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    Why celebrities are referred to as “Sir” or “Dame”

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    Have you ever laid in bed late at night and wondered why Judi Dench is referred to as a “Dame,” or how Ian McKellen gained the title “Sir?” Here’s a break down of how, and why.

    Knighthood is bestowed upon men of British nationality who have reached outstanding achievements or provided exemplary service to their country. Similarly, Damehood is bestowed upon British women who have contributed significantly to their work field. Those presented with Knighthood/Damehood gain the privilege of having the title “Sir” or “Dame” added to their names. 

    For those of non-British origins whom the patriarch decides are also worthy of recognition, there is a slightly different title awarded: Honorary Knight/Dame. The difference between Knighthood and Honorary Knighthood is solely determined by the nationality of the recipient; those born in Britain are the only people capable of earning the title of Knighthood, whereas those born outside of Britain are only able to receive the title of Honorary Knight/Dame. This prevents them from using the title “Sir” or “Dame” before their name, although both awards are considered to be equally honorable.  

    Under her reign, the late Queen Elizabeth II granted Knight/Damehood to 104 citizens. Those awarded with this honorary position ranged from Charlie Chaplin to Maggie Smith, with the reason for their recognition being anything from their services for motorsports to their contributions to the film industry or extensive charity work.

    One of the most commonly known actors to have been Knighted is Sir Patrick Stewart. In 2010, he was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his significant services to drama. This award officially gave him the title of Sir Patrick Stewart. Other notable actors who have been knighted are Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Michael Caine. However, many people are unaware that Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin were also Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The list of Knighted celebrities continues with Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Elton John. Interestingly, the Queen refused to Knight Mick Jagger, so Prince Charles bestowed the award upon him. Although the majority of celebrities known to have been Knighted are actors or musicians, those with other significant contributions to other fields can also be awarded Knighthood, such as Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time Formula One world champion. He was awarded for his services to motorsports on December 15, 2021. 

    Various British actresses have also been awarded Damehood by Queen Elizabeth II such as Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Elizabeth Taylor, and Julie Andrews. Prior to her days as Professor McGonagall, Maggie Smith was also awarded Damehood in 1990 for her significant contributions to the acting field. In 2014 she was also awarded the Companion of Honour title for her major contributions to the arts over a long period of time. Another well-known British female to have been awarded Damehood is famed detective novelist, Agatha Christie. As one of the best-selling authors in history, she received the award for her services to literature in 1971. 

    Americans who have been awarded Honorary Knighthood consist of Steven Spielberg, Ralph Lauren, and various U.S. presidents. Bill Gates was also awarded with Honorary Knighthood for his philanthropy and continuing efforts to reduce poverty throughout the developing world.

    After becoming a UK Ambassador, Angelina Jolie was awarded Honorary Damehood for her work campaigning to end war zone sexual violence as well as her services to UK foreign policy. The Academy Award-winning actress stated, “To receive an honor related to foreign policy means a great deal to me, as it is what I wish to dedicate my working life to,” after having been presented with the award.

    To summarize, Knighthood/Damehood is bestowed upon those who have contributed significantly to their field, provided services to their country, or upheld national relations. This award allows those of British nationality to use the title of “Sir” or “Dame”, explaining why various actors and actresses have the title prior to their names.

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    About the Contributor
    Reagan Carpenter
    Reagan Carpenter, Staff Writer
    Reagan Carpenter is a first-year writer for the Hawk Herald and a senior at Forest Hills Eastern High School. She participates in the National Honor Society, Kids Food Basket, Volunteer Club, FHPS Shared Voices Committee, and is a leader for Project ChARLIE. She has also played on the Varsity soccer team since her freshman year and has loved every moment of that experience. Outside of school she enjoys spending time with her friends and family; you can often find her  watching a good movie or tv show in her free time.
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