Is Mrs still expected?
October 14, 2009 9:39 AM   Subscribe

If you are recently married and have taken your husband's last name, do you go by "Mrs"?

I know some women of the previous generation still use Mrs (like Mrs Clinton) and I have been perhaps slightly surprised to see a good percentage of my generation taking their husband's name as they get married, but I don't know if they imagine being addressed as Mrs Hislastname, or if Ms Hislastname makes sense.

When I worked as a telemarketer about 15 years ago, I offended most of the people I called on the first day by switching from "Mrs" to "Ms" (to me, "Mrs" was already outdated then) but that was a limited sample, probably older, probably non-working...

So, would either Mrs or Ms offend? And which would be preferable if both are acceptable?
posted by mdn to Society & Culture (50 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I'm being addressed by my married name, I would expect to be (and prefer to be) addressed as Mrs. Lastname. I would find Ms. Lastname to be strange, but inoffensive. (At work, I'm Dr. Maidenname, for what that's worth. Being addressed as Mrs. Maidenname---say, by high school kids who don't quite realize they're in college yet---is the only one of these alternatives that really bugs me.)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:45 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not that recently married, but I'm only 30, so I hope I'm still in your demographic.

I'm fine with Mrs. or Ms., and if there is a pulldown menu for salutation on a form I'm filling out, I'll choose Mrs.
posted by ferociouskitty at 9:45 AM on October 14, 2009

I've always been under the impression that Mrs is more appropriate for married women while Ms is more appropriate for single women or women of unknown marital status. Ms Herlastname, Mrs Hislastname. So as far as I can tell with today's culture, Mrs is still expected and proper for married women, and if the woman has taken the man's last name, I would call her Mrs Hislastname and not Ms Hislastname (to me that signifies that they were married, and then divorced, but she kept his name).
posted by Meagan at 9:45 AM on October 14, 2009

I didn't change my name but I'm good with anything -- Mrs. Husband's name, Ms. Husband's Name, Mrs. My Name, Ms. My Name, Miss My Name -- the only thing I don't like is Miss Husband's Name because that wouldn't ever have been my name as I didn't have it before I was married. I introduce myself as "Ms. My Name", but I'm not too picky. I think most people I know are fairly relaxed about this. I'm twenty-five if that's relevant, and have been married just over two years.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:47 AM on October 14, 2009

Ms. (pronounced "mizz") is the neutral form of address and applies to women who are either married or not. If someone gets in a huff if you use Ms. instead of Mrs., something's wrong with them. Seriously, if it's good enough for Emily Post, it's good enough for everyone.

My wife, who took my last name when we got married, used to teach elementary children, "officialy" going by Mrs. Lastname. She doesn't really care, really, especially as she deals with children who have no idea what it all means half the time.
posted by zsazsa at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2009 [13 favorites]

I enjoy being Mrs. "Shotglass". I'll even correct folks when they say Ms. or Miss SG. For me it's a point of pride that I chose to be part of and was accepted into the Shotglass family.

This reminds me of that awkward stage in HS where I addressed my friends parents as "Mrs. Friend's Mom," or "Mr. and Mrs. Friends' Parents," etc...
posted by mrsshotglass at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2009

I think you are going to see a regional difference to this answer. And the answers might be different if the readers think you are talking about spoken vs. written, so you might want to clarify.

I got married while I was teaching school (this was 20 years ago). There is no better way to get used to hearing your new married name than having 110 kids calling it out all day every day.

Here in Texas, the spoken version of Mrs. is MIZ. Nobody says it like MISSIS, but it's written as Mrs. So it's not really the same as Ms. even though it sounds the same.

