Other terms sometimes used for the office and its holder include chair, chairperson, chairwoman, presiding officer, president, moderator, facilitator, and convenor. The chairman of a parliamentary chamber is often called the speaker.
The term chair is sometimes used in lieu of chairman, in response to criticisms that using chairman is sexist. It is commonly used today, and has been used as a substitute for chairman since the middle of the 17th century, with its earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary dated 1658–1659, only four years after the first citation for chairman.
Major dictionaries state that the word derives from "chair" (a seat or office of authority) and "man", a person.
A 1994 Canadian study found the Toronto Star newspaper referring to most presiding men as "chairman", and to most presiding women as "chairperson" or as "chairwoman". The Chronicle of Higher Education uses "chairman" for men and "chairperson" for women. An analysis of the British National Corpus found chairman used 1,142 times, chairperson 130 times and chairwoman 68 times. The National Association of Parliamentarians does not approve using "chairperson". The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and United Press International all use "chairwoman" or "chairman" when referring to women, and forbid use of "chair" or of "chairperson" except in direct quotations.
In World Schools Style debating, male chairs are called "Mr. Chairman" and female chairs are called "Madame Chair". The FranklinCovey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, as well as the American Psychological Association style guide, advocate using "chair" or "chairperson", rather than "chairman". The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style suggests that the gender-neutral forms are gaining ground. It advocates using "chair" to refer both to men and to women.
The word chair can refer to the place from which the holder of the office presides, whether on a chair, at a lectern, or elsewhere. During meetings, the person presiding is said to be "in the chair" and is also referred to as "the chair". Parliamentary procedure requires that members address the "chair" as "Mr. (or Madam) Chairman (or Chair or Chairperson)" rather than using a name – one of many customs intended to maintain the presiding officer's impartiality and to ensure an objective and impersonal approach.
In the United States, the presiding officer of the lower house of a legislative body, such as the House of Representatives, is frequently titled the Speaker, while the upper house, such as the Senate, is commonly chaired by a President. In his 1992 State of the Union address, then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush used "chairman" for men and "chair" for women.
In the British music hall tradition, the Chairman was the master of ceremonies who announced the performances and was responsible for controlling any rowdy elements in the audience. The role was popularised on British TV in the 1960s and 1970s by Leonard Sachs, the Chairman on the variety show The Good Old Days.
"Chairman" as a quasi-title gained particular resonance when socialist states from 1917 onward shunned more traditional leadership labels and stressed the collective control of soviets (councils or committees) by beginning to refer to executive figureheads as "Chairman of the X Committee". Vladimir Lenin, for example, officially functioned as the head of Soviet Russia not as tsar or as president but in roles such as "Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR".
Note in particular the popular standard method for referring to Mao Zedong: "Chairman Mao" (officially: Chairman of the Communist Party of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission).