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What is a dame? Meaning of the title explained

Only a select few have achieved enough in their careers to receive a knighthood or damehood from Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen recognises all sorts of people, such as military and political leaders, philanthropists to musicians, actors and authors.



But only the top two of the Order of the British Empire’s five ranks can use the title of Sir, for a man, or Dame, for a woman.

The top rank in the Order is a GBE – a Knight or Dame Grand Cross – but these are only given out very rarely.

What is a dame?

A Damehood is the female equivalent to a Knighthood. It’s the most senior honour in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which was created in 1917 by King George V.

The order comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, and many dames hold other honours (such as an OBE or an MBE) before receiving their damehood.

The second highest rank is a KBE or DBE – a Knight or Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Confusingly, people can still become a Sir or a Dame without receiving a KBE or a GBE as they can be knighted separately.

“Both of these ranks entitle their members to use the title of Sir for men and Dame for women before their forename.”

Women who are appointed to the Most Noble Order of the Garter or the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle are given the title of Lady rather than Dame – which is used instead of the male title Sir.

How does a woman become a dame?

A knighthood or damehood can be presented for all types of different achievement, but usually the person nominated will have made a major contribution to the country at a national or international level.

More specifically, The Queen looks for women whose work has had an impact to their community or field of work, enhanced Britain’s reputation, is innovative and entrepreneurial, has displayed moral courage or has improved the life for people less able to help themselves.

Anyone can nominate someone for an honour on the website.

Once someone is nominated, the honours committee will review the person and check they are suitable for receiving an award.

What is the correct way of addressing a dame?

Dames are often addressed by their title and their first name. Such as Dame Judi Dench is often known as Dame Judi.

In formal writing, ‘DBE’ often follows their name.

Husbands or wives of Dames do not derive any style or title from their wife.

Who is the youngest women to be appointed a dame?

Ellen MacArthur, now 44, was the youngest person to be appointed a dame at the age of 28.

The yachtswoman from Derbyshire broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, a feat which gained her international renown in February 2005.

Rather than being recognised for her achievement at the forthcoming birthday or New Year’s honours list, she was awarded damehood straight after the incredible feat.


Who are the most famous dames?

Bara Windsor


Dame Barbara sadly passed away last December after receiving her award four years earlier[/caption]

Dame Barbara Windsor was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to charity and entertainment.

Dame Barbara has worked very closely with many charities, most famously the Amy Winehouse Foundation which was created after the death of her late friend Amy Winehouse.

Maggie Smith


Maggie Smith is one of few to not only be made a dame but also awarded Companion of Honour[/caption]

Actress, Dame Maggie Smith was made a dame in 1990, and in 2014, picked up another title, Companion of Honour (CH), given to those “for having a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time.”

Judi Dench


Dame Judi Dench likewise received her Companion of Honour is 2005 aftera string of Oscar nominations[/caption]

Dame Judi Dench was made OBE in 1970, a Dame in 1988 and like Maddie Smith received the Companion of Honour in 2005.

Dame Judi earned four Oscar nominations in five years between 1998 and 2002, and has won five film Baftas for Iris, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs Brown, A Room with a View and Four in the Morning.

Emma Thompson


Emma Thompson joked that she became ‘more commanding’ since the award[/caption]

In 2018, writer and actress Emma Thompson was made a Dame and joking about her new titles she said: “Yes. Dame Commander of the British Empire. I’ve become much more commanding since it happened,” she said.

“I’ve also had every seat I sit on just made slightly taller.”

Vivienne Westwood

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was awarded an OBE in 1992 where famously was photographed going commando in Buckingham Palace, in 2006 she received her DBE for her services to fashion.

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