Taitai - Traditional Usage

Traditional Usage

Mrs. was most often used by women when married, in conjunction with her husband's first and last names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith). A widow was and still is addressed with the same title as when she was married. Mrs. was rarely used before a woman's first name, maiden name, or before a hyphenated surname her husband was not using. For example, Mrs. Jane Miller (wife of John Smith), Mrs. Jane Smith, or Mrs. Jane Miller-Smith were considered incorrect by many etiquette writers, especially of the early 20th century.

Mrs. was often used as a default for all women regardless of marital status, following the custom of some European countries. In several languages the title for married women, such as Madame, Señora, Signora, or Frau, is the direct feminine equivalent of the title used for men; the title for unmarried women is a diminutive: Mademoiselle, Señorita, Signorina, or Fräulein. For this reason, usage had shifted towards using the married title as the default for all women in professional usage. This had long been followed in the United Kingdom for some high-ranking household staff, such as housekeepers, cooks, and nannies, who were called Mrs. as a mark of respect regardless of marital status. However, the marital-neutral Ms then became the default title for women professionally and socially in the late 20th century.

In the United Kingdom the traditional form for a divorcée was Mrs Jane Smith. In the U.S., the divorcée originally retained her full married name unless she remarried. Later, the form Mrs. Miller Smith was sometimes used, with the birth surname in place of the first name. However, the form Mrs Jane Miller eventually became widely used for divorcées, even in formal correspondence.

Before social mores relaxed to the point where single women with children were socially acceptable, the unwed mother was often advised by etiquette mavens like Emily Post to use Mrs. with her maiden name to avoid scrutiny.

The separation of Miss and Mrs. became problematic as more women entered the white-collar workforce. Women who became famous or well known in their professional circles before marriage often kept their birth names, stage names, or noms de plume. Miss became the appellation for celebrities (e.g., Miss Helen Hayes, or Miss Amelia Earhart) but this also proved problematic, as when a married woman did use her husband’s name but was still referred to as Miss; see more at Ms. and Miss.

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