Sir or Lord?

+20 votes

I'm lost when it comes to English titles & what takes precedence of which.

I thought we had determined that for WikiTree, profiles of people who were KG, KB, or Knt. (Knight bachelor) would have Sir in the prefix & only KG or KB in suffix (not Knt. or Knight). See this G2G discussion and the guidance on the category page for Knights bachelor.

But I was just informed that if a Knight is a peer, then the prefix should be Lord, not Sir. But... I'm not real clear on what a peer is and how to confirm it. Richardson has whether someone was KG, KB, both, or a Knight. I can be confident then that "Sir" is correct. Or I could.

It was suggested that I change the guidance on the Category page to be clear. But I'm unclear. The explanation I was given:

if you are a peer, aka "Fictional Berkeley, 31st Baron Berkeley, Kt", your noble title Lord 'obscures' Sir - you are addressed as Lord Berkeley not Lord Sir Berkeley. Yet you want people to know you were a knight bachelor so you use the post-nominal letters Kt.

But now I'm more confused than ever because Kt = Knight of the Thistle, and I had been previously told that Knights batchelor do not use post-nominals.

If changes to the guidance on the Category page for Knights bachelor should be made, they should probably be done by Darlene Athey or John Atkinson or someone else more qualified than I am.

If changes do not need to be made, and in WikiTree adding Sir for Knight, KG, & KB is correct regardless of the Lord element, please let me know.


WikiTree profile: Thomas de Berkeley
in Policy and Style by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (647k points)
I live in Britain and still confused.  In fact one person in a ONS (One Name Study) is both a Count and a Sir.  His godfather was 11th Duke of Argyll.

To clarify Sir - in Britain but Count (Europe).  At the moment, I've not tackled adding his title.

I would like more clarification that you only have Sir or Rev in the prefix for pre-1700 profiles. A Baron who has a knighthood would not use Sir, so in that case he would have no Sir prefix since we have the title in the nickname field. 

The t is lower case for a knight bachelor and Kt is not always used according to Debretts.

KT = Knight of the Order of the Thistle

Kt = Knight Bachelor

See List of post-nominal letters (United Kingdom)

A knight isn't a peer...
And in. UK a Count is called an Earl but his wife is a Countess.

It is. Correct  for a. Peer to use post nominals, but knights bachelor have none.

8 Answers

+15 votes
Best answer

It depends on the profile.  For the earlier ones (since Liz and I deal mostly with pre-1700 and a lot of pre-1500), do as you have been doing, Liz.  My answer is specifically for these older profiles.  Use Sir in the prefix, not as part of the first name.  We agreed that the first name field should be one word only.  Use KG or KB in the suffix field.

We need to remember that these fields for these profiles are more 'information' than they are the way the person would have been called.  Using your example as an example, Thomas de Berkeley shows up as Sir Thomas "the Rich, 3rd Lord Berkeley" de Berkeley formerly Berkeley.  We of course know this isn't his 'name' nor how he was called or referred to.  But this is giving us the information on him.  So while he was most likely addressed as Lord Berkeley,  with the 'Sir' in the prefix and thus at the beginning of the name we know that he was a knight.  'It ain't pretty', but it's informative!

And we need to all remember that it's not a life and death situation with these names.  Let's not get too serious!

As to the use of 'Esq.', EuroAristo naming standards specifically state:  "Jr, Sr, III, Esq, for moderns, and occasional KG or KB for medieval profiles go in the suffix field. NOTHING else goes in the suffix field."  So... we don't use Esq. (nor II, III) in the suffix field for the older profiles.  With regard to the II, III, those belong in the Preferred Name field, i.e. we might have Thomas as proper first name, and Thomas II as preferred name.

Darlene - Co-Leader, European Aristocrats Project - British Isles 742-1499

by Darlene Athey-Hill G2G6 Pilot (555k points)
selected by Liz Shifflett
I understand the policy says not to use ‘Esq.’ but the question is why not in pre-1500 profiles?  This was in fact an honorific being a step below Knight bachelor, but one which was part of their name.  I think it is very standard to include Esq. for any person known to have been called such during their lifetime.  It was an indication of their social rank.  It is occasionally important in genealogy – I remember one specific instance on SGM where Douglas Richardson’s argument to distinguish two men was one was called Esq. and so could not be the same person who was previously known to be a knight.  I personally have been chastised by Douglas on a couple of occasions for failing to include the Esq.

