Etiquette Q&A: Titles Through the Ages

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As we continue our etiquette series, we thank you for the wonderful questions you have sent our way. It is interesting to note the similarities of situations in which we find ourselves and the questions we all seem to ponder. This week, we resume our discussion on the proper uses of titles, signatures, and addresses. Gentle reminders help us all carry on our tradition of being kind and gracious ladies.

Q: Are titles for children still used today?

A: In the South, many of us continue to use this wonderful tradition. “Miss” is the title given to a girl at birth and remains with her until she is 21. At that time, she may choose to use “Ms.” instead. However, it is perfectly acceptable to use “Miss” until she is married, if she prefers to do so.

“Ms.” was a somewhat controversial title associated with the Women’s Movement of the 1960s. Today, however, “Ms.” has come to be accepted as a title for an unmarried woman or a divorced woman. “Ms.” is also used in business when the marital status of a woman is unknown and a salutation for a letter is needed. If “Ms.” is not accurate or acceptable to the woman, she can sign the title she prefers when responding to the letter.

“Master” is the term used for a little boy after the age of eight. He keeps that title until he is 18 years old, at which time his title changes to “Mr.”

Q: When is a woman’s first name used after the title “Mrs.”? I was under the impression that this refers to a widow.

A: This is a very common misconception and an important one to keep straight. Even though a lady’s husband is deceased, she is still addressed using his first name: “Mrs. Howard Smith.” Her first name should never be substituted for his first name. Such a substitution would indicate she is divorced: “Mrs. Sally Smith.”

Using her first name instead of her husband’s allows a divorced woman to keep her married name, yet differentiate that she is no longer married. If a divorced woman chooses to resume using her maiden name, however, she prefaces her maiden name with “Ms.” but never returns to “Miss” again.

If you have etiquette questions, concerns, or success stories you would like to share, please send them to us using our contact page.

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