AskDefine | Define alderman

Dictionary Definition

alderman n : a member of a municipal legislative body (as a city council); "aldermen usually represent city wards"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a member of several municipal legislative bodies in a city or town
  2. A roasted turkey garnished with sausages; the latter are supposed to represent the gold chain worn by those magistrates. (1811 Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue)
  3. a man's pot belly

Extensive Definition

An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions. Historically the term could also refer to local municipal judges in small legal proceedings (as in Pennsylvania) The title is derived from the Anglo-Saxon position of ealdorman, literally meaning "elder man," and was used by the chief nobles presiding over shires.

United Kingdom

Although the term originated in England, it had no clear definition there until the 19th century, as each municipal corporation had its own constitution. It was used in England, Wales and Ireland, but was not used in Scotland. Under the Municipal Reform Act 1835, municipal borough corporations consisted of councillors and aldermen. Aldermen would be elected not by the electorate, but by the council (including the outgoing aldermen), for a term of six years, which allowed a party that narrowly lost an election to retain control by choosing aldermen. This was altered in 1910 not to allow outgoing aldermen to vote. Aldermen were finally abolished under the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, surviving a few years later in Greater London. County councils also elected Aldermen, but not rural district and urban district councils.
Councils can still create honorary aldermen, often a reward for long service. This award is used much more often in Northern Ireland than in England or Wales. Northern Ireland councils may additionally designate a quarter of their councillors as aldermen.
In the City of London Corporation, aldermen are elected for each ward, by the regular electorate, and until recently for life. To be a candidate to be Lord Mayor of the City of London, it is necessary to be an alderman and to have been a sheriff.
In Scotland, the office of "baillie" bore some similarities.

Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland the title was used by the first person elected in a multi-seat local government ward. The Local Government Act 2001 abolished the title as part of a modernisation of local government, and as such none of the Councillors elected in the local elections of 2004 hold the title Alderman.


Historically, the term "alderman" was used for those persons elected to a municipal council to represent the wards. As women were increasingly elected to municipal office, the term "councillor" slowly replaced "alderman", although there was some use of the term "alderperson". Today, the title of "alderman" is rarely used, except in some cities in Alberta and Ontario as well as some smaller municipalities elsewhere in the country that retain the title for historic reasons.

United States

"Board of Aldermen" is the governing body of many jurisdictions in the United States. In these jurisdictions, the term is used instead of city council and its members are called "Alderman" or "Alderwoman".. Some states such as Pennsylvania established aldermen in the 19th century to serve as local judges for minor infractions. Pennsylvania's alderman were phased out in the early 20th century. In this manner depending on the jurisdiction an alderman could have been part of the legislative or judicial local government.


alderman in Czech: Konšel
alderman in Danish: Oldermand
alderman in German: Beigeordneter
alderman in Spanish: Concejal
alderman in Finnish: Oltermanni
alderman in French: Conseiller municipal
alderman in Scottish Gaelic: Bùirdeiseach
alderman in Italian: Aldermanno
alderman in Dutch: Wethouder
alderman in Portuguese: Vereador
alderman in Ukrainian: Альдерман

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

MP, Member of Congress, Member of Parliament, archon, assemblyman, bailie, burghermaster, burgomaster, cabinet member, cabinet minister, chancellor, chosen freeholder, city councilman, city father, city manager, commissar, commissioner, congressman, congresswoman, councillor, councilman, councilwoman, county commissioner, county supervisor, elder, floor leader, headman, induna, lawgiver, lawmaker, legislator, lord mayor, magistrate, maire, majority leader, mayor, minister, minister of state, minority leader, party whip, portreeve, reeve, representative, secretary, secretary of state, selectman, senator, solon, state senator, supervisor, syndic, undersecretary, warden, whip
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