“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 women began during the 17th Century and was well-established by the time of the introduction of Ms. It has become rare for Mrs to be written out and it lacks a standard phonetic spelling. In literature it may appear as “missus” or “missis” in dialogue, and a variant in the works of Thomas Hardy and others is “Mis’ess”, reflecting its etymology.
In the United Kingdom the traditional form for a divorcée is “Mrs Jane Smith”. In the U.S., the form “Mrs. Miller Smith” was traditionally used, with the birth surname in place of the first name. However, the form “Mrs. Jane Miller” has since become widely used for divorcées, even in formal correspondence.
The plural of “Mrs”, rarely used, is the French “Mesdames”, pronounced in the same manner, [mə 'dæm], and usually written in its abbreviated form, “Mmes”. In direct address, a woman with the title “Mrs” will usually be addressed as “Madam”, or as “Ma’am.”
“Mrs” is used with a woman's maiden name only in limited circumstances. 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 use of “Mrs” as a default for all women is occasionally employed following the custom of European countries (see below).
Since the term ‘Mr’ does not indicate whether a man is married or not, many people believe that the way a woman is addressed should not indicate marital status either. For this reason, ‘Ms.’ is advocated as an equivalent to ‘Mr.’, particularly in professional situations. Few married women choose to use “Mrs” in professional life, even those who take their husband's name. Instead, these women use ‘Ms.’. However, “Mrs” had remained in popular use for social situations until the end of the 20th century.
In several other European languages the title for married women, such as Madame, Señora, Bean(-uasal), Signora, or Frau, is the direct feminine equivalent of the title used for men; the title for unmarried women is a diminutive: Mademoiselle, Señorita, Maighdeann(-uasal), Signorina or Fräulein. For this reason, usage has shifted towards using the married title as the default for all women in professional usage. This has long been followed in the United Kingdom for some high-ranking household staff, such as housekeepers, cooks, and nannies, who have been called “Mrs” as a mark of respect.
One example of a successful married woman using her husband’s name is that of Mary Augusta Ward, who wrote several novels under the name Mrs Humphrey Ward. She was however a noted anti-suffragist and therefore it may be considered that she was simply reinforcing her view of women's role in society at a time when many other women wished to change that role.
A current discussion in etiquette is the question of how to address married couples with the same last name or in which the wife uses her own last name, or uses a title other such as “Dr”. The woman’s name should come first.
Etiquette writer Judith Martin (b. 1938, “Miss Manners”) has offered advice for referring to a lesbian couple who have adopted one surname, in the following form, in order by first name:
The term “M.R.S. degree” (in parallel with master's degree) has been used derogatorily to denote women whose reasons for attending college appear to be to find a husband rather than to study.
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