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The honorary title of Colonel is conferred by some states in the United States of America and certain military units of the Commonwealth. The origins of the titular colonelcy can be traced back to colonial and antebellum times when men of the landed gentry were given the title for financing the local militia without actual expectations of command. This practice can actually be traced back to the English Renaissance when a colonelcy was purchased by a lord or prominent gentleman but the actual command would fall to a lieutenant colonel, who would deputise for the proprietor.
It should not be confused with the military rank of Colonel.
There is an aristocratic tinge to the social usage of the title “colonel", which today designates the southern gentleman, and is archetypal of the southern aristocrat. States conferring this title as an honor include Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Alabama. In 2005 Illinois allowed for the Governor of the State to make appointments to the Governor's Regiment of Colonels, but no such appointments have been made. Many states have provisions in their articles or bills concerning state defense forces which allow the governor to grant honorary membership of the officer ranks. While the honor of colonel in this usage has no actual military role, the title did evolve from the military.
The highest honor of Tennessee is “Colonel, Aide de camp, Governor’s staff". Those who receive this award are recorded by the Secretary of State of Tennessee with those who have been commissioned into the State Guard and Tennessee National Guard. This distinction went to only American citizens or Tennessee residents until Governor Phil Bredesen awarded it to the first non American, a Canadian, Cory Ward Dingle of British Columbia for his contributions to the People of Tennessee.
Kentucky’s famous colonelcy evolved from the personal bodyguards of the governor and now confers its recipients as honorary members of the governor’s staff. Like Tennessee, Georgia’s honorary titles give its members a rank as Aides-de-camp to the Governor's staff and is codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 38-2-111, while the Alabama honor specifically makes one a lieutenant colonel in the state militia.
The Colonel is also often a shorthand reference to Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, who was an honorary Kentucky colonel. Another famous "colonel" was "Colonel Tom Parker", the manager of Elvis Presley whose title was granted by Jimmie Davis, the governor of Louisiana.
In Britain, Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries an honorary colonel (Colonel-in-Chief) may be appointed as an honor for distinguished citizens. Unlike the honorary or brevet colonel in the United States, the Commonwealth counterpart is actively involved in the life of the host regiment, including wearing military uniforms at prescribed occasions, and attending official functions.
- Honorary Colonels Air Force of Canada (access date May 2011)
- What is an Honorary Colonel? Air Force of Canada (access date May 2011)
- Army appoints first honorary colonel Army of Canada (access date May 2011)
- New Honorary Colonel for CFB Borden, Canadian Forces (access date May 2011)
- http://www.army.forces.gc.ca/LF/English/11_7_3.asp[dead link]
- A webpage by a Scottish regiment concerning their colonel-in-chief.