IME, nobody got offended using either Ms or Mrs, either written or spoken, unless they really weren't married, then they would correct you to please use Ms.
posted by CathyG at 9:51 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mrs is more appropriate for married women

Ms. is more appropriate for anyone who doesn't want their marital status to matter in a particular situation. Around here, Ms. seems to more often used by people, both married and unmarried, who are under about 50. Married women over 50 tend to use Mrs. and unmarried women over 50 use Ms.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:52 AM on October 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

I've been married for a year. I still can't get used to being Mrs. HisLastName. I don't mind the HisLastName part, but the Mrs really grates on me for some reason. It doesn't offend me when other people refer to me as such, but I generally refer to myself as Ms. HisLastName if I must choose a title. If I can get away with not choosing, I will (in that case I'm FirstName HisLastName). If someone called me "Miss HisLastName" I'd correct them to Ms. (I'm 34 ffs, I haven't been "Miss" in awhile.)
posted by desjardins at 9:57 AM on October 14, 2009

I changed my name when I got married. Mrs. Lastname is fine (I am technically Mrs. John Doe if I am the wife of John Doe, so Mrs. Doe makes sense). Ms. Lastname is fine by me as well (I am an independent person with my very own name, and I don't need to identify myself or be identified as "The wife of John Doe" in order to do business).
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:57 AM on October 14, 2009

Married 12 years (on Sunday). I usually call myself "Ms. HisLastName", but I wouldn't correct anyone for calling me Mrs. HisLastName".

At my job, if I write letters to a husband and wife who share a last name, I will address it to "Mr. and Mrs. Lastname".
posted by Lucinda at 10:04 AM on October 14, 2009

It may not be a necessary clarification, but traditionally, "Mrs. Churchill" was short for "Mrs. Winston Churchill" rather than "Mrs. Clementine Churchill." That sense has shifted, however, and I think most women who are fine with "Mrs. Churchill" would find "Mrs. Winston Churchill" to be strangely archaic.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:12 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Since my mother-in-law is "Mrs. HisLastName" and has been since we were kids, I decided to keep my maiden name and introduce myself as MyFirstName MyMaidenName. If people are so inclined, they call me Mrs. MyMaidenName. If they call me Ms or Miss, I don't correct them.

Frankly, I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm old enough to be called something other than my first name.
posted by dogmom at 10:14 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ms. is pretty specifically *not* meant for divorced women. It is meant as a title that is nonspecific regarding marital state. (I was also told as a kid that it was for divorced women; but whoever told you (and me) that somehow can't handle a woman's marital status not being mentioned in her name. Why?)

The wikipedia article on Ms. gives some background; UK usage does seem to differ, as backed up by this article; here is some good historical information.

I'm not married, myself. The few friends I can think of who have taken their husbands' last names show up as Dr. in print, so that doesn't give you information. My sister (early thirties), who did take her husband's name, certainly doesn't seem offended by Ms.; that's what I'd call her if I had to write her name formally for some reason, but mostly because it is neutral. Mrs. on the other hand assumes you are married, and that you want everyone around you to judge you based on that fact. (Might be appropriate for say a wedding invitation, much much less so for a business situation).
posted by nat at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009

'round these parts, its usually Miss Firstname or Mister Firstname.
posted by spilon at 10:27 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I worked as a programmer in a call centre earlier this year, we used "Ms." (when we knew the gender) or "Mr./Ms." (when we didn't) in almost all of our scripts. Never heard of anyone being offended by that, although I wouldn't necessarily have heard anything about it.

We did have one client whose customers were mostly older ladies, and they would send us the salutation for each customer. I imagine at one point the customer had checked a box for their preferred salutation.
posted by pocams at 10:28 AM on October 14, 2009

I prefer Ms. Lastname, but I don't correct people when they say Mrs. I'm of the opinion that Mrs. Lastname is my late mother-in-law. The only time I don't mind being called Mrs. is when people call me Mrs. Lastinitial.
posted by Ruki at 10:30 AM on October 14, 2009

Along the lines of what ocherdragon mentioned, I read about this a while ago in a book from the 1940s, so obviously take it with a grain of salt. I hope I'm remembering this correctly.

