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I seek clarification on the correct meaning of the terms "Salutation" vs "Form-of-Address".

My understanding is that salutation denotes the entry line of a letter:

Dear Mr Hercule Poirot,

and that form of address in this example is 'Mr' in front of the name.

My mother tongue is German. In German the term 'Anrede' can denote both things. When one wants to use a more precise term the former can be called 'Grußformel'.

When I would need to use the correct terms for UI interface entry forms and the corresponding data structure I would use it like so:

{
  formOfAddress: 'Mr',
  firstname: 'Hercule',
  lastname: 'Poirot',
}

But I regularly see the following usage in source code:

{
  salutation: 'Mr',
  firstname: 'Hercule',
  lastname: 'Poirot',
}

Now all my colleagues are German as myself and I suppose this is not the correct usage of the terms and is only rampant because most German-English online dictionaries will yield 'salutation' as the first result when one searches for 'Anrede'. This is really not a big issue but I strive to find clarity over this just for my peace of mind. Maybe a native speaker can shed some light on this?

Addendum: After reading the answers I got and their linked articles I came to the conclusion that

    1. salutation in this context is definitely incorrect
    1. form of address is not strictly correct as it is usually used for grander titles
    1. title or personal title can be used as the correct terms to denote Mr / Ms / Mrs / Mss in front of a name
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  • 1
    As an aside, use of “first name” and “last name” is not culturally neutral and should be avoided. Many naming systems put the family name in first place. Not all the world is Western Europe. A more neutral option is “family name” “given name/s”. It will make it far easier to localize your data and UI/UX.
    – jwpfox
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 21:34
  • Consider avoiding the whole issue by using honorific instead which has less ambiguity en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_honorifics
    – jwpfox
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 21:37
  • As a further aside, this seems to be about data handling, not English. Commented Nov 27, 2020 at 0:37
  • In a database, "title" might be unclear, for example, if this is a database of authors, "title" might clash with title of their works when join is done on the database of books. So the programmer was looking for a word that wouldn't clash - 'salutation' is wrong, but works. And then other programmers copy the fields from the first programmer... Generally don't expect things like variable names to represent the general sense of words in normal English prose.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 7:44

2 Answers 2

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The form of address is an official name for a representative or dignitary, conforming to protocol, which is also called their title.

In a form that needs completing, 'Mr' or 'Mrs' etc is usually their personal title.


The greeting at the start of a letter is its salutation.
IMO the salutation for the person shown should be one of

  • Dear Mr Poirot
  • Dear Hercule Poirot
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  • It could also be "Dear Hercule" if you are on first-name terms or "Dear Herco" if he's a mate who doesn't mind being addressed that way. In BrE "Dear Hercule Poirot" is not considered good usage, although it may be necessary if you don't know his title. "Title" is the word I would use for the form of address.
    – rjpond
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 18:44
  • @rjpond yes, I think I mentioned the word 'title'. "Dear Hercule Poirot" is a frequently seen salutation these days when you don't know the person's gender. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 22:18
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I think you are correct; 'salutation' means any word used in greeting, and does not necessarily include any word used to designate the person being greeted. "Hello" is a salutation, waving at someone is a salutation.

So "form of address" would be the correct term. To be fair to you and your German-speaking colleagues, I think most native English speakers would have trouble dsitinguishing the two terms without looking them up. I know I had to.

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