SIR (Fr. sire, like sieur a variant of seigneur, 1 from Lat. senior, comparative of senex, " old "), a title of honour. As a definite style it is now confined in the dominions of the British crown to baronets, knights of the various orders, and knights bachelor. It is never used with the surname only, being prefixed to the Christian name of the bearer; e.g. Sir William Jones. In formal written address, in the case of baronets the abbreviation Bar', Bart, or B' (baronet) is added after the surname, 2 in the case of knights of any of the orders the letters indicating his style (K.G., K.C.B., etc.). In conversation a knight or baronet is addressed by the prefix and Christian name only (e.g. " Sir William "). The prefix Sir, like the French sire, was originally applied loosely to any person of position as a mere honorific distinction (as the equivalent of dominus, lord) , as it still is in polite address, but Selden (Titles of Honor, p. 643) points out that as a distinct title " prefixed to the Christian names in compellations and expressions of knights " its use " is very ancient," and that in the reign of Edward I. it was " so much taken to be parcel of their names " that the Jews in their documents merely transliterated it, instead of translating it by its Hebrew equivalent, as they would have done in the case of e.g. the Latin form dominus.
How much earlier this custom originated it is difficult to say, owing to the ambiguity of extant documents, which are mainly in Latin. Much light is, however, thrown upon the matter by the Norman-French poem Guillaume le Mareschal, 3 which was written early in the 13th century. In this Sire is obviously used in the general sense mentioned above, i.e. as a title of honour applicable tc all men of rank, whether royal princes or simple knights. The French king's son is " Sire Lpeis " (/. 17741), the English king's son is " Sire Richard li filz le roi " (/. 17376); the marshal himself is " Sire Johan li Mareschals " (17014). We also find such notable names as " Sire Hubert de Burc " (II. 17308, 17357) and " Sire Hue de Bigot "- " Qui par lignage esteit des buens, E apres son pere fu cuens," 4 and such simple knights as " Sire Johan d'Erlee " (Early in Berks), the originator of the poem, who was squire to William the Marshal, or " Seingnor Will, de Monceals," who, though of very good family, was but constable of a castle. Throughout the poem, moreover, though Sire is the form it is con- commonly used it is freely interchanged with Seignor and Monseignor. Thus we have " Seingnor Hue. de Corni " (/. 10935), " Sire Hug. de Corni " (I. 10945) and " Monseingnor Huon de Corni "j (I. 10955). Occasionally it is replaced by Dan (dominus), e.g. the brother of Louis VII. of France is " Dan Pierre de Cortenei " (/. 2131). Very mesoblastic rarely the e of Sire is dropped and we have Sir: e.g. " Sir Will." (I. 12513). Sometimes, where the surname is not territorial, the effect is closely approximate to more
AUTHORITIES. Selenka, " Die Sipunculiden," Semper's Reisen (1883), and Challenger Reports, xiii. (1885); Sluiter, Natuurk. Tijdschr. Nederl. Ind. xli. and following volumes; Andrews, Stud. Johns Hopkins Univ. iv. (1887-1890); Ward, Bull. Mus. Harvard, xxi. (1891) ; Hatschek, Arb. Inst. Wien, v. (1884) ; Shipley, Quart. J. Micr. Sci. xxxi. (1890), xxxii. (1891), and xxxiii. (1892); P. Zool. Soc. London (1898), and Willey's Zoological Results, pt. 2 (1899); Horst, Niederland. Arch. Zool., Supplementary, vol. i. (A. E. S.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)