How to Address a Kentucky Colonel

How to Address a Kentucky Colonel #1

Greetings! I just wish to find out if the following is true:

—–‘In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, commissioned Kentucky Colonels are considered members of the Governor’s Staff and his honorary aides-de-camp, and as such are entitled to the style of ‘Honorable’ as indicated on their commission certificates. The commission and letters patent granted by the Governor and Secretary of State bestowing the title of Kentucky Colonel refers to the honoree as ‘Honorable (First Name + Last Name)’.

—–I was commissioned in 2003, but it appears that no one knows if it is okay to use the ‘honorable’ title. It would be great if you could clear some clouds for us and I’ll submit the finding to the board of our order. Thanks.
————-– Not Colonel Sanders    H


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

Dear NCS:
—–There are always local rules. As one explores adjacent realms, the rules of ‘protocol’ are rules of which both realms agree.

—–Like a Texas or Nebraska Admiral, an Alabama or Georgia Colonel (or any honorary rank granted by an official) a Kentucky Colonel is an honorary rank used at events sponsored by an organization. In this case the ‘organization’ is the Commonwealth of Kentucky – but it is not a rank used as a basis of precedence outside the organization’s realm. The borders of the realm may be metaphorical, but they do not include United States Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps events or the Pentagon, for example.

—–So, if for example, a Kentucky governor declares you to be a Kentucky Colonel you are entitled to be addressed in writing as ‘Honorable (Full Name)’ and orally as ‘Colonel (Surname)’ anywhere the rank is pertinent. Definitely that would be on derby day.

For Kentucky colonels, it is ‘Honorable’ rather than ‘the Honorable’. I don’t know why. ‘Honorable’ without the ‘the’ is less formal. But I can attest that the certificates naming one a Kentucky Colonel are made out as ‘Honorable (Full Name)’.

—–Outside Kentucky (this is the exploring adjacent realms part), ‘the Honorable’ is universally used to officially address those who are elected to public office, or who are appointed go their office by a chief-of-state (The President of the United States or governor) and approved by the Senate.


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—–An elected mayor of any city in Kentucky would be officially addressed as ‘the Honorable’ inside and outside of Kentucky. But as a Kentucky Colonel you are not going to be officially addressed as ‘Honorable (Full Name)’ outside of Kentucky … say … in Ohio or Tennessee.

—–You write the appointment was to be a member of the Governor’s Staff and his honorary aides-de-camp by a former governor. So, what happen when he is out of office?

—–The rule is – if it’s not a one-office holder-at-a-time position – you can keep the title.  The form of address continues for the rest of your life.

—–Many organizations have honorary positions … many universities give out honorary degrees – which also fall into the category of personal honors and distinctions. An honorary doctorate is sort of a doctorate …. but it is not exactly the same thing when you are applying to join a university faculty.

—–At The Protocol School of Washington, we always say there is no ‘protocol police’ out there’ to make sure you are correctly addressed. I predict those who share your interest in your office, and understand the honor it represents, will honor you and address you in writing as as ‘Honorable (Full Name)’ and orally as ‘Colonel (Surname)’.

—–—–—–– Robert Hickey


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

How to Address a Kentucky Colonel #2

—–In regard to the (previous) question of how to address a Kentucky Colonel, the most important information is that while the courtesy title ‘Honorable’ is technically correct (as the person so commissioned is an aide-de-camp to the sitting governor), it is almost never used in written or oral communication. In formal situations, Colonels are simply referred to, and refer to each other, as ‘Colonel’ or ‘Colonel Name’.

—–The commission is issued by the sitting Governor but is a lifetime commission as an honorary member of the Governor’s staff regardless of who that Governor is. You are correct that the title is perpetual, but the reason is that the office is perpetual unless revoked.

—–There are Kentucky Colonels living in every state and most countries; it is not necessary to be a citizen of Kentucky, and Colonels from ‘adjacent realms’ are of no lesser status or different title than Kentucky citizens. Therefore, I would argue that the title is valid anywhere you go, and it is up to the Colonel to determine in which situations to introduce him or herself as ‘Colonel’ vs. ‘Mr./Mrs.’ Though it is accurate, I do believe it would be in poor taste to ask others to refer to you as ‘the Honorable (Full Name)’ in any situation I can think of.


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—–The only hard-and-fast rule is to never imply that it is a military rank or that it conveys any rights or privileges other than the respect earned by Colonels who came before.

—–I enjoy your blog and have used it as a reference several times. Just wanted to clear up this information, on the chance you were interested.

—–—–—–Colonel Thomas H. Willmott

   How to Address a Kentucky Colonel

Dear Colonel Wilmott:—–
—–Thanks for your thoughtful and informative note.

—–I am very interested in hearing more … so thank you.

