Why some titles like Astronomer Royal are styled that way?

What I mean is that usually, in English (and even in German and other Germanic languages, I suppose), the adjective is placed before the noun, so the most common form would be Royal Astronomer.

Placing the adjective after the noun is more common in Romance languages, like French or my own Italian (that in example would be Astronomo Reale).

I suspect that the reason is of contamination between languages, but are there other reasons why some titles use this particular styling, while other, even similar ones, like i.e. the Royal Astronomer of Ireland, use the more conventional way?

I'm interested in both answers that address the generic placement of adjectives after the nouns, and in the more specific history of the styling of the title Astronomer Royal itself.

  • 1
    A 'Royal Astronomer' would be one of the royal household who had a hobby or occupation of astronomy. An 'Astronomer Royal' is an astronomer who has some responsibility or appointment or benefaction involving royalty.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 15, 2018 at 11:53
  • @NigelJ then why Royal Astronomer of Ireland, which is an official post and not an hobbyist?
    – user43117
    Mar 15, 2018 at 12:39
  • And even the Royal Society is not called the Society Royal, and it is an official chartered institution and can't be categorized as an hobbyist association
    – user43117
    Mar 15, 2018 at 12:42
  • @Sekhemty ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF DUBLIN, DUNSINK Astronomer Royal, Sir William Rowan Hamilton, A.M., LL.D. Wikipedia Seems to be 'Astronomer Royal' in Dublin.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 15, 2018 at 12:53
  • @Sekhemty The Royal Society is the patronage of a society, not an individual matter. 28th November 1660 King Charles II became its patron.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 15, 2018 at 12:55

1 Answer 1


There are no rules that specify how titles of grand jobs should be formed. The guiding principle is what sounds impressive. So, for example, if one is appointed as the auditor of the whole of a government's business, then it is in everybody's interest to make that sound very grand: hence Auditor General. "General auditor" just does not meet the requirement for grandeur.

You might think that some such title as "Chief Astronomer" would work, but that sounds too much like Head Gardener. In other words too junior a sound for such an important post.

In the commercial world, the word "executive" is often included in job titles in the belief that it make some job sound more impressive than otherwise. The word has no other meaning, or purpose.

In short, there is no subtle grammatical principle involved here at all, just vanity.

  • As evidence for this answer, there are several royal princesses but only one Princess Royal (currently Anne).
    – ab2
    Mar 15, 2018 at 23:42