The following are considered "correct" in a marriage between John Smith and Mary Jones.
Mrs. John Smith
Mrs. Smith
Ms. Mary Smith

Mrs. Mary Smith and Ms. Smith would be incorrect. However, in modern times, it seems like Ms. is much more acceptable, and is the safe bet, unless you know that the person you're addressing doesn't mind being Mrs.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:49 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

In general, Ms. is there to be useful to refer to any woman, particularly if you don't know whether she's married. That said, some women are particular about how they would like to be addressed. Most of the time, either works fine.
posted by Citrus at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2009

I changed my last name and go by Ms. There's something creepy to me by going by Mrs, which essentially means "Mister's". I do not get offended when people address me as Mrs. though.

One thing that I *hate* is being called Mrs. [husband's first] [last] as if my identity has been absorbed into my husband's by getting married. Grr. I've felt that way for a while and would perform little acts of feminism when worked in a university alumni office. I was in charge of the database/mailings and I would always put Jane & John Smith instead of Mr & Mrs John Smith. (They wanted me to do the latter even if the woman was the alumni! Bleh.)
posted by Kimberly at 10:59 AM on October 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

I've always been under the impression that Mrs is more appropriate for married women while Ms is more appropriate for single women or women of unknown marital status.

Not at all. "Ms." as an honorific was developed especially to create an honorific that gave no information whatever as to marital status - in the same way that "Mr." does not. You're a Mr. before you're married, when you're married, after you're divorced. "Ms." works the same way - you can be a Ms. all your life. When you don't know someone's status at all, Ms. is the safe and most respectful form of address. Both "Miss" and "Mrs." could be inaccurate or offend - "Ms." really can't, since it's designed specifically not to.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I married five years ago, at age 32, and took my husband's name. On the rare occasions that I actually use/need a title to refer to myself, I use "Ms."--as my mother, who also took her husband's name, used "Ms." until she became "Dr." However, I have no problem with people who say "Mrs." and I wouldn't correct them.

If I'm speaking to/about other women with whom I'm not on a first-name basis, I will usually default to "Ms." even if I know their marital status (unless I know specifically that they prefer "Mrs."--and my daughters' teachers are usually the only ones that I know that about!).

Possibly related question: have other people been told that "maiden name" is offensive or archaic, or does the term bother you? I ran into that issue a few years ago and have avoided that term (I use "birth name")--but I now work for a women's college, and most folks there think nothing of saying "maiden name." Is "birth name" pretentious?
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:02 AM on October 14, 2009

I strongly prefer Ms. and I correct people on it. Mrs. sounds old-fashioned, makes me feel old, and makes me think that you care about my marital status (and you shouldn't).

I haven't formally changed my name, but I use MyLastName HisLastName professionally and socially. I'm under 30 and several years married.
posted by liet at 11:03 AM on October 14, 2009

You're a Mr. before you're married, when you're married, after you're divorced. "Ms." works the same way - you can be a Ms. all your life.

This is precisely why I elect to use Ms. as my honorific, although I am married and I did take my husband's surname. I'm actually following the June Carter Cash model, but still with the Ms. in front.

Ms. should be safe all the time, because who knows (and frankly, who cares) whether 'Ms. Jane Smith" is married or not. You don't get any indication of marital status, or age, or anything, from reading "Mr. John Smith." Why should you need to know, in modern times, the martial status of a random woman? I do recognize that this is a social standard in shift, and I try not to lose my mind over getting Mrs. Lastname. I just gently correct them with a "My name is Ms. Jane Smith, thank you."

If someone gets in a huff if you use Ms. instead of Mrs., something's wrong with them. Seriously, if it's good enough for Emily Post, it's good enough for everyone.

Repeated for truth.
posted by nelleish at 11:19 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm older. I don't like the historical use of Mrs., it comes from mistress- with all of its power connotations- and traditionally Mrs. was followed by the husband's name. So if Jane Doe married Heman Blabla she didn't become Mrs. Jane Blabla, she became Mrs. Heman Blabla. It was like she didn't exist, and historically that was true, the wife was legally subsumed under the husband, she was not a legal entity, she was a "feme covert", a misspelling of the French femme couverte or covered woman.

