Amedia (amedia) wrote in fandom_grammar,

Feature: Honorifics

An honorific, believe it or not, is not a fic written in someone's honor. It's a respectful term of address used for persons of rank. When you're writing in a universe in which people have rank, it helps to know how to describe and address them correctly - and incorrectly!

With examples from Star Wars, Narnia, Tin Man, Horatio Hornblower, quite a lot from the Wimsey mysteries, and one tiny peek at Barchester Towers.

Honorifics in Fantasy

If you're working in a fantasy universe where titles have been specified by the canonical writers, you just need to stick with whatever the original writers came up with. If you're working in a fantasy universe without canonical titles, you can come up with your own! You can even create forms of address that provide insights into a civilization:

"My Father," came a clear, ringing voice from the left of the crowd. Tirian knew at once that it was one of the Calormenes speaking, for in The Tisroc's army the common soldiers call the officers "My Master" but the officers call their senior officers "My Father."
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.

There are a number of fantasy universes that have kings and queens, princes and princesses, but don't go beyond that. In that case, it helps to know that traditionally, kings and queens are addressed as "Your Majesty," while princes and princesses are addressed as "Your Highness." Hence, Queen Lavender Eyes is addressed by her subjects as "Your Majesty," while Princess DG should be addressed by her subjects as "Your Highness," although in fact they tend to call her "Deege" or "Kiddo."

(Queen Lavender Eyes' husband, who started out as a commoner, does not have a title, but that's a REALLY long story. You can read about the husbands of ruling queens here.)

Honorifics in Non-Fantasy

If, on the other hand, you're working in a universe based in our current reality, or one in which ranks and titles are based on some historical system, it's important to know how these work in real life.

Here's a handy reference that covers most common honorifics: if you've ever wondered how to address a Welsh circuit judge, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, an Archduke of the Hapsburg family, or the president of a Dutch university, get thee hence: the wiki on Style: Manner of Address.

Military Ranks

Starfleet ranks in Star Trek are based on the U.S. Navy, while the forces of the Republic in Star Wars appear to be based on the U.S. Army. These ranks are also handy to know if you're writing in a fandom such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, JAG, or NCIS (Navy) or Rat Patrol, Band of Brothers, or Tour of Duty (Army).

For a reference that will tell you far more than you ever needed to know, try the wiki on Comparative Military Ranks. Its most helpful section for most of us is a small table near the top that lists common ranks side-by-side and enables you to see at a glance that, for example, a captain in the Navy is roughly equivalent to a colonel in the Army, while a captain in the Army is roughly equivalent to a lieutenant in the Navy.

British Honorifics

If your fandom is set in Great Britain, the odds are high that you'll run into a nobleman or noblewoman at some point. Lord Peter Wimsey, of course, has them in spades, but Sherlock Holmes and Horatio Hornblower run into their fair share of titled troublemakers as well. Here's another handy reference: Forms of Address in the United Kingdom.

Notes of caution: The precise order in which titles and names are given is extremely important. You cannot call Lord Peter Wimsey "Lord Wimsey"; that title belongs only to his older brother. You should not call Thomas, Bishop Proudie "Bishop Thomas Proudie." Mix up the order of "Captain Sir Edward Pellew" at your peril. (Though I have it on good authority that Major Lord Edrington may correctly be referred to as "Lord F**king Gorgeous" on suitable occasions.)

While very thorough, the wiki doesn't mention that high-ranking nobles are often referred to by the title of their estate; for example, Gerald Wimsey, Duke of Denver, is often simply called "Denver."

Japanese Honorifics

If you are writing in an anime fandom that takes place in Japan, you'll want to know the rules for using Japanese honorifics. What's especially tricky is that these aren't just used for royalty, nobility, military officers, or clergy; there are also rules for addressing everyday people. Here's a pretty good primer; pay special attention to -chan, -kun, and -san.

A Final Note

It's important for you, the author, to know the correct forms of the titles assigned to your characters. However, it's not necessary for all of your characters to know them! Characters may make honest or deliberate errors in addressing other characters, and you can use this to tell us more about them.

  • Look at Han Solo talking to Princess Leia - I can almost guarantee that "Your Worship" is NOT the right way to address a princess in any universe! Han's use of this pseudo-honorific emphasizes his iconoclastic personality and his conflicted feelings toward Leia.

  • Here is how Lord Peter absorbs and deflects one of the social gaffes described above (mixing up the order of his name and title). We also see him demonstrating the use of the estate as his brother's name and his own excellent imitation of an upper-class twit; meanwhile the narrator takes the opportunity to set the ensuing conversation in the context of this opening awkwardness:

    "Pleased to meet you, Lord Wimsey," said Mr. Milligan. "Won't you take a seat?"

    "Thanks," said Lord Peter, "but I'm not the Duke, you know—that's my brother Denver. My name's Peter. It's a silly name, I always think, so old-world and full of homely virtue and that sort of thing, but my godfathers and godmothers in my baptism are responsible for that, I suppose, officially—which is rather hard on them, you know, as they didn't actually choose it. But we always have a Peter, after the third duke, who betrayed five kings somewhere about the Wars of the Roses, though come to think of it, it ain't anything to be proud of. Still, one has to make the best of it."

    Mr. Milligan, thus ingeniously placed at that disadvantage which attends ignorance, manœuvred for position, and offered his interrupter a Corona Corona.
    Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body.
Tags: author:amedia

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