Bey is a Turkish title for "chieftain," traditionally applied to the leaders of small tribal groups. In historical accounts, many Turkish, other Turkic and Persian leaders are titled Bey, Beg, Bek, Bay, Baig or Beigh. They are all the same word with the simple meaning of "lord." The regions or provinces where Beys (the equivalent of duke in Europe) 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 used as a social title for men (like the English word "mister").
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 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 . Beys were lower in rank than pashas and provincial governors , 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 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 .
By the late 19th century, "Bey" had been reduced in Ottoman Turkey 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, BAI [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: hanimefendi [hanmefendi], used alone, to address a woman without her first name. And with the first name: Aye Hanim or Aye hanim, for example, according to the rule given above about the use of the capital letter.
Under Ottoman rule the title was used also in Albania , in two forms:
in the Gheg north, as a title given specifically to the officials of the Ottoman Empire.
in the Tosk south, it was not only used in a similar fashion, but the main use of the name came to be Bey of the Village. The mayoral "beys" in Tosk villages formed a wealthy but largely illiterate elite, exploiting the peasants who were bound to the land in a status comparable to serfdom, a state of affairs continued in the Tosk districts even after Albanian independence in 1912, as King Zog took power and forbade the "Beys" to mistreat the peasants.
The term is not used anymore in Albania except when referring to historical figures and events or for humorous purposes (meaning to joke about someone who does not possess a clear thinking ability). Nevertheless, a select number of families still use the bey-ending in their last names. It is often cited as tribute to past blood lines. However, the name is generally associated with the Cabej line of Albania.
The title Bey could be maintained as a similar office within Arab states that broke away from the High Porte, such as Khedive Mehmet Ali's Egypt, 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, 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.
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 renown 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 Cherif , 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.
Bey or a variation has also been used as an aristocratic title in various Turkic states, such as Bak in the Tatar Khanate of Kazan, in charge of a Beylik called Baklek. 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/-ovic/ev suffixes meaning "son of", such as in Izetbegovic, Abai Kunanbaev (Abai Kunanbaiuli).
The title is also used within the Moorish American community / members of the Moorish Science Temple of America as tribal titles which denotes an Islamic governor along with the title El.
The word entered English from Turkish bey, and the Turkish word has its origins in Old Turkic beg. There are different theories about the further etymology of the word beg. According to one theory the word may ultimately come from Middle Chinese baak, pak. Another theory states that the word may have its origins in Sogdian baga.Carter Vaughn Findley, "Turks in World History", Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 45: "... Many elements of Non-Turkic origin also became part of Turk statecraft [...] for example, as in the case of khatun [...] and beg [...] both terms being of Sogdian origin and ever since in common use in Turkish. ..." Gerhard Doerfer pointed out the possibility that the word is genuinely Turkic.
Moorish Science Temple of America
Westermann Grosser Atlas zur Weltgeschichte