Honorific titles are generally a sign of respect, and run the gamut from everyday life, clergy and the monarchy to military and academia. Such titles may or may not be tied to a person's achievements; some connote a rank the individual has reached in society or within his organisation, while others recognise contributions a person has made to a particular field.
Signs of Respect or Status
An honorific title may refer to a manner in which to address another person as a sign of respect. Some honorific titles, such as Mr., Mrs., sir or ma'am (madam), are commonplace; these titles have evolved from English honorific titles. For example, "mister" came from the term "master, while "Mrs." and "Ms." refer back to the British honorific term "mistress."
The clergy includes honorific titles to indicate respect and/or status within a particular order. These include everything from Father, Pastor and sister to Bishop, Cardinal and Pope. Other such signs of respect include "Your Grace" and "Your Eminence."
Honorary Military Titles
The military often bestows military titles to nonpersonnel who have distinguished themselves either within or beyond the military. R. Lee Ermey, who appears in military-related reality shows and acted as a marine gunnery sergeant in the film "Full Metal Jacket," retired from the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant. He was given the honorary title of "Honorary Gunnery Sergeant" in 2002. Gomer Pyle, the fictitious character played by Jim Nabors in the television show "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," was not only named an honorary Marine -- he was promoted as well.
Honorary Titles in the Workplace
Other titles, while honorific, reflect a status a person has achieved within a certain field of work. A judge is referred to as "your honour" as a sign of respect. "Captain" is another example of an honorary title that relates to respect, such as the captain of an aeroplane.
Titles Involving the Monarchy
On the day of Prince William's marriage to Catherine Middleton, the Queen conferred three titles on William: Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Stratearn and Baron Carrickfergus; Catherine became Duchess of Cambridge.
Some titles bestowed to the monarchy are honorary military designations. As a 58th birthday present in 2006, Prince Charles had another military honour bestowed on him. He already had 26 honorary military titles; and at that time was given a four-star ranking in all three branches of the British military. He had previously been made a naval captain for his 40th birthday.
Academic Honorary Titles
A university may bestow the Distinguished Professor title to full professors to recognise exceptional academic achievement in a field. It may be based on teaching, reputation or scholarly work.
Celebrities and Honorary Titles
Comedian Bill Cosby has garnered a number of honorary titles. Cosby served four years in the navy; in 2011, the Secretary of the Navy awarded Cosby the title of Honorary Chief Petty Officer; Baylor University, Cosby's alma mater, gave him an Honorary Doctorate in 2003.
- Illinois Institute of Technology: Honorific Title: Distinguished Professor
- Stars and Stripes: Bill Cosby Made Honorary Chief Petty Officer
- Cleveland.com: Oberlin College Honors Bill Cosby, Stevie Wonder as it Celebrates New Jazz Music Building
- Online Etymology Dictionary: Mister
- The Guardian: Prince Charles Promoted to Four Star Rank for 58th Birthday
- IMDB: R. Lee Ermey