Mrs vs. Ms: Am I a Mrs after I get married if I don’t change my last name?

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I decided long ago that I'd keep my name if I got married. But … what IS my name? I've often used the “Ms.” title, and I expect to keep doing so. “Mrs.” can, however, be useful. I always assumed I'd use Mrs. MyName at those times, but during this last week I've realized that in my mind the Mrs. title is inextricably linked with the husband's name. Mrs. doesn't just signal that I'm married, it tells people the name of the person I'm married to. Mrs. MyName feels self-contradictory and weird, like I'm married to myself.

Maybe I just have a problem with the title “Mrs.” Do people use it when they keep their name? Are you Mrs. Stallings? (My man, when asked, said I should just use “Dr.”, but that's only because he likes reminding me that I really have finished my PhD.) -Suzanne

It's not just in your mind that the Mrs. title is linked to your husband's name. Historically, the Mrs. honorific doesn't just mean “I'm married” — it means “I'm the wife of ______.”

If you're using Mrs., technically you're not even Mrs. YourFirst HisLast. If you're into etiquette, when you marry someone and take his name, your title becomes Mrs. His First HisLast or just Mrs. HisLast.

By the traditional rules, it's not correct to refer to yourself as Mrs. YourFirst HisLast. It's easy to see why feminists in the '60s and '70s balked at using Mrs. — your name literally disappears when using the traditional honorific!

Since Mrs. does indeed tell the world who you've married, you're right that Mrs. YourFirst YourLast suggests you've married yourself.

If you're keeping your own name, you stick with Ms. YourFirst YourLast.

The honorific of “Ms” intentionally doesn't indicate whether you're married or who you're married to. If I'd taken my husband's last name, I could have been Mrs. Fetz or Ms. Fetz. Since I kept my own last name, I'm definitely Ms. Stallings … if you're nasty.

Now, if you want to get gender-neutral or non-binary about it, let's talk about Mx.

But what if you're choosing to change your last name after getting married?

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Comments on Mrs vs. Ms: Am I a Mrs after I get married if I don’t change my last name?

  1. Once you have that PhD., you're a Dr. You're not a Ms. or a Mrs. You've earned that honorific, and there's no reason why you shouldn't use it, for any occasion.
    Mr. and Dr. Lastname.
    Mr. Lastname and Dr. Othername.

    Congrats on the PhD (and the marriage, too)

    • And actually, according to Gregg’s Manual, the female with a title of “Dr.” (or other distinguished titles) would be listed first. Example: Dr. Susan Smith and Mr. John Smith.

  2. Exactly. I'm proudly Dr. MyName, and my husband is Dr. HisName. We both earned our PhDs just as you did, and use our titles correctly every single day at work. 🙂 If I'd taken his, we'd be Drs. HisName, which is kind of cute but also kind of makes us sound like conjoined twins.

  3. My future betrothed partner and I are going to be PhD's (we hope!) and that was integral in my decision to keep my name… besides all of the philosophical problems with patriarchy, of course 🙂

    I am with your fiance – use the Dr.! You didn't punish yourself for nothing, it's something to be proud of! 😀

    Congrats on both!

  4. Thanks for posting this (as well as the video, which is playing in the background right now…)! I hadn't given the title much thought, because I really couldn't think of anyone who would use a title in addressing me. Really, what situation in life would call for a title? I guess healthcare. Medical office receptionists should probably just go with Ms. to be safe. I guess I'll find out when I get health insurance. For now, if anyone asks, I'm either "Ms. Mylastname" or "Eliza, Mrs. Jeremy." The latter comes up at the bridal showers of his extended family members, you know, for reference.

  5. One thing Ariel didn't mention specifically is why "Mrs" originally proceeded the last name of the man you married. It seems obvious, but I'm always surprised at how many people have never noticed that "Mrs" is simply the possessive form of "Mr" ("Mr's")…as in, "belonging to Mr. Whatever". (Sorry I don't have any source to cite here–just something I learned in a course in college that stuck in my mind!)

    Kinda crazy, huh? In my case, we're both taking my last name as a second middle name, and using his as our last name for the "team" and future children reasons. I expect I will go by Ms. HisLast…although I will probably get called Mrs. by my students no matter what, since they don't seem to understand that not all adult women are married!

    • Just from an English Lit education,
      I’ve been taught that Mrs is just short for Mistress. I’ve never heard the possessive of Mr idea.

  6. Good post! I was always a bit confused about this topic. I think I prefer going as a "Ms. HisLast" rather than a "Mrs.". Awesome! And really, who says you can't make up exactly the name you want!

  7. Actually, "Mrs." is an abbreviation of "mistress," not a possesive of "Mr." (which is an abbrebiation of "master")
    From & Merriam-webster dictionary.

  8. actually, "Mrs." was never "Mr's" – it was actually a shortened version of "Mistress" as, incidentally, was "Miss" (Miss was originally written as 'mis'). "Mistress" and "Mrs. " were used for married as well as unmarried women in early usage.

    I think it was sometime in the 1700s that "miss" and "mistress" gained their individual meanings of married and single – in the 1790s, you can find writings basically telling people that folks are using the words incorrectly in the United States, and in Europe unmarried women were still being referred to as "Mrs" at that time. The first recorded instance (in the US, at any rate) of "Mrs." being used explicitly to refer to a woman as 'wife' (the mrs.) was in 1821.

    Check out the Dictionary of American Regional English… as the title states, it's just American… but it has a well documented history for Mrs.

    Sorry for the rant… I used to study linguistics!

  9. We decided to go with Mr. & Ms. HisName-MyName. We decided to combine our names, but even if I'd taken his name I would still have been a Ms. based on personal preference.

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