Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

On the use of Esquire

What signifies knowing the Names, if you know not the Nature of Things?

– Poor Richard’s Almanack

The term “esquire” is a term of courtesy likely familiar to the reader of this page. It’s not as groovy as “Your Honor” or “Your Majesty” or “The Right Honourable This-or-That” or “Monsignor Fitz-Deuce-Poodle,” but few things are. In England, the title of esquire was historically bestowed upon men of higher social rank below the rank of knight and above the rank of gentleman – not a bad-sounding place, I suppose. In the American system of things, esquire is a term that has come to refer “commonly and exclusively” to lawyers. It’s also a hell of a play in Scrabble if you can pull it off.

Black’s defines esquire as “[a] title of courtesy commonly appended after the name of a lawyer.” Notice that the definition does not say “[a] title of courtesy commonly appended after the name of a lawyer by the lawyer”—this because the title is an honorific designation to be conferred on others. It is not proper etiquette to use “Esquire” or “Esq.” to refer to oneself. To sign one’s name “Tim Wagg, Esq.” is the same as giving knee-tribute in a mirror, or doffing one’s hat in a reflecting pool. Likewise, it is not proper etiquette to deploy the term in referring to another along with any other honorific title, such as Mr. or Ms. Mr. Thomas Coffin is fine, as is Thomas Coffin, Esq. But Mr. Thomas Coffin, Esq. is flat out.

Adam T. Johnson

Meshbesher & Associates, PA

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