Rep. Paul Broun might have the voting card of a Member of Congress, but the honorific he prefers is doctor, not Congressman.
Even once one has sorted out who likes to be called what, there’s the not-so-small matter of what to call them in writing. A first name might not be appropriate, but using only a last name might sound brusque or disrespectful. And so in internal emails and texts, many staffers refer to the boss by his or her initials.
The phenomenon persists even for Members whose middle names aren’t often invoked. Coburn, for example, is usually “TAC,” short for Thomas Allen Coburn, in his staff’s internal communications.
“That’s shorthand,” Lamel says. “It’s a respectful way to save a few keystrokes.”
In fact, some staffers so frequently type out initials that they begin using them in conversations, adding another name into the already jumbled pile of Hill names.
Titles can be tricky, too. Some female Members, including Boxer, like to use “Chairman” instead of “Chairwoman.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) identifies herself as “Congressman.”
If it’s a confusing maze to navigate, there’s one surefire trick to addressing a Member of Congress. McCann often offers this tip to his students, paraphrasing a quote from Harley Dirks, a powerful appropriations clerk during the 1960s: “I call them all ‘Chairman,’” Dirks said. “If they are, they expect it, and if they’re not, they’re flattered.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.