I am creating a software which will be used by scientists. There are two places where names will be used: first, in personal greetings ("You are logged in as Rosalind Frnklin"), and second, in user-generated content ("This model was created by Rosalind Franklin from King's college, London"). And we are considering using their academic titles too. ("This model was created by Dr. Rosalind Franklin").

Our team agrees that most scientists, especially the distinguished ones, will prefer to see their titles. But there will be groups (e.g. grad students whose highest title is "B. Sc.", or egalitarity activists) who would strongly prefer not to have them shown. And here, the team is divided.

One position is to only have the optional "Title" textbox on the page with a scientist's account. If the scientist enters something in there, it will always be shown. If the scientist prefers it to not be entered, she can delete the existing title. The argument of the supporters: saves a checkbox cluttering the settings, making it easier for the user.

The second position is to have a checkbox "use my title" independently of the textbox. If a user unchecks it, the title will not be shown. The argument for this option: A user who is miffed by her title showing up everywhere will not think of just deleting it from the profile. A checkbox is the obvious solution the user will look for.

Does anybody have some real data/observations about similar cases? Will users enter their titles in the first place even if they don't want the system to use them? Will they think of removing them if they don't like the display?

My own preferred solution would be to not ask for first name, last name and title, but to have a single field asking "How would you like your name to be displayed in the application", and it could contain whatever the user wants. But this is not something I can get my product owner to agree to, so I am trying to at least give people the option to hide their title.

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    You could just label the title field "Title to display". Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 14:05
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    Bear in mind you need (at least) two input fields for titles, as it's "Dr. R. Franklin", but "R. Franklin, M.Sc.". I'm afraid I have no evidence to offer -- in a project I was involved in, we had a "full name" field that defaulted to (Title 1) (First) (Last) (Title 2), and we didn't have any complaints. Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 15:25
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    You're already committing a serious UX faux pas by splitting "First Name" and "Last Name". Especially in a scholarly publication field, you're going to encounter people from countries where the given and family names are reversed, people with a single name, people with three equally important names (not a "middle name"), people with hyphenated names, etc.
    – Sparr
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 19:17
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    @RumiP. One possible compromise with your product owner: Don't call it "How would you like your name to be displayed in the application?" Call it, "Your Name" or "What is your name?" As with your original proposal, users who want to be addressed as "Dr." can enter "Dr." as part of their name.
    – Brian
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 21:20
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    Arguments for your product owner to reconsider their position: kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/…
    – peterchen
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 14:53

6 Answers 6


Add a new control where the user configures how they want their name to be presented, based on the bits they've entered separately (prefix, given name, family name, suffix), something like this:

name chooser mockup

Benefits include:

  1. The user can't just enter "Billy" or "thatoldhairyguy".
  2. The user can choose which way around their given name and family name go, by dragging. That's important for chinese names for example, where the family name goes first.
  3. The titles can be removed from the display, if the user doesn't want them.
  4. The titles are remembered by the system, even if not included in the display name.
  5. It's obvious to the user what they're doing: WYSIWYG.
  • But it's a gas factory ! Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 10:01
  • @NicolasBarbulesco - not sure you mean? Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 10:32
  • Do you seriously imagine developing such a full WYSIWYG drag-and-drop system …for a name ? That is : instead of what we all know for a name : a blank box where people write characters. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 14:10
  • @NicolasBarbulesco: Well, yes! The OP made it clear that a blank box where people write characters would not do the job. And more complex widgets have been created for other fields which you might assume are simple: date pickers for example. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 14:25

It sounds like it's time for you to conduct some very simple user research. You can even do this by hanging out on uni campuses for a day or two, showing a couple of paper prototypes (mock screenshots, wireframes, whatever) and asking your audience what they want to see and why. Alternately, you could do a very simple online survey to get this information (and potentially get to a wider audience, especially if you're going for an international audience). You can do this very quickly and easily, and use data to answer your question instead of arguing over intuition and opinion.

  • I know that this is a good option, but currently, I do not have the ressources (manpower or easy user access) to devote to that detail. So I hoped that somebody has already done it for this particular (and probably common for large classes of application) problem and can share the results.
    – Rumi P.
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 11:27
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    Based on the responses thus far, it appears that either no-one has done the research to determine the best option, or they have but aren't posting here, or they have but can't share their results because it was proprietary research.
    – nadyne
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 21:49

My own preferred solution would be to not ask for first name, last name and title, but to have a single field asking "How would you like your name to be displayed in the application", and it could contain whatever the user wants. But this is not something I can get my product owner to agree to, so I am trying to at least give people the option to hide their title.

