Ms. vs. Mrs.

I’m sure most of you reading this had the same training as I did growing up: we addressed adults by their last name and proper title, e.g., “Mr. Johnson” or “Dr. Bradley” or “Mrs. Hinkle.”

Those Misters and Missuses of the ’80s and ’90s we so addressed probably still prefer (or maybe just expect) to be called that. After all, they are still our seniors by a good twenty years or more and belong to a generation where this was thoroughly standardized. So, unless I’m given specific instruction to the contrary, I maintain this form of address with them—and I expect my children to mimic me.

However, I don’t refer to my peers in the same way, even around my children. Since I normally address my friends as “Gretta” or “Bob” or “Joanna,” and my children hear me refer to them this way, I don’t want to confuse my boys by giving them another name to know adults by, so I just have them use first names as well. Sure–previous generations have worked through this confusion in the traditional way, and it was no big deal. But that’s not the main reason I do this; it’s just a helpful side effect.

To clarify somewhat, we don’t have our children address adults just by their first names. Formal titles do show respect to one’s elders, or in some cases to those with a greater degree of expertise in a particular subject field. Since using titles doesn’t actually require coupling with a last name, we do have our kids use them when referring to adults. The results are “Mr. Bob,” “Dr. Dan,” “Ms. Anita,” etc.

But we rarely, if ever, use the title “Mrs.” If we do, it’s by mistake; a slip of the tongue generated through years of habit.

Why not?

“Mrs.” is the formal title specifically for a married woman–one who “belongs” to someone else. In very formal settings a wife might even be denoted by her husband’s name preceded by the title, e.g. “Mrs. John Smith.”

grammarly has a great article on how to properly use these formal titles!

For more about this, see grammarly’s very helpful article, “Here’s How to Know the Difference Between Miss, Mrs., and Ms.”

Here’s what bothers me: why should a woman’s traditional, formal title be defined by her husband’s possession of her? In contrast, a man’s formal title remains unaffected by whether or not he is married. Now, there are certainly many different degrees and forms of possession in relationships, plenty of which are harmless and normal; after all, my children are referred to as “Stephanie’s kids.” But the relational imbalance inherent in the titles “Mr.” and “Mrs.” paired with the all too commonplace misogyny in traditional marriages of the past half century (either grossly overt or relatively benign) leads me to feel that, on the whole, I’m not sure I like “Mrs.” anymore.

But even that isn’t my ultimate reason for avoiding the word. My final reason comes down to this:

I want to avoid putting any sort of negative spotlight on unmarried moms.

If I ever told my kids that we call the mom of some friends “Mrs. So-n-So” but the mom of other friends “Ms. Thus-n-Such,” I would have to explain the reason behind that cultural phenomenon: one woman is married and another isn’t. I would be highlighting that fact for my kids, singling out the minority group as different in some way, and thereby planting seeds of skepticism, disassociation, and criticism. I’d be inviting gossip about the other mom and the opportunity to discredit her for no reason except for the fact that we call her something different. If we label her with something strange and use it every time we speak to her, there must be something wrong with her–right? This is the kind of assumption a kid can easily make.

Of course it would be obvious to my kids if their friends have no dad in the picture. Of course they might have questions about the situation, but I would encourage them to talk to their friends and their friends’ mom about it, and if they didn’t want to talk, to respect that. It’s not something my family needs to problem-solve around our dinner table, and it’s not anything that should alienate us in *any* degree from a family with a different shape.

So, for all these reasons, my boys address women roughly my age as “Ms. First Name.” No muss, no fuss. Everybody’s on the same playing field, and, I have to say, no one has batted an eye.

Words so greatly affect how we relate to the world around us, and I feel that the fewer lines we can manage to draw between ourselves and others, the better off we’ll all be.

The Jesus Eraser

Image credit David Hayward @nakedpastor



23 thoughts on “Ms. vs. Mrs.