What would possibly be the reason for not using Esq. in the period prior to 1500?  The same goes for gent., these are terms which once were important and it is still standard to include them in the name.

Joe, I am not sure. The EuroAristo naming standards were determined/agreed before I joined Wikitree and became a leader of the project.  The standards state, "Do not use "Esq." unless it is found on a contemporary document."

If people are interested in discussing/changing this, a new G2G post should be started.  I personally am o.k. with using it, but until a discussion on it and a consensus is reached, we need to adhere to the existing standards.

What was the resolution of the (reasonable) concern about whether to Esq. or not to Esq., that was Joe's question?

Well, I certainly still use Esq and gent if I know it was used in a primary document. I still feel it is important for identifying people and for showing their social rank.
Well, it’s hard to recall since this was almost five years ago. I had suggested a G2G post if people wanted to consider to esquire or not to esquire, since this post was about Sir or Lord. I don’t know if a post was made.

Joe made valid points. Not many people chimed in. We now have the Medieval project and pre-1500 certification requirements for editing medieval profiles. That wasn’t the case five years ago. If a majority of medieval project members want to change naming conventions, we can do that.
I can't believe I have been around for so long.
+6 votes
I don’t think it as cut and dry as you make it out to be.  My understanding, Kt. is a recognized, allowed and used post-nominal for a Knight Bachelor.  Generally though they are just given the honorific ‘Sir’ without the post-nominal Kt.  The Kt. might be added at the end of a name if for some reason Sir is not used as a prefix – an example would be a peer of the realm whose title takes precedence over the ‘Sir’: e.g. Lord Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, Kt.

So for a Knight Bachelor it is one or the other, but not both.  Calling someone Sir – Knight is just wrong.

Also note that Kt. is the correct post-nominal abbreviation for Knight Bachelor, and is distinguished from KT which is correct for a Knight of the Order of the Thistle.

At least that is my understanding.
by Joe Cochoit G2G6 Pilot (264k points)
Knight bachelors have no post-nominal.
Assuming Sir William's point is correct today (and I defer) regardless, isn't the operative question, what was the convention then?

Or even worse, ought we be resolving not The Truth but rather, The Goal ie what are we deciding to make now-normal for Wikitree name-style policy, which is already (as Darlene pointed out) a hodgepodge of concatenation and workarounds to use the website/tech such as it is without making improvements, sigh.  Because we have hundreds of thousands such people and do need some standardization or we have entropy and inconsistency. Which, to Joe's point, is anti-mission for genealogy. Standardization and consistency are critical, even if, in some cases we standardize to the "wrong" new-normal (i.e. having or not having Esq.) the most important thing is we standardize. In my opinion. Because we're trying to communicate clearly over time with millions of readers, and our future selves/replacements/descendants in ways other online genealogy sites broadly speaking, fail to do well. This rigor is what makes us different and better.

Well, KB used to be the acronym for a Knight of the Bath but it is now KCB or GCB.

Esq used to describe gentlemen but now is used by US lawyers.

 Lady Mary ..... is used by daughters of an Earl or higher rank, while Mary, Lady ...... is one way to describe a widow of a knight or Baronet. Some are known as the Dowager .....

the rules here are silly. For example they forbid VC and Bt as post nominals and they appear to allow knights bachelor to post nominals to which they are not entitled. The problem arose with the suppression of the prefix in the display field. The answer is to restore it. Then to correct the profiles which are wrong.
At first noodle, I find these suggestions eminently reasonable.

I see you have jumped the gun by including "Lady" in the FNAB field to un-suppress the display of the prefix field:

+13 votes
This is probably one of the most misunderstood areas for the non-British world.  With very few exceptions it also only applies to the British. Simply put, a person (male) who holds only a knighthood has the "title" of Sir.  This is used in front of his name and is a "pre-nominal".  All knights belong to an order with the exception of the Knight-Bachelor. The initials for the person's order membership (post-niminals) are used after his name.  A knight holds the lowest level/grade of nobility. Those holding a higher title do not use "Sir" but use the appropriate "title" based on the "level" of their noble title.  See "" for a good example of the many forms of address.  The "post-nominals" remain the same no matter what the title of the individual.

