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A character is in a position of high authority or status, and as a part of this, is owed respect and even obeisance from those considered beneath him.
However, this person refuses to take advantage of the situation. He insists that he be addressed by name rather than title, he stops people who try to bow to him, he corrects people who try to avert their eyes. While still being cognizant and proud of his position, he tries to minimize the social distance between himself and members of other classes.
The reasons for this vary considerably and tend to be complex. He may hate to see others degrading themselves before him. He may be from humble origins and find the signs of respect mocking, or doubt his own worth to receive them. He may be trying to endear himself to the lower classes in a deliberate gambit to seem personable. Or he may simply find it impractical and say something to the effect of "Formalities are a waste of time."
If this character is very powerful, such as a king, he will often try to change the behaviours of those around him or abolish denigrating practices. Whether this works generally depends on the kindness of the setting.
This trope also pops up in works that involve the military whenever a non-commissioned officer (usually a Sergeant) is referred to as "sir" as the title is typically reserved for commissioned officers. The stock response from the NCO is "Don't call me Sir, I work for a living." Roughly 90% of the time this pops up it's when Drill Sergeant Nasty is introducing the fresh-off-the-street recruits to their basic training.
A common way to play with this trope is to have one character insist on being called by name, but another character, usually a servant or similar role, agrees and continues using the title anyway, in the basic form of: "Don't call me Sir." "Yes, Sir." The two characters may argue about this throughout the story, and the eventual use of the first name by the subordinate character can be used so show the development of their relationship. (The Old Retainer hates it.)
Anime and Manga
- Youko, the main character and eventual queen in The Twelve Kingdoms, can't stand to see her courtiers and peasantry prostrate themselves before her, partly because it offends her sense of equality and because she fears the ministers are scowling while their faces are hidden. At the end of the series, she issues a proclamation that abolishes the custom.
- In Legend of the Galactic Heroes, after Reinhard and Hilde get married, Reinhard tells her she can stop calling him "Kaiser" like everyone else and call him by his first name, with mixed results.
- In Bakuman｡, Mashiro, during his first real conversation with his assistant Takahama, gets him to call him "Mashiro-san" rather than "sensei".
- The third Megami Sound Stage reveals that Hayate has been trying to get Agito, who recently joined her family, to call her by her first name rather than "Commander/Lieutenant Colonel Yagami". Agito is initially unable to do so, but eventually starts calling her "Meister Hayate."
- In a flashback of Bleach, Yoruichi suggests that Soifon call her "Yoruichi-san" rather than "Commander," but Soifon suggests "Yoruichi-sama" instead.
- In Gundam Wing, Relena Peacecraft asks Dorothy Catalonia not to call her "Relena-sama", presumably because they're the same age (in fact, Dorothy's a year older). Dorothy keeps calling her that anyway, which seems to be subtly mocking.
- Yuuri of Kyou Kara Maou repeatedly asks characters, especially Conrad, to address him as Yuuri rather than the kingly title of 'Your Majesty'.
- Cyclops of the X-Men just can't call Professor Xavier anything other than his title and surname, even when the Professor asks him to call him "Charles".
- Originating from the first television show, this trope is a standard of Silver Age Superman comics, with Jimmy Olsen calling Perry White "Chief," prompting Perry to say, "Don't call me 'Chief!'"
- In the lead-up promotional comic for the Engineer Update in Team Fortress 2, the BLU Engineer's real name is revealed in such a conversation.
BLU Engineer: Mr. Conagher is my father. Call me Dell.
- In the Mai-HiME fanfic Windows of the Soul, Natsuki tries to get Hideko, one of Shizuru's maids, to call her by her first name instead of "Kuga-sama," but Hideko refuses, calling her "Kuga-san" as a compromise.
- In Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality Dumbledore tells Harry that Headmaster is to formal he can call him 'Heh' for short. He is both surprised and pleased when when Harry does.
- At the end of The King and I, when the king's son ascends the throne, the very first thing he does is start telling people to stand up and look him in the eye.
- God himself does this in Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Apparently he just finds the behaviour annoying.
- In Stripes, Sergeant Hulka uses the "Don't call me sir, I work for a living!" line on a new-recruit.
- In Forrest Gump, Forrest's platoon leader in Vietnam immediately forbids him to salute him or show any forms of respect in the field because the enemy snipers would specifically target the commanding officers.
- Truth in television; a salute on the battlefield is called a "Sniper Check" in military jargon. This is now official policy for deployed U.S. military forces in some areas.
