Changing Titles

Back when our Order was founded in 2007, we thought we were being progressive by making sure that the Grand Master and Seneschal in a Commandery for ritual or work represented both genders: If the Grand Master was female on that occasion, then the Seneschal should be male, and vice versa. That’s where it ended. While we recognized that there was a 2SLGTBQ+ community out there, we didn’t recognize that sexuality, gender, and sexual expression were 3 entirely different things. We blithely assigned traditional honorifics for our ranks like Sir/Lady and adopted the rank of Master without thinking what effect that might have on ethnic groups that had been enslaved. We didn’t recognize white privilege.

Of course, all members of the Order are very informal in our everyday interactions and do not normally use honorifics or titles in referring to one another. However, titles are useful in public ritual, clerical titles are more important in official documents, and titles give gravitas in ritual.

A month ago, we started a discussion about revisiting these titles and ranks to bring ourselves into the modern world. Everyone made excellent suggestions which led to us studying the history of these titles and honorifics. The problem with English honorifics is that there is a long history of separate titles for males and females and no provision for other gender identities. We could have tried to reclaim titles like Master, as our Order is all about mastery, but in the end felt that replacing it shows a greater commitment to recognizing marginalized groups. This way people who enter our space are able to immediately understand what our position is by simply seeing the ranks that we use.

What is an honorific? It is a title or word implying or expressing high status, politeness, or respect. Part of the problem with our honorific issue is that it is a practice which dates to a time when we had different classes of society and that you were expected to use specific forms of address to properly recognize a person’s rank or status in that society. In British society you still have a royal family and a strong sense of what is supposed to be considered high society and this includes the use of honorifics. The British royal family only has a ceremonial function these days (as do most remaining royal families) and really only continues to exist because so many people still cling to that mythical vision of a perfect past with a perfect ruler.  That is not a myth that we want to take root in this Order. Most orders of knighthood out there are collections of royalty (e.g.: Order of the Garter, Order of Bath) and we’re not one of those. We are Warriors and have used the structure and customs of the military orders of knighthood (specifically the Knights Templar) as a starting point. The ranks in our Order represent personal achievement, not social status. We are more interested in the use of an honorific to be polite and show respect.

We’re replacing the honorifics Sir and Lady with Laoch (“layoch”), which is a Celtic term meaning “hero/heroine, warrior, champion” which doesn’t have a gender attached. Curadh (“Korah”), meaning “champion, warrior” is also acceptable.

We needed a term for the function of “Shield Bearer”. The term “squire”, which translates as “shield bearer” is already in use, so to separate this we decided upon the Celtic term maité sciath (pronounced “moyta skeea”), which translates as “shield mate”.

We’ve established two categories of members: Dalta and Armigers. What is a Dalta or an Armiger you ask?

  • Dalta is the Celtic term for “student”. Novices and Squires in our Order will be referred to as Dalta.
  • An armiger is a person entitled to use a heraldic achievement (e.g., bear arms, an “armour-bearer”) either by hereditary right, grant, matriculation, or assumption of arms. Such a person is said to be armigerous. A family or clan may also be armigerous. Therefore, all members of our Order of the rank Knight and higher are armigerous and form a class of Armigers because each of them has a “coat of arms”. Where did the term “coat of arms” come from you ask? Knights used to wear a surcoat over their armor displaying that heraldry. Of course, they’d also display it on their shield and on a cloth covering called a caparison draped over the knight’s horse.

We decided to update our Roll of Arms (which is posted on our website) to reflect not only the Knight’s heraldry and rank, but their preferred honorific. This would give our Knights a reference list for ongoing interactions and communications.  We created a position of Officer of Arms to be a keeper of the heraldry list to deal with this.

Members suggested the title “knight bachelor”, which is used in some orders of knighthood. The term knight bachelor is a 12th century term relating to the first usage of the term bachelor, which referred to a knight too young or poor to gather vassals under his own banner. The Old French bacheler presumably derives from Provençal bacalar and Italian baccalare, but the ultimate source of the word is uncertain. The proposed Medieval Latin *baccalaris (“vassal”, “field hand”) is only attested late enough that it may have derived from the vernacular languages, rather than from the southern French and northern Spanish Latin baccalaria. Alternatively, it may have been derived from Latin baculum (“a stick”), referring to the wooden sticks used by knights in training.

From the 14th century, the term bachelor was also used for a junior member of a guild (otherwise known as “yeomen”- see note below) or university and then for low-level ecclesiastics, as young monks and recently appointed canons. As an inferior grade of scholarship, it came to refer to one holding a “bachelor’s degree”. This sense of baccalarius or baccalaureus is first attested at the University of Paris in the 13th century in the system of degrees established under the auspices of Pope Gregory IX as applied to scholars still in statu pupillari. There were two classes of baccalarii: the baccalarii cursores, theological candidates passed for admission to the divinity course, and the baccalarii dispositi, who had completed the course and were entitled to proceed to the higher degrees.

It was not until the paternalistic Victorian era that the term “eligible bachelor” was used in the context of upper-class matchmaking, denoting a young man who was not only unmarried and eligible for marriage, but also considered “eligible” in financial and social terms for the prospective bride under discussion. Also, in the Victorian era, the term “confirmed bachelor” denoted a man who was resolute to remain unmarried.

By the later 19th century, the term “bachelor” had acquired the general sense of “unmarried man”. The expression bachelor party first appeared in 1882. In 1895, a feminine equivalent “bachelor-girl” was coined, replaced in US English by “bachelorette” by the mid-1930s. This terminology is now generally seen as antiquated and has been largely replaced by the gender-neutral term “single” (first recorded in 1964). In England and Wales, the term “bachelor” remained the official term used for the purpose of marriage registration until 2005, when it was abolished in favor of “single.”

We decided against using the title knight bachelor. Even though the term bachelor originally had no gender attached to it, it may be that some may be uncomfortable with the more modern usage of the term bachelor, though this is slowly falling out of use.

NOTE: The aforementioned term “yeoman” arrived in English circa 1300 in reference to an attendant in a noble household. Its origins are unknown but is perhaps a contraction of Old English iunge man “young man,” or from an unrecorded Old English *geaman, equivalent of Old Frisian gaman “villager,” from Old English -gea “district, region, village,” cognate with Old Frisian ga, ge, German Gau, Gothic gawi, from Proto-Germanic *gaujan. By the late 14th century, it was used to describe either a commoner who cultivates his land or a third order of fighting men (below knights and squires, above knaves), hence yeomen’s service “good, efficient service” (c. 1600). In the 1660s it was used to describe a naval petty officer in charge of supplies. So we decided against using the term yeoman as well.

Another title that was suggested was Knight-Companion, which is in use in other orders of knighthood (such as the Order of the Garter) having only one class of knights. As our Order has several classes or ranks, we decided not to use this.

We decided to replace the title “Master” with “Magister”. Magister is a Latin term meaning “a master, chief, head, superior, director, teacher, etc.”, from magis (“more or great”). We felt this was the best choice since achieving this rank is about learning how to take what you’ve learned and bringing that back to others coming up in the Order to instruct or teach them. This also reflects our belief that mastery is a practice of lifelong work and never a pinnacle.

We retained the ranks of Knight and Paladin.

In summary, the ranks of the Order become:

  • Novice
  • Squire
  • Knight
  • Magister
  • Paladin

We decided to replace the Commandery rank Grand Master with Grand Commander.

Kerr Cuhulain