Daily Archives: September 2, 2008

What’s in a Name?

What do we call ourselves?  How do we describe ourselves to others?  What adjectives should (could) we use to describe ourselves?

I started thinking about this today as I sat in the communication sciences building, back at my office hour.  I’m sharing the closet office with two undergraduate advisors, and our three name tags & titles are on the door, like this:  Person 1, undergraduate advisor; Person 2, undergraduate advisor; Stephanie Willen Brown, librarian.

I thought:  what if I called myself a “library advisor”?  That might make more sense to students.  Several years ago, I stopped telling students I was “on the reference desk” from 2-4 and started telling them that I had “office hours” from 2-4.  During classes, I could see quick comprehension in their eyes when I told them my “office hours.”  Similarly, I now use the phrase “search engine” when describing PsycINFO (as in, “PsycINFO is THE search engine for psychology!”); that seems clear to the newer students and usually gets a laugh from the more experienced ones.  I wonder if I would help students make a similar leap in understanding if I called myself the “library advisor”  for communication sciences.

As I was mulling this over, I read the FemaleScienceProfessor blog, noting especially last week’s Rename the Professors Poll.  She is tired of “the unsatisfactory nature of the current terms for professorial ranks,” noting that ” ‘Assistant Professor’ is particularly annoying and kind of demeaning as a term, and ‘Associate Professor’ isn’t much better.” Her riff on endowed chair names is very entertaining. She’s written about the issue of faculty titles a lot, and she’s now running a poll which “focuses on the Big Three (replacements for Assistant, Associate, and ‘full’),” noting that some “categories are versatile enough to permit some fine-scale additions to the Professor rank.”  As I write this, there are 13 comments and over 500 votes.

Would it make a difference if faculty were called Lieutenant / Commander / Admiral?  How about One-star Professor / Two-star Professor / Three-star Professor?  Or if librarians were called “library advisors?”  Let’s start our own poll.  What could we rename ourselves to more clearly describe *to our students* how we can help them?