Ms, Miss, or Mrs: What’s the Difference? Hero Label

Ms, Miss, or Mrs: Guide to Addressing Women & Girls

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Miss., Ms. or Mrs.? Guide to Addressing Women & Girls

Traditionally, how a woman was addressed when using titles had to do with identifying her marital status. Ironically, titles are supposed to help identify us, and this limiting system left many women out of feeling properly addressed. It also left adult women with no option other than to remain a “Miss” or use no title, options that were lackluster at best. Thankfully times have changed, an individual’s personal title preference is the proper way to address them and while we still think there are gaps to fill in the current title system, here is our guide to addressing women properly today.

Miss. First Name & Miss. Last Name

Miss. is the title spoken and used in writing for girls under the age of 18. Some start to use the adult title of Ms. at 16, but most wait until they have graduated high school and some wait until they have either graduated college, gotten married or have gotten a bit further into their twenties before switching to Ms. (see below). Typically, Miss. is followed by the girl’s last name to indicate respect and formality: Miss. Bunton. When addressing an envelope you could use either their full name or the title and last name: Miss. Christine Bunton or Miss. Bunton. You would not put Miss. Christine on an outer envelope for correspondence or an invitation.

Miss. is sometimes spoken with an adult’s first name, "Miss. Christine," to indicate both a sign of respect and a familiarity. This is very common in the south as well as in some school settings.

Uses for Miss.:

Title and full name: Miss. Christine Bunton

Title and last name: Miss. Bunton

Title and first name: Miss Christine

Ms. - The Game Changer

Ms. is the adult title for those who identify as women and either are independent or are married but wish to use the title Ms. instead of Mrs. Ms. came into being in the 70’s and has been a game changer. It allowed for married and unmarried adult women to have a title that was on par with Mr. (which can be used for married or unmarried men) and also meant that their marital status need not be declared with every mention of their name. This was particularly important to many women in professional settings.

Some women start using Ms. as soon as they feel they are an adult (typically between ages 18 and 25 but some start as early as 16 and some wait until they are in their 30’s). As mentioned, an individual's preference is what matters here.


Title with full name: Ms. Christine Bunton

Title with only last name: Ms. Bunton

Title with first name and married last name: Ms. Christine Rooney

Title with married last name: Ms. Rooney


Married Titles for Women

Traditionally when a woman married she would automatically become Mrs. Husband’s First Name Married Last name (Mrs. Jon Rooney). Her entire identity was framed around her husband. Today this tradition is an option for those who value it. Moreoften, when a woman chooses to marry (no matter whom she marries) she chooses whether to remain a Ms. or to adopt the married title of Mrs. She may also choose to keep her surname or to adopt a new surname. And if she does adopt her partner’s surname she has the choice of being known in the traditional form by his full name (Mrs. Jon Rooney) or if she’d like to be known by her first name and the family surname for example Mrs. Christine Rooney. This used to be unacceptable as it was as signal that Mr. Rooney was no longer in the picture (usually dead) today, this is far from the case and modern women should not worry about such an impression. Mrs. Christine Rooney today would indicate simply that Christine Rooney is a married woman.

Options for married women:

Keep full name and title: Ms. Christine Bunton

Use full name and married title: Mrs. Christine Bunton (This one in particular is a huge change to the use of titles for women but we see many women embracing it and we are going to support them.)

Use new married name with married title: Mrs. Christine Rooney

Use traditional husband’s full name with married title: Mrs. Jon Rooney

Use new married name with adult woman’s title: Ms. Christine Rooney

Any of the above are being accepted today.

It’s important to remember that many women who immigrate to America keep their culture of origin’s title and surname structure or may even need to use it under certain circumstances even if they’ve adopted American title norms for their social lives.



Separated, Not Divorced

When a woman is separated and not divorced, it’s up to her what name she would like to use. It might be an adjustment for friends and colleagues who are used to using her married name, but it’s an adjustment worth making and respecting if it’s helping her through this time. Once Christine has given you the heads up that she is currently separated, ask her “Are you continuing to use your married name or would you like to be addressed differently?” This gives Christine a chance to let you know what she prefers. In a case where you might not know or haven’t had a chance to ask, introduce Christine with the name you know her by, and she will make the correction “My apologies, Amber I hadn’t told you yet, but I started using my maiden name again, Christine Bunton.” would be a perfectly acceptable moment of correction.

A divorced or separated women might use any of the following:

Mrs. Christine Rooney

Ms. Christine Rooney

Ms. Christine Bunton

Few women in this circumstance choose to continue to use their husband’s full name with their married title (Mrs. Jon Rooney) and this makes sense.



How to Address a Divorced Woman

For women who have taken their husband’s name when married, at the time of divorce they stop using his first name. While some women may revert to their entire maiden name, many keep their partner’s last name if it was shared, and often if there are kids from the marriage. There is no etiquette to this. It’s entirely up to a woman to decide what she will be called after a divorce.

Options you might see or use:

Married title, with married last name: Mrs. Christine Rooney

Adult title with married last name: Ms. Christine Rooney

Adult title with maiden name: Ms. Christine Bunton

For more on how to addressed divorced women please check out this article: how to address divorced women.


Widowed

When a woman has been widowed, take extra care when addressing her, as it is potentially a sensitive subject. This is a difficult time and not a time to put formality above concern and personal preference. While traditionally a woman could immediately be known as “Mrs. Christine Rooney” and it would indicate that Mr. Rooney had passed, this isn’t the case today. With so much change happening for a widow, immediately calling a Mrs. Jon Rooney, Mrs. Christine Rooney, might be emotionally a lot to bear. Ask close friends or family of the widow for help and if you cannot ask look for clues in the obituary or funeral notice.


Other questions about how to address someone? Read our other articles on how to address correspondence.


Separated, Not Divorced

Addressing a separated, not divorced woman can be a little complicated. Using “Mrs. Javier Rodriguez”, “Mrs. Jane Rodriguez”, or “Ms. Jane Rodriguez” are all acceptable. It really depends on the individual’s preference.

How to Address a Divorced Woman

When a woman is officially divorced, she no longer uses her husband’s first name. However, it isn’t uncommon for a woman to keep her ex-husband’s last name, particularly if there are kids who have that last name. Some women choose to go back to using their maiden name, e.g. “Ms. Jane Johnson”, either choice is correct.

Read more about how to address divorced women.

Widowed

Take extra care when addressing a widow, as it is potentially a more sensitive subject. If you don’t know the widow’s preference, for traditionalists, call them by their late husband’s name, e.g. “Mrs. Javier Rodriguez”. If you know that they prefer something else, like “Mrs. Jane Rodriguez”, or “Ms. Jane Rodriguez”, by all means, honor that.

Other questions about how to address someone? Read our other articles on how to address correspondence.