“Whatever you say, Colonel Spankington!” Honorifics in D/s relationships – a guest post by Josephine Myles (NSFW)

Just what is the correct form of address to use with someone who’s tied you up in knots?

Honorifics in the BDSM community are a controversial topic, with many differing ideas regarding how submissives should address dominants. This is largely because until recent years, the community was a secret and closed one, with strict protocols on honorifics. Master or Mistress was a title somebody had to earn through a long apprenticeship, but submissives were always required to address dominants by some form of respectful title, such as Sir or Ma’am.

However, with the explosion of interest in kink over the last decade—especially as an online phenomenon—many of these traditions are seen as somewhat old school and restrictive. These days, many submissives refuse to use honorifics for anyone other than the dominant they’re in a close relationship with, or those who have earned their respect. Similarly, dominants might also require submissives to earn the right to call them by a certain title.

All of this presents a challenge when writing modern-day BDSM. How traditional are the players? Do they use titles 24/7 or just in the bedroom? Do you have to capitalise honorifics? (short answer: let your publisher decide!) And just how silly are some of those titles, anyway?

Screwing the System is a novel that grew out of a short story written for the Goodreads MM Romance Group’s Love is Always Write event. This was inspired a reader’s prompt which specifically used the term “Daddy” to refer to the dominant partner in the relationship. I’d read other books using this honorific and had no problem with it myself. While I can understand why people might find it disturbingly incestuous, to me it symbolises a more nurturing role for the dominant. Perhaps it helps that I haven’t called my own father “Daddy” since I was tiny!

When turning the short story into a novel, however, I decided to lose the Daddy honorific. I didn’t want to put readers off a story they might otherwise enjoy because of one tiny little word (which wasn’t used all that often anyway). That left me in a real quandary, though. Cosmo is a rebellious sub and refuses to use terms like Sir, Master or Lord, so I knew these were out. What did that leave me with, then?

There are a whole wealth of less common honorifics out there, used less as official titles and more as terms of endearment. Anything that conveys some kind of position of authority works well: Chief, Mister, Commander, Captain, Emperor, Duke, Majesty, Supreme Commander of My Orgasmic Universe… okay, that last one might be a bit much. I do like Emperor Spanky-hands, though 😉

In the end I realised that I already had a perfectly suitable honorific for Alasdair already in the story, and despite Cosmo using it in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion, it worked for both of them. I won’t tell you what I chose—you’ll have to read the story to find out!

Could you ever call someone Sir, Master, Ma’am or Mistress while keeping a straight face? And can you come up with any more suitable (or silly) alternative honorifics?

Comment to win! Jo is offering a choice of a book from her backlist to one lucky commenter on this post, and all commenters throughout the blog tour will also be entered into a draw for the grand prize of a handmade suede flogger, to be announced on 25th February.

Also, watch out for the Valentine’s follow-up short story, Screw the Fags. To be available as a free download from Smashwords and All Romance eBooks on Thursday 14th February!

Screwing the System

Screwing the System coverHe’s nobody’s bitch. Until he gets a ride on the bitch seat.

Forced to apply for a job he doesn’t want, Cosmo Rawlins has only one aim in mind: fail the interview and get back to making music. Except his attempt to shock the older, sharp-suited Alasdair Grant doesn’t have the desired effect.

Instead of getting thrown out of the office by flaunting an interest in BDSM, Cosmo finds himself on his knees, apologizing to the sexy, good-looking Top.

Alasdair has more important things on his mind than training a novice sub, especially a rebellious bad boy like Cosmo. But there’s something beneath the younger man’s defiant attitude that’s too intriguing to ignore.

As Alasdair takes Cosmo in hand—and for a wild ride on his Harley—he becomes obsessed with bending the young rocker to his will, both in and out of bed. Until he goes one demand too far, and Cosmo is gone in a cloud of dust. Forcing Alasdair to admit that earning Cosmo’s loyalty—and love—will involve the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.

Warning: This title contains an overbearing Top with a less-than-glamorous job, a rebellious brat who refuses to call him sir, and a total lack of high-end BDSM clubs or playrooms. Expect floggings over the kitchen table instead.

Screwing the System on Amazon.com

About the author:

English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. Jo blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.