This is actually the only correct solution.

There's a long list of falsehoods programmers believe about names, and while many of them are unlikely to apply (such as "people have names"), it's too easy to see a lot of assumptions you're making that do apply.

For example, you haven't taken into account Germany and the Netherlands, where title stacking is apparently commonplace. Has anyone given thought to Dr. Dr. Dr. Musterfrau, or prof. dr. ir. Appelmans, for example?

Use one single field that the user can enter their title and name as they want it displayed. Make as few assumptions as possible.

  • No upvote, because I do not find this too useful. 1) I stated in the question that I cannot use the "only correct" solution. Somebody with more power has already vetoed it. 2) I don't think that your international examples are good. I work for an academic institution in Germany and have worked with Dutch scientists. While multiple titles do exist and are given in very formal settings, this is not common everyday usage; a Prof. dr. rer. nat. will normally use just "Dr." 3) I was talking of a free text field for title, not a dropdown, so that a user can enter Dr. mult. h.c. if they wish so.
    – Rumi P.
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 11:20
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    For what it's worth, I did think of Dr. Dr. Dr. Musterfrau when I was making my suggestion. This can either be implemented as a set of title fields (allowing the user to choose which ones to include in their display name) or a single free text field (which would allow the user to include/exclude the whole lot). However I thought that including that much detail in my answer would be overkill. Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 17:07
  • @vincebowdren By "anyone", I was more referring to the people on RumiP.'s project
    – Izkata
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 18:12

A use case of one:

Use of my title depends on context. I am very rarely "Alex Feinman, Ph.D.", e.g., not on this website. So the answer depends on where it is being shown, even within a website. I might want my title to show in my profile, and for papers, but not for each post.

What you're driving at is the common UX pattern of 'display name', which is separate from 'real name' or 'full name'. The relation between the two is complex and best left to the user to decide. (E.g., a subtlety: Ph.D.s in my field are very rarely shown as "Dr. So-and-so"; instead, it's shown as "So-and-so, Ph.D.")


  1. Ask for the full name, and autosuggest a shorter 'display name' as the user types.

    A good starting guess would be leaving off the titles, unless you want to emphasize use of titles on your site; then you could guide this by suggesting them in the display name.

  2. Let the user override the display name with whatever they want.
  3. As the user fills in each, have a sample area which shows how it will look in situ: show it in use in a comment, a paper, or their profile.

    Showing the user an embedded preview of how each will look will help users understand the context.

  • The preview would be very useful. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 10:02

From personal experience: just show their title if they're a Dr.

Most who did the PhD want the title in their name for professional contexts (peer-to-peer).

Some with less than the PhD may want it because they're neurotic about not being higher in the order-of-opinion. Don't worry about their neurosis.

I can imagine some would chastise me for this, but it's based on plain observation of morays.

  • Sorry, I disagree completely. If I enable optional use of titles, I feel that the control should be at the user's side. First, the observation that only "Dr" is commonly used is OK, but of limited practical use - it sounds like you have only had occasion to observe academics from a limited area, possibly North America (based on your use of the term PhD). There are other significant academic titles whose use is widespread in a professional context. An international example would be the Russian "akademik", but even in the US, there are examples, like health care researchers using RN in a paper.
    – Rumi P.
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 11:09
  • But what rubs me especially wrong is the "Don't worry about their neurosis." part. My job is not to judge my users. They have a need. I want to fulfill it for everybody, not deny it to a subset of users whose need arises from reasons I do not approve of. Besides, the "neurosis" reason is a shaky assumption. "Akademik" again: it is as prestigious as a Dr., and using it is not a sign of neurosis. But I wouldn't add it to a whitelist of "always shown" titles, as anti-communist researchers have a good reason to not want to display this title because of its roots in the Soviet bureaucracy.
    – Rumi P.
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 11:11
  • @RumiP. your analogies, re: neurosis, would be more appropriate if you had used instead a title that was short of the PhD, MD, academik. For instance, in the US, the listing of MA` or MS is very infrequent, per my answer. let alone BS, BFA, etc. Titles describe low/mid levels of certification are more common to healthcare, where, LAc., A. Cale, D.C., N.D. are more common. Paying attention to your demographics does not require that you judge your users Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 13:08

In many websites the solution is to provide a dropdown field that is labeled optional for the title. That way, if someone wants it to be displayed they can, and if they don't want to provide the information they don't have to. If you allow then to edit their profile options they can then come back and add the information later on. Not saying that this is the best way, but it is probably something I have seen more commonly done compared to using a checkbox for the title information.

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