What’s In A Name?

By Sharon Livingstone

Hands up who loves being called a Masseur/Masseuse.

OK, I see a few of you out there.

I don’t care what people call me, as long as they know what I do,” says the person in the third row. And I’m inclined to agree with them, even if it doesn’t stop considerable eye twitching when I’m called a masseuse (or, confusingly, a masseur).

Did you know that in 1988, AMT members voted to stop using the terms “masseur” and “masseuse”? That’s a whopping 30 years ago.

So why do Massage Therapists still regularly get called masseur/masseuse? I dunno, but I guess we spent more time telling each other what we wanted to be called and forgot to let the broader community know.

Penguinology 101

I was a Penguinologist* in a former life.

Did you know that fairy penguins are not fairy penguins? They are “Little Penguins”. It’s an accurate job description as they are the smallest of all the penguins. They don’t carry wands or grant wishes or sprinkle dust over deserving types, as far as I know. And yet, we still refer to them as “fairy” penguins because that’s the name they were called, albeit unofficially, for years. Do Little Penguins get ticked off when we call them fairy penguins? Nope. They get on with the job of being Little Penguins: fishing, swimming, waddling and (hopefully) breeding.

What can Massage Therapists learn from this? That no matter what our clients call us, all that matters is that we do our jobs, that our clients know what we do and that we’re here to help them.

Yes, person in the third row, I know that’s what you said earlier.

The Options

I did some research on this a couple of years ago for some debate thing, and the list of alternative job titles is endless. My all time favourite is “myomassologist” – mostly because it’s fun to say. Some of the common options are:

  • Manual Therapist
  • Soft Tissue Therapist
  • Myotherapist
  • Remedial Therapist
  • Massologist
What’s The Issue With “Massage Therapist”?

Massage Therapists love adding tools to their toolbox, whether that’s using equipment: dry needling, cupping, taping, or modalities: Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Myofascial Release, Orthobionomy etc. And when the toolbox has such variety, there’s a conflict on what the therapist is now offering to their clients.

And what about someone who uses their Pilates/Personal Trainer/Yoga qualifications as part of their treatments?

They feel that they’ve moved beyond the “massage therapist” job description.

Another commonly quoted reason for wanting a change in nomenclature is the use of the term “massage” within some corners of the sexwork industry. But I hope that we’ve grown and moved on with our attitude towards sexworkers, and understand that the two industries are separate, and that sexwork isn’t an evil industry. Or do I need to quote the late, beautiful George Michael again?

What About Our Clients?

That person in the 3rd row has taken to their feet to ask where our clients, and the broader community, sits with all this.

If our clients don’t know what services we offer, then does our job title matter?

What’s more important – our job title or our job description?

Here’s where Massage Therapists can take responsibility. No matter what title we put on our business cards, we are at the front line of educating, informing and building understanding with our clients, potential clients and the broader community around what services we offer, and how we can help.

Perhaps Massage Therapists need a marketing strategy.

Shouldn’t Massage Associations Take Charge On This?

Er, sure. Our association fees can triple so that they can afford to employ a dedicated Nomenclature Officer, who can brainstorm job titles over a cup of chamomile with the Nomenclature Officers from other associations. The Nomenclature Officers will then take the new title to the masses for a vote, and we’ll all agree on the new job title. The next year, our association fees can triple again so that we can launch a major advertising and education campaign on national telly – I’m thinking we could book ads in the middle of Gogglebox and maybe Alan Jones will spruik our new name for a small fee.

OK, I’m starting to sound silly, but do you get where I’m coming from? We’re a lovely bunch of individuals who are great at helping our clients but we have a spot of trouble agreeing with each other, especially on job title.

Besides, staff at our associations are flat chat working on more pressing matters than job titles.

Where To From Here?

As long as we remain client focused and concentrate on doing our jobs well, then our job title loses its significance.

If an individual feels that “massage therapist” isn’t a job title that suits what they do, then re-brand and educate, inform, market and keep that client focus.

But please forgive me a few eye twitches whenever I’m referred to as a masseuse/masseur.

Further Resources

The AMT Conference 2016 Great Debate will either clarify the issues around nomenclature or leave you confused as to how Polonius appeared in the middle of Romeo and Juliet.

For another take on the nomenclature issue, Jamie Johnston, Massage Therapist Development Centre (Canada), penned this think piece a couple of years ago.

*This is probably a big fib.

About the Author

Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but discovering job satisfaction came from helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller, who no longer daydreams of walking across France again because she’s booked her trip.

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  1. A great read, thanks.
    Somewhat soothing to know others are thinking (and acting )similarly.

  2. Gerhard Hassler
    18/04/2018 - 9:52 pm

    Very interesting.
    I have no issue with being a “Massage Therapist”
    I also like “Manual Therapist” and “Manual Body Therapist”

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