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Sir is a formal English honourific address for men, derived from Sire in the High Middle Ages. Traditionally, as governed by law and custom, "Sir" is used for men titled as knights, i.e., of orders of chivalry, and later also applied to baronets and other offices. As the female equivalent for knighthood is damehood, the suo jure female equivalent term is typically Dame. The wife of a knight or baronet tends to be addressed as Lady, although a few exceptions and interchanges of these uses exist.


Additionally, since the Late Modern era, "Sir" has been increasingly used as a respectful way to address any commoners of a superior social status or military rank. Equivalent terms of address for women are Madam (shortened "Ma'am"), in addition to social honorifics such as Mr, Mrs, Ms and Miss.


A late Middle English term, the first possible word used for this meaning is "Senex sen", from Latin, literally ‘older, older man’, comparative of senex, sen- ‘old man, old’. Sir derives from the honorific title sire ; sire developed alongside the word seigneur, also used to refer to a feudal lord. Both derived from the Vulgar Latin senior, sire comes from the nominative case declension senior and seigneur, the accusative case declension seniōrem. [1]

The form 'Sir' is first documented in English in 1297, as the title of honour of a knight, and latterly a baronet, being a variant of sire, which was already used in English since at least c.1205 as a title placed before a name and denoting knighthood, and to address the (male) Sovereign since c.1225, with additional general senses of 'father, male parent' is from c.1250, and 'important elderly man' from 1362.

Entitlement to formal honorific address by region

Commonwealth of Nations

Sir Thomas Troubridge, 1st Baronet, whose entitlement to use 'Sir' derived from his position as baronet Sir Thomas Troubridge, 1st Baronet.jpg
Sir Thomas Troubridge, 1st Baronet, whose entitlement to use 'Sir' derived from his position as baronet

The prefix is used with the holder's given name or full name, but never with the surname alone. For example, whilst Sir Alexander and Sir Alexander Fleming would be correct, Sir Fleming would not. [2]

The equivalent for a female who holds a knighthood or baronetcy in her own right is 'Dame', and follows the same usage customs as 'Sir'. [3] Although this form was previously also used for the wives of knights and baronets, it is now customary to refer to them as 'Lady', followed by their surname; they are never addressed using their full names. For example, while Lady Fiennes is correct, Lady Virginia and Lady Virginia Fiennes are not. [4] [5] The widows of knights retain the style of wives of knights, [5] however widows of baronets are either referred to as 'dowager', or use their forename before their courtesy style. For example, the widow of Sir Thomas Herbert Cochrane Troubridge, 4th Baronet, would either be known as Dowager Lady Troubridge or Laura, Lady Troubridge. [6]

Emperor Taisho, a Stranger Knight of the Order of the Garter, who, as a foreign national, was not entitled to use the prefix 'Sir' (which as a sovereign monarch he would not have used in any case) but was permitted to post-nominally use
KG Emperor Taisho the Order of the Garter.jpg
Emperor Taishō, a Stranger Knight of the Order of the Garter, who, as a foreign national, was not entitled to use the prefix 'Sir' (which as a sovereign monarch he would not have used in any case) but was permitted to post-nominally use KG

Today, in the UK and in certain Commonwealth realms, a number of men are entitled to the prefix of 'Sir', including knights bachelor, knights of the orders of chivalry and baronets; although foreign nationals can be awarded honorary knighthoods. Honorary knights do not bear the prefix "Sir" nor do they receive an accolade; instead they use the associated post-nominal letters. [7]

Church of England clergy who receive knighthoods do also not receive an accolade and therefore do not use the title 'Sir', but instead refer to their knighthood using post-nominal letters. [2] For example, the Reverend John Polkinghorne, KBE is never referred to as Sir John Polkinghorne. Clergy of other denominations may use different conventions. [2]

Dual nationals holding a Commonwealth citizenship that recognise the British monarch as head of state are entitled to use the styling. Common usage varies from country to country: for instance, dual Bahamian-American citizen Sidney Poitier, knighted in 1974, is often styled 'Sir Sidney Poitier', particularly in connection with his official ambassadorial duties, although he himself rarely employs the title.

