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Territorial Designations, the correct form.

The Arms of Stuart Morris of Balgonie and Eddergoll, yr.

By Stuart Morris of Balgonie and Eddergoll, yr.


I have been asked to give a brief outline on the correct use of territorial designations as a certain amount of confusion has arisen over this subject. First of all, what is a territorial designation? A designation is that part which follows an individual's surname. This is normally derived from ownership of a named piece of land or historic property (outwith a Burgh), e.g. a castle, in Scotland. Any one owning such property can call themselves "of" that property but this is not a title in itself, and should not be treated as such. A tenant would have been termed as "in" that property.

Once a designation has been recorded at the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, it becomes inseparable from the surname. Only then, the designation becomes a title as an inseparable part of the nomen dignitatis , when the individual is recorded in the "Name and Arms of" e.g. MacTavish of Auchenshoogle.

These styles are protected by Scots law under the Statute 1672. Cap. 47. The Lord Lyon will not automatically accept any designation, for instance a designation will not be accepted if there is non-familial joint ownership of a property. There may also be a conflict with a chiefly  title. If a David Ross bought Ross Castle, he would not be able to style himself "David Ross of Ross", as this would indicate that he was chief of Clan Ross. He would be given the option of being accepted as "David Ross of Castle Ross" or "David Ross, Baron of Ross". When the Glengarry estates were sold, McDonell of Glengarry had a proviso put into the deeds that no succeeding owner was to use the "Glengarry" designation.

Once a designation is established, it becomes a heritable property of the head of that family (together with the Arms). If the land or castle is sold, the designation can still be used, but a distinction is made in official documents. The individual becomes "representer of' e.g. Sir Alexander Macdonald, Baronet, is "Representer of the Family of Macdonald of Sleat".

Territorial designations have come down to us from the beginning of the feudal system, and also influenced by our Celtic ancestors who bore a genealogical second name, the bun sloinn. The system was widespread in the middle ages. Adam de Balfour would come from Balfour in Fife ( Balfour:= settlement at the mouth of the Ore, where the river Ore flows in to the river Leven), William de Couper would come from the Royal Burgh of Cupar. These territorial names became permanent surnames. To differentiate between several people of the same name, a territorial designation was appended to the surname, thus David Balfour of Dovan was easily distinguishable from James Balfour of Denmiln.

Once a territorial designation has been recognised by the Lord Lyon (who, in all matters to do with titles and heraldry in Scotland, uses the Royal prerogative), it must be used and not played with. James MacTavish of Auchenshoogle cannot be James MacTavish through the week and MacTavish of Auchenshoogle at the weekend or at Highland Balls. The whole name should be used as the daily signature, on notepaper, visiting cards, cheques, credit cards etc. Similarly, anyone writing to him should give his full style, to style him as "Mr. MacTavish" or "James MacTavish, Esq." is not only incorrect, it is rude and disrespectful.

There are those who claim that designations make the name too long, and yet the same individual accepts hyphenated names. The most widely used mouthful (in text books) is "Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Morgan-Grenville". After this example, territorial designations are extremely simple. Lord Justice General, Lord Clyde, clarified the matter on the 4th of May 1961, in the Scottish Justiciary Appeal Court. He stated "To state that your name is "A" when it is in fact "B" is obviously a false statement: indeed it seems to be that nothing could be plainer in common sense, apart altogether from legal principle. It is quite true that except for persons holding public office, people in Scotland are free to change their names without obtaining judicial authority for doing so, but they cannot have two names at the same time". It should be stated that to change a territorial designation as a nomen dignitatis does require approval from the Lord Lyon, either by Matriculation or a Certificate of Change of Name.

The styles for Laird, Baron, Chieftain and Chief are the same. There are Chiefs who bear designations that do not stem from a named piece of land e.g. Macdonald of Clanranald. In the middle ages, Chiefs reigned over their people as if they were Kings or Princes, thus the Chief was the feudal superior over the clan. The word "reign" is recorded in Privy Council records in connection with Chiefs. Some Clan Chiefs are accepted in Europe as being equal in status to Princes. Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, sometime Lord Lyon King of Arms, in his 'Scots Heraldry', says "Chiefs and Lairds reigned in their ancestral estates like Princes, their castle forming a little court, of which the ceremonial reflected in miniature that of Falkland and Holyroodhouse".     

Under Scots Law a Chief is Laird of his people, thus John MacLeod of MacLeod is Laird of MacLeod (as well as Baron of Dunvegan), and Kenneth Urquhart of Urquhart is Laird of Urquhart. Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald is Captain of Clanranald, in this instance Captain is a mediaeval term for a Chief This should not be confused with Campbell of Dunstaffnage, who is Captain of Dunstaffnage. In this instance a Captain is Captain of a castle, who would be responsible for order within and outwith the castle. The style of "of that Ilk", e.g. Sir lain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Bt., is the old way of styling the Chief of a Name. By the 18thC. the Highland chiefs began to duplicate their name in order to distinguish themselves from their Lowland neighbours. Some Chiefs have abbreviated their style and use the initial prefix of "The" e.g. "The Macnab". Other Chiefs use "The", e.g. "The Macneil of Barra" or "The MacKinnon of MacKinnon".

