On Formality

Yihui Xie 2017-06-09

As I said on the About page, I don’t like formality. There is absolutely no need to tie my educational degree to my last name. Actually I feel uncomfortable with other people calling me “Dr Xie”. Anyone can just call me by my first name.1 In my opinion, the best way to show respect to people is not through these titles (Doctor or Professor), but the true care about their work. For the same reason, I’m not excited at all when someone simply says “hey, I’m big fan of you”, but I’m truly happy if someone discovers something I worked on (semi-)secretly and also thinks it is cool.

A couple of months ago, a secretary from a certain university booked a flight for me. When I got the E-ticket, my name was shown as “Dr Yihui Xie”. I was kind of speechless and wondered if I would be able to pass the security at the airport since my first name is definitely not “Dr”. I asked her not to include the doctor title in my name. Then a week later, she booked my hotel, and my name became “Yihui Dr Xie”. Cool. Now I have got a new middle name.


I still remember when I first went to Iowa State University, Di pulled me in front of her computer, pointed at one of my emails on the screen, and said “that is good”. She meant I called her “Di” instead of “Dr Cook”.

Of course, not every professor can accept this. I also had an experience with emailing a Korean professor around 2008, and heard thunders rolling back, “Do you call seniors in China using their first names?!” Actually no. In China, we never dare to use the first name to call our professors.

Anyway, I just want to clarify in this post that you do not need to call me “Dr Xie”. Occasionally people also call me “Prof Xie”. I’m not a professor. I’m just a software engineer.

  1. Due to the Chinese culture, I feel weird when someone calls me using my last name “Xie”. When people use the last name to call someone, that typically means (1) the person has died; and (2) it is sensitive to talk about this person (e.g. a past President or influential politician), so they only use the last name but most people should know whom it refers to. ↩︎