Ms. Clinton vs Mrs. Clinton
February 3, 2008 5:16 AM   Subscribe

Why is "Mrs. Clinton" so common in newspapers & other media that use Ms. universally for other women?
posted by lorimer to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I believe that in AP styles, when courtesy titles are used (and they usually aren't), a reporter is supposed to use the form preferred by the subject. Evidently Mrs. Clinton prefers to be known as Mrs. Clinton rather than Ms. Clinton.
posted by grouse at 5:23 AM on February 3, 2008

posted by grouse at 5:36 AM on February 3, 2008

Do you have an example of a publication in mind, lorimer? Hillary Clinton does not have a doctorate (so far as I know), nor any other title that would supersede the Ms./Mrs. title. And, of course, she is married. So, Mrs., is the proper title to use for her.

Wait, of course she has a title, she is a Senator. But then again, I see and hear her addressed as Senator Clinton all of the time.
posted by oddman at 5:38 AM on February 3, 2008

grouse has it.

AP Style Guide
4. Use Ms. on second reference for women who do not hold doctorates (use Miss or Mrs. if requested by the individual).


Lori Smith, associate professor of music, received a grant. “I'm thrilled,” says Ms. Smith.

It would not be proper, as far as I know, oldman, to address a married woman as Mrs. unless she has explicitly requested it.
posted by gregvr at 5:59 AM on February 3, 2008

Response by poster: oddman, there is no such title as "the Ms./Mrs. title." That's the point of this question -- I'm asking why major media outlets like the NY Times (outlets that otherwise correctly follow AP style by calling women Ms.) consistently use "Mrs. Clinton."

Does she have an official statement anywhere explicitly requesting Mrs.?
posted by lorimer at 6:21 AM on February 3, 2008

The New York Times doesn't follow AP style, as they have their own stylebook. You can rest assured that if Clinton wanted to be called "Ms." that her press people would ensure that she were.
posted by grouse at 6:31 AM on February 3, 2008

Actually, in my experience Mrs. is the expected title for a married woman who has taken her husbands name. References: 1, 2. 3 (at the bottom).

Some more points: Wikipedia notes that in a professional setting some can choose Ms when Mrs. would also be proper. This, of course entails that Mrs. is perfectly acceptable (for married women). Also, notice that Chicago style omits honorific titles altogether. So, I'm not confident that writing guides are the best source for standard usage (see the dictionary entry).

The general consensus seems to be that a married woman using her husband's surname can choose to go by either Ms. or Mrs., though Mrs. is the more traditional option. An adult woman using her maiden name (regardless of marital status) should be addressed as Ms. exclusively. Professional titles generally trump either Ms. or Mrs. . As to why a publication that normally and consistently uses Ms. for women, married and single, but uses Mrs. for Senator Clinton, we can assume that she must make it clear that she prefers it that way. (Of course, it's also possible that married women in the news who use their husbands name are so rare these days that Mrs. Clinton simply sticks out as an unusual example.)

Finally, it seems a little odd that they would use Mrs. at all, when she should really be addressed as Senator Clinton; the same publication is probably unlikely to use Mr. Bush instead of President Bush.
posted by oddman at 6:39 AM on February 3, 2008

Finally, it seems a little odd that they would use Mrs. at all, when she should really be addressed as Senator Clinton; the same publication is probably unlikely to use Mr. Bush instead of President Bush.

You are wrong on this. The AP stylebook says to use only the last name on second reference. As for the NYT, check out Results 1 - 10 of about 155,000 from for "mr. bush".

The AP stylebook specifically says not to use legislative titles such as Sen. or Rep. on second reference. The top election story in the NYT today appears to use "Mrs. Clinton," "Mr. Obama," "Mr. McCain," and "Mr. Romney" on second reference.
posted by grouse at 6:49 AM on February 3, 2008

Well, NYT, also uses Mrs. Thatcher, Mrs. Obama, Ms. Winfrey, Ms. Clinton (Chelsea), which would imply an awareness of the traditional convention. (And as Grouse noted NYT has its own style guide. Well, I stand corrected on the subject of which title the AP suggests, although its suggestion seems weird to me. Thanks, grouse.)

Also this article in the NY Times seems relevant. After some quick google searching it seems that NYT follows the wishes of each woman, although they do use Mrs. Pelosi sometimes.
posted by oddman at 7:04 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

And now I notice the the use of Mr., Mrs., etc. is for second reference, is their a suggestion to use the legislative title on first reference or does AP simply suggest using the full name sans title?
posted by oddman at 7:06 AM on February 3, 2008

Best answer: oldman, are you trying to set some kind of record for off-topic rambling in an AskMe thread? Nothing you've said has the slightest relevance to the question.

It's very likely that they asked her and she said she preferred Mrs., and it's very likely she said that because of the trouble she got into years ago for keeping her maiden name and showing other signs of unacceptable feminist tendencies. (See here for name thing.)
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

is their a suggestion to use the legislative title on first reference

Yes, usually to use "Rep." or "Sen." It's not mandatory when the title is given later or the individual is very well known.
posted by grouse at 7:10 AM on February 3, 2008

Via Google News, in recent references "Mrs.Clinton" outnumbers "Ms.Clinton" about 7.5 to 1. However, "Sen.Clinton" and "Senator.Clinton" outnumber the combine "Mrs." and "Ms." reference about 3.8 to 1. Keep in mind that many of these occur in quotations, where the publication will write whatever the speaker said.

