Post-nominal letters, also called post-nominal initials, post-nominal titles or designatory letters, are letters placed after a person's name to indicate that the individual holds a position, academic degree, accreditation, office, military decoration, or honour, or is a member of a religious institute or fraternity. An individual may use several different sets of post-nominal letters, but in some contexts it may be customary to limit the number of sets to one or just a few. The order in which post-nominals are listed after a name is based on rules of precedence and what is appropriate for a given situation. Post-nominal letters are one of the main types of name suffix. In contrast, pre-nominal letters precede the name rather than following it.
Different awards and post-nominal letters are in use in the English-speaking countries.
The order in which post-nominal letters are listed after a person's name is dictated by standard practice, which may vary by region and context.
In the United States, standard protocol is to list post-nominal letters in the following order:
Active duty services personnel do not use any post-nominals other than, if applicable, Staff Corps affiliation (Navy only) followed by a comma and then their branch of service. Names are bracketed by the appropriate pre-nominal and post-nominal, e.g. LCDR John Q Public, MC, USN.
In the United Kingdom various sources have issued guidance on the ordering of styles and titles for British citizens, including the Ministry of Justice, Debrett's and A & C Black's Titles and Forms of Address; these are generally in close agreement, with the exception of the position of MP, etc., in the listing:
This differs from the civil ordering in that it omits appointments except for QC, includes diplomas and certificates in addition to degrees, merges medical qualifications, fellowships of learned societies, royal academicians, and membership of professional bodies into a single item, and omits membership of the armed forces.
Loughborough University gives a very similar ordering, but with "Appointments (e.g MP, QC)" replacing item 3 (QC) and "Higher Education awards (in ascending order, commencing with undergraduate)" replacing items 4-6 (Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates). This restores the Appointments section from the civil list omitted by Oxford and Nottingham, although the other differences remain.
Nottingham Trent University gives essentially the same ordering as Oxford and Nottingham, but without specifying the order in which degrees should be given. Nottingham Trent, Oxford and Loughborough recommend degree abbreviations be given in mixed case without stops between the letters (e.g. BA, not B.A.; PhD, not Ph.D.), as does Cambridge.Imperial College London, however, uses all small caps for post-nominals (e.g. phd, not PhD).
Where all degrees are shown, as in university calendars, most universities will give these in ascending order. However, advice on the precise ordering varies:
Going back to the mid 17th century, today's classical European fraternities such as the German Student Corps are using post-nominal symbols and letters to allow their members to indicate their fraternity membership and honorary positions held in their signature. The German word for the symbol is "Zirkel", literally "circle", referring to the hand-written symbol representing the fraternity which is commonly composed by combining letters from an acronym such as "vivat, crescat, floreat" (Latin: grow, bloom, prosper) followed by the first letter of the fraternity. The word "Zirkel" became a synonym in the late Middle Ages representing the entire group of close brothers. An example was Schiller's use of the sentence "Schließt den heil'gen Zirkel dichter" (literally: closer draw the holy circle [of brothers]) in the original version of the Ode to the Joy.
The Canadian government's The Canadian Style specifies that no more than two sets of post-nominal letters should normally be given, unless all are to be given either for information or for reasons of protocol, and that these should be the two highest of different types. The types and the order in which they are given are:
In academia and research, all degrees may be listed. In general, however, it is normal to only list those relevant to the circumstance. For example, if Jane Doe had a BS, MS, and PhD in computer science as well as an MBA, then if working in management in a retail company she would write "Jane Doe, MBA", but if working in an IT company she might write "Jane Doe, PhD", and if working in academia she could write "Jane Doe, BS, MS, MBA, PhD".
The Gregg Reference Manual recommends placing periods between the letters of post-nominals (e.g., B.S., Ph.D.); however, The Chicago Manual of Style recommends writing degrees without periods (e.g., BS, PhD). If post-nominals are given, the full name should be used, without Dr., Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Miss. Other prefixes (e.g., Professor) may be used.
In the UK, it is usual to list only doctorates, degrees in medicine, and degrees in divinity. In particular, when a person has letters indicating Crown honours or decorations, only the principal degree would normally be given. The University of Oxford Style Guide advises writers: "Remember that you do not need to list all awards, degrees, memberships etc held by an individual - only those items relevant to your writing."
In an academic context, or in formal lists, all degrees may be listed in ascending order of academic status, which may not be the same as the order in which they were obtained (although see notes on medical qualifications, below). The Oxford style is to list qualifications by their title starting with bachelor's degrees, then master's degrees, then doctorates. Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas are listed after doctorates, but before professional qualifications, with a similar ordering being used by other universities. In this style, foundation degrees and other sub-bachelor qualifications are not shown. An alternative style is to give all higher education qualifications, starting from undergraduate, ordered by their level rather than their title. In this style, one might list a Certificate or Diploma of Higher Education first, then foundation degrees, first degrees at bachelor level, first degrees at master level (integrated master's degrees and first degrees in medicine), postgraduate degrees at master level (including postgraduate bachelor's degrees such the Oxford BCL), and doctorates. In this style, postgraduate certificates and diplomas could be shown either before postgraduate degrees at master's level (as in the table given by Loughborough University) or before first degrees at master's level (reflecting their position in the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies). Strictly speaking, both the Debrett's and Ministry of Justice lists only allow for the inclusion of degrees, not non-degree academic awards.