- The 'I work for a living' part is also in Good Morning Vietnam, followed by a line meant to set up another one-liner from Robin Williams.
- In The American President, President Andrew Shepherd tells his Chief of Staff, A.J., that he can call him by his first name when they're alone together. A.J. replies, "Whatever you say, Mister President."
- "I see, Sir Luke."
- The US Intelligence representative from Transformers: Dark of the Moon is obsessive about not being called "ma'am".
- In the 1986 movie Saving Grace the new Pope Leo XIV wants his closest aides to please call him something other than 'Your Holiness' all the time. Though he does say 'Your Not-So-Muchness' is "Too long."
- In one of the Porky's movies, Coach Brackett asks the other characters to quit calling him "Coach" and address him as Roy. "I'm only twenty-three, for Christ's sake."
- Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.
Kilgore: You can cut out the "sir" crap, Lance. I'm Bill Kilgore, I'm a goofy foot.
- Barb Wire: Let's just say that "Babe" will be the absolute last word ever to be heard from you.
- Each of the three main male characters in The Wheel of Time, being from a small village, are immensely weirded out when fate hands them a set of nice clothes and suddenly everyone is bowing and saying "my lord." They handle it quite differently: Perrin struggles with the ethics of lordhood whilst tentatively allowing the practice to continue; Rand gets an inflated head and decides it's all his due (not helped by everyone proclaiming him the Chosen One of every prophecy out there it seems); and Mat continues to struggle in vain to make it stop.
- In Sanctuary (book three of the Dragon Jousters series by Mercedes Lackey), Kaleth has to scold the Tian priests at least twice for prostrating themselves to him. Not that you can really blame them, as each time Kaleth had been possessed by one of the Altan/Tian pantheon to pass messages on ....
- Played with (like everything else) in Discworld, with King Verence II and Queen Magrat. Verence had been a member of the Guild of Fools and Joculators, which is firmly established as the bottom of the social ladder, and Magrat is simply "a bit wet", and most of the country (which is tiny) has known her all her life. They both hate being deferred to this way, Magrat because she feels like marrying someone she loves should have nothing to do with how people she's known forever treat her, and Verence because he feels it's inexpedient and has even gone so far as to set up a parliament. The people they rule, however, are a bit old-fashioned, and don't hold with Verence's style of ruling, since what is the point if they have to rule themselves? After all, it's "got to be done proper."
- Another Discworld example is in Pyramids, where the modern-educated protagonist, after being made the Pharaoh, tries to be the kind of affable modern ruler who shakes people by the hand and shows an interest in their work, instead of the kind who's always look down at the tops of grovelling heads. It doesn't really work out, because he's pushing against the weight of centuries-long tradition (and parts of it are actively pushing back).
- Sam Vimes acts like a variant of this trope after being knighted - he hates being treated like a nobleman in any way, since he is disgusted by the usual behavior of Ankh-Morpork's nobles, and he also still completely feels like a 'normal' citizen.
- Eventually he becomes comfortable enough with it that most people who don't know him call him Sir Samuel. Admittedly, he's a Duke by this point, and he objects to "your Grace".
- Corporal Strappi has the "I'm not a sir, I'm a bloody corporal!" version in Monstrous Regiment. In his case it's because he'll take any excuse to bully the recruits. (On the other hand, Private Maladict radiates aristocracy to such an extent that when he signs up, Sergeant Jackrum has to stop himself calling him "sir".)
- In Interesting Times one of the first edicts Cohen the Barbarian makes when he becomes Emperor is to stop people Kowtowing and giving long winded overly flattering titles as he thinks it is a disgrace that ordinary people are compelled to do that (he does also say if they want to show respect they can give him money though).
- How about Jake from Animorphs? Ax is always calling him Prince (a rank, rather than royal title). Leading to:
Ax: "... Prince Jake."
Jake: "Don't call me Prince."
Ax: "Yes, Prince Jake."
- Amusingly enough, when Ax first is getting used to living with the rest of the crew, he does this because military command and structure is drilled into the entirety of Andalite society, but as time progresses, it's hinted that he keeps doing it because he knows it annoys Jake, and finds it funny.
- The Bible: When Saul was chosen to be king, nobody could find him. He was eventually found in the coatroom, being one of the Bible's many examples of extremely humble people.
- Though he did a Face Heel Turn once David came on the scene.
- Sandor Clegane of A Song of Ice and Fire doesn't technically have the rank anyway, but he functions as a knight in everything but name, and as such, other knights and courtiers often address him as "ser". He hates it. Direct use of the trope name occurs when Sansa makes this mistake and he snaps, "Don't call me ser."
