the “professor” title, but in the academic culture I know, “Professor” sounds much more pretentious than “Doctor”, and a lowly academic like my MC would be mortified to be addressed as “Professor”! But since my MC is an academic in the US system, maybe it would be more natural for them to be addressed in that way. I’ll look into it, thanks!

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Maybe Ser would work for you? I’ve seen it used more in fantasy/medieval settings but the definition is fitting.

https://www.askdifference.com/ser-vs-sir/

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Hmm, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll give it some thought. I mostly know Ser from Dragon Age and GoT!

If I recall correctly, the term “Doctor” was meant to denote level of expertise rather than field of expertise. Even the Latin roots of the word (Doceo? Correct me if I’m wrong) means “to teach”.

I’ve always thought that medical doctors were known as such because they were acknowledged to have already achieved that level anyway (if you can treat someone, you should be competent enough to teach him about it). We just got used to thinking all doctors were doctors of medicine as they’re the ones ordinary folks are likely to see all the time.

I believe “professor” is reserved for those at the very highest levels of teaching, yes. “One who professes”?

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i don’t know if it’s helpful since i don’t really have a suggestion for an equivalent, but letting non-b players choose their preferred honorific should help. i’m afab and agender so “sir” particularly appeals to me because it flies directly in the face of what people assume, thus instantly making it clear that my gender isn’t what they assume. also i just like it a lot, it’s crisp and feels v right

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I’d also love to have gender-neutral forms of address that would suit a historical setting (Victorian, in my case). If I recall right, Heart of the House sort of got around this by omitting honorifics for a nonbinary MC, but that feels somewhat too curt for my taste.

That said, I think I’ll just ask the player how they wish to be addressed, and let them type their preferred term. I’m usually not too fond of having to type things when I play these games, myself (I don’t know why :sweat_smile:) but it seems like a good way to go about it?

Off-topic

You would be in agreement with Miss Manners, then (or rather, with Mr Manners?):

Miss Manners’ own dear father, who would never allow himself to be addressed as doctor, used to say that a Ph.D. was like a nose—you don’t make a fuss about having one because you assume that everyone does; it’s only when you don’t have one that it is conspicuous.

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Maybe you could ask the reader (men/women/non-binary) their preferred way of being adressed and put a blank choice where they can write how they’d like to be adressed if it’s not in the choices you already proposed.

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Thanks everyone. I think what I’ll do is offer players who choose the non-binary option an extra choice, something like “how do you like to be addressed by strangers?” I’ll offer them Ser, Sir, Ma’am, or the chance to input their own. I hope that’ll work!

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Depending on the level of condescension, formality, or esteem:
Kid
Chief
Doc
Cuz (short for “cousin”)
“You” as in, “Hey, you!”
(Customized gender-neutral nickname)
Last name or shortened last name (“Thomps” for “Thompson”)

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If the above forms are all too casual or inaccurate, might want to let players choose or name their own preferred form of address when choosing gender. I’ve seen a number of military or other games with ranks give options like:
“I’m neither male nor female. I prefer to be addressed as ‘Sir.’”
“I’m neither male nor female. I prefer to be addressed as ‘Xir.’”
“I’m neither male nor female. My preferred form of address isn’t listed here.”

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I think it will be best if you just let people input their own honorific.

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