Highland Chiefs and Chieftains often have Gaelic Patronymics which can be used when greeting or addressing an individual. Some examples of these styles are Alexander Stewart of Ardvorlich who is the "Mac Mhic Bhaltair", The Earl of Breadalbane is the "Mac Chailein mhic Dhonnachaidh" and Lord Lovat is the "Mac Shimi". There are a few Baronies erected by Royal Charter that are not connected to land or a building. An example of this is the Baron of the Bachuil, the Bachuil (or BachuilMor) is the Pastoral Staff of St. Moluag who died in 592 A.D.. The Barony was vested in the hereditary keepers or dewars of the Staff, the Macleays, from the Isle of Lismore, who later changed their name to Livingstone.

The correct prefix for a Laird, Baron, Chieftain and Chief is "The Much Honoured". Thus our friend James could be either "The Much Honoured James MacTavish of Auchenshoogle" or "The Much Honoured The Laird of Auchenshoogle". The styles "Mr." and "Esq." should never be used as these are below the status of a Laird. The designation is also used by the Laird's wife who, in this instance, would also be "Lady Auchenshoogle". The heir would be styled as "younger" e.g. "David MacTavish of Auchenshoogle, younger". The accepted abbreviations for "younger" are "yr." or "ygr.". The heir may also be styled "the younger of Auchenshoogle". Younger sons do not bear the designation, in the past they were expected to found their own territorial Houses, in turn their sons would do the same. These territorial Houses would form the family gilfine, effectively a family parliament or privy council. The eldest daughter is styled "Maid" e.g. "the Maid of Auchenshoogle" or "Miss MacTavish of Auchenshoogle". The style of Maid had almost died out but it is having a revival. The daughter of the late Lord Maclean (Maclean of Duart and Morvern) is now using the style "Maid of Morvern". Younger, unmarried, daughters use the designation e.g. "Miss Fiona MacTavish of Auchenshoogle".

When speaking to a Laird he is addressed by his designation e.g. "Auchenshoogle", or when being introduced to someone else "this is Auchenshoogle". When writing, the envelope should be addressed with the full style of the individual. If formal, the latter should begin "Dear Sir", or more socially "Dear Auchenshoogle". As I said above, the wife of a Laird etc. is styled "Lady" e.g. "Lady Auchenshoogle" and not "Lady Margaret", which would imply that she is the daughter of an Earl, Marquess or Duke. She should not be described as "Lady MacTavish of Auchenshoogle", as this would imply that she was the wife of a Knight or Baronet. This is a style which Knights and Baronets have taken from the feudal system.

Originally the wife of a Knight was "Dame" e.g. "Dame Agnes Renton or Leslie of Balgonie" (it was only in the 19thC that wives in Scotland adopted their husband's surname, today in legal documents they should still be styled by their maiden name followed by "or" with their husband's surname and designation e.g. Margaret Robertson or MacTavish of Auchenshoogle"). A letter would begin "Dear Lady Auchenshoogle". In the 19thC. it became the practice for the wives of Chiefs and Chieftains to adopt the Irish style of "Madam" (a style accepted by
Lyon Court) e.g. "Madam Chisholm" or "Madam Maclean of Ardgour". In this instance a letter would begin "Dear Madam" or "Madam", if formal, or more socially "Dear Madam Maclachlan of Maclachlan". If she possess a title, she should be addressed as such e.g. "Dear Dame Elizabeth". These styles are also used by a woman who is Chief, Chieftainess or Lady in her own right. The widow of a Chief, etc., would use the style "Dowager Madam Maclean of Ardgour" or "Dowager Lady Auchenshoogle".     

The heir apparent to a Laird etc. is styled the "younger", as mentioned above, on being introduced he is "the younger of" or "young" , a letter would begin "Dear Auchenshoogle, younger". Some textbooks say that "younger" or "yr" may be added between the name and designation. I disagree with this. The nomen dignitatis is one entity and, in my opinion can not be cut in half, so "MacTavish, yr. of Auchenshoogle" is incorrect. He should be styled "David MacTavish of Auchenshoogle, yr", but in the event of the heir having a different Christian name from his father, "yr." may be omitted. The wife of the heir would be styled "Mrs. MacTavish of Auchenshoogle, yr.", until the younger succeeds to the title. The correct form of address for a Maid is not covered in the accepted text books. I would suggest that a letter begins "Dear Maid of Auchenshoogle", otherwise the accepted "Dear Miss MacTavish of Auchenshoogle".

By law, only Peers, Bishops and Chiefs are allowed to sign with one name e.g. "Atholl". A Laird, Baron or Chieftain must use the Christian name, surname and designation e.g. "James MacTavish of Auchenshoogle", an initial can be substituted for the Christian name.

An example of an acknowledgement of a 'territorial designation' from the Lyon Court, Scotland can be seen by Clicking Here. This would also be shown on the petitioners Grant of Arms from the Lord Lyon.



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