To the best of my knowledge, everything in the Star Trek: Voyager canon points to Chakotay holding the provisional rank of (full) Commander. However, his collar rank insignia display two full bars and one hollow bar, which would seemingly correspond to the rank of provisional Lieutenant Commander.

The usually helpful Memory Alpha didn't have anything on this. In fact, there's a paragraph buried in the "Appendices" section of the Chakotay entry that basically says the same thing as my question, but in statement form:

Although Chakotay was invariably referred to as "commander" during the run of the series, he wore what otherwise figures to be the provisional rank insignia of a lieutenant commander (two solid stripes, one hollow stripe). He is, however, listed as "Commander Chakotay" in the opening credits of virtually every episode from the first three seasons (bar "Caretaker", where no character's rank is given except Janeway's).

What's the reason for this discrepancy?

  • Does the two-full-and-one-hollow collar insignia actually correspond to full Commander for provisional grades, against intuition? (Memory Alpha says no to this.)

  • Is Chakotay actually "merely" a Lieutenant Commander (like Voyager's original first officer), but nobody ever bothers to say the lieutenant part out loud?

    (I understand that it is acceptable to address lieutenant commanders as "commander" in normal conversation, as ThePopMachine points out. I apologize if my original phrasing didn't make that clear. If consistent... verbal abbreviation of that nature... is all that's going on here, then saying "that's all that's going on here" as an answer would be good enough for me. Although some kind of source would be appreciated.)

  • Did someone in the costume department put the wrong collar tab on the Chakotay uniform on the first day, and then the people in charge decided "it's not a bug, it's by design"?

  • 3
    Because his rank was shown inconsistently; en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Talk:Chakotay#His_rank
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:12
  • 1
    Chakotay was in Star Fleet before absconding to the Maquis, wasn't he? Perhaps that was the rank he had before leaving.
    – Xantec
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 2:35
  • 1
    Memory Alpha now says (in July 2018) that the two.five provisional insignia does correspond to Commander. There's now a note specifically concerning Chakotay below the insignia images.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 0:38

6 Answers 6


It is entirely normal for Lieutenant Commanders to be referred to a Cmdr. in normal usage. For example. you will also recall that Data and LaForge were routinely referred to as Cmdr. Data and Cmdr. LaForge for the bulk of TNG despite holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Quote from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieutenant_commander:

The United States Navy ... usually addresses officers using the higher grade of the rank. For example, a Lieutenant, junior grade, is addressed simply as "Lieutenant," and a Lieutenant Commander is addressed as "Commander."

Star Trek is following this tradition.

That having been said, there is significant disagreement about whether Chakotay was a Lieutenant Commander or a full Commander as evidenced here

Since I just re-read this decade old discussion, I figured I should summarize it here:

Cmdr camp: He's always referred to as Commander in dialog and there's one Okudagram of the manifest that you can make out says CMDR even though other officers listed are LT. CMDR. He's also listed as such in the credits. Rank insignia don't matter because it's lower canonicity and it could be a wardrobe goof like many others.
Lt Cmdr camp: Credits and dialog don't matter because it's standard practice to refer to Lt. Cmdrs as "Cmdr" except in very official circumstances and the credits are inconsistent between and within TNG and Voyager. However for the entire seven year run of the series, Chakotay wore a rank insignia which everyone knows is clearly that of a provisional lieutenant commander.
(There are more arguments both ways, but if I start rehashing them it will go on forever.)

It is therefore reasonable to state that the complete answer is inconclusive in canon due to lack of canonical sources, which unambiguously resolve the inconsistency.

In short, there are continuity errors in the show and there is no canonical resolution.