The "Ms." usage occurs mainly in Canadian publications and elsewhere outside the U.S.

"Mrs." happens mainly in the New York Times, because they have a long-standing policy of using courtesy titles in most instances on second reference. Most other newspapers do not do this: they would write about you as Joe or Jane Lorimer on first reference, and as "Lorimer" thereafter in the story. (A few other papers like The Wall Street Journal follow this policy also.)

The style guide linked above by gregvr is not the AP style guide, it's a University of Mary Washington guide listing "entries that for publication purposes should be treated differently according to AP style guidelines."

The actual AP Stylebook is not online, but I have one and here's what it says (2005 edition):

"Courtesy titles. Refer to both men and women by first and last name. Susan Smith or Robert Smith. Use the courtesy titles Mr., Miss, Ms. or Mrs. only in direct quotations and in other special situations:

"--When it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in married couples or borthers and sisters, use the first and last name.
"--When a woman specifically requests it; for example, where a woman prefers to be known as Mrs. Susan Smith or Ms. Susan Smith.

The latter is unusual, and I doubt that Sen. Clinton has asked to be called "Mrs." in news coverage.

Every paper has local style guides in addition to following AP. Many, for example, will use courtesy titles on second reference in editorials but not in news stories; they will leave courtesy titles in letters to the editor if the writer used them; and most will use courtesy titles on second reference in obituaries.

In news stories, then, for most papers, it would be "Senator Clinton" or "Senator Hillary Clinton" on first reference, and just "Clinton" thereafter. However, since this causes potential confusion with Bill, especially when both are mentioned in the same story, it becomes "Mrs." to distinguish her from "Mr."

Examples: Washington Post -- uses "Clinton" in story where Bill does not figure.
Associated Press uses "Clinton" in a typical story.
Associated Press/WaPo story uses "Mrs.Clinton" in a story discussing Bill's role in the campaign.
posted by beagle at 7:12 AM on February 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Good sniffing that out, beagle.
posted by billysumday at 7:14 AM on February 3, 2008

(A few other papers like The Wall Street Journal follow this policy also.)
The New York Times policy, that is.
posted by beagle at 7:16 AM on February 3, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - wild speculations and combative responses are probably best suited for email or MeTa
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:46 AM on February 3, 2008

When did she drop the Rodham?
posted by A189Nut at 8:05 AM on February 3, 2008

It could also be a bit of subtle politics involved, too. Believe it or not, there are still people in the US who bristle at the use of the term "Ms." It brings up images of castrating feminazis and "that wimmin's lib bullshit". Honest.

I could easily see where the Clinton camp has quietly informed the press to use "Mrs. Clinton", just so they don't rile the backwoods natives too much. I would similarly suspect that this is the same reason she has dropped "Rodham" from her public name.

Sure, the chances of any of the people I describe actually voting for her is negligible. But, as we have learned from recent elections, the margin of victory can be paper thin, and any little thing you can do to not rile the natives can help. Sure, they may not vote for her. But, if they aren't agitated over what they might see as signs of overt feminism, they might not stir-up noise against her, either.

It's just a small political calculation that doesn't hurt her, and may help her in some small way.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:09 AM on February 3, 2008

I could easily see where the Clinton camp has quietly informed the press to use "Mrs. Clinton"

Apparently you are correct, according to this WSJ blog, and I'll stand corrected for my contention above that they would not have expressed a preference.

Regarding "Rodham": the 2006 article LH linked to dealt with the question of whether or not to use "Rodham". Judging by the campaign site, they're mostly using "Hillary Clinton" (or "Hillary" by itself, quite a bit), and throwing in Rodham only in formal statements such as one on the death of Benazir Bhutto.

Of further interest:
Here's a 2000 story in Salon about the AP's dropping of courtesy titles on second reference.
posted by beagle at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2008

About the general rule for using Ms vs Mrs:

"Mrs." should only be used with the husband's last name, not with the wife's full name, or any last name other than the husband's last name. It means "mistress of Husbandsname" -- so, "Mrs. Clinton" or "Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton" are ok, but not "Mrs. Hillary Clinton". A woman who has kept her maiden name shouldn't be called Mrs. Maidenname. (She can properly be called Mrs. Husbandsname but few people know this and it's likely to really offend.)

The point of introducing the title "Ms" in the first place was to obliterate the compulsory marking of a woman's marital status in her title. That is, previously men were "Mr" whether single or married, but women (from about the 1700s) were "Miss" if single and "Mrs." if married. "Ms." was supposed to be analogous to "Mr", a title that was properly applied to a woman, in front of her full name or her last name (whether it's Maidenname or Husbandsname or something else), without regard to her marital status. So, contrary to what oddman said, applying that term doesn't depend on the woman's having kept her maiden name when she marries. So indeed it would be perfectly proper to call her "Ms. Clinton".

And I agree with languagehat, I'm quite sure that the Clinton campaign has an explicit policy about how she is to be titled, and I'm quite sure they've let people know she should be "Mrs." because "in many parts of the country "Ms." sounds unacceptably "feminist" or nontraditional, and might alienate voters.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:10 AM on February 3, 2008 [6 favorites]

Paranoia filter: written usage aside, I have heard an increase in the usage of "Mrs. Clinton" in verbal communication to make sure the listener knows she's big bad Bill's wife, and do we really want a president who puts up with his shenanigans? Just like they make sure to refer to the Democratic party as the "Democrat Party", just to be annoying.
posted by gjc at 5:59 PM on February 3, 2008

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