This article possibly contains original research. (January 2009)
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, Ms., President, Dame, Prime Minister, 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 and Miss for unmarried began during the 17th century; the 20th century saw the coinage of a new unmarked option Ms.
It is rare for Mrs to be written in a non-abbreviated form, and the unabbreviated word lacks a standard 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 it may be abbreviated Mmes.
Mrs was most often used by a woman 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, her maiden name, or 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.
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, in the late 20th century the marital-neutral Ms became more common for women professionally and socially.
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; that is, Mrs preceded the divorcée's maiden name.
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 last 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 spouse's last name, but retaining their first name, Mrs Jane Smith, while many have eschewed the title completely in professional life, using Ms. Any combination of title, first name, and last name is now considered acceptable, both socially and professionally.
Many married women find it offensive for anyone to assume it is okay to call them Mrs. or for someone to assume they use their husband's last name.
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, Mayor, or Ms.. Etiquette writer Judith Martin (Miss Manners) generally advises that, in non-standard situations, the individuals be addressed on separate lines when writing 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, although the latter two are more often used for any adult woman, regardless of marital status, in modern conversation. It is normally considered correct to address a woman as Ms. [Lastname], regardless of her marital status.
Mrs is often used as a term to describe a man's or woman's female partner. e.g., "I am going to bring my Mrs around for dinner tonight". This is most common throughout New Zealand and the United Kingdom and less common in Australia.
- Spender, Dale. Man-Made Language.
- Stannard, Una. Mrs Man.
- Post, Emily. Etiquette. 1922.