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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 of Nations. 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.
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. Texas confers the honor of "admiral" in the Texas Navy instead. From 2005 to 2015 Illinois allowed for the Governor of the State to make appointments to the Governor's Regiment of Colonels, but no appointments were 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.
Kentucky's famous colonelcy evolved from the personal bodyguards of the governor and now confers its recipients as honorary members on the governor's staff. Like Tennessee, Georgia's honorary titles give its members a rank as aides-de-camp on 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 colonel in the state militia.
"The Colonel" is also often a shorthand reference to restaurateur Colonel Harland David Sanders, the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken ("KFC") chain of franchised restaurants, whom Ruby Laffoon, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, commissioned a Kentucky colonel in 1935. Another famous "colonel" was Colonel Thomas Parker, the manager of Elvis Presley, who received his title from Jimmie Davis as a reward for Parker's help in Davis's campaign to be elected 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 Archived 2011-01-05 at the Wayback Machine. Air Force of Canada (access date May 2011)
- What is an Honorary Colonel? Archived 2011-01-04 at the Wayback Machine. Air Force of Canada (access date May 2011)
- Army appoints first honorary colonel Archived 2012-09-05 at the Wayback Machine. Army of Canada (access date May 2011)
- New Honorary Colonel for CFB Borden Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine., Canadian Forces (access date May 2011)
- "History of Honorary Appointments". Canadian Army. 14 November 2007. Archived from the original on 6 April 2008. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
- A webpage by a Scottish regiment concerning their colonel-in-chief. Archived 2007-12-19 at the Wayback Machine.