In my previous posts (and more extensively in chapter The Tiff over Titles in my book) I have written about the many confusing titles that consular officials may claim. All this makes for interesting (and fun!) social and official situations to observe.
Most recently, my mind has wandered to the usage of Emeritus for a consul, like myself, who’s retired from the post. Is this appropriate? Is it so widely accepted that it’s now the norm for anyone who has served as a consul? Can/should retired consuls just assume they are entitled to add that designation after the old title they held?
All of us are familiar with Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus (and watch out for the plural, which is Emeriti) so it seems that’s how the academic world does it. But can we draw parallels to what I call the “consular world” or is there a rational distinction between the two? A search of the web for consul emeritus only adds to the confusion as many a consular corps shows up with a separate membership for these emeriti.
In general terms, this usage of titles only becomes an issue with those people who have previously served as honorary consuls (and not in a career post, because they are likely to transfer out of the community – even to another country – where they were posted). When such an honorary consul retires, or is otherwise replaced, he/she usually remains in the same community and may continue to add great value to the country previously represented, but who decides if the now-retired consul can add the distinction of emeritus (for a lady consul, the correct form is emerita)? An on-line search of some membership groups of consuls seems to indicate that bylaws of some provide for a separate classification – that of consuls emeriti – for these formerly active honorary consuls. But, and this is where the fun begins for anyone who actually attaches a meaning to titles, what if the bylaws are silent? I can mention the Consular Corps of Miami as an example, where former honorary consuls who continue to pay their dues become Associate Members. For many years they were simply listed by names (not even the former title) and without the country previously represented. What if I, as a retired honorary consul myself, insisted that I simply must be listed as Consul Emerita? What about other retired consuls: should we all be emeriti?
To find answers to the emeritus-question, we look to the non-profit world where the literature is ample on the usage of emeritus. In academe the title is so common among former leaders (professors, deans; see above) that it’s accepted practice for those retiring from “full-time work” and those are key words. In the rest of the non-profits, trustees who go off the board may be given the title of emeritus for extraordinary contributions made while on the board but there’s nothing automatic about this so that all retired board members become emeriti.
Obviously, there must be a rationale for when an honorary consul becomes emeritus. It’s simply not for a retiree to tack on this honor after his/her former title. My best advice is to check the bylaws of the consular corps involved for the possible creation of this separate class of former consuls (remember, again, “associate membership” is one way of keeping retired consuls on the rolls).
Any honor, such as emeritus or emerita, must not be bestowed by that person him/herself. Although I must confess I always wanted to be Her Royal Highness in some way or the other. I guess I could settle for Lady Hofstadter!