An honorary doctorate is a high-level academic recognition granted by a university to a recipient without completion of the normal requirements for that degree. Schools grant them to honor the recipient, while also benefiting the university by association. Recipients sometimes have no relationship with the school, no prior degrees, and no formal higher education; though on occasion they might already have substantial education and other doctorates.
In most countries, a doctorate is the highest level of academic recognition. An honorary doctorate can be given for a variety of reasons decided upon by the university. The first instance of an honorary degree on record was issued by Oxford University to Lionel Woodward in the 1470s. This practice became much more common, however, in the 1600s when royals visited universities in England.
Use of Such a Degree
The recipient of an honorary doctorate may use the degree in the same manner as a substantive degree, except under certain circumstances where formal academic background is required. Most recipients do not use the title of "doctor," though there is no rule against it. Recipients such as Benjamin Franklin, Maya Angelou, and Billy Graham, amongst others, have used the title either before or after their names.
Many universities that award honorary degrees refer to their recipients as "doctor." Whether the title is used before or after their name, people typically add honoris causa or h.c. in parenthesis after the degree title. This indicates to others that the title is an honorary one, with all the benefits that entails.
Granting Honorary Doctorates
Typically, several people are nominated for the degree and a university panel decides who deserves it most. In some places, however, an honorary doctorate can be applied for. This is common in the UK, Australia, and Ireland, though it frequently requires an established relationship with the university. The recipient often has a noteworthy academic/industrial record and may be a member of the university staff.