In one of the episodes of the Master Saga, The Master is talking with The Doctor and says "You chose your name, the one who helps everyone", when they are making their "greetings". (I'm looking for the exact words, but I don't remember the exact episode, so is taking a while to find them.)

As Frank's Lazar answer pointed out "the Doctor's name is the Answer That Must Never Be Spoken" — but

he said it to River Song. Ok, she is his wife. But he will/already have spoken it once.

So, titles can be assumed to have some connotation of power. After all, the Time Lords who had titles appear to have some extra power or intelligence than the rest of the Time Lords.

My question is: why are those specific Time Lords able to chose "titles" for themselves, and have everyone follow their choice by using that title when referring to them?

I read the question "Why Do Some Timelords Use Names (And Why Does The Doctor Keep His Secret)?" and couldn't find the answer for this.

I know that it's very similar to that question, but if you look at the answers, they explain why certain Time Lords chose their particular title, but not why they chose to have a title in the first place, and why everyone calls them by those titles.

  • 1
    I think this could use some more editing to shorten it, but since it's now asking a question it's reopened.
    – user1027
    Mar 25, 2013 at 17:09
  • Thanks @Keen If you or anyone member could help me. I'm not really great at creating questions.
    – Michel
    Mar 25, 2013 at 17:25
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    It seems to be the case that Time Lords who are out adventuring use some kind of assumed moniker -- maybe this is because they are on the fringes of Time Lord society. The Doctor, The Master, The Rani, The Meddling Monk, perhaps even The Corsair from what we hear of him/her. Time Lords on Gallifrey use their names. The only exceptions I can think of are Romana (who was assigned to the Doctor and didn't prefer adventuring at first) and Drax (who was held under some duress by the Shadow)
    – PeterL
    Mar 26, 2013 at 12:59
  • I think you're on to something here. I have no proof, but maybe certain Timelords' names hold in them great power and so they instead choose a title. The carrionites already have proven that name power exists in the Whoniverse. The Doctor's name might be the most important / powerful of all. When a time lord looks into the untempered schism, some run away or go mad. The cause of this could be the severity of their name. It would make sense that the Doctor sees the fields of trenzalore in the untempered schism oh some 900 years ago and decides to run away.
    – Sheph
    Mar 27, 2013 at 3:06
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    The canon status is questionable since it's from one of the Books.., but 'Frayed' had him (almost at the very beginning) visit a Medical Colony, and (Stealing from Dr. Who Wiki on Susan Foreman): "They gave him new clothes drawn from their own supply. This meant that he was now wearing the garb of a doctor. When they assumed that he was sent by Earth to help them, he agreed. Not wishing to give them his real name, he referenced his new clothes to derive a title: "the Doctor". "
    – K-H-W
    May 20, 2013 at 14:24

6 Answers 6


The episode with the quote you're thinking of is The Sound of Drums, in which The Master and The Doctor reveal that they personally chose their names:

The Master: [Talking on the phone] Doctor?

The Doctor: Master.

The Master: I like it when you use my name.

The Doctor: You chose it. Psychiatrist's field-day.

The Master: As you chose yours; "the man who makes people better", how sanctimonious is that?

It's never been stated in the show why they decided to use a title at all (as opposed to Romana or Rassilon). Non-television media has created explanations, but they aren't necessarily canon. A great summary of them (from Wikipedia):

Doctor Who spin-off media, which are of uncertain canonicity, have suggested that the character uses the name "the Doctor" because his actual name is impossible for humans to pronounce. For instance in the novel Vanderdeken's Children, it's told that the Doctor already told Sam his real name which is entirely alien and virtually unpronounceable. This is also repeated by companion Peri Brown in the radio serial Slipback.

The Faction Paradox encyclopaedia The Book of the War states that all renegades from the Homeworld/Gallifrey abandon their names to symbolise how they leave their culture. Similarly, the novel Lungbarrow reveals that the Doctor's name has been struck from the records of his family and therefore cannot be spoken.

And of course, recent episodes have alluded to the fact that the Doctor's true name is important somehow and that he uses the title The Doctor to hide it. Stephen Moffat apparently said in a BBC podcast that the reason he does not tell his companions his closest name must be because there is "a dreadful secret" about it, implying that it was chosen intentionally to conceal his true identity.

  • Then again, when Gallifrey returned, they referred to Rassilon as "Lord President".
    – user11521
    Nov 5, 2013 at 17:37

In the episode “The Name of the Doctor” the Doctor explain to Clara that the name “Doctor” is chosen as a promise.

