Should “Honorary Doctor†Use Dr. Before Name?


Kenneth writes:
Last month during a college graduation in Chicago I received an honorary doctorate of divinity from one of the local seminaries. I had been living in Chicago for a year just to complete some graduate study but now I have moved back home. While I was in Chicago I met several clergy who received honorary doctorate degrees in the past who use the title Dr. before their name on a regular basis and even wear academic bars on their robes. I am from a much smaller community where not many people have a doctorate degree — earned or honorary. Just to document my accomplishment I had a notice about my achievement in the local paper and I am getting a fair amount of non-positive feedback.
What is the proper use concerning this matter?


The Career Doctor responds:
Kenneth let me be upfront here and say that asking this question of someone who has
spent the extra years and effort to earn an academic doctor of philosophy is a dangerous one. I have strong opinions about the issue. Your case is slightly different because you have some graduate study but let’s look at the facts.
There are two groups of people who generally have the right to use “Dr.” before their names — and they have all spent about 20 years or so getting educated. The first are those with an earned professional degree such as in medicine (MD) optometry (OD) osteopathic medicine (DO) pharmacy (Pharm.D) podiatry (PodD DP DPM); divinity/ministry (BD MDiv) law (LLB JD) and others. The second are those with an earned doctoral degree the highest degree you can earn for graduate study. The doctoral degree classification includes such degrees as Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Doctor of Public Health Doctor of Nursing Science (D.NSc.) Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).
Many universities (and now colleges) grant a degree called an honorary doctorate to persons they want to honor or recognize (usually a dignitary benefactor or notable alumni). However neither the university or the honoree were naive enough to believe the honor actually conferred a full doctorate thus most people with honorary degrees are discouraged from using them in public though certainly many do.
In the end of course it’s your decision. Certainly if you are looking to start your own business having a “doctorate” adds some perceived prestige to your qualifications. And there are numerous religious leaders that use “Dr.” before their names when they have earned only honorary doctorates of divinity. Maybe in your small community they think you’re just being as bit full of yourself whether rightly so or not.