In December, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced that all combat roles in the military would now be open to women, and exceptions to the rule would have to be justified. While this change was celebrated as a step in the right direction for gender equality, there was still something to consider: naming protocol. Could a woman in combat really be called a rifleman?
Ray Mabus, secretary of the navy, told the Times that the act of changing the gendered titles of certain roles in the navy and marine corps was easy enough: Any title with “man” on the end could be changed into so-and-so technician, professional, or specialist. But there remains one title that no one can figure out what to do with: yeoman.
Yeoman is the title given to “sailors who work in clerical or administrative positions,” a job that is increasingly held by women. But yeoman does not really make sense as yeo-person or yeo-woman. Since yeoman is pronounced more like yomin than yee-oh-man, and as the role has been in the navy for over 200 years, Mabus says it may be necessary to keep the title as is. “There may be a few iconic titles you are not going to change because they are so deeply rooted and have been there for so long that they don’t denote gender,” he told the Times.