For someone with a substantive doctorate, it is usual either to give "Dr" as the title (without a stop as per normal British usage) or to list their degrees post-nominally, e.g. "Dr John Smith" or "John Smith, PhD" but not "Dr John Smith, PhD". Postnominals may be used with other titles, e.g. "Mr John Smith, PhD", "Sir John Smith, PhD", or "The Rev John Smith, PhD".
In the case of a BA from Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin who proceeds to be an MA of those universities (which is taken without further study), the MA replaces the BA and thus only the MA should be listed. Oxford has said that there is no risk of confusion between their MA and "earned" MAs as the Oxford MA is denoted "MA (Oxon)" rather than simply MA. However, Debrett's has advised using just "MA" to describe a Cambridge Master of Arts.
Graduates from British and Irish universities sometimes add the name of the university that awarded their degree after the post-nominals for their degree, either in parentheses or not, depending on preferred style. University names are often abbreviated and sometimes given in Latin, e.g."BA, MA (Dunelm), PhD (Ebor)"; a list of abbreviations used for university names can be found at Universities in the United Kingdom#Post-nominal abbreviations. Where the same degree has been granted by more than one university, this can be shown by placing the names or abbreviations in a single bracket after the degree name, e.g. "Sir Edward Elgar, Mus.D. (Oxon., Cantab., Dunelm. et Yale, U.S.A.), LL.D. (Leeds, Aberdeen, and W. University, Pennsylvania.)".
Honorary degrees, if shown, can be indicated either by "Hon" before the post-nominals for the degree or "hc" (for honoris causa) after the post-nominals, e.g. "Professor Evelyn Algernon Valentine Ebsworth CBE, PhD, MA, ScD, DCL hc, FRSC, FRSE" (emphasis added); "Professor Stephen Hawking Hon.ScD, CH, CBE, FRS" (emphasis added). The Oxford University Calendar Style Guide recommends not giving honorary degrees in post-nominals.
In contrast to the style for academic qualifications, medical qualifications are listed in descending order, i.e.: doctorates, master's degrees, bachelor's degrees, postgraduate diplomas, and qualifying diplomas. Letters indicating doctorates, master's degrees and fellowships of royal colleges are always given, while bachelor's degrees, memberships and qualifying diplomas are only shown for people with no higher qualifications. In all but formal lists, only three medical qualifications are normally given.
Where someone holds qualifications in multiple fields, they are normally given in the order: medicine, surgery (except for MRCS, which is considered a qualifying diploma), obstetrics, gynaecology and other specialities. These are followed by qualifying diplomas and other diplomas.
Note that the academic style guides do not have a separate section for medical qualifications, so if following one of these guides, medical degrees should be listed with other degrees, medical diplomas with other diplomas, and fellowships and memberships of royal colleges with other fellowships and memberships of professional bodies.
In the UK there is, according to Debrett's, no defined order of precedence for placing designatory letters for fellowships of learned societies and memberships of professional bodies within their respective groups. Debrett's suggests that "In practice, where one society is indisputably of greater importance than another the letters are usually placed in that order. Alternatively, the fellowship of the junior society may be omitted. If such precedence cannot be determined, the letters may be placed in order of conferment. Where this is not known, they may be placed in alphabetical order." Earlier guidance that "Strictly speaking, they should be arranged according to date of foundation or incorporation of the societies concerned" has now been removed.
Only postnominals indicating honorific fellowships (e.g., FRS, FBA) are normally used socially. For professional bodies it is usual to list those most relevant to a person's profession first, or those most relevant to the particular circumstances. It is common to omit fellowships (except honorific fellowships) and memberships that are not relevant in a given situation.
Debrett's notes that although Royal Academicians are listed after fellows of learned societies (and before members of professional bodies), they do not yield to them in precedence, "In practice the two lists do not coincide."
It should also be noted that the distinction between a learned society and a professional body is not well defined. Many organisations (e.g., the Royal Society of Chemistry) claim to be both learned societies and professional bodies. However, it is clear from both the Ministry of Justice and Debrett's that only fellowships of learned societies are listed, while fellowships and memberships may be listed for professional bodies.
Examples of post-nominal letters:
There was no question of confusing an Oxford MA with a taught MA because the university did not offer specific MA courses and graduates used the title MA (Oxon) rather than just MA.
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'As a learned society we are concerned with advancing chemistry as a science, developing its applications, and disseminating chemical knowledge. As a professional body we maintain professional qualifications and set high standards of competence and conduct for professional chemists. We also provide a wide range of services and activities of value both to members, and to the community.' (emphasis added)