The Prefix "Lady"


Probably the commonest of all pitfalls in connection with titles is to be found in the use of the term "Lady", so that perhaps a special note of warning is necessary.


It will be gathered from what has been said before that it is applied to all peeresses below the rank of duchess, and to all daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls.  It is also applied to the wives of baronets and knights.  Room enough for confusion!


Only in the case of a daughter of a peer of higher rank than viscount can her Christian names be interposed between the style Lady and the surname, whether that surname be the lady's maiden or married surname.


Let us take the case of Arabella Vere again.  If she is just "Miss" married to Sir John Bohun, a baronet or knight, her style is Lady Bohun, and officially no variation of that style is possible.  If there were a round dozen Lady Bohuns all presented at the same Court, each would be presented simply as "Lady Bohun".  To term our useful model "Lady Arabella Bohun" in an effort to distinguish her from other Lady Bohuns is to infer that she is the unmarried daughter of a duke, a marquess or an earl with that surname, or that she is such a peer's daughter married to someone of lower degree than herself.  To interpose the husband's Christian name and term her "Lady John Bohun" is to infer that her husband is Lord John Bohun.  Both devices are hopelessly wrong.


Two courses only are possible in ordinary usage to avoid confusion in such circumstances.  One is to call her Arabella Lady Bohun - which is open to the objection that it may be inferred that she is a Dowager Lady Bohun.  The other is to interpose the husband's Christian name, but in parentheses thus - Lady (John) Bohun.  This is perhaps the simplest and safest method.


Newspaper sub-editors should be particularly wary about the incorrect interpolation of Christian names in dealing with such matters as reports of police court cases.  One notice the error frequently in such circumstances.


I imagine that what happens is this.  Our Arabella  - in this case the wife of a knight - is stopped by a policeman for some offence against the law - let us hope a quite respectable one, such as cycling after dark without a light, a fate which may befall the most virtuous and blameless of us.  "Name, please," says the policeman.  "Lady Bohun," says the offender.  "Christian names, please," says the conscientious policeman.  "Arabella Sophonisba Cleopatra," says the lady, and the industrious constable writes it all down between the "Lady" and the "Bohun".  Thus it appears on the charge-sheet or the summons, and thus it is copied by the equally conscientious police-court reporter.  And so into the newspapers, unless bitter experience has taught the sub-editor to view with a suspicious eye all such combinations of names prefixed with "Lady" which are not already known to him.