As lawyers, we pride ourselves on using precise words in our writing and speech. That is why I am astounded by the frequent misuse of the word “esquire”. I fully admit that I wrote “Esq.” the first time I signed my name after being admitted to the Bar. I thought it was meaningful and a sign of personal accomplishment. I’m certain that AT&T thought the same thing when they looked at the signature on my check for the phone bill. I used the word, but I didn’t know what the word meant. I was told that esquire was a synonym for lawyer. I went back to basics and picked up a dusty dictionary from the bookcase. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word “esquire” has the following definition:
• a member of the English gentry ranking below a knight, or
• a candidate for knighthood serving as shield bearer and attendant to a knight
I realized that there was no way I could consider myself landed gentry since I did not have a fiefdom in the States let alone Great Britain. I decided that I needed to stop referring to myself in such a manner or I might violate the Code of Chivalry. I saw Braveheart and did not want to be on the rack for my potential offense (offence) against the Crown.
Thankfully, Merriam-Webster gave me a way out by also defining the word as being “used as a title of courtesy usually placed in its abbreviated form after the surname <John R. Smith, Esq.>.” I was saved. From that day on, I made sure I only used “esquire” to refer to another lawyer, not myself.