- In his autobiography About Face David Hackworth mentions how he reluctantly accepted a Field Promotion up to officer rank during the Korean War. He gets into a truck and is addressed as "sir" by the driver.
Hackworth: "Don't call me sir. I was a sergeant until a few minutes ago."
Driver: "Yes sir."
- Belgarion, having been raised as a Farm Boy, is naturally unnerved when he is unexpectedly named as the Rivan King and suddenly everyone is bowing to him. He gets used to it after a while.
- In Percy Jackson and The Olympians, Percy can tell Blackjack not to call him boss, and get the response of sure, boss, whatever you say boss -- cheerfully, not ironically.
- Honor Harrington:
- From Crown of Slaves, Berry Zilwicki, upon becoming queen of Torch find the formalities associated with monarchy to be tremendously awkward, and comments that she foresees establishing the most informal monarchy in history. She prefers to be on a first name basis with people, which is convenient given that many of her future subjects are from the Audubon Ballroom, and thus have no last names.
- Jeremy also winces a bit at being addressed as "Mister X"
- The titular heroine of the series has enough titles to stock a bookstore (seriously, see 'em here), but she doggedly tries to get her Grayson armsmen to call her "Honor." It rarely happens.
- Calling superior officers "Sir" is also taboo in the navy of the People's Republic of Haven, particularly soon after the initial coup and purge, though for more sinister reasons. The use of such titles is considered unacceptably elitist, and the use of the kludgy "Citizen [Rank]" is prescribed instead, under threat of severe punishment. Many Havenite crews ignore this requirement, depending on the attitudes of their Citizen Commissioners.
- Kurtz in Stephen King's Dreamcatcher very much dislikes the word "sir." He's ruthless and rather scary (unusual for this trope) and characters avoid the word "sir" out of fear of his reaction, although because they're obviously not comfortable around him "sir"s will often slip out. "Boss" is much more effective and doesn't put you on the lunatic's bad side.
- Kurtz eschews the use of the word "sir" — as well as the use of ranks, rank insignia, rates, et cetera — because the nature of the operation he's commanding requires that he and his subordinates do so. If the military personnel involved in the "cleanup" were to be identified as such, they would be in direct violation of federal law — specifically, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (18 U.S.C. §1385), which forbids the United States military from carrying out operations against civilians within the United States. It's more exploiting a legal loophole than a personal preference.
- Arises between Bunter and Lord Peter Wimsey in Jill Paton Walsh's The Attenbury Emeralds. After Lord Peter's elder brother the Duke of Denver dies without surviving issue, Bunter uses Wimsey's newly-inherited form of address, and Wimsey tries to get him to use his first name, at least in connection with their investigation work. Bunter settles for returning to "My Lord"/"Your Lordship", which he'd been using for years. Despite Wimsey's and Harriet's efforts to the contrary, Bunter generally tries to resist the more egalitarian spirit of post-WWII Britain, even discouraging his son Peter Bunter ("PB") from seeing himself the equal of his schoolmate Bredon Wimsey.
- Inverted in A Series of Unfortunate Events, in the miserable mill. The boss insists that everyone call him Sir, to the point where neither we nor the protagonists know his name.
- Michael from the Knight and Rogue Series insists Fisk just call him by his name, while Fisk only refers to him as Sir or Noble Sir (though he does use Sir Michael in monologue). Michael admits to the audience that he'd be willing, at least for a while, to just settle for Sir, since Fisk means Noble Sir as an insult.
- Of course when Fisk starts calling Michael 'Mike' on occasion that isn't appreciated either.
- An inversion occurs during Harry Potter's Occlumency lessons in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix: Snape insists on being called 'Sir' or 'Professor' at all times.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Snape again insists on being called 'sir' and he chastises Harry for not doing so. This leads to Harry's famous riposte 'There's no need to call me "sir", Professor.'
- Played a bit for laughs in The West Wing with Donna Moss and incoming First Lady Helen Santos.
Helen: Did you just "ma'am" me???
Donna: I seem to have, yes.
Helen: (cheerfully) Yeah, don't do that again.
- The Doctor on Doctor Who. It's usually a sign of great distress when he doesn't mind people calling him sir.
- The Tenth Doctor also dislikes being saluted. The only reason he lets the UNIT commander of the episode do it is because they seem to get a buzz out of it.
- Captain Janeway of Star Trek Voyager prefers "Captain," but "ma'am" will do in a crunch. Just not "sir," what with her being a woman and all.
