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Don, from Latin dominus, is an honorific in Spanish ([don]), Portuguese (Dom, [dõ]), and Italian ([don]). The female equivalent is Doña (Spanish: [ˈdoɲa]), Dona (Portuguese: [ˈdonɐ]), and Donna (Italian: [ˈdonna]), abbreviated "Dª" or simply "D.".



Although originally a title reserved for royalty, select nobles, and church hierarchs, it is now often used as a mark of esteem for a person of personal, social or official distinction, such as a community leader of long standing, a person of significant wealth, or a noble, but may also be used ironically. As a style, rather than a title or rank, it is used with, and not instead of, a person's name.

Syntactically, it is used in much the same way (although for a broader group of persons) as "Sir" and "Dame" are used in English when speaking of or to a person who has been knighted, e.g. "Don Firstname" or "Doña Firstname Lastname". Unlike "The Honourable" in English, Don may be used when speaking directly to a person, and unlike "Mister" it must be used with a given name. For example, 'Don Diego de la Vega,' or (abbreviating "señor") 'Sr. Don Diego de la Vega,' or simply 'Don Diego' (the secret identity of Zorro) are typical forms. But a form like 'Don de la Vega,' is not correct.

In North America, Don has also been made popular by films depicting the Mafia, such as The Godfather series, where the crime boss would claim for themselves the signs of respect that were traditionally granted in Italy to nobility. This usage of the honorific in these films (e.g. Don Corleone, Don Barzini, etc.) is not common or correct in normal historic usage in Italy. The proper Italian usage is similar to the Castilian Spanish usage mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Spain and Spanish America

Historically, the term was used to address members of the nobility, e.g. hidalgos and fidalgos. The treatment gradually came to be reserved for persons of the blood royal, and those of such acknowledged high or ancient aristocratic birth as to be noble de Juro e Herdade, that is, "by right and heredity" rather than by the king's grace. But by the twentieth century it was no longer restricted in use even to the upper classes, since persons of means or education, regardless of background, came to be so addressed and, it is now often used as if it were a more formal version of Señor, a term which was also once a title of nobility. In Spanish-speaking Latin America, this honorific is usually used with people of older age.

The honorific was also used among Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews, as part of the Spanish culture which they took with them after the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

Brazil and Portugal

The usage of Dom was a prerogative of princes of the royal blood and also of other individuals to whom it had been granted by the sovereign,[1]. In most cases, the title was passed on through the male line. Strictly speaking, only females born of a nobleman bearing the title Dom would be addressed as Dona, but the style was not heritable through daughters. The few exceptions depended solely on the conditions upon which the title itself had been granted. A well-known exception is the descent of Dom Vasco da Gama.

In Portugal, today, Dom is ordinarily employed only for higher members of the clergy, and for superiors of religious orders, such as the Order of Saint Benedict, wherein it is also associated with the status of Dom Frater. Dom is similarly used within the Benedictine Order throughout France and the English speaking world. In France, it is also used within the male branch of the Carthusian Order.

In the Portuguese language, the female, Dona, has become common.


Officially, Don was the style for a principe or duca (and any legitimate, male-line descendant) who was a member of the nobility (as distinct from a reigning prince or duke, who was generally entitled to some form of the higher style of Altezza). This was how the style was used in the Almanach de Gotha for extant families in its third section. The feminine, "Donna", was borne by their wives and daughters. Genealogical databases and dynastic works still reserve the title for this class of noble by tradition, although it is no longer a right under Italian law.

In practice, however, the style Don/Donna (or Latin Dominus/Domina) was used more loosely in church, civil and notarial records. The honorific was often accorded to the untitled gentry (e.g., knights or younger sons of noblemen), priests, or other people of distinction. It was, over time, adopted by organized criminal societies in Southern Italy (including Naples, Sicily, and Calabria) to refer to members who held considerable sway within their hierarchies.

Today in Italy, the title is widely given everywhere only to Diocesan Catholic priests, (never for prelates, who bear higher honorifics such as monsignore, eminenza and so on). Outside of the priesthood or old nobility, usage is now fairly uncommon in the south and rarely if ever used in central or northern Italy. It can be used satirically or ironically to lampoon a person's sense of self-importance.

As in the Spanish usage, Don is prefixed either to the full name or to the person's given name, less commonly to the surname alone (as is the custom of the heads of mafia syndicates). The feminine Donna (with capital initial) is rarely used nowadays.

Other Uses

At Oxford and Cambridge universities, members of the academic staff are sometimes referred to as Dons - a remnant of the time when these universities were considered religious institutions and their staff a kind of clergy. In practice within these universities it is most commonly used to refer to fellows of the colleges.

In Brazil is used as a respectful treatment pronouns, probably as a heritage from the slaves way of referring to their owners[citation needed].

See also

  • Don Benito, a town in Spain.
  • Don Bosco, an Italian canonized priest.
  • Don Camillo,a fictional Italian priest, is the popular hero of Giovanni Guareschi's humorous tales, head of a local catholic clique and constantly in a "war" against his friend / fiend, the "commie" mayor Peppone.
  • Don Juan Carlos, current King of Spain.
  • Dom Duarte Pio, Duke of Bragança, current head of the Portuguese Royal House of Braganza.
  • Don Salvador of Iturbide, a prince of Mexico.
  • Don Corleone, a fictional character created by Mario Puzo in his 1969 novel "The Godfather", is for sure the best known example of the sicilian mafia custom to give the honorific title of Don to the big bosses of a cosca.
  • Don Francisco, a Chilean television host.
  • Don Giovanni, an Italian opera of Spanish subject.
  • Don Juan, a fictional Spanish lover.
  • Don Joseph Nasi, Jewish diplomat and administrator
  • Don Pasquale, an Italian opera.
  • Don Munton, an important person from HFBC.
  • Dom Pedro, a Portuguese king.
  • Don Quixote, a fictional Spanish knight.
  • Don Rodrigo is a popular fictional character in Italy. He is the ruthless villain of the "national" Italian novel, Manzoni's "I promessi sposi".
  • Don Todros, father of Don Yuçaff; Don Yehuda Mosca; Don Vellocid - prominent members of the Medieval Jewish community at Jerez de la Frontera
  • Dona Beija, a Brazilian TV series.
  • Doña Bárbara, a Venezuelan Novel by Romulo Gallegos; also adapted to films and TV Series
  • Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart, a children's book written by Pat Mora, 2005
  • Doñana, a Spanish national park named after a certain doña Ana.
  • Don Diego de la Vega Fictional character also known as Zorro
  • Doña Luisa Isabel Alvarez de Toledo y Maura, 21st Duquesa de Medina-Sidonia and known as the Red Duchess for her solidarity with commoners and opposition to General Fransisco Franco, married her longtime lesbian companian Liliana Maria Dahlmann, becoming the highest ranking Spanish noble to enter into a same-sex marriage.[2] Today, the Dowager Duchess Liliana Maria serves as life-president of the Casa Medina Sidonia Foundation aimed at preserving house archives.[3]


  1. ^ Hugh Chisholm, ed (1910). The Encyclopædia Britannica. VIII (Eleventh ed.). New York, New York: University of Cambridge. pp. 405. Retrieved 9 March 2010. 
  2. ^ Keeley, Graham. "Red Duchess wed lesbian lover to snub children", "The Daily Telegraph", 2008-03-16. Retrieved on 2008-03-16.
  3. ^ "Liliana, el poder de la nueva duquesa"


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