This Ain't It, Chief: San Francisco Schools Ban Commonplace Word From Job Titles

Tribal chief and climate change activist Phil Lane in 2013 / Getty Images
May 26, 2022

The San Francisco Unified School District will drop the word "chief" from all job titles because of "the word's connotation with Native Americans," the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.

District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe told the Chronicle that "Native American members of our community have expressed concerns" over "chief," prompting the district to change all job titles that include the commonly used word. The district has 10,000 employees, the Chronicle noted.

While the word "chief" can be used in connection with American Indian tribes, it also appears in many phrases that have no such connection, including "chief of police," "chief executive officer," and "sorry about that, chief." The word has no connection to Native American languages, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, instead deriving originally from the Latin caput, meaning "head."

The district has not yet determined a replacement for the word, which also appears in the job titles "fire chief," "chief of staff," and "editor in chief." Blythe was quick to note, however, that dropping "chief" does not reflect "a downgrade in job status."

The district did not tell the Chronicle whether it advocates for President Joe Biden to be called something other than "commander in chief" or "chief of state."