What is a proper way to address a person with the title of a Professor in a way which is less formal than "Dear Professor", but still conveys some respect?

For example, suppose I am talking to Professor John Smith. At first, I would address him as "Professor" or "Professor Smith", but after some time he gets tired of it, and suggests that I call him by first name. Because Professor Smith is very accomplished and respectable (and partly because of my Easter European upbringing), I feel reluctant just to call him "John". Do phrases like "Professor John" or "Mr John" sound natural and respectful? Is there a better alternative?

I'd be most interested in answers concerning British English, but would also be grateful for insight about other dialects.

  • 2
    'Professor John' or Mr. John are very awkward sounding.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 17:43
  • You mentioned "Dear Professor", which makes me think that you are at least partly thinking of how to address a letter, which to me should be at least slightly more formal than your normal way of addressing him, so I'd start with "Dear Professor Smith" , or even just "Professor Smith:"...unless is purely personal letter, in which case "Dear John" would work.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 18:08
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about the English language - it is about customs and forms of address which are cultural.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 18:56
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 3:17

3 Answers 3


In American English, titles are generally not paired with first names, except for TV "experts" like Dr. Phil (who does not really hold a doctoral or medical degree) and cartoon characters, like Mr. Bill.

Occasionally a teacher at the high school level (secondary school, pre-college) may tell his or her students to call them Mr. __ or Ms. ___ with the teacher's first name in the blank. This is done to engender a camaraderie. Similarly, some pediatricians may use Dr. [First name] to get closer to patients. These are the exceptions.

In US usage, there is not a common form of address that is both respectful and casual for academics or professionals.

For a very informal address, the terms Prof or Doc (if the person has a doctorate, academic or medical) may be used, but this is not really considered very respectful.


Well Mr John, is probably offensive at this point ("very accomplished and respectable") . In case, Dr. or Prof. John, if applicable (?).


This is not a question about English as such and you have not told us which country this is in. The rules in the US are not the same as those in Britain which are different from those in Australia etc.

In any case, if he has told you to call him by his first name, do so. Don't call him professor anything, just call him John. He asked you to, therefore you should.

While in the US people often attach way too much importance to such titles (I have a PhD in biology and am often called Dr. in the US, almost never in Europe), if the person in question has stated that they don't want you to use the honorific then don't. Personally, if you were a student of mine and insisted on calling me Doctor after I had asked you to call me Charles, I would get annoyed with you.

Since you have now specified British English, definitely call him with his first name if he has asked you to. In my experience, the world of British academia is much more laid back when it comes to honorifics and it sounds down right strange to keep addressing someone you have daily contact with as "Professor" or "Doctor".

Professor John or Doctor John sound weird. The latter brings to mind Dr. John for example. Just accept that different cultures have different standards for politeness and that in this context it is perfectly respectful to call him John as long as your tone of voice and demeanor exhibit that respect.

I spent a few years in Spain, for example, where just about everyone calls everyone else by their first names. That took some getting used to but people were offended when I used the polite form (usted) as opposed to the normal (tu). Just go with the flow and call him as he has asked you to. He might also take it as an insult if you don't, what, does this kid think I'm too old to be called by my first name?.

  • Apologies if I made it sound like a question about savoir vivre rules governing an encounter with a professor. What I was interested in was an English phrase which conveys a meaning somewhere between "Dear Professor" and "Dear John" (if it exists at all) - I hope this can be classified as a question about English. Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 17:46
  • @Feanor ah, there isn't really. At least not as far as I know. Seriously, just call him John, he asked you to. Respect is not expressed by meaningless titles by by the way you interact with people. Call him John and treat him with respect.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 17:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.