Full disclosure - I love being allowed to choose my own job title. And I do think it helps people feel more empowered. But like everything, there are limits that should be acknowledged.
I have been in places where I was allowed to chose my own title. I like to make sure my acronym spells something cool. So – one time I titled myself Manager of Acquisition Group Information (MAGI). One of my colleagues titled herself Director of Information Valuation Assessment (DIVA).
Obviously – the title has to be related to the job and you don’t want employees choosing an acronym that spells something naughty.
The other consideration is – is this a forward-facing position or internal? Meaning – who needs to interact with the title. We were able to title ourselves MAGI and DIVA because our only customers were internal. If we were interacting with the public – we would have needed more traditional titles so that our customers knew what to expect from us.
Personally – I think companies who try to be “cool.” By naming their titles something odd like “customer ninja” – can come off as pretentious. On the other hand – Best Buy has their geek squad members and those are awesome. As for those titles - I would much rather interact with a guru than a ninja – though if the guru is not empowered and knowledgeable as an individual – then the title is pretentious. It HAS to match the skills and work of the person holding the title.
The motivation to humanize the employees is a good one. But what really humanizes people - is to treat them with dignity and to truly empower them as individuals. No title can cover for a bad work environment. So - focus less on the titles and more on making sure the work is dignified and the employees treated with dignity.