Cumbersome calling cards
Titles say it all, but take too long to say it

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 04/00) - An employee by any other name would be as important.

So why the heck do organizations (even that word is too long) give people paragraph-long titles?

One reason is the size of organizations, government organizations in particular, around here. Every department has directorates and divisions and groups and, lately, teams within them.

That's one reason there is an administrative assistant trainee for the associate regional director general of the NWT regional office of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. (Who didn't think it wise to comment on her title at this early point in her career.) As presumptuous as it is to ask what someone you've just met does for a living, people do it often. If they do bother to answer, those with cumbersome titles have to provide a Coles Notes version of their jobs.

Alice Petten's business card reads financial tables/power subsidy officer, financial policy and systems, financial management board, Government of the Northwest Territories.

So, Alice, you're walking through the grocery store and strike up a conversation with a casual acquaintance. What do you answer if he says, 'I'm a lawyer, what do you do?'

"The short answer is I'm the financial tables and power subsidy officer, but when I say that people say, 'Wow, that's a big job!'"

At which point Petten said she explains what she does, which is actually two jobs in one. Petten deals with the coding and standardized descriptions that are attached to each government transaction. She also attends to the territorial power subsidy program.

Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development Department traditional economy and fur management co-ordinator Francois Roussouw said no single word can describe all he does.

Asked how he answers people when they ask what he does Roussouw said, "It's hard. I deal with fur mainly, but I'm also involved in the traditional economy and international fur marketing. All I say to people is I look after the fur program in the North."

Of course, not all titles are long. When people ask Stephen Kakfwi what he does, he doesn't have to waste a lot of breath telling them he's premier.

Likewise, Anthony Foliot requires only two words, one syllable apiece, that fully describes his entrepreneurial winter role in the city -- "I am the Snow King."