  • This is true -- I even allude to it with the phrasing of my second bullet point -- but seems to me more like a comment than an answer.
    – Pops
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:15
  • 1
    This is somewhat contradicted by various in-universe sources such as computer screens and the title sequence showing the actual titles.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:15
  • @Pops -- I'm implicitly saying that your second bullet is the case. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:19
  • @Richard -- well, is Tuvok listed at Lt. Cmdr in the opneing credits? Is anyone listed as Lt. Junior Grade? Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:21
  • Heh, okay, fair enough. I guess I prefer things to be spelled out.
    – Pops
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:21

The part that goes

Is Chakotay actually "merely" a Lieutenant Commander (like Voyager's original first officer), but nobody ever bothers to say the lieutenant part out loud?

is pretty simple (at least in the current US militaries), and the answer is a decided "yes".

The Navy has two pairs of such rank: lieutenant (j.g.) and lieutenant (O2 and O3), and lieutenant commander and commander (O4 and O5). The Army, Air Force and Marines also have two (different) pairs: 2nd lieutenant and first lieutenant (O1 and O2) and lieutenant colonel and colonel (O4 and (O5), and in general, normal usage calls them lieutenant, commander and colonel in face-to-face verbal communications. Well, if you're getting called in to be dressed down by your superior, or the superior is making a point at the expense of the lower rank, the full rank may well be used, but that's sort of like calling a kid by his full name when he's in trouble.

There are a few shows which make a point of using the full rank, such as NCIS, but that's a peculiarity of the writers and I suspect reflects their lack of background knowledge. It may be a deliberate stylistic choice, of course.

All of that does not address the other issues, but if the writers are familiar with current US practice it does explain why he would be called simply "Commander".

  • For what it's worth, while I think your rollback reason (and explanation) is relevant, I also think it would be better suited as a comment or the "edit reason" thingy visible in the post's history, since it's not part of the answer to the question.
    – Jenayah
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 19:56
  • @Jenayah - Fair enough. I've edited the edit. Makes for a pretty long "edit reason", though. Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 19:59
  • You might wish to note that Starfleet is based on a bizarre mixture of British and US naval traditions
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 20:12

According to Chakotays' collar insignia he is a Lt. Commander by commission. In this case a field commission. But if Star Trek is true to staying in line with this overt exhibition of Chakotays' collar rank, I believe there is another explanation rather than the Star Trek producers made a blooper and now they're keeping their fingers crossed and hoping no one will notice. I believe the Star Trek production heads have very well informed people working for them. There is a whole crew of people who's only job is to look for the details. So I'm inclined to think Cakotays' insignia was by design. True, even the best people make mistakes, but I don't think a mistake was made in this case. Here's why;

In the regular military, whether Army, Navy etc, there is a common practice referred to as "positional authority". Which basically means in most cases regardless of ones rank, the individual is addressed as their positional title holds. (sometimes this doesn't apply to enlisted ranks depending on situation)

For example; when an officer holding the rank of lieutenant commander captains or skippers a small vessel, he is referred to as Captain or more accurately "the captain of the boat". But no one would ever address them as Lt. Commander unless talking to someone else in a third party description and in that case they would still more likely describe them as "the captain of the boat". In face to face situations they would simply address them as Captain or Skipper. If the person was enlisted they would be called Chief or Chief of the boat. In Chakotays' case, he is addressed as Commander or First Officer (never Lt. Commander).

There are many other examples of this in the regular military, especially the Navy (which is what Star Treks ranks are modeled after). Chakotay is in fact a Lt. Commander. But because of his "positional authority" as Executive Officer/First Officer he would never be addressed as Lt. Commander.

Whereas the examples of Data and Geordie you will notice they are addressed interchangeably as Lt. Commander or Commander depending on circumstance. They have no "executive position" other than being senior officers or department heads. But this does not apply to Chakotay because of his position as Executive Officer/First Officer..