—–You write: There are Kentucky Colonels from every state and most countries; it is not necessary to be a citizen of Kentucky, and Colonels from ‘adjacent realms’ are of no lesser status or different title than Kentucky citizens. Therefore, I would argue the title is valid anywhere you go’

—–#1) I had not considered Kentucky Colonels who live in Ohio, Tennessee or Maine! Glad to know even out-of-state residents are eligible.  It wasn’t ‘valid’ or ‘invalid’ I was thinking about … so much as the relative precedence granted to officials at ceremonies and events. How would this different types of colones be ranked?:


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—–Colonel A: Colonel in the United States Air Force
—–Colonel B: Kentucky Colonel
–_-#A or #B – Do all types of colonel have equal precedence in every situation?   

—–#2) RE: ”adjacent realms’ … one ‘chief-of-state’ typically honors the officials appointed by another ‘chief-of-state’ in the same way he honors his own officials. E.g., the British monarch grants at British military events an (0-6) Colonel in the U.S. Army the same precedence as an (0-6) Colonel in the British Army.

—–Thus … would the Governor of Ohio would grant Kentucky Colonels all the courtesies granted Ohio Colonels at Ohio events? Are there are Ohio Colonels?

—–It seems that Kentucky Colonel is most correctly defined as an ‘honor’ – like a medal – similar to the British honour when they make someone a knight CMG – Companion in the Order of St. Michael and St. George. rather than define it as an ‘office or rank’ in a military or paramilitary organization with ‘Majors’ and ‘Sergeants’. Right?’

—–—–—–—–– Robert Hickey

Dear Mr. Hickey,—–
—–It’s my pleasure to provide this information, and as a Colonel it’s my responsibility to be a good ambassador for my state.


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—–You are correct in your analogy to the British honor; a Colonel’s commission is defined as ‘the highest honor the Commonwealth of Kentucky can bestow.’ However, a Colonel is considered a member of the Governor’s staff, which is why we are entitled to use ‘Honorable’ as an honorific. There is no rank structure, and no connection to the military, though that wasn’t always the case.

—–A brief history: In 1813, our first Governor, Isaac Shelby, returned to Kentucky after leading a successful campaign in the War of 1812. The Kentucky Militia disbanded, but Shelby retained one man as his Aide-de-Camp, giving him the rank and pay grade of Colonel, what would now be an O-6.

—–Shelby’s successors commissioned additional Colonels as personal guards and to perform other official functions. These uniformed, ‘paramilitary’ uses of the Kentucky Colonels ended around 1920. Today, the only responsibility of a Kentucky Colonel is to be an ambassador of good will and fellowship around the world.

—–So, as a Kentucky Colonel is a regular citizen (excepting of course those who are in the armed forces) and a Colonel in the USAF is a military man, there is no basis for comparison when considering precedence. (Although, it would be interesting to know how such a situation would be handled before 1920.) Kentucky Colonels neither ask for nor expect any special treatment or privileges.


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—–No other state issues Colonel commissions – there are no Ohio Colonels, though there are of course Kentucky Colonels who are residents of Ohio. Only the Governor can choose to issue a commission, based on a formal nomination.

—–Colonels have ranged from politicians such as Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Winston Churchill to entertainers such as Elvis, Jeff Foxworthy, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dwight Yoakam. There are sports figures from Muhammad Ali to Wayne Gretzky to Richard Petty. Even Pope John Paul II was a Kentucky Colonel. Probably the most famous Colonel was Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And then there’s the rest of us, regular Joes who have distinguished themselves through charity work or other contributions to Kentucky and the rest of the world.

—–I would certainly contend that, due to the broad nature of the commission, any of these fine folks are entitled to use their honorific at any time or place they deem fit. I can’t imagine anyone anywhere referring to ‘Mr. Sanders’ rather than ‘Colonel Sanders.’ And we wouldn’t be much use as ambassadors for our state without a way to distinguish ourselves! But as I said, I can’t imagine any appropriate situation to request anyone ever call me ‘the Honorable’… We may be boisterous, ridiculously devoted to our state, and justifiably proud of our heritage, but to ask someone to call you ‘the Honorable’, well, that just seems downright pretentious.

—–I know this wasn’t a very direct answer, but I hope in a roundabout way I was able to address your question. We Kentuckians tend to ramble, and as a technical writer I type faster than I talk.

—–—–—–Colonel Thomas H. Willmott


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

When Should You Use the Forms on this Page?

You can use these forms of address for any mode of communication: addressing a letter, invitation, card or Email. (If there are differences between the official and social forms of address, I will have mentioned the different forms.)  The form noted in the salutation is the same form you say when you say their name in conversation or when you greet them.
___What I don’t cover on this site are many things I do cover in my book: all the rules of forms of address, about names, international titles, precedence, complimentary closes, details on invitations, place cards, all sorts of introductions, etc. I hope you’ll get a copy of the book if you’d like the further detail.

Not Finding Your Answer?

—-#1)  At right on desktops, at the bottom of every page on tablets and phones, is a list of all the offices, officials & topics covered on the site.

—-#2)  If you don’t see the official you seek included or your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day or so (unless I am traveling.)  Note: I don’t have mailing or Email addresses for any of the officials and I don’t keep track of offices that exist only in history books.

—-#3)  If I think your question is of interest to others, Sometimes I post the question  – but always change all the specifics.

— Robert Hickey 


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”