The permissibility of using the style of 'Sir' varies. In general, only dynastic knighthoods in the personal gift of the Sovereign and Head of the Commonwealth – the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle and the knighthoods in the Royal Victorian Order – are recognised across the Commonwealth realms, along with their accompanying styles.

Knighthoods in the gift of the government of a Commonwealth realm typically only permit the bearer to use his title within that country or as its official representative, provided he is a national of that country; Commonwealth realms may consider knighthoods from other realms to only be foreign honours. For instance, Anthony Bailey was reprimanded by Buckingham Palace and the British government in 2016 for asserting that an honorary Antiguan knighthood allowed him the style of 'Sir' in the UK. [8] [9]

Commonwealth realms

United Kingdom

Antigua and Barbuda


  • Knight of the Order of Australia (AK; for male Australian subjects only; discontinued 1986–2014, reintroduced briefly in 2014, again discontinued in 2015) [12] [13]



  • Knight Commander, Knight Grand Cross, or Knight Grand Collar of the Order of the Nation in the Order of Grenada (KCNG/GCNG/KN)

New Zealand

Saint Lucia

Holy See

Knights and Dames of papal orders may elect the "Sir" or "Dame" prefix with post-nominal letters, subject to the laws and conventions of the country they are in. The Pope, the sovereign of the Catholic Church and Vatican City, delegates the awarding orders of knighthood to bishops and Grand Masters. Their precedence is as follows:

For Example, Sir Burton P. C. Hall, KSS, KHS would be the correct style for lay knights.

Lieutenants of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, are styled as "Your Excellency", such as H.E. Dame Trudy Comeau, DC*HS.

Catholic clergy who are invested as Knight Chaplains may use post-nominal letters, but must retain their clerical titles, like Rev. Robert Skeris, KCHS.

Knights and Dames of papal orders are not allowed to use the prefix "Sir" or "Dame" in the United Kingdom, although they may use post-nominal letters. Not allowing the prefix is because the use of foreign titles is not permitted by the British Crown without a Royal Licence, and as a matter of policy (currently based on a Royal Warrant of 27 April 1932), a Royal Licence to bear any foreign title is never granted. On the other hand, allowing the post-nominal letters would be explained by the highest and lowest dignities being universal, a king was recognized as king everywhere, and also a knight: "though a Knight receive his Dignity of a Foreign Prince, he is so to be stiled in all Legal Proceedings within England .. and Knights in all Foreign Countries have ever place and precedency according to their Seniority of being Knighted" [15]


Established in 1783 and primarily awarded to men associated with the Kingdom of Ireland, Knights of the Order of St. Patrick were entitled to the style of 'Sir'. Regular creation of new knights of the order ended in 1921 upon the formation of the Irish Free State. With the death of the last knight in 1974, the Order became dormant.


Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was the last surviving Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India King Of Travancore sct.jpg
Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was the last surviving Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India

As part of the consolidation of the crown colony of India, the Order of the Star of India was established in 1861 to reward prominent British and Indian civil servants, military officers and prominent Indians associated with the Indian Empire. The Order of the Indian Empire was established in 1878 as a junior-level order to accompany the Order of the Star of India, and to recognise long service.

From 1861 to 1866, the Order of the Star of India had a single class of Knights (KSI), who were entitled to the style of 'Sir'. In 1866, the order was reclassified into three divisions: Knights Grand Commander (GCSI), Knights Commander (KCSI) and Companions (CSI); holders of the upper two degrees could use the title 'Sir'. From its creation in 1878 until 1887, the Order of the Indian Empire had a single class, Companion (CIE), which did not entitle the recipient to a style of knighthood.

In 1887, two higher divisions, Knight Grand Commander (GCIE) and Knight Commander (KCIE) were created, which entitled holders of those ranks to the style of 'Sir'. The last creations of knights of either order were made on 15 August 1947 upon Indian independence. All British honours and their accompanying styles were officially made obsolete in India when the Dominion of India became a modern Commonwealth republic in 1950, followed by Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956.

