The supplysideliberal Style Guide for Referring to Public Figures

I wanted to elevate this comment to my post “Whither the GOP,” and my reply to it, to the status of a post. Here is the comment from Tom in Tempe: 

I’ve just got to remark on your continued use of first names for President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.  Neither is Barack nor Mitt in polite conversation.  They are as stated in the first sentence.  Please show due respect to our leadership.  The last thing we need is to grind down our leaders into the dirt of the common.

Tom in Tempe

Here is my reply:

I feel strongly that we all need to be reminded that our leaders are all fallible humans. For leaders one likes, the reminder of fallibility is most important. For leaders one doesn’t like, the reminder of humanity is most important.

In America, economists always typically call each other by their first names, regardless of how eminent an economist is. To me, that is a good reminder that it is the quality of the ideas being discussed at any time that matters, not someone’s reputation.

At another level, I feel that what the blood of our ancestors bought in the American Revolution was the right to treat all human beings as equals. We have no king that we bow to. As Americans, we all stand on an equal footing.

My custom of using first names for public figures and well as private individuals (which has some exceptions for the sake of clarity, rhetorical effect, and deferring to the sensibilities of editors, hosts or coauthors) began when I realized I had fallen into referring to the two presidential candidates as “Mitt” and “Obama,” and needed to resolve the asymmetry.   

Deference and outward shows of respect to position certainly have their place in society, but a blogger’s role is often to challenge public figures and put them in the searchlight, not to put them on a pedestal. Psychologically, referring to public figures by their first names helps me to do that.

Previously, I explained my custom of using first names in these words:

Style Guide Note: In order to emphasize the equality of all human beings, in posts appearing on, I lean toward referring to public figures as well as others by their first names. (Of course, I only follow that rule as long as it does not get in the way of clarity or conflict too much with other stylistic considerations. I am less consistent in using first names in tweets, since there, readers don’t have as much chance to get used to it.)

I should mention here that every human being is a marvel in the universe. (Of course, biologically, even dirt is a marvel. And human beings are more than dirt.) So to treat someone properly as a human being, equal to other human beings, is to treat them with high respect.