So a lot of us who participated in the women's movement and various other liberation movements of the sixties really hope our young sisters will not give up their names. We had to fight to keep ours.
posted by mareli at 11:28 AM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Married. We both hyphenated. Always use Ms.; don't get in a huff if someone else uses Mrs.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:38 AM on October 14, 2009

"Both "Miss" and "Mrs." could be inaccurate or offend - Ms." really can't, since it's designed specifically not to.
Yes it can. When I worked at a fairly famous art museum some years ago, I struck my own little blow for feminism and made the default address for women in our database Ms. I then got a letter in a beautiful copperplate hand on engraved stationary from a Miss Smith who informed me that she had never been married and wished to be known as Miss, because, she said rather sniffily, she was not a manuscript.

However, I think she was the exception.

Using the marriage of Jane Smith and John Doe as an example, I think either Mrs. Doe or Ms. Doe are fine, although I'd be inclined to go more towards Mrs. Doe and Ms. Smith. I don't like Mrs. John Doe either, although it is what my mother and her generation always used and I see that in some social circles here in the South, it's still commonly used even by people in their twenties. The problem with Mrs. Mary Doe is that it used to denote widowhood; when your husband died you stopped being Mrs. John Doe and became Mrs. Mary Doe. Nobody knows about this anymore except people in their seventies and eighties but boy, they do take it seriously. Since I do quite a bit of fundraising among that population, it behooves me to be aware of it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:39 AM on October 14, 2009

My wife is Mrs and all of my married friends' wives are Mrs. I don't know anyone who goes by Ms at all in real life. This is in the UK where, it has been noted above, usage can differ.
posted by wackybrit at 11:41 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Jeffamaphone loves being called Mrs. Jeffamaphone.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:45 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I go with Ms. even though I have my husband's last name.
posted by Ouisch at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2009

And, for the record, I didn't actually want to change my last name when I got married, but some technicalities I won't go into made it easier for me if I did. So I did.
posted by Ouisch at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2009

I am Dr. [my last name] but of course, only get called that at work. I have no problem if people call me by my husband's last name, even though I didn't change, but I do pause if they put a Mrs on the front of it. At least in my interactions in NYC, people always call me Ms. [mylastname] or [hislastname].
posted by gaspode at 12:03 PM on October 14, 2009

Ms. (pronounced "mizz") is the neutral form of address and applies to women who are either married or not. If someone gets in a huff if you use Ms. instead of Mrs., something's wrong with them.

Well, that is what I thought 15 years ago when I had a job that required me to call married women - I assumed Ms would be acceptable and somehow just preferred to use it, so was surprised to discover that many people I called either were confused, made uncomfortable, corrected me, or directly took offense.

I usually do use Ms and would assume it correct, but I also wouldn't have thought so many of my friends and peers would have changed their names, so I don't know if I'm just making assumptions based on my own preferences... I feel like I'd be uncomfortable with Mrs, but then I'd be uncomfortable changing my name, so what do I know?
posted by mdn at 12:51 PM on October 14, 2009

as was mentioned upthread - if this is in the U.S, you're going to find region matters.

nearly everything south of the mason-dixon will be Mrs (or as was also pointed out, Miss. firstname). i'd assume you'd find more love for the Mrs in utah and on the east side of the cascades in washington. it also seems that people from old money prefer the "correct" title of mrs. if you're in a group of young professionals or artists, Ms. would probably be preferred.

if you don't know if it's Miss, Ms, or Mrs, default to Ms. until you're corrected. if you've been introduced/have a written document that says Mrs, don't change it to Ms to conform to your ideas about names and feminism and all that, just use the one they've already indicated they prefer.
posted by nadawi at 1:01 PM on October 14, 2009

you being uncomfortable with Mrs is your own baggage. for some Ms. has connotations that not everyone likes, especially on the older crowd (those likely to be home while you're making cold calls).

think of it like this - in the same way that you bristle at Mrs, some people bristle at Ms. either neither of you are weird or you both are, but people generally get to decide what they're called and you should respect that.
posted by nadawi at 1:05 PM on October 14, 2009

"Ms" came about because many women objected to their marital status, outside of context, being any one's business save for her and her husband. This is a generational shift, and "mrs" despite the complaints or lack of concern of people who like to declare personal information on introduction, is becoming a relic of an earlier time, and I predict that in ten years it will seem quaint.
posted by Neiltupper at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

people generally get to decide what they're called and you should respect that.