The Order of the Star of India became dormant in the Commonwealth realms from February 2009, and the Order of the Indian Empire after August 2010, when the last knights of the orders died.


In Nigeria, holders of religious honours like the Knighthood of St. Gregory make use of the word as a pre-nominal honorific in much the same way as it is used for secular purposes in Britain and the Philippines. Wives of such individuals also typically assume the title of Lady.


As a privilege of the members of the Order of the Knights of Rizal, the prefix "Sir" is attached to their forenames while wives of Knights add the prefix "Lady" to their first names. [16] These apply to both spoken and written forms of address. The Knights of Rizal is the sole order of knighthood in the Philippines and a constituted [17] Order of Merit recognized by the Orders, decorations, and medals of the Philippines. [18] The prefix is appended with the relevant post-nominal according to their rank at the end of their names: Knight of Rizal (KR), Knight Officer of Rizal (KOR), Knight Commander of Rizal (KCR), Knight Grand Officer of Rizal (KGOR) and Knight Grand Cross of Rizal (KGCR). Among the notable members of the Knights of Rizal include King Juan Carlos I of Spain who was conferred a Knight Grand Cross of Rizal on 11 February 1998. [19]

Combinations with other titles and styles


In the case of a military officer who is also a knight, the appropriate form of address puts the professional military rank first, then the correct manner of address for the individual, then his name. Examples include:


This is also the case with academic ranks and titles, such as 'Professor'. For example, Patrick Bateson was both a professor [note 2] and a knight bachelor; his correct title would be Professor Sir Patrick Bateson. However, the title of 'Doctor' (Dr.) is not used in combination with 'Sir', with the knighthood taking precedence. Knighted doctors are addressed as knights, though they may still use any post-nominal letters associated with their degrees.


Peers who have been knighted are not addressed as 'Sir' in the formal sense of the style, as their titles of nobility take precedence. If the heir apparent to a dukedom, marquessate or earldom holds a courtesy title and has been knighted, the same principle applies to him, as well as to the male heirs of a duke or a marquess, who are styled 'Lord' followed by their first name. For instance, diplomat Lord Nicholas Gordon-Lennox, KCMG, KCVO, who was a younger son of the Duke of Richmond, continued to be styled as 'Lord Nicholas' following his knighthood in 1986, not 'Lord Sir Nicholas'. Other male heirs of an earl who lack courtesy titles, and the male heirs of a viscount or baron, do however use the style of 'Sir' if knighted, the style following that of 'The Hon'.

Educational, military and other usage

Education system

'Sir', along with 'Miss' for women, is commonly used in the British school system to address teachers and other members of staff. Usage of these terms is considered a mark of respect, and can be dated back to the 16th century. The practice may have been an attempt to reinforce the authority of teachers from lower social classes among classes of largely upper class students. [22] Jennifer Coates, emeritus professor of English language and linguistics at Roehampton University has criticised the use of the title for male teachers, saying that "'Sir' is a knight. There weren't women knights, but 'Miss' is ridiculous: it doesn't match 'Sir' at all. It's just one of the names you can call an unmarried woman", and that "It's a depressing example of how women are given low status and men, no matter how young or new in the job they are, are given high status". [22] This view is not unchallenged, however. The chief executive of the Brook Learning Trust, Debbie Coslett, said "... they call me 'Miss', I'm fine with that. They're showing respect by giving me a title rather than 'hey' or 'oi, you' or whatever", and dismissed the male/female issue as "just the way the English language works". [22]

In the Southern United States, the term 'sir' is often used to address someone in a position of authority or respect, and is commonly used in schools and universities by students to address their teachers and professors. Whereas the British and Commonwealth female equivalent is Miss, students will often refer to female teachers as Ma'am. [23]

In the Northeast United States, particularly New England, there remains influence of both the British and French traditions as noted above; in general parlance, teachers, authority-figures, and so forth, are referred to by a title of respect such as 'Sir' for males and 'Miss, Ms, or Mrs' for females: 'Miss' for unmarried, younger females; 'Ms' for senior, elder, or ranking females that may or may not be married (see article Ms/Mrs/Miss); and 'Mrs' for married or widowed females. The predominant form of address remains "Sir/Ma'am", though in some sectors - such as service, hospitality, or politics - "Sir/Madam(e)" prevails, while in Northern Maine - Aroostock County and St John's Valley - most female teachers or public officials, regardless of marital status, are addressed "Miss" in English or "Madame" in French, though the two are not interchangeable. As noted in Coslett's statement above citing her personal acceptance of 'Miss', generally teachers or other public officials may specify to which form they prefer, while in other cases social and cultural norms dictate the appropriate form.

