Identified by Marital Status; Outdated and Sexist, or Courteous and Respectful?
I recently read an article about the possibility of dropping the term ‘maiden name’ for the gender-neutral ‘birth name’. This would then avoid the assumption of marriage and choosing to change surname. Both of which are increasingly unlikely in society today. To me, birth name seems far more suitable. It covers any name changes made for any reason by anyone. I like how language gradually evolves to fit society, and so it should. It did remind me though, that the use of Mrs/Miss/Ms still hasn’t been changed, a peeve of mine since I was a sullen teenager (a long time ago).
Don’t bother asking me for Mrs, Miss or Ms. My first name is obviously female, so pick a title, any one, I don’t care, it shouldn’t matter. If gender is so important and not obvious by name, have a box M/F (and allow the person to choose).
Why does my marital status have to be linked to my public identity? What do the titles actually mean?
Mr is an abbreviation of ‘Master’ and Mrs, Miss and Ms are all abbreviations of ‘Mistress’, dating back to the 17th century. Mrs was pronounced ‘Mistress’, and used to refer to a woman of higher social standing, married or not. Socially ambitious young, single women started using the title ‘Miss’ as a means to identify their gentility as distinct from the businesswoman or upper servant.
It wasn’t until around the 1900s that ‘Mrs’ began to signify a married woman and allowed people to know that she ‘belonged’ to a man.
Ms was lost in the English language until being revived by the feminists in the 1960s. Personally, I always used Ms. But it comes with it’s own assumptions and I have had reactions from:
‘Are you one of those lesbians?’ or ‘Ugh, a feminist’.
Now that I’m older:
‘Are you divorced? Is this your married name?’
A quick google search finds: ‘Although Ms should be used if the marital status of a woman is unknown out of respect, everyone knows Ms is the term used (usually for an older woman) who never got married, or is a divorcee’.
So Mrs if I’m married (or maybe divorced but keeping my married name, or maybe widowed?); Miss if I’m young and unmarried (or maybe clinging onto youth and unmarried, or maybe if I’ve been married and go back to my birth name?); Ms if I’m old and unmarried or divorced (used with my birth name or my married name?) or if I don’t want my marital status public. Can civil partnerships use Mrs? If I’ve lived with my partner for years and we have children, am I still Miss? They don’t make sense, and it shouldn’t matter anyway.
This may be just a minor irritation, there are plenty of far worse abberations happening in the world…and don’t worry, I get bunched up about those as well. But just take a minute to imagine a man being asked for his marital status. every. single. time he has to give his name. It would be weird.
So is it really necessary for a woman to have her name prefixed by a word that denotes her marital status? Or one where assumptions are made about her sexuality/politics/lovelife?
‘What’s your name please?’ ‘And should we call you married, single, or lesbian/feminist/divorced?’
It’s a name. If marital status is not asked of both genders, no further information is needed.
Suggesting your marital status is as relevant as your public identity — but only if you’re a woman — is incredibly outdated, and pretty absurd.
There’s only one thing for it, I need to get a Doctorate…