Let’s start with three examples that use a person’s name and see how they differ.
- “I visited with Doctor Johnson on Wednesday.”
- “I visited my doctor, Doctor Johnson, on Wednesday.”
- “I left you my records, Doctor Johnson, during the visit on Wednesday.”
Example One: No commas around the name
Example one has no commas around the name. In this example, we’re writing about the doctor. We’re not writing to the doctor, nor are we writing the doctor’s name to rename or restate something just written. I have seen people put commas around the name in sentences like this one, but that’s wrong. There’s no reason for commas around the name.
Example Two: Commas around the name
Example two has commas around the name Doctor Johnson. In this example, Doctor Johnson renames or restates something just written, in this case doctor. As such, Doctor Johnson is an appositive for doctor. The commas around Doctor Johnson follow Zen Comma Rule J: Separate non-restrictive appositives with commas.
Example Three: Commas around the name
In example three, the statement is directly written to Doctor Johnson, and it uses his name. Whenever we directly address someone and use his or her name, we put that person’s name in commas. In this example, the commas around Doctor Johnson follow Zen Comma Rule M: When directly addressing someone, place commas around his or her name.
In these three examples, if you use commas incorrectly the reader will likely understand what you mean–with a bit of work. However, these commas (or lack of commas in example one) will help the reader understand more easily, and they are required if you wish to present yourself as a credible and educated professional person.
The comma guide, Zen Comma, has more information about these, and many more, comma uses. It’s available in PDF and Kindle versions so you can keep it handy while writing and editing.
Need help with commas? Get Zen Comma, a guide to the 17 major uses and misuses of commas. Read more about Zen Comma.