Military and police

If not specifically using their rank or title, 'sir' is used in the United States Armed Forces to address a male, senior commissioned officer or civilian. Privates and non-commissioned officers, such as corporals and sergeants, are addressed using their ranks. [24]

In the British Armed Forces, male commissioned officers and warrant officers are addressed as 'sir' by all ranks junior to them, male warrant officers are addressed as Mr by commissioned officers. [25]

In the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), only commissioned officers are addressed as 'sir'; NCOs and constables are addressed by their rank. Male British police officers of the rank of Inspector or above are addressed as 'Sir' (women of inspecting rank are called Ma'am).[ citation needed ]

In the Hong Kong Police Force, male superiors are respectfully known by their surname followed by 'sir'. For example, Inspector Wong would be addressed or referred to as 'Wong-sir'. Male police officers are sometimes known colloquially as "Ah-sir" (阿Sir) to the wider public. [26]

Service industry

The term 'Sir' is also used frequently in the customer service industry, by employees to refer to customers, and sometimes vice versa. In the United States, it is much more common in certain areas (even when addressing male peers or men considerably younger). For example, a 1980 study showed that 80% of service interactions in the South were accompanied by 'Sir' or Ma'am, in comparison to the Northern United States, where 'Sir' was only used 25% of the time. [23]

'Sir', in conjunction with 'Ma'am' or 'Madam', is also commonly used in the Philippines and South Asia, not only to address customers and vice versa, but also to address people of a higher social rank or age. [27] [28] [29] [30]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 In the personal gift of the Sovereign and Head of the Commonwealth.
  2. Note a difference in usage between British and US usage. A Professor in the UK is only used for the highest academic rank. See a summary here.

Related Research Articles

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Baronet Hereditary title awarded by the British Crown

A baronet or the rare female equivalent, a baronetess, is the holder of a baronetcy, a hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. The practice of awarding baronetcies was originally introduced in England in the 14th century and was used by James I of England in 1611 as a means of raising funds.

The Right Honourable is an honorific style traditionally applied to certain persons and collective bodies in the United Kingdom, the former British Empire and the Commonwealth of Nations. The term is predominantly used today as a style associated with the holding of certain senior public offices in the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.

Order of the British Empire British order of chivalry

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of the order.

Order of the Bath British order of chivalry established 1725

The Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath". George I "erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order". He did not revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.

Order of St Michael and St George British order of chivalry established 1818

The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later King George IV, while he was acting as regent for his father, King George III.

Forms of address used in the United Kingdom are given below. For further information on Courtesy Titles see Courtesy titles in the United Kingdom.

New Zealand Order of Merit A royal order of merit in New Zealand

The New Zealand Order of Merit is an order of merit in the New Zealand royal honours system. It was established by royal warrant on 30 May 1996 by Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, "for those persons who in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits", to recognise outstanding service to the Crown and people of New Zealand in a civil or military capacity.

The following is the order of precedence in England and Wales as of July 2021. Separate orders exist for gentlemen and ladies.

Royal Victorian Order British order of chivalry established 1896

The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria. It recognises distinguished personal service to the monarch of the Commonwealth realms, members of the monarch's family, or to any viceroy or senior representative of the monarch. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the sovereign of the order, the order's motto is Victoria, and its official day is 20 June. The order's chapel is the Savoy Chapel in London.

