Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

January 30, 2009

Register vs Registrar

by @ 12:16 pm. Filed under History

Every so often someone informs me that I should properly be called “registrar of deeds” and not “register of deeds.” An email of this type arrived overnight. Here’s a redacted version of it along with my reply:

Dear Mr. Howe,

I’m somewhat of a word buff (I know it’s nerdy but I can’t help it). Anyway, I have noticed that most ROD sites, including yours, note that the Registrar of Deeds is a Register of Deeds. You, sir, are a Registrar, not a Register. Might want to fix that on your web site!


a book in which records of acts, events, names, etc., are kept.
a list or record of such acts, events, etc.


a person who keeps a record; an official recorder.

Here’s my reply:

Thank you for your email and your interest in the registry of deeds. Your concern about our use of the term “register of deeds” would be better addressed to the state legislature. If you consult Massachusetts General Laws chapter 36, titled “Registers of Deeds” you will see that none of that chapter’s forty sections contain the term “registrar of deeds” but uniformly refer to the office as “register of deeds.”

You are not the first person to bring this apparent error to my attention. I have intended to research the origin of the usage of “register” with relation to the office I hold; perhaps your email will provide the needed motivation.

In the meantime, I can only fall back on a quote from US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who, in disagreeing with a litigant who used the standard meaning of a word to promote his argument, said the decision of the court rested “on an interpretation of language by its traditional use . . . Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” In other words, we’ve always done it this way and will continue to do so, even if it makes no sense.

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