Title: Excuse me, Mrs. Miss, did you Ms. something?

Bride signing document

(I promise that headline will make more sense once you read this…and if you know I have a terrible weakness for puns.)

When a woman gets married, one of the many decisions she gets to make is what last name she plans to use. Will she legally adopt her husband’s name? Will she keep her own? Will she hyphenate? Will she keep her name for public use – her career may be associated with it – but use her husband’s name in her private life? Will she want to be known by the same last name as her children?

And what title will she want used with that name? While we’ve become much less formal with one another during the last half-century or so, there are still plenty of circumstances where we address one another by a title and last name…and the title can be just as open to question.

Rebecca got me thinking about this when she expressed her preference for the title “Ms.”:

“I mean, really. I’m twenty-seven years old, and you’re going to call me Mrs.? Yes, I’m married, but, really?

The 1800s just called. They want their outmoded social conventions back.

This is why the wise women of the 1960s gave us Ms. Say it with me: Miiizzzzzzz.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my husband, and I chose to add his name to mine as a nod to our partnership and the family we created when we decided to commit our lives to each other. I am happy to be married and proud to be married to him.  But I don’t define myself by the fact that I am married, and I resent it when other people do, especially when they top it off by referring to me as just another of my husband’s accessories.”

It’s not just convention, it’s part of grammar and language usage, and not just in English. Men have always been addressed as “Mr.,” no matter whether they’re husbands or bachelors. Women have been either “Miss” or “Mrs.,” depending on whether they were linked to a Mr. of the husbandly variety, which has meant that some women have remained “Miss” So-and-so well into advanced age. Recognizing this particular inequity, second-wave feminists advocated for the new title “Ms.” to be used by and for all women, regardless of age or marital status. It’s always made sense to me, and yet it still seems to be struggling for acceptance, forty-some-odd years later.

Traditional etiquette rules state that it’s proper to address a woman as Mrs. Herfirstname Hislastname only if she’s a widow or divorcee. (For the record, that means it was correct to call me “Mrs. Florinda Pendley” from February 2002 until October 2006.) Married women are formally addressed as Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname, because their identity derives as half of “Mr. & Mrs. Hisname Hisname.” Some traditions are long overdue for retirement.

I got married for the first time when I was 19. I took my husband’s name, which would also be the last name of our child (born 6 months later). When we got divorced, I kept the name – aside from still sharing it with my son, I’d lived with it my entire adult life, and I had an educational and professional history linked to it. That was the main reason I didn’t drop it when I got married the second time…but I didn’t think it was fair to my new husband to keep using it, either, so I added HIS last name after it. (This is one unforeseen consequence of changing your name when you get married; you may one day deal with the prospect of changing it again. And perhaps yet again…)

In practice, I’ll respond to either last name individually as well as the combined one. I would prefer that any and all of them be prefaced with “Ms.” That’s been my preference for at least the last twenty-five years, actually. While I’m more than happy to let you know I’m married, there are very few instances where it’s necessary to address me in a way that denotes my marital status. One of the many reasons I prefer Ms. is that it sidesteps this whole thing.

Do you prefer to be Ms., a Miss, or a Mrs., and why? And speaking of “Miss,” how do you feel about being called that as opposed to “Ma’am”? I’m old enough now that “Ma’am” is really more appropriate, but I still don’t like it – maybe they should use “Ms.” for that, too. (Note to my four male readers – those questions are not meant for you, but if you have an opinion on them, feel free to speak up!)

photo credit: PicApp Image Search

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