Except they really don't get to decide, except in personal correspondence and interchange. Print and online media companies use a style guide that dictates when "Miss," "Mrs.", and "Ms." will be used, if at all. Organizations using databases, as mygothlaundry notes, will also use a default. And individuals who just don't have (or want) information about somebody's marital status need a default. "Ms" is that default. Some people may not like it, but their dislike of a neutral honorific is qualitatively different from the dislike of being called something that makes an assumption about your marital status - which can be utterly wrong. "Ms." may be distasteful to some, but by definition, it's never utterly wrong.
posted by Miko at 2:30 PM on October 14, 2009

nearly everything south of the mason-dixon will be Mrs (or as was also pointed out, Miss. firstname

Growing up in East Texas, I heard my super-Texan, WWII-generation grandfather regularly and exclusively pronounce the word "Mrs." as "Miz," neatly neutralizing the entire debate. Everybody was "Miz." In fact, there may be some argument for crediting the South with inventing this gracious elision, which the feminist movement found so useful.
posted by Miko at 2:33 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ms. is vastly preferable in my mind.

Mrs. indicates a relative position, one which I'd rather not have up for discussion with strangers or in a business setting.

Also, my grandmother mails me things addressed to Mrs. {my partner's name}. Like I don't have my own damned name anymore. That's a big, big contributing factor to why I hate Mrs.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 2:48 PM on October 14, 2009

Yeah, I'm out of your demographic (sorry). Married about 20 years. Took my husband's name because it was an easier name, and more pleasant than my family name. Prefer to be Ms (always on forms) because whether or not I'm married is nobody's business. However, if I do get a Mrs, I just think of whoever calls me that as old fashioned and a bit clueless. It's better than getting called "love". On the other hand, if (usually older than me) women prefer to have the Mrs tag, I think it's because they're proud of being married and want it acknowledged. I can do that. However, here (Brisbane, Australia), it seems most people are addressed by their first name, and their title is irrelevant except in correspondence, and even then, with a multicultural demographic and the diffficulty in telling whether someone is male or female because of a lack of familiarity with first names, many letters go out without an honorific at tall.
posted by b33j at 2:49 PM on October 14, 2009

Oh, yeah... I'd rather just be Sadie. No need for Ms/Miss/Mrs at all.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 2:52 PM on October 14, 2009

Married last year. No one ever calls me Ms. or Mrs. anything, at least in person.

On the title dropdowns or when I have to circle one, I usually pick Mr. because, I don't know, the whole gender emphasis pisses me off.

I don't even go by my husband's name consistently (it doesn't start with G), but it does tickle me to go by Mr. and Mrs. Husband'sFirstName HusbandsLastName. I insist that people address me like that wedding invitations and other formal crap. Reminds me of how far we've come. I sometimes write us down as Mr. and Mrs. Kathrine G, too.

Ms. is the most respectful unless they suggest otherwise.
posted by kathrineg at 3:55 PM on October 14, 2009

I've always hated Ms. personally, though that's mainly because my mother shares my first initial and surname so letters addressed to Ms. Initial Lastname were a pain in the arse, and normally ended up being opened by the wrong person (and ALWAYS if it was something embarrassing...) So I've always had a knee-jerk irritation with Ms and much prefer Miss.

If I get married, I plan to change my surname and use Mrs. (unless husband's surname is something truly objectionable) although I won't go by Mrs. HisName HisSurname, historically correct or not. That said, pretty much every married woman I know under the age of 70 uses Mrs. HerName HisSurname if they've taken their partner's surname, or stuck to their maiden name and configuration if not.

(I'm English, by the way, since that seems to make a difference.)
posted by badmoonrising at 4:27 PM on October 14, 2009

I kept my last name, but interestingly enough, a number of people now refer to me as Mrs. Anitanita MaidenLastname. Others do Ms. Anitanita Maidenlastname.

