THE BLOG
04/22/2013 08:37 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2013

Just Give Me a Regular "Secretary"

Administrative Professionals Day will be observed nationwide on Wednesday of this week, April 24. Originating in 1952 and called National Secretary's Day, this year's observance will be the sixty-second such observance. In 1982 the name was changed to Professional Secretaries Day and in 2000 renamed Administrative Professionals Day. It is observed annually the last full week in April with Wednesday of that week now designated as Administrative Professionals Day instead of National Secretary's Day.

For reasons not understandable to this writer, in recent years there seems to be dissatisfaction with the title "secretary," as if it were not a profession one can take pride in. There has been an on-going effort to find a more professional-sounding title that symbolizes greater consequence than the simple word "secretary." The most popular new names appear to be "administrative assistant" or "administrative professional." Both are terms that encompass more positions than the original "secretary," titles that include the complete range of administrative support staffs that are relied on in the offices of companies, organizations, foundations, governments, and so forth.

If I were a secretary, I would consider this continued effort on finding a more noteworthy title as demeaning to my profession, indicating a lack of respect for what the title secretary symbolizes. I would consider being an administrative assistant or administrative professional instead of a secretary as a demotion in rank, importance, and professional standing. The same holds with trying to find a more suitable title for National Secretary's Day.

People may not agree with my conclusions, and that is certainly all right. But before making up your mind, let me present my case.

Let's start with the history and significance of the word "secretary." It can be traced to being used in Middle English as early as the sixth century and comes from the ancient Latin word secretum, meaning "secret." It has been used in English to distinguish positions that have been "set apart" from other positions to handle very significant tasks that are sometimes of a very sensitive or "secret" nature.

The title of secretary was originally used by military leaders, heads of state, and even popes to refer to their most trusted confidants--to the ones they could trust and rely on without reservation. Secretaries were set apart from others and known to be favored by their respective leaders. Later, secretaries were used in the same sense by professional and business leaders.

It puzzles me as to why people want to find a more elevated title than secretary. Being a secretary has an illustrious history of importance, trust, and respect that sets secretaries apart from other administrative support personnel. Being an administrative assistant or an administrative professional could mean being in any of several positions in the general category of administrative support personnel. But being a secretary means one has reached the very top echelon of his or her profession--the very top position in the category of administrative support staff.

In the federal government, the President's Cabinet is comprised of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Labor, and so forth, not the Administrative Assistant of State, or Administrative Professional of Education, and so on. Did you ever stop to wonder why that is?

Likewise, states have a Secretary of State. The by-laws and articles of organization of all businesses, corporations, and organizations that I know of provide for having a secretary--not an administrative assistant or administrative professional--with responsibilities that include such things as keeping up-to-date membership lists, scheduling meetings of boards of directors and sending out notices of such meetings, scheduling and notifying stockholders of meetings, keeping minutes, verifying quorums, signing official documents, writing confidential correspondence, and keeping all official records. These are extremely significant responsibilities, given only to the secretary. Executive after executive in the business and not-for-profit sectors will tell you that one of the most important and relied-on persons on her or his team is a trustworthy secretary.

Most states require every corporation with its home office in that state to register with its Secretary of State. When registering, the official registration form always requires the names of two officers of the corporation: the "President" and the "Secretary." I have not known any state to ask for the name of a corporation's "Administrative Assistant" or "Administrative Professional." When registering your corporation, did you ever think about that?

Being a secretary means being a time-honored professional, set apart from all other administrative support people by having special and highly-respected responsibilities. Being an administrative assistant or an administrative professional is an honorable position that deserves respect. But being a secretary is the top rung on the ladder!

If I were a secretary, I would really be bummed by the never-ending efforts to replace this historic and respected title of my profession.