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Mrs. (American English) or Mrs (British English) (Standard English pronunciation //) is a commonly used English honorific used for women, usually for those who are married and who do not instead use another title (or rank), such as Dr, Professor, Lady, Dame, Baroness, etc. In most Commonwealth countries, a full stop (period) is not used with the title. In the United States and Canada a period is used (see Abbreviation).
Mrs. originated as a contraction of the honorific Mistress, the feminine of Mister, or Master, which was originally applied to both married and unmarried women. The split into Mrs. for married women from Ms. and Miss began during the 17th century.
It is rare for Mrs. to be written in a non-abbreviated form, and the word lacks a standard unabbreviated spelling. In literature it may appear as missus or missis in dialogue. A variant in the works of Thomas Hardy and others is "Mis'ess", reflecting its etymology. Misses has been used but is ambiguous as this is a commonly used plural for Miss. The plural of Mrs. is from the French: Mesdames. This may be used as is in written correspondence, or may be abbreviated Mmes.
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.
It is now very uncommon for a woman to be addressed using her husband's first name, although this still sometimes occurs if a couple is being addressed jointly, such as in Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.
Many married women still use the title with their husband's last name, but retaining their first name, Mrs. Jane Smith, while many have eschewed the title completely in professional life, utilizing Ms.. Any choice of title, first, and last name is considered acceptable both socially and professionally today.
Modern etiquette provides various options in addressing married couples in which the wife uses her own last name, or uses a title such as Dr. or Mayor. Etiquette writer Judith Martin (Miss Manners) generally advises in non-standard situations, the individuals be addressed in separate lines on invitations (Dr. Sue Martin/Mr. John Martin).
In direct address, a woman with the title Mrs. may be addressed Mrs. [Lastname], or with the stand alone Madam or Ma'am, though these are most often used for all adult women regardless of marital status in modern conversation.
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