Neither bothers me a bit, really.
posted by anitanita at 4:35 PM on October 14, 2009

I kept my birthname at mariage and I've gone by Ms.Birthname since my teens. If someone calls me Mrs Husbandslastname I hand the phone to my mother-in-law automatically (oddly, she is often in the room when it happens!) or I make a joke that my husband didn't take my last name and give my proper name. I've noticed Mrs is used by older women or else much younger women whose identity primarily comes from their relationship. Miss I have only seen used by women that REALLY don't want to be single and let all acquaintances know they are looking for a partner. The teens in this area all refer to adult women they know (teachers etc) as Miss (no last name) and it drives me crazy, personally.
posted by saucysault at 5:09 PM on October 14, 2009

I took my partner's last name when we married, but don't like being called Mrs. I take issue with both the historical possessiveness implied and the idea that my marital status is somehow relevant to any conversation.

When I worked in a school, I was okay with kids calling me Miss Meghan, but only because that was the form of address used for most of the staff, married or not.

If I were called Mrs. in passing, I'd let it slide; if it happened a second time, I'd correct people.

It's my opinion that Mrs. will soon go the way of constructions such as "Widow Edwards" or whatever, which I don't think anyone would use today. They're basically the same thing, as far as I'm concerned, in that they unnecessarily introduce marital status into the conversation.
posted by MeghanC at 5:15 PM on October 14, 2009

In my 30s, American, been married about a decade. I took my husband's name. I went by Ms. {MyLastName} before I got married, and have gone by Ms. {HisLastName} since changing my name. I strongly prefer Ms., and don't like being called Mrs. or the connotations thereof. Like MeghanC, I won't correct someone the first time, but might gently say "actually, it's Ms." if it happens a few times in conversation. When filling out forms & such, I always go by Ms., and I default automatically to addressing other women by Ms. LastName. Because that's what it's for. A neutral form of address that is appropriate to both married and unmarried women. You know, just like men have.
posted by tigerbelly at 8:20 PM on October 14, 2009

I'm not offended by it, but I also don't readily answer to Mrs Mylastname. I've only been married a year so maybe this will change, but I've known a lot of Mrs. Mylastnames in my life and they're all my friends' and husband's moms and although I am used to answering to Myfirstname Mylastname, the Mrs still throws me. I'd rather be called by my first and last name and dispense with the goofy titles. Also, if you call Mrs I might kind of silently judge you. Probably won't correct you because I don't care that much, but will probably think something along the lines of "Dang, where did they dig up this 50s throwback?" Then again I'm from California so I think that a lot about a lot of things.

FWIW, my married last name doesn't match my ethnicity, so once you meet me and find out my last name you pretty much know I'm married whether people are calling me Mrs or not. So, being too touchy about what titles people are using is just an exercise in goofy futility and frustration for me.
posted by crinklebat at 9:33 PM on October 14, 2009

I'm boggled at the idea of taking offense to a salutation. If it's "a relic of a bygone era of female oppression," or whatever nonsense, why should you care if someone uses it to refer to you? It's either a relic or a very relevant threat to your personal comfort. Decide on one.

Obviously, the solution is to refer to everyone as "Comrade."
posted by po at 5:59 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm unmarried, but it seems to be that if you do not know the marital status that "Mrs." is a deal-killer over the phone with a stranger. "Ms." covers all, as established above - call me "Mrs." and you're looking for my mother. (Call me "Mrs. My-ex-partner's-last-name-that-I-never-ever-even-took" and imagine my eyes narrowing into a scowl instantly.) When telemarketers call and ask for my mother I tell them that I don't live with her anymore. If this confuses them, I tell them to think about it and hang up.

When I hear "Mrs.", I really don't imagine a woman under 50, unless they are called that by a small child in a professional situation (teacher, principal, school librarian). Maybe it's just because there's so few situations where adults wouldn't use their first names with each other anymore.
posted by Kurichina at 10:29 AM on October 15, 2009

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