Imagine a peasant wanting to ask a young lass's parents (also peasants) for their daughter's hand in marriage. How would one go about addressing the woman's father and mother in order to show respect? Mr./Mrs. So-and-so? First name?, Sire/Sir? TIA

Here's some clarity since I could nothing specific to this question vis-a-vis peasants addressing peasants in other sources like Wikipedia, this site, and other sites on the Middle Ages. All of the sources I am finding are about forms of address for social elites such as nobility, royalty, and clergy, which wouldn't apply when ordinary commoners addressed fellow ordinary commoners, of whatever age.

If you were a commoner child, say 10-12 years old, trying to be respectful to a commoner adult, let's just say in England, how would you address them? What about France? China, Russia? Any place where there are peasants and nobility. How do peasants show respect for each other, particularly wrt to children vis-a-vis adults?

I used England as an example, I can't find any references specific to any location. It's all about titles for nobility rather than peasants (child) to peasant (adult) or peasant to peasant

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    Last name's didn't exist yet. The courtesy title Mister, "prefixed to the surname or Christian name of a man (not entitled to be addressed as 'Sir' or 'Lord', ...." is only first attested in print in 1551 1928 OED, Vol. VI L-M. The lower social limit has steadily dropped over the centuries, and the Medieval origin is probably as the courtesy title for a master craftsman of a guild. It would have been wholly unacceptable to address a mere peasant as such in the Middle Ages. Nov 21, 2022 at 2:28
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    The address form goodwife is attested only from the early 14th century: still not early enough for OP's question. Nov 21, 2022 at 2:30
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    I used England as an example, I can't find any references specific to any location. It's all about titles for nobility rather than peasants (child) to peasant (adult) or peasant to peasant. Nov 22, 2022 at 13:31
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    @ds_practicioner -I didn't close the question; the community did. I offer that suggestion to every question where there is minimal evidence of prior research. Re-reading, I think I was in error - you did say you checked standard sources, but I missed it.
    – MCW
    Nov 22, 2022 at 15:09
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    I don't know about England or France but I got curious about Spanish (my mother language). I checked the Romancero Viejo, poems from 1400 that include commoners speaking to commoners (including children). In those poems, children call respectfully adults by their first names (Manuel) or by their profession ("el marinero", sailor) if they don't know the name. They call their parents "padre/madre" (father/mother), without names. Adult commoners also use the first name or less usually words like "compadre" (mate). They don't use names with their spouses but f.ex. "el mi esposo" (my husband). Nov 22, 2022 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


I found this (partial) answer in Fantasy Writers https://www.fantasy-writers.org

"There was a tripartite system: you addressed a superior as "sire", an equal as "sir" and an inferior as "sirrah". It wasn't quite as simple as that, though - it depended partly on the situation. A knight speaking to a common soldier, for instance, could call him "sirrah" without any insult, but if the soldier had just saved his life, he might well address him as "sir". Similarly, the king could theoretically address anyone as "sirrah" but he'd only do that to his nobles if he wanted to put them in their place. Sirrah could often be seen as an insult, but it wasn't necessarily.

There was also "master", which was the title that mutated into mister. That would normally be found in towns or cities and properly refers to a senior guild-member. Originally, these were the only people entitled to put "Mr" in front of their name."

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    That site is full of (unresearched) bunk. We expect sourced and referenced answers here. Most of what it posits is, at least, late Renaissance; and not Middle Ages at all. Calling someone unentittled to it, at anytime pre-Renaissance (and in some locales later), by the honorific "M'Lord" could get you whipped - or worse. Elsewhere, the timeline on the suggested usages is all wrong, by centuries. Nov 22, 2022 at 15:27
  • The one thing you can say for THAT site is most users try to actually help people who have questions instead of just spitting at them. Your answer is no more "sourced" than the one I found. That site doesn't pretend to be a source for "research" unlike this one, and at least one can go there for answers without having to dodge tomatoes. Dec 3, 2022 at 23:36
  • Ask ChatGPT "How did peasants address each other to show respect in the middle ages?" 1 Answer: "Peasants might use titles and honorifics to show respect." Answers appear to confirm the bunk comes not from Fantasy Writers but from Geerkens. Dec 17, 2023 at 1:27

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