- It should be noted that Star Trek: The Next Generation had Starfleet officers of superior rank addressed as "sir" regardless of their gender; presumably the idea was that the patriarchic meaning of this word had changed over the centuries to being a form of address for anyone of higher status.
- Star Trek the Next Generation also used the "I work(ed) for a living" variation, when someone "sirred" Worf's adoptive father, a retired Starfleet CPO.
- Chief O'Brien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was like this as well; in fact, in one episode, a dying ensign noted that his situation had to be getting worse because O'Brien didn't correct him about calling him "sir". That said, O'Brien is not a Starfleet Officer, he's an enlisted man. Which lead to the fact that following the strict chain of command, Nog who is a cadet with a battlefield promotion to Ensign outranks him. He follows the standard tradition of using ranks as titles though, and he's laid back enough about it to claim that he did so so he wouldn't have to wear fancy uniforms and go to boring meetings.
O'Brien: You know, I just realised, when he gets back from the academy, I'm going to have to call him 'sir'.
- Which is somewhat odd, given that the novelization of the Deep Space Nine pilot explicitly mentions O'Brien being promoted to Ensign as an aspect of his transfer.
- Inverted by Troi in Star Trek the Next Generation: she is promoted to the rank of Commander while Data is off-ship, and when Data returns, she jokes that he has to call her "Sir" now.
- In NCIS, Gibbs insists upon being called "Boss" instead.
- Abby, being Abby, played with it.
Abby: Yes, sir!
Gibbs: Don't call me sir.
Abby: Yes, ma'am!
(amused reaction from Gibbs)
- And if you call Ziva "ma'am"... whoops.
- Inverted by new captain Victoria "Iron" Gates on Castle. She insists on being called "sir" over "Ma'am".
- Sandor Clegane of Game of Thrones doesn't like being called "ser". Unlike many examples, it's actually incorrect, as he is not a knight (though many assume he is, what with being the personal bodyguard of the Crown Prince). Beyond that, Sandor doesn't think much of knights - after all, his brother is one.
- On CSI: NY, Danny uses this to play a joke on his (unknown to them at the time of course)future wife in her first episode. On Lindsay's first day on the job, Danny tells her Mac likes to be called "sir". She proceeds to do so, and then Mac tells her not to call him "sir".
- The Palace is all about a fictional British Royal Family, and the main characters are all comfortable being called by their titles. However, this trope is briefly Played for Drama in the first episode, shortly after King James's sudden death. His eldest son, Richard, enters a room where his immediate family is gathered, and his mother and sisters begin to curtsy and greet him with "Your Majesty." The new king immediately stops them, disturbed.
- Lois and Clark: In "The Phoenix", Lex Luthor told Nigel not to call him "Sir" anymore since he no longer had a facade to keep.
- The Trope Namer comes from Peanuts. Peppermint Patty hates it when Marcie calls her "Sir".
- Of course, that's probably due more to the "gender confusion" angle than the "unwanted deference" one. And since Marcie has Nerd Glasses as she's otherwise pretty much blind, it's understandable for her to be confused by the Tomboy Patty.
- At least, for a while. Later Marcie's pretty certain what gender Patty is; she just keeps doing it, likely from a combo of deference, habit, and orneriness.
- Of course, that's probably due more to the "gender confusion" angle than the "unwanted deference" one. And since Marcie has Nerd Glasses as she's otherwise pretty much blind, it's understandable for her to be confused by the Tomboy Patty.
- Played with in the Role Aides game supplement Dragons, which features a character class of dragon-mounted warriors. Among humans of the Dragonlands, they're to be addressed as "Dragonlord" and treated with extreme deference. In front of actual dragons, who are really the ones in charge, they can only be called "Riders", never "Dragonlords", and it's the dragons who must be accorded every respect.
- Robo in Chrono Trigger initially refers to Marle and Lucca by honorific, presumably because he's programmed to do so, then reverts to First-Name Basis at their insistence.
- Jedi Academy: Kyle Katarn insists that both Jaden and Rosh call him Kyle instead of Master, as he says that titles "make my skin crawl." Rosh tries to adapt to this and starts acting so relaxed he's soon found literally leaning on Kyle, which he doesn't appreciate either. There's just no pleasing some people.
- Whereas Jaden seems to have trouble calling him just Kyle right until the end of the game, which is supposed to take place over several years (however long it takes to go from being an Initiate to a Jedi Knight).
- By the Fate of the Jedi books taking place decades later, Kyle actually insists on being called "Master Katarn". This may be related to the fact that he's on the Jedi Council...