Hopefully this is as clear as mud.
by Mick Mickelson G2G1 (1.5k points)
Almost. Knights and Baronets are not. Nobility
+7 votes
This is a minefield! What applies now certainly did not apply 100 years ago and then again 500 years ago. Originally Lord's were i think given a title whereas now they can choose whether to include their name or area that they would like to acknowledge. It is an interesting subject and one that i have never really considered so thank you!
by Iain Cooke G2G6 Mach 1 (11.9k points)
Well they have. Always chosen their territorial. Designation but the Kings of Arms might think a choice is. excessive..

E g if a new peer decided to be of Greater London.
thanks Sir William!
+10 votes
Kt is a new one on me.  I see Wikipedia now supports it, contradicting itself.  But Debretts website says don't use it (which I suppose admits that people do).

But there are many pitfalls in calling people Lord.  I'd recommend not bothering.

One big problem with Lord is that you can't use it with a Christian name, except as a courtesy title.  "Lord Olivier" is fine, but "Lord Laurence Olivier" is wrong.

Another problem is that the surnames often don't match.  So you get "Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners", etc - "Lord Bourchier" would be wrong.

Likewise if a girl marries a Baron she can be Lady with her husband's titular name, but not with her maiden name, or with her married name if it doesn't match the title.

Lord also gets a bit silly with de jure Barons who were only deemed to have had the title after they were dead.

It also encourages the habit of giving a spurious Lord to every country squire who ever held a manor court in his kitchen.

The etiquette books tell you how to invite the 2nd son of a Marquess to a wedding, but their rules aren't necessarily appropriate when writing history.  We don't have to be obsequious to dead people because they were rich, at the same time as describing how they were also incompetent and evil.

But we do have to distinguish generations, because it's pretty useless to say Lord Plodsbury was succeeded by Lord Plodsbury, even though it's correct.

I would say

- don't intermix the name and the peerage title, keep them separate.  Normally, use one or the other.  You can use both together (name first) in a heading, amd maybe once at the start of a bio.

- when stating the title, use the number, eg 2nd Baron Berners.  Sometimes (eg Willoughby, Cobham) add the territory as well.  When just referring to a man by his title, where there's no ambiguity, use the bare titular name "Berners" or stick Lord in front of it, but not too repetitively.  Don't add anything else.  Especially don't add the given name after Lord.  "John, Lord Muck" is possible, but very formal and ceremonial, and just pedantic in other contexts.

- same goes for heir apparent using his father's junior title, except there's no number.  Don't use the given name.  We normally ignore this case except when the heir dies vp and never succeeds.

- same goes for wives and widows, again no number, except you can't use the bare surname, you have to say Lady every time.

- add rank markers (Sir, Dame, Bt, Knt, esq, gent) and post-nominals to the name not the title, and if doing so, use the given name as well.  If using the surname without the given name, don't add anything else.  If using the given name, add Sir or Dame if applicable, even repetitively.

 - same applies to Lord and Lady as courtesy prefixes for sons and daughters, if they have to be mentioned at all.  These are used with the surname, not the titular name.  Always use the given name after the Lord or Lady.

- Lady for wives of knights and baronets - should be used without the given name, so more like a peerage or peer's wife.  Best avoided altogether.

- it's correct to use Sir with KG or KBE or any other order of K, and with KB for Knight of the Bath.  When using Sir for a knight bachelor, there's no need to add anything else.

I'm differing from Wikipedia here because they say "John Bourchier, 1st Baron Berners, KG" where I'd say "Sir John Bourchier KG, 1st Baron Berners".
by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (645k points)
Thanks RJ! That actually all made sense to me.

I think the consensus is that I'm ok in continuing as I have been... Sir in prefix for a knight of any kind & KG or KB as suffix, but not Knt. (or other variant indicating knight bachelor)?
The unfortunate bit on WikiTree is that Knt shows up in useful places where Sir is almost invisible.  Including the Sir with the first name often seems to profuce better results.
I've deselected the best answer so John or one of the sub-proj. managers can weigh in first, or Liz votes and closes the question.

RJ has some good points but most specifically contract the current guidance. It also depends on when the person lived - Lady is specifically mentioned as something you shouldn't use pre-1500, there prob. needs to be some date qualifications for all the fields.
I asked the question but I'm not the person to close it. This area is not one I'm comfortable being the arbitrator for.
Your statement about a De Jure title is, I believe, a bit misleading. The term literally means "By Right", and was applied to those who would ordinarily have succeeded to a title on the death of the incumbent according to the rules and conditions applied to that inheritance, but which for reasons of law was disabled from that succession.