For more information about Jo’s published stories, regular blog posts and saucy free reads, visit JosephineMyles.com

Photo credit: niallkennedy via photopin cc

27 Comments

  1. I’ve just sat up half the night finishing “Screwing the System”… My compliments to you Ma’am for getting inside the heads of gay men into BDSM. When I top, my boys call me Sir, Daddy or Boss. When I bottom (I’m an equal opportunities slut) I call him Sir or Boss. Depends on the sort of scene going.

    Sir is for the heaviest sex, Boss for the less heavy ones. Daddy is for when my sub is a lot younger and there’s a teaching/nurturing element going on.

    I had an “old school” training – never do anything to a sub I haven’t experienced myself. Plus try everything twice (nerves might put you off the first time).

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    • Hi Steve – thank you so much for letting me know you enjoyed the book! It’s always good to hear that I’ve hit the mark. Part of my motivation for writing Screwing the System was my conviction that most of the characters in m/m BDSM novels weren’t acting convincingly.

      I like the way you have clearly defined honorifics for different situations. I think words have such power, and perhaps that’s why writing about a power exchange is such an exciting thing to do 🙂

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      • A few further thought on honorifics… As well as heavier situations, where one might have to remember some long winded honorific invented by the top. “Sir” is a good catch all. It’s what I automatically use if I’m looking to bottom. “Boss” is, I think more for where there’s an established relationship, where the bottom is at ease enough to try a little manipulation on his Boss to get what he wants, It’s a kind of familiar version of “Sir”, Both can combine with “Daddy” – sometimes you end up with the odd situation of being older than Daddy… When I’m topping, well, the words I use tend to fall into the NSFW area, let’s put it that way 😉

        I wonder if there’s a gender difference in how we approach m/m BDSM? What I consider my best story was published in 97 or so, and I no longer have the rights to it, but I allow the character build up to happen through sex. It was intended to be the first chapter of a novel that, in the end, never got written because I was too sick. I’m starting over in a different setting, but other writing commitments get in the way. However, I’ve got a clearer idea of plot than last time when I was writing to a deadline.

        Nice the way you wriggled out of the safer sex trap in Screwing the System. I use a preface that says basically “you’re an adult: you know what passes HIV on and will recognise the unsafe acts in this work of fiction”. This is fantasy, not real life (though I have to admit I rarelt write about something I haven’t tried at least one… but that’s another story…

        take care..

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      • Hi Steve,

        I wonder about the gender difference in our approach too. I’m certainly conscious of the majority of my readers being female and reading for the romance aspect, and that does affect how I choose to write scenes–particularly in terms of word choice. Sometimes I do ponder writing gay erotica under a male pen name and seeing how different it would come out. There are certain things that I’m inhibited from writing about for a mostly romance readership.

        Hope your future writing goes well!

        Like

  2. I use Sir and Ma’am all the time, especially when talking to people who are older than me, so I wouldn’t be able to use it in a scene. Mistress always cracks me up for some reason, probably because everytime I hear it, I start thinking of a mistress as in a mistress on the side, etc. I’d have to play around with titles to find the one that worked for me.

    tiger-chick-1(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  3. I know, I’m going back and reading all of these late 🙂 I could easily call someone sir or master, although it would require different circumstances. Some names I think (at least for me) require a more serious, committed relationship, while other names can be broader in scope.

    …although I don’t think I could, with a straight face, call someone Emperor Spanky-hands. I have heard that instead of titles, the sub is required to use the dom’s name in a similar way. That’s the only alternative I’ve got though!

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  4. I think I’d be able to call someone sir, or ma’am. Since I was in NJROTC I had to do it for three years and a half… aha… to do it while doing something kinky wouldn’t be much harder. 😉 LOL…
    Any other honorifics… hmm.. I can’t say… but for the first basic two, yeah~~ lol

    Enjoyed the post!

    Judi
    arella3173_loveless@yahoo(dot)com

    Like

  5. Since I always imagine myself as the Domme (aw, yeah!), I admit most of the titles don’t appeal to me. I imagine something short enough to remember under slight duress would be good, but also something that takes a little effort and forethought. It’s tough, and if I were a guy, it would be worse (I’d cringe at “Daddy” for sure, and “Sir” just seems so blah). I remember Prince used to be referred to as “His Royal Badness,” which would be awesome, but that one’s taken, dammit…

    vitajex(at)aol(dot)com

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  6. I’m generally pretty flexible in terms of whatever works or makes sense for the people involved. Anything can be powerful or fun or silly depending on the feelings and associations of the people involved. I’m also not that fond of Daddy, but I can generally handle it in fiction unless it’s completely overused. [There was one book that I enjoyed in every aspect except the over-use of the word Daddy and I just couldn’t force myself to read the sequel because of it, which made me sad. (I did a kindle search on the sequel and the word came up more than 300 times. It was odd.) ]