It also works the same in reverse. If, for example, a higher ranking officer such as an Admiral is still permanently assigned as Captain, the Admirals "positional authority" applies as Captain if he has not been properly relieved from this "permanent assignment". Though typically once promoted from a Captain, Admirals rarely switch between assignments. Admiral Pike, for example, is not addressed as Admiral when he is on Enterprise because his assignment is still technically permanent until he is properly relieved (another person replaces Pike and is given the command permanently). In this case Pike had not yet been fully relieved of his duties as Captain. In fact, he changes uniform to the rank of Captain when on board Enterprise because he had not yet been relieved of that position. Why is this? Because technically a flag rank such as an Admiral can not have "permanent assignment" command of a ship. Only in much rarer cases such as "temporary assignment", can a flag rank command a ship. More to the point flag ranks are designated to command fleets of ships, not one. Whereas Captains are typically designated to command "one ship". This is what is know as designated billets or billet assignments. Are the so called rules broken on occasion? Sure they are, but usually under extreme circumstance. But these circumstances are not the rule or the norm.

When command of a ship is in a transition period, like the example of Pike, it is an accepted practice for Admirals to switch back and forth from Captain to Admiral. But this is not the case of "temporary assignment". For example; when waiting to replace a person to be "permanently assigned" as Captain of a ship, such as the case with Pike. He technically held both positions as Admiral and Captain. But when he was on the Enterprise he was Captain because he was still "permanently assigned" as Captain. However, there are situations where an Admiral would "temporarily" assume command of a ship in which case he would still be addressed as Admiral. This happens often and in different ways in the Star Trek series.

An example of "temporary assignment" was when Admiral Kirk was assigned to Captain the Enterprise. On each occasion you will notice that his assignments to Captain the ship where "temporary assignments". Therefore his Admiral rank was kept intact. But unlike the Pike situation, there was already a permanent replacement to Skipper or Captain the Enterprise (Captain Decker). Notice Decker was temporarily reduced in rank to accommodate his new temporary "positional authority" as Executive Officer/First Officer. With officers ranking from Ensign (O-1) up through Captain (O-6), a temporary demotion in rank is acceptable for "temporary assignments". But this demotion in rank would not apply to flag ranked officers that take on a "temporary assignments". Flag rank officers are basically everything above a Captain in the Navy or a full bird Colonel in the other military branches respectively. (commodores, admirals, generals),. The only situation which I'm aware of where a flag rank officer can be reduced in rank is in the situation I described with Admiral Pike. Also, you will notice later in the Star Trek motion picture series Kirk was busted down to Captain when Star Fleet wanted to "permanently" assign him to Captain the new Enterprise. They had to bust him because there was no other way to reduce him to Captain. Star Fleet could not "permanently assign" an Admiral to captain a ship.

Anyway, in the case of Chakotay, he was field commissioned at the rank of Lt. Commander but was basically double field commissioned as the First Office/Executive Officer or Second in Command. This makes him technically the senior officer on board because of his "positional authority" as First Officer. Even if there were other full Commanders or Captains on board besides Janeway, because of Chakotays' "positional authority" he would supersede all other officers regardless of their rank except Captain Janeway. Yes, Chakotay would extend any and all courtesies to these other Captains and full Commanders if they were on the ship, but when it comes to ship business and having the last word, the Executive Officer/First Officer could not be overridden by these other Captains or full Commanders unless said people where given orders to override from the Fleet Command.

I hope this helps.

  • This is a nice answer but would be improved by adding sources for your in universe claims such as episode numbers/films or better yet direct quotes/scenes.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 8:12
  • 2
    To point out a few things. In regular navy officer not assigned to a ship can order captain if given authority, but can't take command unless all ship's "command" is down; he's basically a guest. And admiral never is assigned a vessel command, only flag rank that's based on said vessel. All those times admiral commanding ship in ST is simply a layman's mess. Positions like xo (exec, 1st officer - all same), captain or commodore are only custom names to positions in command structure. Chakotay wasn't "double field commissioned". XO is a position, not a rank.
    – AcePL
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 13:00
  • I appreciate your comment but with all due respect your opinion has half truths in it. I was active military for years in the Navy and I worked directly for flag ranking officers (commodores and admirals). I'm very well acquainted with all the subtleties and protocol.. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 19:56
  • -1 for "double field commissioned".
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 13:23
  • Wow! I learned a lot - this is a terrific answer. But I did find one thing that wasn't quite right. You said Pike was the only character to swap between admiral and captain rank due to a temporary assignment, but Kirk also did this in TMP. This even goes along with Decker's temporary reduction to commander.
    – rr_cola
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 14:42

