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Bey (originally Beg; Arabic language: بك‎ / Bek; Ottoman and Persian: بگ‎ / Beg or Beyg) is a Turkish title for chieftain, traditionally applied to the leaders of small tribal groups. The regions or provinces where "beys" ruled or which they administered were called beylik, roughly meaning "emirate" or "principality" in the first case, "province" or "governorate" in the second (the equivalent of duchy in Europe). Today, the word is still used informally as a social title for men (somewhat like the English word "mister"). Unlike "mister" however, it follows the name and is used generally with first names and not with last names.


The word entered English from Turkish bey,[1] itself derived from Old Turkic beg,[2] which - in the form bäg - has been mentioned as early as in the Orkhon inscriptions and is usually translated as "tribal leader". The dialect variations bäk, bek, bey, biy, bi, and pig all derive from the Old Turkic form. The actual origin of the word is still disputed, though it is mostly agreed that it was a loan-word in Old Turkic.[3]

Two principle etymologies have been proposed by scholars:

  1. the Middle Persian titel bag (also baγ/beγ, Old Iranian baga; cf. Sanskrit भगवत् / bhagvan) meaning lord and master. It was one of the royal titles of the Sassanian kings. Peter Golden derives the word via Sogdian bġy from the same Iranian root.[3][4]
  2. the Chinese title (the older form being pök or pak; according to Edwin Pulleyblank perjk), meaning older brother and general, often lower members of the aristocracy.[3]

Nonetheless, German Turkologist Gerhard Doerfer assessed the derivation from Iranian as uncertain and pointed out the possibility that the word may be genuinely Turkic.[3]

What is certain is that the word has no connections to Turkish berk, "strong" (Mongolian berke), or Turkish bögü, "shaman" (Mong. böge).[3]

Turkish and Azerbaijani beys

The first three rulers of the Ottoman realm were titled Bey. The chief sovereign of the Ottoman Empire only came to be called sultan starting in 1383 when Murad I was granted this title by the shadow caliph in Cairo.

The Ottoman state had started out as one of a dozen Turkish Ghazi Beyliks, roughly comparable to western European duchies, into which Anatolia (i.e., Asian Turkey, or Asia Minor) had been divided after the break-up of the Seljuk Sultanate of Ikonion (Konya) and the military demise of the Byzantine Empire. Its capital was Bursa. By 1336 it had annexed only the Beylik of Karasy, its western neighbour on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, but it began to expand quite rapidly thereafter.

As the Ottoman realm grew from a Beylik into an imperial sultanate, the title "Bey" came to be applied to subordinate military and administrative officers, such as a district administrator and lower-level minor military governors. The latter were usually titled sanjakbey (after the term "Sanjak", denoting a military horsetail banner). Beys were lower in rank than pashas and provincial governors (wālis, usually holding the title of pasha), who governed most of the Ottoman vilayets (provinces), but higher than effendis.

Eventually the chiefs of the former Ottoman capitals Bursa and Edirne (formerly the Byzantine Adrianople) in Turkish Thrace both were designated "Bey."

Over time the title became somewhat devalued, as Bey was even used as a courtesy title (alongside Pashazade) for a pasha's son. It also came to be attached to officers and dignitaries below those entitled to be pashas, notably the following military officer ranks (still lower ranks were styled efendi):

  • Miralai (army colonel or navy captain)
  • Kaimakam (army lieutenant-colonel or navy commander)

Oddly, the compound Beyefendi was part of the title of the husband (full style Damad-i-Shahyari (given name) Beyefendi) and sons (full style Sultanzade (given name) Beyefendi) of an Imperial Princess, and their sons in turn were entitled to the courtesy title Beyzade (literally "Son of a Bey". For the grandsons of an imperial princess, the official style was simply Bey after the name.).

By the late 19th century, "Bey" had been reduced in the Ottoman Empire to an honorary equivalent of the English-speaking address (not the British courtesy title) "Sir", somewhat akin to the contemporary Cockney usage of "guv'nor." While in Qazaq and other Central Asian Turkic languages, бай [baj] remains a rather honorific title, in modern Turkish, and in Azerbaijan, the word "bey" (or "bay") simply means "mister" (compare efendi) or "sir" and is used in the meaning of "chieftain" only in historical context. Bay is also used in Turkish in combined form for certain military ranks, e.g. albay, meaning colonel, from alay "regiment" and -bay, and yarbay, meaning lieutenant colonel, from yardim "assistance" and -bay (thus an "assistant albay").

