1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lady
LADY (O. Eng. hlaéfdige, Mid. Eng. láfdi, lāvedi; the first part of the word is hláf, loaf, bread, as in the corresponding hláford, lord; the second part is usually taken to be from the root dig-, to knead, seen also in “dough”; the sense development from bread-kneader, bread-maker, to the ordinary meaning, though not clearly to be traced historically, may be illustrated by that of “lord”), a term of which the main applications are two, (1) as the correlative of “lord” (q.v.) in certain of the usages of that word, (2) as the correlative of “gentleman” (q.v.). The primary meaning of mistress of a household is, if not obsolete, in present usage only a vulgarism. The special use of the word as a title of the Virgin Mary, usually “Our Lady,” represents the Lat. Domina Nostra. In Lady Day and Lady Chapel the word is properly a genitive, representing the O. Eng. hlaéfdigan. As a title of nobility the uses of “lady” are mainly paralleled by those of “lord.” It is thus a less formal alternative to the full title giving the specific rank, of marchioness, countess, viscountess or baroness, whether as the title of the husband’s rank by right or courtesy, or as the lady’s title in her own right. In the case of the younger sons of a duke or marquess, who by courtesy have lord prefixed to their Christian and family name, the wife is known by the husband’s Christian and family name with Lady prefixed, e.g. Lady John B.; the daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls are by courtesy Ladies; here that title is prefixed to the Christian and family name of the lady, e.g. Lady Mary B., and this is preserved if the lady marry a commoner, e.g. Mr and Lady Mary C. “Lady” is also the customary title of the wife of a baronet or knight; the proper title, now only used in legal documents or on sepulchral monuments, is “dame” (q.v.); in the latter case the usage is to prefix Dame to the Christian name of the wife followed by the surname of the husband, thus Dame Eleanor B., but in the former, Lady with the surname of the husband only, Sir A. and Lady B. During the 15th and 16th centuries “princesses” or daughters of the blood royal were usually known by their Christian names with “the Lady” prefixed, e.g. the Lady Elizabeth.
While “lord” has retained its original application as a title of nobility or rank without extension, an example which has been followed in Spanish usage by “don,” “lady” has been extended in meaning to be the feminine correlative of “gentleman” throughout its sense developments, and in this is paralleled by Dame in German, madame in French, donna in Spanish, &c. It is the general word for any woman of a certain social position (see Gentleman).