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As I identify as a male adult, my understanding is that I should select "Mr." when asked for my title when filling out forms.

I noticed a feature in my online bank portal which allowed me to change the title pre-pended to my name in communications. Changing this to Doctor (for which I am not recognised) worked instantly.

Could asking to be referred to as Doctor or Professor when you do not hold either rank, illegal in any way? This is without any intent to claim one has studied in either field, simply asking that a company refers to them by that title.

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    In what country? In Germany, the answer is notably yes; in most other countries, no. – Nate Eldredge Dec 2 '19 at 1:50
  • I'm in Australia, but I was curious for even countries like USA. I understand it is illegal to refer yourself as doctor in commerce, my case is as a consumer. Could you explain how the law works for Germany? – Al Longley Dec 2 '19 at 1:58
  • In the US the reference to doctor is limited in that a claim to a specific medical profession which is false, and upon a representation of treatment, is prohibited. This is the case whether one is one of many types of "doctors" including: audiology, dentistry, medicine (MD, DO), physical therapy, podiatry, psychology, and others. All of these are considered medical practioners. MD, DO generally practice in internal medicine, neurology, surgery, otorhinolaryngology, neuro surgery, cardiology, cardiac surgery and many specialties and sub specialties. – mongo Dec 4 '19 at 16:10
  • @AlLongley, you might refine your question as to whether the term doctor or professor is with a broad brush, or with specific focus on medical doctors. Finally, FWIW, I can find NO caselaw in the US which indicates a prohibition from naming one's self "doctor" in commerce such as bank accounts and even getting dinner reservations. Finally, we must realize that there are hundreds of doctoral degrees issued, all of which carry the title "doctor." – mongo Dec 4 '19 at 16:19
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It's dishonest. Dishonesty is not, in general, illegal.

Dishonesty is illegal when it is used to obtain someone else's property or financial advantage through fraud. It's also illegal if it's part of a statement made when applying for an authorisation or benefit.

It's potentially misleading. Misleading people is not, in general, illegal.

Misleading is illegal when it takes place in trade or commerce.

It gives you a title you don't hold. Claiming a title you don't hold is not, in general, illegal

Claiming a title you don't hold is illegal if it is a protected title under Australian law. For example, there are protected titles under the National Health Practionioners Registration Scheme: "medical practitioner" is a protected title; "doctor" isn't. Further, holding yourself out to be able to practice in certain professions when you are not (e.g. law, engineering in some states etc.) is illegal.

Context matters

Putting on a white gown, wearing a stethoscope and calling yourself "doctor" when attending a fancy dress party is not illegal. Doing it to angle for a free upgrade on your airline ticket is.

  • do you have citations for your final sentence, regarding the airline ticket upgrade? While the white lab coat might be considered a uniform, there are certainly many professions and occupations where white lab coats are common, and some of them include use of a stethoscope. So i would like to understand specifically how doing so and seeking an airline upgrade would be considered illegal. Let's for simplicity assume this is outside Germany. – mongo Dec 2 '19 at 18:14
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    @mongo because it’s fraud - dishonestly seeking financial advantage – Dale M Dec 2 '19 at 18:53
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    Second asking for a cite for the last sentence. As a free upgrade is a courtesy, I do not think there is any law against telling the agent whatever you want. Not to mention (I'm an actual medical doctor) that it does not generally work AFAIK. – Damila Dec 2 '19 at 19:04
  • Hard to say that a seat upgrade is a financial advantage, but in general seat upgrades are either courtesies or paid for or bonus perks. The story is different if someone represents themselves as a physician or medical doctor, and is not. To try to understand your thinking better, @DaleM, would you consider this "fraud" criminal? If so then perhaps there is an applicable statute. Damila, years ago I had colleagues who would book Dr. when they took expensive vacations, and it enhanced seating, particularly at dining establishments. Then again, they were all had PhD or Sc.D. – mongo Dec 3 '19 at 1:28
  • @mongo by strict interpretation it's likely a criminal fraud - fraud does not have to cause loss to anyone else, only gain to the perpetrator. It's also extremely unlikely to be prosecuted – Dale M Dec 3 '19 at 1:49
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That totally depends on jurisdiction.

In many countries, academic titles carry no specific legal meaning. However, even in that case you could still be prosecuted for general fraud, if you somehow used the claimed title to deceive someone.


Some jurisdictions do have specific laws regulating the use of academic titles. For example, in Germany the laws on higher education of the Länder (Hochschulgesetz) regulate the use of academic degrees as titles. These laws define what use is legitimate or not, and illegitimate use is punishable under § 132a Mißbrauch von Titeln, Berufsbezeichnungen und Abzeichen ("Misuse of titles, job designations and insignia").

The maximum penalty is one year imprisonment, though prosecution is rare, and generally only happens when the title is used with a concrete intention to defraud. For example, a court ruled in 2013 that wrongly using a title just for fun is not punishable.

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