I made a new connection for a potential job offer, and let's say is name is Dr. John Smith (he has a PhD). He refers to himself, and others refer to him, as "Dr. John Smith" on his website, blog, and LinkedIn. I made the connection through his son, who is my recent roommate, thus I contacted him to inquire about his job opportunities. We've emailed back and forth 1-2 times, and I always address him as "Hi Dr. Smith, ...etc...", but he does not sign his emails with any name. Thus, out of respect, I've continued to address him as "Dr. Smith".

Those who know him refer to him as "John", and in this case, my roommate, obviously calls him "Dad". However, we are planning to meet in person, and I am still referring to him as "Dr. Smith" through email. Will this be awkward, especially if I am with my roommate and "Dr. John Smith" at the same time? I think it would be more comfortable to call him "John", but he has not given me permission nor signed his emails with any name whatsoever*.

In my experience with meeting PhD holders, I've respectfully addressed them with the "Dr." title, and they usually tell me to address them by their first name, or they sign their emails with their first name. In this case, I have not received either, but can I refer to him as "John" instead of "Dr. Smith"?

*NOTE: Once, he ended his email with a "j" (most likely it was a "j" for "John", but it was subtle and there was no closing salutation).

  • What country is this for?
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 22:55
  • This is in the United States, on the West Coast / Pacific North West Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 23:21
  • 4
    "j" is used by some people as a smilie at the end of an email - so it might not mean anything else
    – HorusKol
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 23:54
  • 1
    His name doesn't actually start with "j", I was just using "John Smith" as an example. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 17:53
  • 2
    "How to address a Dr. who" - it's just "The Doctor" ;) Seriously though, it depends - is he much older than you? Is it very strictly a professional relationship? Just calling him "Dr. Smith" is probably on the safe side - especially since he's your friend's father, I think it's pretty customary not to use the first name. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 22:30

4 Answers 4


Simple - first time you are face-to-face, if he introduces himself as John, then that's permission for you to call him John.

If you have to introduce yourself, say "Hello Dr Smith, I'm mrNiceGuy".

If he then says, "please, call me John", all good - otherwise, call him Dr Smith.

  • 1
    I completely agree. In Western cultures, it is (or was and still is to some) considered rude to address someone by their given name until invited to do so. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 4:32
  • +1. This is my overall policy : in professional environment, address someone by title/last name until I'm (relievingly) offered to do otherwise
    – ero
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 6:52
  • Yep, couldn't have said it better myself. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 12:47
  • Dr WHO? ------- :-) Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 3:55

I feel there's two things that should be acknowledged here, online and offline courtesy.

When approaching someone online that has a title, they may enjoy having the full name included with it. Especially useful in this example, there are likely plenty of Dr. Smiths, but by letting them know you have interest in talking to them personally, it adds a bit more. As long as your initial impression is to show them respect, I wouldn't believe they'd look down on you by including or excluding the first name. As long as you show the respect for their earned title, I'd say you've done fine in emails. Especially when he is very informal with his email signature.

When meeting in person, I believe you're going to run into a similar scenario. I would personally suggest to just say, "Greetings Dr. Smith." When in person, you're not having to direct your chat to anyone else. I personally feel like it is more professional to exclude the first name in this situation. Something wants me to say that it is because you would not only be providing their title, but declaring them the 'man of the house'. They have a son, as mentioned, but they are Dr. Smith.

I wouldn't be surprised if right away, or early in, that he just has you call him John. As with the online approach, your first impression by acknowledging the title is all it should take to show them that you're respectful. Think of it this way, it'd feel quite... cocky, to get to know them in person and they're closeness resulted in him saying "Feel free to call me Dr. John Smith."

I don't know of anyone personally that enjoys hearing their last name stated over and over throughout the day.


It's not going to kill you to address him as "Dr. John Smith" until he tells you how he wants you to address him. I used to address my first boss as "Dr Williams" and when after a few years, he told me to address him as "Ian", I just couldn't handle it and continued to address him as "Dr Williams":) I had and I have a high regard for him anyway, so he is stuck with me addressing him as "Dr Williams" anyway :)


If everyone around him calls him John rather than Dr. John Smith, I'd recommend stating the obvious:

Hey Dr. Smith, I notice that everyone else is calling you John. Which would you prefer me to call you by?

You aren't being forward to presume what he wants to be called by, you are pointing out the obvious that everyone is calling him something other than what you are, and you're giving him the ultimate choice of which he would like to be called.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .