Default Ordering Of Title Options

by @edent | # # # # | 11 comments | Read ~166 times.

I was signing up to a website the other day, and it wanted to know my title. Here are the options it offered me:
Mr. Dr (Male). Professor (male). Ms. Dr (fem). Professor (fem). Mx.
Look, I get it. If I'm ever daft enough to undertake a PhD and masochistic enough to complete it - I am going to demand that everyone addresses me as Doctor Who Doom Octopus.

But why this ordering? Why distinguish between male and female doctors? Let's see if the source code holds any answers.

Source code in German.
As many of you may have guessed, the website is German. Herr Doctor and Frau Doctor are distinct titles. In some societies, it is extremely rude to refuse to use someone's correct title.

But, again, why are the titles presented in this way?

Next time you fill in an official form which asks for sex information, notice that it is almost always in the format Male / Female. Why is "male" first? It isn't alphabetical - the normal way to order things. And it's not in demographic proportion - there are more women than men.

If the above list were in alphabetic order, in English it would have "Dr (Fem)" first. In German it would be "Divers" first. So who made the choice to put it in this specific order? And why isn't the first title, for example, Frau Professor?

What choices have been made, and why have they been made?

Here's another example, the British shopping site
The title list on this shopping website goes Mrs Miss Ms Mr Dr Prof.
I suspect that they know their user base is predominantly female. But do their demographics also skew towards married? Is that why they've put Mrs first?

I recommend reading Kate Roberts' "Women On Top: Inappropriate Dropdowns" - which takes a proper look at the usability of dropdown ordering.

British Airways

BA have a weird grouping.
The BA website start Mr Mrs then goes Captain Professor Doctor Dame etc. There is no apparent ordering.
After the "normal" titles is a hodge-podge of Captains, Rabbis, and Reverends. What's the order? Why are some grouped alphabetically and others not? How easy is it to quickly find the correct title on this list?


Emirates are quite happy to use young women as part of their advertising images.
Registration screen for Emirates.
But "Miss" comes at the bottom of their title list.

Who are we leaving out?

The approach by British store Fortnum and Mason is extremely inclusive.
An extremely long title list which includes Right Honourable, Wing Comander, Dame, etc.

But they're still sticking Mr on top...! Lord comes before Lady etc.

And they're missing my title - "Supreme Commander".

Are titles important?

I'm torn. I remember as a teenager receiving my first letter addressed to Mr Eden. I was so proud.
But today, everything seems to be so casual. Call centres refer to me by my first name. My bank sends emails addressing me as "Dear Terence".

Of course, I'm cisgendered and only rarely misgendered when speaking to people. It doesn't distress me when people get my title wrong.

It comes down to why you collect title. Do you really need to know the gender of your user or their marital status? Is knowing educational attainment or religion necessary to good functionality?

Rather than offering a drop-down of limited options - which is guaranteed to exclude someone - perhaps it makes more sense to just ask the user how they would like to be addressed.

Give your users a free-form text box - and make it optional.

11 thoughts on “Default Ordering Of Title Options

  1. Very interesting, I think you hit the nail on the head, Supreme Commander! I guess part of the issue is that people (co's) don't like to be not in control of their data collection. Then they allow a few titles, then a lot, then forgot about how it all affects the UX.

  2. F&M are missing my preferred title, Rev. Dr.
    I am now wondering how you get the title "The Venerable"

  3. Katie C says:

    Absolutely offer people an optional blank text box. This drives me up the wall, and I use one of the standard titles (Ms.).

    Personally, I wish we'd just make 'Mx.' happen, to give people a gender neutral option. And it drives me up the wall when they include "Miss" (what you'd use to address a young girl), but not "Master" (what you'd use to address a young boy). If we're going to be antiquated, let's do it right, people.

  4. Many moons ago when working for a charity I fielded a complaint from a certain unnamed dignitary who refused to donate to us until he could choose 'Lord' as his title on our online form.

  5. The Emirates example (Mr - Ms - Mrs - Miss) could plausibly be arranged in order of occurrence. Certainly, there will be more cases of "Mr" than any of the three titles under which women divide.

  6. Can't believe Fortnums have missed out 'Her Majesty'.

    Also, if they offer 'Mr & Mr', why not 'Ms & Ms', 'Mx & *', 'Lady & Dr', etc?

    (Of course, the title is generally captured for customer segmentation and personalized comms reasons, but should never be mandatory in any case.)

  7. No “His Holiness”? This is exclusionary of a whole class of popes.

  8. sikander says:

    Given the option, I would chose Lord everytime.

  9. Jo says:

    I mostly get annoyed that titles are compulsory at all. I don’t want to tell them my sex or my marital status. I have a PhD, so I often use Dr, but lots of people think that’s pretentious. I certainly wouldn’t want to use Dr (male/female)! I’m quite happy to just be addressed by my name. But so often it’s a compulsory field?!

  10. Amy Roberts says:

    Being Trans I absolutely hate the title / gender parts of any form, (especially if it is a compulsory field), even though I hide behind my Dr (PhD). Why in most cases does the title and gender matter so much? especially in retail. Why should offers be limited to gender or status? I totally agree that a free text box would be the best

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