“What’s in a Name/Title?” This question was recently posed on a BDSM egroup that I’m a member of. I did a little research and came across an article that I felt fit as a good answer. Be it that there may be others, as defined by your relationship, I felt it worth posting here.
In BDSM, Master is one of the honorifics some people use to describe the Dominant partner or “Owner” in a Master/slave relationship. Because it is an honorific of the Dominant form, it is usual for it to be written with a capital letter.
It might also be used by the submissive partner as an honorific term in a D/s relationship. This can cause confusion when trying to understand BDSM terminology as both “Master” and “slave” might be used – as terms of endearment – even though neither considers themselves to be owned nor owner.
Some people enjoy the connotations of servitude or submission in calling their partner “Master”, or being called “Master”. To others, the ritual of such a formal mode of address may be appealing. It may also be useful in building roles in which one partner or the other may indulge in sadistic or masochistic desires, although people living as Master and slave are not necessarily sadomasochistic.
Usage of “Master” in most BDSM Communities does not imply any specific expertise, abilities or formal training. To successfully maintain a Master/slave relationship takes abilities and skills beyond or apart from normal relationship skills.
The term “Master” can be gender-independent but is mostly used only in reference to males. There is otherwise no male-specific equivalent. The female equivalent is “Mistress” or possibly Dominatrix. Although the Master is understood to have authority over the slave in some sense, this never extends to one’s legal rights and thus there must always be an implicit element of consent involved.
Not often used within the meaning of BDSM, but sometimes found in this context to mean someone who knows a lot about some subject, such as Bondage, Whips, Community, or has an extensive knowledge of BDSM (as in “he is a famous Whip Master.” or (His knowledge of BDSM is that of an Elder)
Historically, a master craftsman (sometimes called only Master) was a member of a guild. In the European guild system, only master craftsmen were allowed to actually be members of the guild. An aspiring master would have to pass through the career chain from apprentice to journeyman before he could be elected to become a master craftsman. He would often have to produce a sum of money and a masterpiece before he could actually join the guild. Becoming a Master was often very hard.
The usage of Master in S&M parallels this usage in some ways, as early practitioners used to go through an ‘apprentice’ stage, often having to act as a submissive to the Master as part of the process. However, Master in historical SM and Leather derived from ‘Master/slave’ rather than apprentice / journeyman / Master.
This is now and always has been the belief system I have adopted in My understanding of the levels, and usages of the word/Honorific of Master.