What’s in a name? A rose by any other name is alleged to smell just as sweet after all, so does it make a difference?
I’ve hosted a couple of guest posts recently about choosing baby names, but today I want to talk about titles.
The BBC are reporting today of a town in France that has banned the use of the word Mademoiselle, on the back of a nationwide campaign by feminist groups to ban the word everywhere.
I am behind them 100% and all in favour of a similar spring clean of values in this country.
Why on earth in a society that claims to strive for gender equality would you discriminate between men and women in such an obvious way? Why should women have to define themselves by their marital status, by calling themselves Miss or Mrs, while men are allowed to be a Mr regardless of whether they are married or not?
And yes I know there is always Ms, and I do use it, but while Miss and Mrs still exist, Ms is always regarded as a bit odd isn’t it? When you use Ms, you’re seen to be making some sort of point, and are clearly a bitter spinster feminist type trying to defend the fact that you can’t bag yourself a hubby.
When the European Parliament banned the use of the terms ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ in 2009, there was uproar, with male MEPs calling it ‘political correctness gone mad’ and vowing to ignore the ruling. Many of the key national papers took the same stance, choosing to ridicule the ban, and reporting it in the context of what are clearly regarded as similarly bizarre rulings, such as the straightening of bananas and the multi-lingual instruction requirements for rubber boots.
The argument against the French campaign is that the whole thing is trivial. It’s just a word right? What does it really matter in the context of struggling for equal pay, pension rights and women’s representation in government?
It may be just a word, but the fact that it is seen as normal and acceptable for women to be asked to define themselves at such a basic level, based purely on the state of their personal lives, reflects deeply ingrained attitudes that need to be challenged. How can we expect pay, pensions and politics to change when we can’t even address something as fundamental as this?
Seriously though, I absolutely agree with you. People like to wrap a lot of things up in ‘tradition’. All of my friends, in their twenties, who have recently got married have all changed they’re name and become a Mrs. I just can’t understand it. Even when I explain the meaning behind the Miss and Mrs, if they didn’t know in the first place, it still doesn’t bother them. Whyyyyyy?!!
Ms all the way, even if I have to repeat it ten times over the phone because people still think I’m saying ‘Miss’!
I had the same with a friend of mine who got married a few years ago and changed her name. I questionned it, but she didn’t have an argument other than ‘tradition’. So bizarre!
My name is MISS not because of that is what I call myself. Anyone who tells me I am ms is wrong. If you don’t like Miss or Mrs that is your choice but to tell me I cant because you don’t like it is also wrong
Well said. I am Ms, it’s the only accurate thing to describe me. I’m married but I don’t use my husband’s name – which incidentally is a whole other subject for discussion.
Years ago I did subediting shifts for the Daily Mail, then Ms was banned, even if that was what someone wanted to be called in copy. They were either Miss or Mrs depending on the wedding ring.
Really?? So even if it was someone being quoted, or a case study or something, they wouldn’t let them be called Ms? Shocking.
It was a few years ago, but that was the policy. I see it’s changed now.
Fantastic post, and I completely agree about the problems surrounding the word ‘Ms’. I have mostly stopped using it because of the false assumptions people (still) leap to when I introduce myself as such, and sadly a lot of women I know who use it are a bit keener to ‘make a point’ than I would be.
I feel like a bad feminist for admitting to that, but I think it does not good to cling to an idea that may never gain true social acceptance – taking the dilemma out of our hands with whatever term (even if it’s ‘Mrs’) is probably the only way to avoid these problems.
Hope you don’t mind me mentioning, I’ve done a reaction piece to your post here: http://www.dollymix.tv/2012/01/french_town_bans_miss_are_you.html
I am really interested to hear from women of all ages, married or otherwise, on why they’ve chosen the title they use. I strongly suspect that I will not be unusual in not actually knowing which one best represents me. A new law would make it SO very much easier!
Of course I don’t mind! It’s a really good response, and I think you’re right about the issue being with the fact that there are three chioces. If it were just Mr and Ms, there’d be no problem, it’s the fact of having to make an active choice to be Ms rather than the more ‘normal’ Mrs or Miss that draws attention to it isn’t it?
