The Laird Title

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What is a Scottish Laird?

Laird is a descriptive title, unique to Scotland. It is unquestionably a title meant to confer honour on the recipient, by virtue of his/her landholding. It is simply the Scottish word for "Lord" and may be used by any landowner.

Lairds have recognised territorial designations by which they are addressed. Hence, John McDonald of Glencoe is correctly referred to and  addressed as “Glencoe” (or Laird John McDonald, and if not a Scot, Lord John MacDonald. The female equivalent would be "Lady". Any Scottish solicitor would confirm the advice published recently by Halliday Campbell, "in Scotland anyone can, subject to requirements of good faith, call themselves whatever they like, including “Laird”,“Lord” or "Lady".

Until early 2015, the Lyon published guidance on his website in which he stated that:

“A territorial designation proclaims a relationship with a particular area of land.”

This indicates a relationship between a person and an area of land.

Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon from 1945 to 1969, after having been Carrick Pursuivant and Albany Herald in the 1930s states[**]: ... by Scots law, each proprietor of an estate is entitled to add the name of his property to his surname, and if he does this consistently, to treat the whole as a title or name, and to get officially recognised in a matriculation, thenceforth to be so received "amongst all nobles and in all places of honour," and under statute 1672 cap. 47, to subscribe himself so.

In his Information Sheet No 20 for Scots Armigers, “Territorial Designations”, Donald Draper Campbell gives a brief background to territorial designations before citing Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney[*]:

“These “titles”, so common in Scotland, are not only part of the feudal system, but also one form of the Celtic bun sloinn, or genealogical second surname,[a] by which the various branches of a clan, or house, are distinguished, and the “designation” is (like a peerage title) legally regarded as part of the name itself, when “ordinarily used” as such, and the parties “adject the designation” to their signatures in terms of the Statute 1672, cap 47.[b]

On the subject of the correct title that may be used by a female owner of Scottish land, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney writes** "... there is no such thing as a "woman laird." When a lairdship devolves upon a female, she has been, in Scottish official documents and judicial proceedings, normally, formally, and officially described as, e.g., "Lady Invercauld" if proprietrix,... This feudal title of lady is not a "courtesy" but a proper legal description of the female.

*  Innes of Learney, Sir Thomas, Scots Heraldry, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1956 (2nd edition), page 203.

** Sir Thomas Innes of Learney’s The Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland, Edinburgh: Johnston and Bacon, 1975 (8th Edition).
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