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    • Oh, that’s a shame that word put you off reading the sequel. I’m trying to think which books I’ve read with lots of Daddys in and the Gillibran Brown ones spring to mind. It just seems to work perfectly with those characters, though. Like you say, if it seems to fit their relationship and their personalities, then the most unlikely things can work. Yes, even Colonel Spankington… (I must write him now!)

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  7. Great post, & the book sounds cool too. 🙂

    I’ve used Ma’am and Mistress in a past life–only smirking on the very first
    “Mistress” because her idea of punishment was denial–but I don’t think I’d do well with sir for a man. If I ever found myself in that lucky position I’d have to go for Master or something else of his choosing. My father had us call him sir when we were in trouble as kids (he was ex-military & yes, we had to stand “at ease” to get our punishment) so that just seems icky to me. Same with “Daddy” — although it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker in fiction. As long as it’s in-character, I can go a long way with a good book.

    And Emperor Spanky-Hands is priceless!

    Please toss my name into the hat! Have a great tour!
    Charley
    c.descoteauxwritesATgmailDOTcom

    Like

  8. I think my preference would be Sir – it’s the default I use for my characters… As a Doctor Who Fan the honorific Master has a certain mad taste. Daddy is usually a turn off unless I get that the character digs it and maybe why they like it.

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  9. So I will freely admit I”m one of those people that’s kind of iffy on the whole “Daddy” thing – mostly b/c sometimes I still call my Dad, Daddy LOL. Otherwise, I’m good with just about any titles, I am particularly fond of Emperor Spanky-Hands 😀

    I love reading your posts Jo because they are ALWAYS entertaining and I srsly cannot wait for this to come out.

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  10. Heh. “Oh Lord Spankypants, do me hard.” Then? No. I think in a specific moment I could, rather a bit of role play I could use Sir. Maybe not Master. That seems so slavish rather than respectful like Sir. So I might dig in my heels a bit, but on the other hand, if it was only in the bedroom and all in good fun and I wasn’t treated less respectfully out of it, and it turned his crank, thus working for me too, then yeah. Mistress kind of makes me snicker because it seems so, I don’t know, vampirish or maybe that’s what the woman having an affair with your husband is. 🙂 Master always makes me think of some hump-backed cartoon character going “Yes, Master” and heading off to the dungeon.

    Daddy does kind of creep me out a bit. Not always, but not my favourite. I thought Cosmo’s solution worked well. Also, I think if you do the 24/7 thing, but prefer to keep your relationship more discrete, Cosmo’s choice could come across as a cute pet name that doesn’t really have any relationship indicator. Whereas if someone in the drug store over hears you calling the guy you’re with Master, yeah, they’re going to look twice. 😉 Then again, if you don’t care? Go for it.

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    • Mistress and Madame both have negative connotations, don’t they? And I get what you’re saying about Igor, but I’m sure “Master” can be said in a much sexier manner!

      I don’t think the honorific system means that the submissive party isn’t respected. They can have their own set of titles too, like slave, subby, painslut, brat, etc. Of course, those might not sound particularly respectful, but I have it on good authority that the vast majority of submissives are proud to be called something along these lines 🙂

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  11. As the one asking for the Daddy-Honorific I guess, I have to comment on this one. 😉
    I read quite a lot of BDSM, and in a former relationship I dabbled in it a bit myself.
    In general I prefer nuturing D/s relationships. And the specific honorific is only second priority. I often find that to much protocol and tradition, especialy if followed mindless, turns me off. I rather take an rebelious sub and a Dom who knows how to set his own rules anytime, if this includes honorifics fine with me.
    For personal use I think it is easiest to stay with the simple ones: Sir or Ma’am or the German respectives: Herr or Herrin

    As I own all your novels already you don’t need to count me in.

    Like

    • Agreed about the over-adherence to protocol and tradition. One of the things I really wanted to make clear about Alasdair was that while he’s been a part of true “leather” culture in the past, with its strict protocols, these days he makes up his own rules.

      Simplest probably is best, but I do appreciate the humour in some of the more ridiculous titles!

      Like

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