Yes, exactly – so whatever you choose you are making a conscious choice, and people want to know why you chose it. I think the example of a very anti-marriage woman wanting to be called ‘Miss’ was what made me realise just how complex it all is. I think the only women I know who are really sure about which title they want to use are doctors!
Fabulous post, and I totally agree. Why should we have to define ourselves by our marital status? I admit that I was proud when I became a Mrs, but since my separation and subsequent divorce I don’t feel like there’s an appropriate title for me. I’m not a Miss, I’m definitely not a Mrs, and you’re right, Ms has far too many negative ‘bitter spinster’ connotations. It would be so much easier if there was one generic title for women, like there is for men.
It certainly would! Do you know what you’ll do when you marry again? Would you take Mrs again do you think? Would you keep your own name?
Boys change from ‘master’ to ‘mister’ in English, and in German girls change from ‘Fräulein’ to ‘Frau’ roughly when they finish school — married or not.
And even if we pronounce Mrs as ‘misses’, it’s actually a contraction of ‘Mistress’ — though, of course, without the modern connotation.
And professional girls, even if they take their husbands’ name on marriage often keep their maiden name professionally — which can be confusing.
No easy answer.
The name changing is confusing too isn’t it? My name means something to me, personally and professionally, so it would be a big decision to change it.
Well said Jo – it shouldn’t matter what our marital status is to anyone other than ourselves (and, perhaps ‘interested’ parties). Personally I try to go by Ms (with my married name or my maiden, depending on the context as I still use both), and if I’m honest if someone calls me ‘Mrs’ it makes me feel like my grandmother…
I do think I’d feel OLD if I was called Mrs!! I like the idea though of having two names depending on the context. It would be a bit like being Superman. Only without the power of flight obviously.
I’m a “Mrs” but only because I really and truly hated my maiden name. Now, I realise that it was quite unique and unusual and wish I’d hung onto it somehow. It’s not an easy one to double-barrel either.
We do need a word for women though – you make a good point about men just being “Mr” in adulthood – but I suspect that was formulated by men at some point in history…
I’m sure it was formulated by men – all the silliest ideas are! *jokes*
I never changed my name when I got married, so have always been a ‘Ms.’ with my my maiden name. No feminist point being made: just preferred my surname to my husbands, and easier to keep it than change it.
BTW, Korhomme: in Germany, ‘Fraulein’ is hardly used to. Considered very outdated, and most women are addressed as ‘Frau’ regardless of their marital status. As usual, the Germans are zillions of light years ahead…
Fräulein is more or less the equivalent of master.
There is no German equivalent of Ms — Frau quite strongly implies married, much to the annoyance of my (unmarried) daughter who lives in Berlin and doesn’t like being addressed as Frau.
Really? I thought Frau was just used regardless nowadays. Maybe it’s different in different parts of Germany?
They certainly are. We need our own Frau equavalent.
Fräulein was officially discontinued in Germany in 1972 because it discriminated against women by categorising them by martial status.
As a German I feel insulted having to discuss my martial status when changing the electricity supplier or buying a car in Australia. I hope Oz will catch up one day soon.
In post-roman Britain, a womans marital status was displyed by the way she wore her hair. In a time of violent blood feuds it makes sense to be sure of a womans marital status in order to avoid any unecessary confusion. In 2012 that probably isn’t necessary. It’s up to you what you want to call yourself or the way you want to be defined. There is nothing wrong with either side of the argument, but If you think a mere word can define you you may want to have a word with yourself…
Well no, I don’t think a mere word can define me, but I don’t see why it should come into the equation at all. It isn’t just a word is it? If someone asks me my title, and I say Mrs or Miss or Ms, they will make different judgements about me, based purely on that – it isn’t the word itself that would define me, just the prejudices other people might attach to it.
Since all are abbreviations of “mistress” used as a term of respect, a usage now much out of favour, perhaps we need to move on completely, and use given names and surnames without any title.
That would be MUCH simpler! We should do that. Let’s make it happen.
I was reading about all this on the BBC and they prefaced their report about the ban with this quote,comparing themselves favourably with the French obviously:
‘In the English-speaking world the use of “Miss” is in decline – and on occasions when an honorific is required, “Ms” provides a convenient way of avoiding being pigeon-holed as either “Miss” or “Mrs”….