The De Jure title might have continued throughout the remaining lifetime of that title holder, but not necessarily. There are examples where the person had allegedly been a participant in a treasonous activity and their title was 'attainted'. The title continued in a state of abeyance until the person concerned was pardoned, died or was otherwise reinstated. There were plenty of examples following the Jacobite rebellions.
It is absolutely right to keep the title and the family name separate, else you can end up completely confusing people. A title may be recreated after the extinction of a previous title which was apparently the same.

These will very often have been granted to entirely unrelated people, although sometimes the husband of a female descendant, where the title is only in the male line, may be granted the title as a newly created title, where the previous title holder has died.

An example for this might be: The 4th Earl of Londonderry(first creation) died with just one married daughter surviving him. Her husband, who was part of the Pitt family, was created 1st Earl of Londonderry (second creation). naturally they had different family surnames.
I seem to have a few quibbles with RJ's notes. I agree that using the term Lord is not particularly useful when applying it to British nobility but not necessarily for the reasons RJ infers. My reason is simple, there are no British titles that are simply 'Lord'. Whilst Lord may be employed for convenience to almost every male title of nobility below the rank of Duke, it is not the actual title.

I would not agree with RJs difference with Wiki in the matter of Peers who have been knighted. In the Chivalric High Mediaeval period it was not uncommon to find a noble described as Sir, because it was part of their rite of passage to have been knighted following their participation in combat. In the modern day, it is not common for a Peer of any rank to indicate a knighthood except by the use of post-nominals.

Knighthoods are not just about Ks either. The most senior Orders, Garter, Thistle and St Patrick are always simply KG, KT or KP (or LG for Ladies of the Order). The lower ranking orders have different ranks within the order. Of the current orders, Bath, British Empire, St Michael and St George and Royal Victorian all have knights of first and second classes. In the case of the Order of the British Empire, the knighthood of the first class is known as Knight Grand Cross of the Order (post-nominals: GBE) and second class is the Knight Commander (KBE), the same applies to the others listed (although the titles differ marginally in each)
Certainly it's not common for peers to indicate a knighthood.  Trouble is, they don't normally indicate their names either.  But for WikiTree purposes we want to show their names primarily.

The point I was trying to make is, if John Smith becomes a peer, he doesn't become Lord John Smith.  But if Sir John Smith becomes a peer, he's still Sir John Smith even though he's normally called Lord Fauntleroy.
+9 votes
WikiTree falls down badly on this subject.  Surnames actively change.  So Mr Russell. Became Viscount Tavistock then. Became the. Duke of Bedford. Still gets listed under Russell - fair enough ,, it was his LNAB, but his current name is Bedford. Which is not a nickname .
by William Arbuthnot of Kittybrewster G2G6 Pilot (185k points)
I would argue that his official name doesn't change.  He or his friends might refer to himself as Bedford or the Duke of Bedford, but officially he is still John Russell.
I would argue that his official name does change. I do understand what John Atkinson is saying - and agree with the fact that his original name remains - in this case John Russell, but... the peer's title is granted by letters patent or a Royal Charter and that has the effect of legally changing his name - hence the fact that senior peers would normally sign legal documents with the name of their title, i.e. Bedford, rather than their birth name. In the same way as Bishops tend to as well.
+6 votes
The question is put more simply that in the European Aristocrat naming standards and the Knight Bachelor category it is confusing to me and Liz if you should put Sir in the prefix field for people who have a title of nobility in their nickname field.

I would suggest:

Don't put Sir in the prefix if there's a title in the nickname field.

Don't use Kt or Knt.

Do put the knight information in the bio with a citation.
by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 7 (73.3k points)
Also, no Lord in the prefix and no Esq in the suffix.

I feel free to put whatever prefix/suffix I want in the bio, I don't think there's a lot of specific guidance here other than to cite your sources.
why no Esq. in the suffix?
Esq means different things in different countries. It equates to gentleman in UK and means lawyer in US..
+8 votes
Of course it's even more complicated with women.  Maggie was never Lady Margaret Roberts, or Margaret Lady Roberts, or Margaret Roberts, Lady Thatcher.  But if we want to call her Margaret Roberts, that's about the best we can do, short of leaving out the title altogether.

Actually of course she was Lady Thatcher before she got the title, as the wife of a baronet, but she wasn't usually called that.
by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (645k points)

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