Arise Sir Anthony, lord of honourable honorifics.

5 February 2015

Image courtesy of podpad at FreeDigitalPhotos.netLast year the Prime Minister, The Hon. Tony Abbott MP, reintroduced the honour of knights and dames of the Order of Australia to acknowledge the esteemed service of high-profile Australians, e.g., governor-generals.

At the time, a colleague queried the fuss because she thought everyone who received an Order of Australia had to be greeted as Sir or Lady. I think she missed the point of the furore, but if you think the same about addressing ‘distinguished guests’, read on!

I wrote about honouring honorifics in Communisence last year. With the recent Australia Day honours kerfuffle surrounding the knighthood awarded to Prince Phillip, I thought it might be timely to revisit this topic.

Addressing a person with a special rank in writing or in person can be daunting – you don’t want to sound or seem ignorant, grovelling, or pompous, but you do want to acknowledge and respect the person’s status.

If you know the person you’re about to meet has been knighted, then use the prefix Sir or Dame with their first name in your greeting:

Good morning, Dame Quentin. A pleasure to meet you, Sir Peter.

In writing, acknowledge their full name and their post-nominal in the address, but only use the prefix with the first name in your salutation.

Dame Quentin Bryce AD, CVO
Former Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
Nice House

Dear Dame Quentin

It’s a bit trickier to address the current GG. He’s entitled to have his army rank acknowledged as well.

His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, MC (Ret’d)
Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

Dear Sir Peter

The AD and AK stand for Dame of the Order of Australia and Knight of the Order of Australia respectively.

CVO is the post-nominal abbreviation for Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. MC is short for Military Cross. (Ret’d) means he’s retired from the army.

When writing to or about state or federal Members of Parliament in Australia, include MP after their surnames. If the member is also a Minister, you also prefix the name with The Hon. (short for “Honourable”), whether you think they are or not.

When greeting them, call them by their formal name initially (Mr Shorten, Dr Chalmers). They’ll tell you if they prefer to be addressed by their first names.

Unless you know they are officially a Dame, Lord or Sir (or Baroness, Lady, Viscount, Sultan, etc. in other countries), you don’t have to address people with an Order of Australia with anything other than the Mr, Ms, Mrs (or Dr, Rev, Prof, etc.) by which they are usually known. However, it is respectful in writing (and on name tags) to add their AC, AO, AM, OAM after their surnames.

If you’re keen to know what these post-nominals stand for, visit

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