Are there any restrictions as to which title nouns can be placed before proper names?

How correct is this sentence:

'Neighbour John saw cat Whiskers near pharmacy GBN when car Mercedes was there.'

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    My neighbor John saw the cat Whiskers near the phramacy GBM when a Mercedes was there. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 17:11
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    Or 'Whiskers the cat'. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 17:55
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    I suggested it because we often say '[Name] the [description]' in English - Felix the Cat, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great... Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 18:18
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    Long experience of reading and using English! Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 16:10
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    'The locomotive Mallard broke down' and 'the Deltic locomotive broke down' are significantly different. The first uses a precising/identifying apposition, the second a classifying premodifying attributive (and proper) noun. Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 15:12

2 Answers 2


A title or role can appear before proper nouns

Mayor Jones was present, along with Congressman Smith, Reverend Wilkins, and District Attorney Alice Luna.

Neighbor John and pet Whiskers were seen peeping through the window of the Dollar Store, John at the discount cigarettes and Whiskers at some tins of tuna.

Brother Samuel gave a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace.

Favorite "Fightin' Chance" had the post position in the race but finished last.

Best Man John Smith gave a speech about the bridegroom's previous failed romantic relationships, which some found very funny while others where quite aghast.

Big Cheese Johnny LaRue sat down at a table with three of his top henchmen.

"role" is a fairly flexible thing. Since every stakes race has an odds-on favorite, "favorite" can suffice as a role, especially to those who frequent the race-track to bet on the thoroughbreds, though there may be some speakers with no experience of that demimonde for whom the usage might sound totally off or marginal.

Same with "neighbor". If you're someone who says or hears "Howdy, neighbor" on a regular basis, then you'll have no trouble parsing "Neighbor John" as a role. But if you don't think of neighbor as being a role in a local context, that could strike you as marginal.

  • I think grammatically this is correct, but giving someone a title of "Neighbor" [name] feels out of place to me. I am more accustomed to hearing "My neighbor John" or "John, my neighbor." Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 21:30

The rule is something like this: the simple noun must be the role it plays or the relationship it has --either in that specific context or in the world in general-- and the proper noun must be the given name of the noun.

In more detail:

The noun must describe the role that it plays or the relationship it has. "Neighbour" is a relationship that John has relative to the speaker, but "cat" is neither a role nor a relationship, which is why in TimR's answer, he replaced "cat" with "pet" -- "pet" is a relationship. "Car" is also neither a role nor a relationship.

The proper noun following the noun must be the name of that individual noun, like "neighbour John", where "John" is the name of that particular neighbour. This means "car Mercedes" doesn't work unless the owner of the car named it "Mercedes", regardless of it's actual make.

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