…..I nearly spit out my grapes because everywhere I go in the UK they want you to enter your title (Miss, Ms. or Mrs)…I’m from America and I have never once been asked to give my ‘title’ when filling out forms while there….Bank accounts and credit cards and even passports only want my first and last name..But in the UK, they also want to know if you’re a ‘Mrs’ a ‘Miss’ or a ‘Ms’ and it goes into your bank details- presumably, if you enter your title wrong when trying to purchase something, that’s a problem.?..
Anyway, on a practical level it’s annoying but quite apart from that it seems wrong. Men aren’t asked about their marital status as part of their identification ritual….Also, to return to the original point about the article-why are the Brits acting so superior?- In my experience, the use of ‘Miss’ in the UK shows no sign of alleviation….
That’s really interesting Suzanne, and goes to show how pointless the whole thing is doesn’t it?
I was Miss up until I turned 18, then I was Ms and when I got married I became Mrs. I have a whole other level of confusion as my last name is hyphenated and people choose to just refer to me as Mrs. NotBlondeHusband’s last name.
Don’t get me started on people who call you Mrs. NBH’s First Name NBH’s Last Name. Shockingly my first name did NOT change to his when we got married.
Lol, that is WEIRD isn’t it?? Suddenly your WHOLE BEING is somebody else??
So well put!!
Totally agree – it SHOULDN’T matter but it DOES – any why is it women have to make all the hard decisions on this?! No perfect answer on this questions.
But, why shouldn’t I be Miss if I want to?
Or did I miss something (pun intended).
Just to go against the grain I do like the distinction of Mrs and Miss… I believe if you get married you do give up your identity to become part of another family. I hate my married name – especially now I’m seperated. I have taken the title Ms. until the time I am either divorced or reconciled as I don’t feel I belong to my husbands family, yet my children have that name and I don’t want to change their name or make mine different from theres.
I don’t feel that it is ‘just’ a title. It obviously means more to us women than that. It would be useful not to have people second guessing the use of Ms. It is a consious choice where Miss and Mrs are to do with your marital status.
I do not want equality. I love being a women and all the priviliges that brings. I took my husbands (dreadful) surname as I understood marriage to be about leaving my birth family and making a new family and taking his name was an outward symbol of this. I really don’t like being called Miss now I’ve been married as it suggests I’m of ‘maidenly virtue’ which I’m certainly not!
Excellent post, and so interesting reading all the replies. I changed my name when I got married, mainly because my surname carried lots of negative emotions throughout my life (parents divorced, remarried, I wasn’t allowed to change my surname to my mothers’ new one, hence had a different name to my sisters, and didn’t get on with my biological father whose name I was forced to carry because of, guess what, French law), however my husband remarked how strange it must feel to change your name to someone else’s, and despite what I’d always felt about my surname, suddenly changing it to conform traditionally felt strange. I did it, because the other stuff over-rode my feminist feelings, but I do really wish they would remove the title boxes on questionnaires, or at least make them optional. What on earth does it matter? I’m quite flattered to be referred to as Mademoiselle when strolling through the marche in France, simply because it’s an indication that I look young (yay!). Madame is always the default term used not just for someone who is married, but for an older woman. In English however, it’s very much about marital status.
But then, we are all about status, aren’t we? Ever notice someone’s eyes glaze over when you respond to the “what do you do?” dinner party question if you replied “mother”? That’s a whole other topic though!
A whole other topic indeed! Everyone knows being a mum isn’t real WORK right?? Oh dear…
Thank you for a very thoughtful comment – interesting to think about it from a status angle.
I am young(Very young.. 18, actually..), unmarried, etc. I use “Miss.” But I am also planning on using “Miss” when I am married, as well. Isn’t that what a ring is for? To show whether you’re married or not? And isn’t that the same thing most people use to tell whether a man is married or not? Why does it matter what we want people to refer to ourselves as, as long as it is a respectful title.
It’s a good point about the ring, but actually I think there are still quite a lot of men who choose not to wear them, so again, it feels like a man doesn’t have to declare his relationship status, but a woman does?