Knight Bachelor In the British honours system, a title granted to a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not inducted as a member of one of the organised orders of chivalry

The title of Knight Bachelor is the basic rank granted to a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not inducted as a member of one of the organised orders of chivalry; it is a part of the British honours system. Knights Bachelor are the most ancient sort of British knight, but Knights Bachelor rank below knights of chivalric orders. A man who is knighted is formally addressed as "Sir [First Name] [Surname]" or "Sir [First Name]" and his wife as "Lady [Surname]".

Order of the Star of India British order of chivalry established 1861

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  1. Knight Grand Commander (GCSI)
  2. Knight Commander (KCSI)
  3. Companion (CSI)
Lady Title of address for a noble woman

The word lady is a term of respect for a girl or woman, the equivalent of gentleman. Once used to describe only women of a high social class or status, the female equivalent of lord, now it may refer to any adult woman. Informal use of this word is sometimes euphemistic or, in American slang, condescending.

English honorifics

In the English language, an honorific is a form of address conveying esteem, courtesy or respect. These can be titles prefixing a person's name, e.g.: Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Mx,Sir, Dr, Lady or Lord, or titles or positions that can appear as a form of address without the person's name, as in Mr President, General, Captain, Father, Doctor or Earl.

Dame is an honorific title and the feminine form of address for the honour of damehood in many Christian chivalric orders, as well as the British honours system and those of several other Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, with the masculine form of address being sir. It is the female equivalent for knighthood, which is traditionally granted to males. Dame is also style used by baronetesses in their own right.

Commander, or Knight Commander, is a title of honor prevalent in chivalric orders and fraternal orders.

Mister, usually written in its contracted form Mr. (US) or Mr (UK), is a commonly used English honorific for men in the past under the rank of knighthood. In modern day usage, it is the default title used by most males, except for titles like Lord, Doctor and Reverend. The title 'Mr' derived from earlier forms of master, as the equivalent female titles Mrs, Miss, and Ms all derived from earlier forms of mistress. Master is sometimes still used as an honorific for boys and young men.

Order of the Nation (Antigua and Barbuda)

The Most Distinguished Order of the Nation is an Antiguan and Barbudan order of chivalry recognising distinguished and outstanding service to Antigua and Barbuda, the Caricom region or the international community. Originally established by the National Awards Act 1987, that act was repealed and the order was re-established and constituted by the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda under the National Honours Act 1998 which received Royal Assent from the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda on 31 December 1998.

The Order of Grenada is an order of chivalry and a society of honour instituted by Queen Elizabeth II in right of Grenada through the National Honours and Awards Act which having been passed by the House of Representatives of Grenada on 16 November 2007 and passed by the Senate of Grenada on 27 November 2007 received Royal Assent on 31 December 2007.


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  15. Velde, Francois. "Foreign Titles in the UK". Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  16. "Who is entitled to the prefix of 'Sir'?". R.A.U. Juchter van Bergen Quast, LLM (in Dutch). 25 October 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  17. "Republic Act No. 646 | GOVPH". Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  18. "Speech of President Aquino at the International Assembly and Conference of Rizal, February 17, 2011 | GOVPH". Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  19. "Entitlement to the prefix of 'sir'" . Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  20. Royal Navy Flag Officers, 1904-1945: Admiral of the Fleet Sir Bruce Fraser,
  21. Australian Dictionary of Biography: Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey,
  22. 1 2 3 Paton, Graeme (13 May 2014). "Stop calling teachers 'Miss' or 'Sir', pupils are told". The Telegraph . Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  23. 1 2 Hudley, Anne; Mallinson, Christine (2011). "A Regional and Cultural Variety". Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools. NY, USA: Teachers College Press. ISBN   9780807751480.
  24. Rush, Robert S. NCO Guide (9th ed.). PA, USA: Stackpole Book. p. 328. ISBN   9780811736145.
  25. "Frequently Asked Questions". RAF. n.d. Archived from the original on 2 May 2010. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
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  29. Estrada-Claudio, Sylvia. "Don't call me Madam". Rappler. Retrieved 8 October 2020.
  30. Martin, Bob. "Philippine Society can be very formal". Live In The Philippines. Retrieved 8 October 2020.