- This conversation from Ratchet and Clank:
Clank: Please, return your appendages to the steering mechanism, sir.
Ratchet: Oh, sorry. By the way, you can stop calling me 'sir'. The name's Ratchet.
Clank: Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.
- In Mass Effect 2, Kal'Reegar calls Tali "ma'am." When she tells him to call her by her name, he replies, "I'll work on that, ma'am."
- Shepard can choose to encourage this kind of mentality among the crew of the Normandy.
- Big Boss gains his title at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater. However, due to how he gained it, he refuses to let anyone else refer to him as such until the end of Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, six years later.
- He's not even comfortable with it then. It's only at the end of Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker that he truly embraces the title.
- In Call of Duty 3, Dixon insists on the squad not calling him Sergeant after he's promoted to the rank.
- Early on in King's Quest V, Cedric addresses King Graham as "your majesty." Graham tells him to drop the "your majesty" part, as it is much too formal.
- Sonic the Hedgehog dislikes being referred-to formally or being given titles. Examples include insisting that Shahra call him by his name instead of "Master", stopping the Knights of the Round Table bowing to him once it is revealed that he is the genuine King Arthur and stopping people such as Cream and Elise calling him Mr.
- Also, Blaze the Cat dislikes being called Highness. She tolerates "Princess Blaze".
- Drill Sergeant Nasty Sergeant Dornan in Fallout 2 explodes when the Chosen One addresses him as "sir."
Sergeant Dornan: "I AM NOT A SIR! I work for a living, you moron!"
- In Tsukihime, Shiki tries to get the twin Meido to stop calling him "sama". Kohaku complies, Hisui doesn't.
- Shirou of Fate Stay Night tells Saber not to call him "master", and she complies.
- In the Warcraft universe, Tyrande to Shandris around the time she becomes High Priestess.
Shandris: "I'll follow you for the rest of my life, my lady!"
Tyrande: "Don't call me that, I'm still Tyrande."
Shandris: "Yes, my lady"
- Used in the opening of Battlefield: Bad Company:
Srgt. Redford: And cut out the "Sir, yes sir" crap! I'm a sergeant, not the goddamned President!
- In Order of the Stick, Roy said this to Vaarsuvius at least once.
- But I'm a Cat Person's Bianca doesn't like to think of her ownership of Patrick as anything but a technicality. He insists on calling her "Master" anyway.
- The SCP Foundation has SCP 662, a bell that summons a butler named Mr. Deeds. Mr. Deeds calls everyone sir, often leading to this trope. Unlike most examples, however, he promptly ceases this when asked politely.
- Sgt. Torres delivers "I work for a living" line in Exo Squad, when an group of exoscouts she just rescued tries to address her with "Ma'am".
- Ratchet in Transformers Animated:
Ratchet: "What's your name, soldier?
Arcee: "Ar... Arcee, sir."
Ratchet: "Don't call me sir. I work for a living."
- Professor Selesnev of The Mystery of the Third Planet prefers to be called "Professor" rather than "Captain" and corrects people several times over it.
- In Beast Wars, Megatron, the Big Bad, is constantly referred to by Inferno, a soldier with a worker ant beast mode, as "The Queen". Megatron is suitably angry with this term, and attempts to force Inferno to stop using it. Eventually Inferno settles on "The Royalty".
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Princess Luna prefers "Luna".
- In Real Life, at first the President of the United States was addressed as "Excellency". This lasted until the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who thought the title was too fancy and instead asked people just to call him "Mr. President." This custom has persisted to the present day, where in other countries presidents are addressed as "Excellency" but the U.S. President is just "Mr. President."
- What a woman in the office of US president will be called is still a bit unsettled - "Miss/Mrs. President", "Ms. President", and "Madam President" (as most international presidents would be called) were all batted about during Hillary Clinton's campaign. Probably it will all come down to the personal preference of the first woman actually elected.
- The Polish president is also addressed as "Mr. President" ("Panie Prezydencie").
- In many English speaking military organizations, sergeants and petty officers will take offense at being called "sir" (the title being reserved for commissioned officers. "Don't call me "sir"! I work for a living!" is the common sergeant's rebuff). An exception is the United States Air Force, where airmen call anyone who outranks them "sir" (and leads to jokes from the other branches about how no one in the Air Force actually works anyway.)
- Irish musician Tommy Makem used to reply "my father's not here" whenever anyone called him "Mr. Makem" instead of "Tommy".
- Joke: "What do you call the guy who graduated last in his class from medical school?" "Doctor."