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Mrs or Ms?

06 May

DictionariesI got married recently (hooray!) and when I was buying a new camera to take on our honeymoon, first of all I confused the shop assistant by claiming that the camera was reserved in my new name (Liz Dexter) when my husband had temporarily forgotten he’d married me two days previously and had reserved it in my old name (Liz Broomfield), and then I confused her further, when she was filling in my details on her computer, by stating that my title was “Ms”. She’d never heard of this title, or didn’t know what it signified, and so I thought it would be a handy thing to explain …

Mrs denotes a married woman. English-speaking countries are some of the only places in the world where you can tell whether a woman is married just from her title. Women in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages are free to use this title – some do, some don’t.

Ms denotes a woman. Women in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages are free to use this title – some do, some don’t. You can’t tell if a Ms Dexter is single, married, divorced, separated … anything apart from the fact that she’s a woman. It’s like Mr in that respect.

To get slightly political, people do tend to assume that someone using Ms is not yet married or perhaps divorced. I have no objection to being Mr and Mrs Dexter and to people knowing I am married to Mr Dexter if we meet people out and about and we’re together, or we’re signing up for something in both our names, like the house insurance. But if I’m signing up to a service or buying something independently, I title myself Ms. If more married women do that, maybe eventually we won’t have to have people knowing our marital status when it’s not necessary.

Small print: that’s my choice; I respect people’s right to call themselves whatever they want to call themselves. This post is for informative purposes only. Oh and because I got married!

*Edited to add: please note – this is part of my series of posts on pairs of words which get easily confused and was initiated by my discovery of someone not having any idea what “Ms” meant. This is not any kind of (gender) political manifesto and was intended to provide a light-hearted mention of my recent wedding on my blog, plus to firm up the association of my blog and website with my new name. I’m not trying to incite long and heated discussion on gender politics, naming or patriarchy, or get into long discussions on the background to these two names. Thank you!*

Mrs Liz Dexter

Mrs Liz Dexter

Ms Liz Dexter

Ms Liz Dexter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

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25 responses to “Mrs or Ms?

  1. Sophie Playle

    May 6, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Congratulations on your marriage Ms Dexter!

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  2. Natalie

    May 6, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Congratulations! I hope your wedding day was the best day of your life…so far!

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  3. Gill

    May 6, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I guess no-one today would use Mrs Matthew Dexter (as opposed to Mrs John Dexter). But what about an envelope being addressed to Mr and Mrs M Dexter? Or being Mrs M Dexter for the forseeable, and then Mrs L (or E) Dexter when widowed? I reckon I must be a dinosaur for even considering these niceties!

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    • Liz at Libro

      May 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

      We have received cards addressed to Mr and Mrs M Dexter and I’m not sure I like it. I am fine being addressed as Mr and Mrs Dexter when we’re together and as describing myself as Matthew’s wife. I don’t really like to think about being widowed but I suppose I would retain the Ms as I do for anything where I’m describing my own person as opposed to the two of us. I would say I was a widow and say I was his wife though. Shudder.

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    • Coral

      May 6, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      I have recently had an envelope addressed to me as Mrs P Musgrave. I was shocked. It was from someone aged 70. I put it down to how they were taught at school and probably secretarial school back in the 60’s.

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  4. Sparrowgrass

    May 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Lovely photo – you both look very happy 🙂

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  5. lave0093

    May 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Congratulations! You both look very happy!

    As a comment to your commenter, Gill:
    I don’t think that you should or could assume that “no-one [sic] today would use Mrs. Mathew Dexter…” because assuming this and saying it in the way you did is imposing your idea on someone and I think, judging them by way of assumption what to think or do in our “knowing” age (i.e., that “if a woman is addressed as ‘Mrs [fill in first name of husband] So-and-So’ she is making herself some kind of chattel and that is not permissible today”). Saying that “no one would” do something or other implies unnecessary put-downs and categorizing of people. “Judgmental-ness” works both ways and always should be avoided.

    However, what is appropriate is that pressure not be put on people that “Ms” means anything other than that the person is female. In my experience, the term “Ms” doesn’t have to do with marital status as much as it has to do with the desire to make the point that marital status is irrelevant for the context.

    And as a comment to Liz:
    Many widows that I know want to keep the Mrs and the husband’s name because of the obvious reasons, such as feeling the sense of loss and also because they don’t want to indicate that they are alone or vulnerable.

    I also am not sure that you can say that other countries and languages don’t indicate whether a person is married. Throughout the world, languages work in so many ways and many of them use gender markings for cases and mark names according to various social and cultural criteria. For example, in Icelandic, people have the names of their fathers as elements of their last names, even if they are married. In Russian, their middle name, the patronymic, is the name of their father.

