Miss vs Ms. vs Mrs.

By December 9, 2018Advice
wooden sign mr and mrs

Before you can finally tie the knot, there are many decisions you and your fiancé have to make together. A few of these will have a lasting impact on your future.

After you sign the marriage certificate, it’s time to think about your names. How will getting married alter the way that people address you?

You might want to share a last name with your spouse, but many brides prefer to stick with their maiden names instead. It’s your job to decide on your new name and the honorific that will come with it. To start with, it’s important to clarify the basics of social titles.

Social Titles 101

Women in the English-speaking world use three default honorifics.

  1. Miss is used for unmarried women.
  2. Mrs. is used for married women who took their husband’s last name.
  3. Ms. doesn’t give any information about your marital status. It’s appropriate for single and married women alike, and it’s pronounced ‘miz’.

Note that people in Commonwealth countries spell the abbreviations without a full stop.

The use of these titles has gone through some significant changes over the centuries. For example, British people sometimes used Mrs. for unmarried, high-ranking household staff members. In the US in the early 20th century, it was common to refer to famous women “Miss”, even if they were married.

On the other hand, each title has a significant tradition. While many assume that Ms. is a new invention, it was mentioned as a solution to a problem back in 1901. But what is it meant to solve? Here are the reasons why it’s hard to just stick with Miss and Mrs.?

woman with hat drink from cup

Finding Out a Woman’s Marital Status Can Be a Problem

When you make a new acquaintance, you won’t necessarily know whether she’s married or not. If Miss and Mrs. are your only options, you’ll have to guess at the right title. This can lead to some embarrassing social moments, and asking for clarification can be invasive.

This problem is even more significant in professional contexts. Digging into an employee’s or client’s personal life is unnecessary, and there’s a chance it could lead to discrimination.

Some Women Don’t Change Their Last Name When They Get Married

When you get married, you may decide to take your spouse’s last name. You might also decide to hyphenate, combining both last names together. A growing number of women choose to leave their name unaltered.

If you decide to keep your maiden name, things might be confusing at first. You can start calling yourself Mrs. [Maiden Name], but people will probably reach the wrong conclusions about your spouse’s last name. If you stick with Miss [Maiden Name], you are implying that you’re single.

Should Mrs. Apply to Divorced or Widowed Women?

According to the Emily Post Institute, if a woman gets divorced and keeps her ex’s name, you can keep referring to her as Mrs. and use the last name of her choosing.

However, not everyone follows this convention, and it can lead to conflict. For example, poet Dorothy Parker’s divorced her husband, Edwin Pond Parker, but she preferred to remain Mrs. Parker even after she re-married. But her New York Times obituary, published in 1967, referred to her as Miss Parker instead. The same kind of mistake is common even today.

three young women sit on the bench and laugh

Is Ms. Really the Right Solution?

It’s easy to see that Miss and Mrs. limit your options. If you’re talking to a woman you don’t know well, it’s fairly safe to refer to her as Ms. until you get more information. Most official correspondence uses the title Ms. by default.

But do you want to start using it for yourself in every context? The answer is up to you.

Many women move from Miss to Ms. when they marry. Others start using this title without getting married. If you value your own privacy very highly, Ms. has a strong appeal. You can be Ms. [Maiden Name] or Ms. [New Last Name] and strangers won’t know anything about your personal life.

On the other hand, Ms. still isn’t as universally accepted as the other two honorifics. There are people who dislike the way that it sounds or feel that it’s only appropriate in written communication.

Sadly, there’s no way to please everyone and you’ll feel frustrated if you try. Take all the time you need to make up your mind before you alter your name or title. Once you reach a decision, it’s best to stick to it.

Changing Your Social Title without Changing Your Last Name

What happens if you want to move from Miss to Ms., or if you prefer to go from Mrs. to Miss or Ms.?

These titles have no legal weight and you don’t have to do anything to change them. Simply put, you can switch to a new honorific without having to do anything official. If it’s important to you to receive official correspondence with the right title, simply inform the institution in question about the change. These titles aren’t used in your passport, which matters because passport changes are very costly.

pen writes on white paper

A Few Words About Changing Your Last Name

Official name changes are complicated, and they don’t happen automatically.

Say you want to change your last name to your spouse’s, or you want to hyphenate. The first thing you need to do is to get a few official copies of your marriage certificate. You can use your marriage certificate to change your name in the electoral registration office, as well as in banks and other institutions. It can also help you get your driver’s license changed.

The most expensive part of this process is changing your passport. Depending on when you got your passport, expect to spend $100-$200 and wait at least a month. Remember that the name you use to book a flight has to match the name on your passport. Many couples put off or skip making this change.

Name-Change Packages

Changing your name when you marry is a lot of work, and you may have to take some time off work to make sure everything is arranged correctly. Fortunately, you can find name-change packages online. This means hiring a service that will take care of all the paperwork changes for you.

A Final Thought

Before you make a decision, discuss it with your spouse. Find out if they have any plans to change their name. Once you know for sure what you want to do, you can make a discreet announcement on your preferred social media platform.