The name you chose is like a promise that you make

As pointed in the comments, there is still a piece of the puzzle that is missing. the WHY he picked it. We now know that the "Title" is like a promise made for "Someone/something" where YOU pick it by yourself

  • This... doesn't actually address your questions, which are "why those specific Timelords are able to chose 'Titles' for themselves" and why others respect the choice and use those titles. This would be an excellent answer to "Why is the choice of title important?" or "What decision goes into choosing a title?"
    – BESW
    May 20, 2013 at 14:27
  • Hmmm, I think it does. You can make a promise at any time, it's your choice... In my point of view, the reason that he picked the name Doctor is as Thunderforge said in his answer "the man who makes people better". Now, I agree in the point that my answer is missing one part of the answer itself WHY he made this promise? So, I'll remove the answers mark from it. Thanks for point that out. (Still not a complete answer then =/)
    – Michel
    May 20, 2013 at 15:19

It could just be a general identification thing. For example, Elvis was coined the King. Maybe someone got saved by "the Doctor" and called him it, word of mouth spread and eventually that was what he was known as.

It could also be like a knighthood - when someone gets knighted they are a Sir etc. - maybe its the same for Timelords except they pick their own title?

  • 17
    Elvis is a timelord. He regenerated into Prince. Apr 7, 2013 at 2:08
  • 1
    Mind = Blown... Apr 7, 2013 at 9:01
  • Old Who explicitly states that the Doctor and the Master chose their titles, and shows that many (most?) Time Lords do not, including those among the noble houses up to at least two Presidents of Gallifrey. Doesn't totally nix the "knighthood" idea, but certainly makes it unlikely.
    – BESW
    May 20, 2013 at 14:11
  • Actually, per A Good Man Goes To War, it's the other way around: the name "The Doctor" means healer because of him. Oct 24, 2014 at 16:49

"Doctor" can also mean "learned person", and arguably that was the original meaning (Capt Holt of Brooklyn 99 has a particular pet peeve about how the doctorate was "stolen" from actual scholars by medical practioners). That may be why the First Doctor chose the name.

As to why others call them that, it may just be a cultural protocol among Time Lords, much as, say, the Earl of Oxford would often just called "Oxford" by his peers rather than his personal name. Recall the Doctor rather peevishly insisting that Drax (who notably has not taken such a title, unless "Drax" is a title from some culture, like "Rani") call him "Doctor" instead of "Theta" (interestingly, the Doctor never denies being called Theta, he just prefers "Doctor"; the show waited until the 7th Doctor to explain "Theta Sigma" was just a nickname, which meant that, for years, some fans may well have thought they knew the Doctor's real name!).

  • 1
    This seems like pure guesswork. Can you back it up with some in-universe evidence or quotes?
    – Valorum
    Jun 30, 2018 at 19:56
  • Nope, it is mostly guesswork, hence the word "may"! I don't have the quotes off hand, but the source of the above with Drax is in The Armageddon Factor, and the bit with "Theta Sigma" being a nickname is in The Happiness Patrol, IIRC. Jul 3, 2018 at 2:57
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    This interesting bit is in the Doctor Who wiki: "The first edition of the behind-the-scenes book The Making of Doctor Who, published in 1972, stated that the Doctor's name was "∂³∑x²". It was later spelled as "d³ᓬx²" in the "Who is the Doctor" prologue of Marvel Premiere #57 in 1980. This has never been confirmed in any Doctor Who narrative, but these letters do appear on the plinth in the Tomb of Rassilon in The Five Doctors. They are also seen on K9's regeneration unit in Regeneration." Jul 3, 2018 at 2:59

From my understanding of the show, The doctor chose the title "the doctor" because he helps others and aids/heals struggling planets or people/aliens. This brings up the undertone of what a doctor really is and how the character relates to the definition.

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    Unfortunately, this doesn't really apply to the first Doctor, who didn't care about anyone except himself and his granddaughter. As this incarnation of the character is the one who would have chosen the name...
    – evilsoup
    Apr 23, 2013 at 2:55

A recurring theme in the early seasons of the new series is that Names Have Power. More than once The Doctor made the baddies rear back in fear and consternation when he successfully identified them. The Carrionites are one of the best examples - all of their technologies were connected to words and names.

A lot of fantasy work hovers around the idea that learning an entity's True Name gives you power over the entity.

Other time travel characters like Rip Hunter take pseudonyms so as to protect their personal timelines. If they knew that Rip Hunter was actually Bill Hanratty from Boston, they could theoretically go visit Boston thirty years ago and eliminate their problems at the root.

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