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Naming Conventions for Knights

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Naming Conventions for Knights

Knights and Dames are people who (1) have been granted a knighthood by a sovereign or (2) belong to an order of chivalry. These titles are held for life. They are not hereditary. There are also knights who (3) hold an hereditary title of knighthood.

The naming rules in each category are similar but can vary depending on the type of knighthood. This overview simplifies a complex subject. There are many exceptions and special cases.

In the Middle Ages, knights often formed themselves into associations, some of which became orders. Also, many sovereigns (and quasi-sovereigns) created their own orders. For more information see Wikipedia, Chivalric order.

Basic Guidelines

  • There is no such thing as a Sir Knight.
  • Don't put Sir in the First Name field.
  • For most medieval English knights, put Knight in the Suffix field.
  • Put the full name in the Display Name field.
  • Don't put more than one title in the name fields. If a person has a higher title, their knighthood is only used in the most formal circumstances, generally as part of a full list of their names and titles. Put the full list in the Overview.
  • Do not confuse British Knights with Baronets. Baronets also have the courtesy title Sir.
  • Only citizens of the British Commonwealth use the courtesy titles Sir and Dame. The British knighthoods granted to citizens of other countries are honorary. Honorary knights do not use the titles Sir or Dame.
  • Knights in countries other than Britain rarely have any kind of prefix that shows they are knights.
  • Forms of address are different than titles. A title is part of a person’s name (for genealogical purposes), which is different from the form of address, the way you would refer to the person.

Britain

British knights and dames are not nobles, but many nobles are knights and dames. A knight ranks above Esquire and below Baronet. Knights and Dames are entitled to use the courtesy title Sir / Dame in front of their names. These are titles, not part of the name.

"Legal document: Knights Bachelor are accorded 'Knight Bachelor' or 'Knight' after the name.

The Orders of Chivalry are either spelt in full (with or without the honorific prefix of the Order, eg Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), or by the recognised abbreviations, eg KBE. Thus Sir John Smith Knight Bachelor, KBE."

See: Debrett's, Forms of Address.

Knights Bachelor

A knight who does not belong to an order of chivalry is a Knight Bachelor. There is no female equivalent. For more information, see Wikipedia, Knight Bachelor.

Display Name on Geni:

  • For a knight: Sir John Smith, Knight (or should it be Sir John Smith?)
  • For a knight’s wife: Mary Jones, Lady Smith
  • For a knight’s children: no special form

Members of a Chivalric Order

Chivalric orders are awarded only by the Sovereign.

Display Name on Geni:

  • For a knight: Sir John Smith, O.B.E.
  • For a woman knight in the Garter or Thistle orders: Lady Jane Smith, K.G.
  • For a woman knight not in the Garter or Thistle orders: Dame Jane Smith, D.B.E.
  • For a knight’s wife: Mary Jones, Lady Smith
  • For a lady knight’s husband: no special form
  • For a knight’s children: no special form

France

The French word for knight is Chevalier. A female knight in her own right is a Chevalière, The wife of a Chevalier is a Chevaleresse. French knights are nobles. The French system can be confusing, because Chevalier is both a rank and a title. Most French knights were members of orders of chivalry, so they had the title chevalier but they held the lower rank of Écuyer (Esquire). For more information, see Wikipedia, French nobility: Titles, peerage, and orders.

Display Name on Geni:

  • For a knight: Jean de Rochefort, chevalier (the title is a suffix)
  • For a knight’s wife: no special form
  • For a knight’s children: no special form

Germany and Austria

The German word for knight is Ritter. There is no female equivalent. German and Austrian knights are nobles. A Ritter ranks above Edler and below Freiherr. Knighthoods were typically hereditary, with the title passing to all male-line descendants. Germany and Austria abolished titles in 1919. In Germany, the title became part of the surname. In Austria, titles are used socially but not officially. For more information, see Wikipedia, Ritter.

Display Name on Geni:

  • For a knight born before 1919: Johann von Guttman, Ritter von Guttman (the title is a suffix)
  • For a knight born after 1919: Johann Ritter von Guttman (the title is a surname)

Hungary

The Knight in Hungarian "Lovag"; special "Vitéz"

1.) Order of Saint George The Order of St. George Hungarian: Szent György Vitézei Lovagrend, was the first secular chivalric order in the world established by King Charles I of Hungary (Károly Róbert) in 1326.

2.) Order of the Dragon Hungarian Sárkányrend The Order of the Dragon was a monarchical chivalric order for selected nobility, founded in 1408 by Sigismund, King of Hungary and later Holy Roman Emperor. It was fashioned after the military orders of the crusades, requiring its initiates to defend the Cross and fight the enemies of Christianity, in particular the Ottoman Turks. In 2001, Nagyvárad (Oradea) was born again in the Dragon Knights. The Varadinum ceremony was inaugurated within the framework of a series of re-dragon knights. Grand Master with full power of Chancellor became Count George Lehr de Várhegyi.

3.) Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary or The Royal Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen

The Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary, the royal Hungarian order, founded in 1764 by the empress Maria Theresa of Austria, consisted of the grand master (the sovereign), 20 knights grand cross, 30 knights commanders and 50 knights.

4.) One of the knights in Hungary was/ is the "Knightly Order of Vitéz" - Hungarian Vitézi Rend.

  • The Order was founded in 1678 by Imre Thököly,
  • In August 1920 the Vitéz Order was revived by Miklós Horthy,
  • After the end of World War II, veterans' groups including knights appointed by Horthy began work on re-establishing the Order of Vitéz in exile. The Captains General of the extant order have been:
    • HRH Field Marshal Archduke vitéz József von Habsburg (1959-62)
    • Colonel General vitéz Kisbarnaki Ferenc Farkas (resigning at age 85)
    • HRH Archduke vitéz Joseph Árpád von Habsburg (appointed 1977); /he is also member of the a Knight of the Golden Fleece (number 1274)/

4.) Other Hungarian Order of Knights: "Order of Knights of the Holy Crown"

Belgium

Order of Leopold (Chivalric order)

Ireland

The Irish system generally follows the British system. However, there are three hereditary knighthoods. Hereditary knights do not use the courtesy title Sir. For more information, see Wikipedia, Hereditary knighthoods: Ireland.

Display Name on Geni:

  • Adrian FitzGerald, 24th Knight of Kerry
  • Desmond John Villiers FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin
  • Maurice Oge Fitzgibbon, 12th White Knight

Italy

(to be added)

The Netherlands and Belgium

The Dutch word for knight is Ridder. There is no female equivalent. A Ridder ranks above Jonkheer and below Baron. There is no prefix equivalent to Sir or Dame. Some knighthoods descend to all male-line descendants, while other descend only to the eldest son. For more information, see [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ridder_(title) Ridder].

Display Name on Geni:

  • For a knight: Arnold ridder van Heusden (the title is inserted between the given name and surname, not as a suffix)
  • For a knight’s wife: no special form
  • For a knight’s children: no special form

Scandinavia

(to be added)

Spain and Portugal

(to be added)

Military Orders

(to be added)

Combining Titles

There are complex rules about how to combine titles. Some examples:

  • Johann von Guttman, Ritter und Edler von Guttman
  • Sir John Smith, Kt. K.G., O.B.E.
  • Major-General Sir John Smith, O.B.E.
  • Professor Sir John Smith, O.B.E.

Caution: Priests and bishops never use the title of knight, even if they hold a knighthood

Additional Resources