Well, that is a very good question. There are some theories, mutually exclusive, but since Memory-Alpha says "Commander" (after very long discussion)... I'm not sure how to suggest this on M-A site (feel free to pass it to someone with an in), but I do offer a solution.

There is a situation when an officer can be, actually, both (that is have two ranks simultaneously). Admittedly, it's usually going up with insignia, but not the rank, but it can be here a bastardized version of the custom.

The term is Frocking. Usually it meant that promotion was provisional until confirmed by orders, but the frocked officer was authorized insignia of his new rank, but not the pay and privileges.

So in a very StarTrekian way (of both using, but having no real understanding of military/naval traditions) he may have been frocked to Commander on Voyager, but still retainig the rank insignia of his last post in SF?

But I would like to point out the fact is (that those were the insignia of Lt.Cmdr.), unfortunately, unsubstantiated. Yes, there may have been identified as such using analogy of actual insignia of "real" SF Lieutenant Commander, but this is an assumption not supported by canon in any way. Not saying not true, just without evidence. Same with "provisional officer insignia". You know it's bad if only example in whole universe is one man in one series...

As an expansion on the above, I would like to explain that those ranks (and tabs) might not have been provisional - those might have been Maquis rank tabs (however it seemed that they did not use ranks at all). Or those could have been devised on the spot for "allied personnel".

I think this is THE situation that below describes perfectly:

PS. There is also an evidence that we was a Commander straight from the show, when he was listed in ship's roster as CMDR.


By insignia, it would appear that he is a Lt. Commander. Note that when Janeway promotes Tuvok to the rank of Lt. Commander, she goes from calling him "Lieutenant" to "Commander."

  • Surprisingly, this is a point no one else had made. And, welcome!
    – RDFozz
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 20:01

From Memory Alpha... Chakotay held the rank of full Commander and the rank insignia was not an error. It’s just different from fully commissioned officers vs provisionally field commissioned officers. So we shouldn’t compare the two types of rank insignia design nor draw conclusions based on terms of address amongst the crew field commissioned vs fully commissioned officers.

The crew of the USS Voyager, which included non-Starfleet Maquis members, was forced to make use of provisional rank appointments as a matter of course since the ship was stranded in the Delta Quadrant and the Maquis members were essential to shipboard operations. The provisional insignia system as of 2372 was as follows:

Rank insignias, from left to right: Provisional Enlisted, Provisional Ensign, Provisional Lieutenant junior grade, Provisional Lieutenant, Provisional Commander

The insignia for Voyager's provisional crewmembers were designed by Jim Magdaleno. He intended for the insignia that has a single black line within the lozenge to represent the position of chief warrant officer. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 1, p. 72)

The insignia for provisional commander followed the pattern of what would be a lieutenant commander, which Jim Magdaleno intended it to be. However, the only character ever seen wearing this insignia – Chakotay – held a rank of provisional commander throughout the series. An insignia resembling that of a traditional commander rank insignia, logically consisting of three solid gold lines within the lozenge, was never seen on camera, although it was designed by Magdaleno. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 1, p. 72)

  • In the future please include the actual text rather than a screenshot of it. You should also include a link to where the information has come from. I have done this for you here, see the edit, but please do so yourself next time!
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 9:13
  • You state "Chakotay held the rank of full Commander and the rank insignia was not an error". However, the text you cite says "The insignia for provisional commander followed the pattern of what would be a lieutenant commander, which Jim Magdaleno intended it to be." In other words, this was indeed an error. Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 20:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.