  1. Nice! I love it. I often say, “Haven’t been a Miss since I was 16”, “Haven’t been a Mrs for 12 years”. “I am a Ms. now cause that’s the way it is. I am also a veteran and an anthropologist and really don’t care much for a prefix, but if you must. Ms. will do fine. Or ‘the one in charge around here’ will do quite nicely”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, yes! Exactly. 😉 Have you ever watched Star Trek Voyager? The captain is a woman and there’s a bit of a fun exchange over what to call her as she refuses “ma’am.” 😀 Thanks for stopping by, friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, my housemate is a Trekkie. We were just discussing that very thing when I designed a graphic design of all her favourites Star Trek and Sci Fi women characters for the top of her 60th birthday cake. Funny that comes up again lol. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Way, way, back the title “Mrs.” was a coveted trophy by young girls. Their entire lives were centered around capturing it. cf “Little Women” & other Jane Austin. Once that trophy was attained they flaunted that appellation, “Mrs. John Doe,” and the younger girls were green with envy. We can all agree that modern women’s lives have so much more potential depth, but still, many young women are still using every cosmetic and sartorial device at their disposal to pursue the trophy of “Mrs.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is such a great comment! I think you’re absolutely right. I was certainly one of those girls in my teens and early twenties–I dumped all my hope and sense of belonging on a hypothetical future marriage and coveted the derogatory-but-all-too-serious MRS degree, even though it made me (and girls like me) the butt of the joke. It’s been so deeply instilled in so many of us that we are not really worth society’s time unless we’re married and have kids. Now I have both, and as with so many others, it’s irrevocably clear to me now that it’s *not* what actually makes me worthy of existence, relevance, or being heard. But this comment is threatening to grow much too long as I ramble… so maybe I’ll save further thoughts for another post. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your (astute!) perspective!


      1. Wow, and I appreciate your expanding my perspective with your own experience—and your kind words! But I suspect neither of us is belittling the role of wife and mother. Actually those expanded horizons for women were presaged in Proverbs 31. That woman had it all. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. She seriously did! 😀 And definitely not; I’m a wife and mom and value those roles highly, after all. As with anything, it’s just easy to get sucked into them and feel like they are *all* you are. I love the well-roundedness described in Proverbs 31–but I also love the fact that we don’t actually have to have any worldly achievements at all in order to be amazing, beloved masterpieces of divine handiwork. 🙂 I really appreciate your generous, thoughtful perspective every time I’ve bumped into you, Vernon. Grateful to have met you through Mitch. Please do keep coming ’round!


  3. Mmmm, again thoughts worth pondering. “Accomplishments” are only a symptom of a life lived well, while following ancient and time-honored principles. They shouldn’t be a yard-stick to determine one’s “value” as a human being. I accept your invitation to check-in occasionally. 🙂 Happy Easter.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post! I personally find “Ms” kind of ugly – I don’t like it myself and would rather be “miss” until marriage! But I do really appreciate your reasoning for not obviously pointing out whether a woman is single or married. I’ll have to give this some more thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually have felt the same way nearly all my life! I didn’t like the sound of “Mizz” for years and years. For some reason it stopped bothering me a year or two ago, though. Probably because I heard it used to actively honor/respect women more frequently; my sis-in-law got a job at a fancy spa, and “Ms.” was the go-to for all their customers in order to show respect. I think that cast it in a friendlier light for me. But yeah, I can totally relate! Thank you for commenting, Gill, it’s so fun to have you drop by the blog! Please come back soon! 🙂


  5. Floby Villaralvo

    A very good grammatical point, I remember studying this during high school for English as Second Language, then I had my TESOL, I have to recall all the rules on how to use them properly. Among so many others I like the ways they differ from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing this! Most people don’t know what to tell their kids on how to address adults. I think using Ms. and Mr. is very appropriate, just like they would address a teacher or other adult in their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Food for thought! My little dude calls most adults by their names and teachers/authorities “Ms. (Name).” I may have him expand that until he’s familiar with the person he’s addressing. It’s very respectful.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. itisreal777

    I also try to instill a ‘respect your olders’ mentality within my children. Consequently, I do not allow them to call adults by their first names. Having said that, I don’t see anything wrong with the title ‘Mrs’ I actually like to be addressed by that title because it signifies that I am a married woman and this is something that I am very happy about. Thanks for a thought provoking blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting! I agree, respect for elders is very important. I like the idea of being able to show respect with a proper title and enjoy the closeness and familiarity of being on a first-name basis at the same time. It can also help with the transition from childhood to adulthood: I know that for me, growing up and calling my elders by their first names all of a sudden felt very awkward and unnatural! I would be invited to engage on their level but feel like it was somehow wrong. I’m hoping to provide my own children with an easier transitional experience by having them use “Ms. First Name.” I also want my children to enjoy respect from their elders, too, regardless of their age–to be treated as equal human beings, even while they ascribe an extra honor to their elders.

      I’m also very grateful for my married status. 🙂 But I feel a special need to take care to avoid hurting another mom’s feelings by insisting that I’m a “Mrs.” and she is not. There are **so** many single moms in the world today who have lives much, much harder than mine, and I want to do everything I can to build them up, encourage them, and ease their burden even a little.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


  9. Pingback: Beth Moore Throws the Book at Evangelical Misogyny – Gritty Momma

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