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    • Liz at Libro

      May 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. On Gill’s point, I think it would be odd for me to change from Ms to Mrs at a point in my life I don’t want to think of just now, under a month married, but I respect anyone else’s right to do as they still see fit. I haven’t personally come across someone in the older generations I know still using Mrs Man’s First Name Man’s Surname, but that’s not a wide socioeconomic group. Regarding my point, I did very carefully say “English-speaking countries are some of the only places in the world where you can tell whether a woman is married just from her title.” and the Icelandic and Russian names still don’t indicate using the person’s title whether they are married or not. I understand that naming is pretty well patriarchal or matriarchal across the world, but I’m talking very specifically about titles and thinking about Mlle / Madame in French, Signorina and Signora, etc., etc., which appear as a function of age not of marital status. But my “some of the only places” indicates that I acknowledge I don’t know about all countries and cultures, just as I went off and checked what women in same-sex marriages tend to call themselves in terms of title before mentioning them in the piece.

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      • lave0093

        May 6, 2014 at 3:33 pm

        Very good points; sorry to have missed the “English-speaking countries” reference. You are in Great Britain? I am in the US.

        My point is that if women want to make choices about the way that they reference themselves, then they are free to do it, and they have the right not to be made to feel inferior if they choose the traditional route or if for some reason (perhaps they don’t want their own first name released for some reason), might choose one moniker or another.

        Even adding the “still” to “still see fit” or “anyone in the older generations” implies a judgement; do you see it?

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        • Liz at Libro

          May 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm

          No, I can honestly see no judgement there, it is very clear in the UK, where I and Gill are based, that the Mrs Husband First Husband Last is not used among people of my generation and younger, and the last person I heard use it was my grandmother, who is now 101 years old, and I don’t think she uses it any more. It’s a comment on the way language is changing rather than a value judgement to my mind, and I hope that makes sense. Maybe that form is used more in the US, as I have noted through extensive personal experience of both cultures that US etiquette can tend to remain more formal in many contexts than UK etiquette, these days at least.

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    • Gill

      May 6, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      My skills in the use of the written word are clearly not effective in conveying my thoughts. Best if I refrain from commenting in the future.

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      • Liz at Libro

        May 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

        I don’t think that should be the case, Gill – I certainly agree with you that in my experience I haven’t met anyone for years who uses Mrs Man’s Name Man’s Name but that’s not to say they’re not out there, and if I feel a bit weird about Mr & Mrs M Dexter I would certainly feel odd about that myself, but I am sure we all agree, including our correspondent here, that it’s people’s rights to choose that are important, and it is certainly interesting to contemplate what I would do in other situations even if I don’t want to think about them. I certainly would try to call people what they wanted to be called, even if I didn’t personally agree with that appellation for myself.

        But please don’t refrain from commenting, on other posts if you’re not feeling able to here. I value all commenters and would not want anyone to feel they can’t comment on the blog, and enjoy your comments over the blog as a whole (and my other one).

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      • lave0093

        May 6, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Totally not my intention. Your point is important. My point is that judgments work both ways and that there are many people around the world from different cultures or religions that feel strongly about these issues, so it helps our communicative ability to divest our tone or message of the phrasings that imply judgment. Doing so is helpful in this sort of discussion and helps to make the real point be heard by everyone.

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        • Liz at Libro

          May 6, 2014 at 3:43 pm

          I hope it’s clear that I was talking about English-speaking cultures and the use of Ms and Mrs, as I infer was Gill.

          I don’t really want this post to be derailed into a discussion about judgements and other forms of name usage, so I’m going to ask that we all draw a line under this line of argument now (so to speak). No one is being judgemental, everyone agrees with freedom of choice as to what we call ourselves, this post was written as part of a series on pairs of words and was based on the fact that a) I found someone who didn’t know what Ms meant and b) I needed to get my two names embedded into my SEO for this blog.

          Thanks all.

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  6. Tammy Ditmore

    May 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Congratulations on your marriage! And just for the proofreading record, in the U.S., you would be Mrs. or Ms. Dexter. 🙂

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    • Liz at Libro

      May 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Thank you, and that is indeed correct and valuable!

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  7. Ali Turnbull

    May 7, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I don’t mind what people call me – as long as they call me!

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  8. Mary Louise Tucker

    May 7, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Great conversation! I didn’t take my hubby’s name, nor did he take mine, although he considered it because mine is more common in Australia and easier to spell (I am Tucker, he Bekeris).

    When it came to titles, if I was required to give one, I had always used Ms as a single person. I continue to use Ms if a title is required. Some people are confused by this. But I just tell them I didn’t change my name and it hardly seems fair to claim a Mrs title. There’s no logic there but it satisfies most people.

    My Italian mother did not change her name at marriage in 1951, but was always referred to as Mrs Tucker by our schools. She didn’t fight it. It’s more the norm in Latin cultures for women to retain their family name. I don’t know when this became common in Anglo cultures but it bears some research.

    Nowadays, if I get a phone call asking for Mrs Bekeris, I know it’s a marketing call and can just tell the caller they must have the wrong number as there is no Mrs Bekeris here.

    Have a happy life together!

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    • Liz Dexter

      November 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      Very interesting – I used to do the same for Mrs Dexter when she was asked for, which was useful!

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  9. lindyb

    November 18, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I thought of this post when reading an article in today’s G2: http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/nov/17/rbs-bank-that-likes-to-say-mx
    It made me glad all over again that I can use Dr!

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