As with most Turkish titles, it follows the name rather than precedes it as in western languages, e.g. "Ahmet Bey" for "Mr. Ahmet". When one speaks of Mr. Ahmet, the title has to be written with a capital (Ahmet Bey), but when one addresses him directly it is simply written without capital (Ahmet bey). Bey may combine with efendi to give a common form of address, to which the possessive suffix -(i)m is usually added: beyefendim, efendim.

Beyefendi has its feminine counterpart: hanımefendi [haˈnɯmefendi], used alone, to address a woman without her first name. And with the first name: Ayşe Hanım or Ayşe hanım, for example, according to the rule given above about the use of the capital letter.

Beys elsewhere

The title Bey (Arabic language: بيه‎; Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [beː]) could be maintained as a similar office within Arab states that broke away from the High Porte, such as Egypt and Sudan under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, where it was a rank below pasha (maintained in two rank classes after 1922), and a title of courtesy for a pasha's son.

Even much earlier, the virtual sovereign's title in Barbaresque North African 'regency' states was "Bey" (compare Dey). Notably in Tunis,[5] the Husainid Dynasty used a whole series of title and styles including Bey:

  • Just Bey itself was part of the territorial title of the ruler, and also as a title used by all male members of the family (rather like Sultan in the Ottoman dynasty).
  • Bey al-Kursi 'Bey of the Throne', a term equivalent to reigning prince.
  • Bey al-Mahalla 'Bey of the Camp', title used for the next most senior member of the Beylical family after the reigning Bey, the Heir Apparent to the throne.
  • Bey al-Taula 'Bey of the Table', the title of the Heir Presumptive, the eldest prince of the Beylical family, who enjoyed precedence immediately after the Bey al-Mahalla.
  • Beylerbeyi (or Beglerbegi) 'Lord of Lords', was the administrative rank formally enjoyed by the ruler of Tunis and by rulers of parts of the Balkans in their official capacity of Ottoman Governor-General within the Turkish empire.This title was also used in Safavid empire.
  • Bey was also the title that was awarded by the Sultan of Turkey in the twilight of the Ottoman empire to Oloye Mohammed Shitta, an African merchant prince of the Yoruba people who served as a ranking leader of the Muslim community in the kingdom of Lagos. Subsequently, he and his children became known in Nigeria by the compound name Shitta-Bey, a tradition which has survived to the present day through their lineal descendants.

In the Mani Peninsula, in times of the Ottoman conquest of Greece, the de facto sovereign country of the Maniots in the southern Peloponnesus, had as head of state a chieftain which combined both military command and judiciary activities who was entitled as Bey following the Turkish influence over conquered areas, especially in the Balkans. It was usual to add the title to their own given names, therefore the most renowned Bey of Mani, Petros Mavromichalis was simply known as Petrobey.

Other Beys saw their own Beylik promoted to statehood, e.g.:

  • in Qusantina (Constantine in French), an Ottoman district subject to the Algiers regency since 1525 (had its own Beys since 1567), the last incumbent, Ahmed Bey ben Mohamed Chérif (b. c.1784, in office 1826 - 1848, d. 1850), was maintained when in 1826 the local Kabyle population declared independence, and when it was on 13 October 1837 conquered by France, until it was incorporated into Algeria in 1848.

A bey is a shorter term for the toy known as a Beyblade.

Bey or a variation has also been used as an aristocratic title in various Turkic states, such as Bäk in the Tatar Khanate of Kazan, in charge of a Beylik called Bäklek. The Balkar princes in the North Caucasus highlands were known as taubiy (taubey), meaning the "mountainous chief".

Sometimes a Bey was a territorial vassal within a khanate, as in each of the three zuzes under the Khan of the Kazakhs.

The variation Beg, Baig or Bai, is still used as a family name or a part of a name in South and Central Asia as well as the Balkans. In Slavic-influenced names, it can be seen in conjunction with the Slavic -ov/-ović/ev suffixes meaning "son of", such as in Kurbegović, Izetbegović, Abai Kunanbaev.

The title is also used within the Moorish American community / membership of the Moorish Science Temple of America as a tribal honorific which denotes an Islamic governor along with the pre-word El.

See also


  1. "bey.". Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 22 March 2008. 
  2. "bey.". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved 22 March 2008. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "beg.". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  4. P. Golden, "Turks and Iranians: An historical sketch", in S. Agcagül/V. Karam/L. Johanson/C. Bulut, Turkic-Iranian Contact Areas: Historical and Linguistic Aspects, Harrassowit, 2006, p. 19ff
  5. "Private Drawing Room, I, Kasr-el-Said, Tunisia". World Digital Library. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 


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