How to Address a Married Woman?

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How to Address Married Women?
Questions & Answers, Frequently Asked Questions, and Blog

Site updated by Robert Hickey on November 20, 2015

How to Address Married Women?

How to Decide Which Honorific to Use: Mrs. or Ms.?
     I am a school board representative who received a hand-written note from the school librarian asking me to read to a class. The envelope was addressed to M Robin Buchanan, not Mrs. or Ms.
     Is using M to address a woman a proper salutation? I understood M is to be used to address men.
     I thought perhaps the librarian did not know if I was a male or female, although that information would be easy to find.
      Should I be concerned by her lack of consideration to the person she is writing to or worry that she is using improper salutations?   Or do I something new to learn?    Thank you for your clarification.
     Best regards,

     -- Mrs. Robin Buchanan

Dear Ms. Buchanan:
1) The issue here is 'how to address you formally?'  I suspect they wrote M Robin Buchanan ... just because didn't which honorific you preferred ... or didn't know your gender ... and were avoiding the issue. I advise if one is writing someone and are unsure of how he or she prefers to be addressed -- call and ask. I find no one minds being asked how to be addressed respectfully.
     2) As to the question of 'How do I present my name to others?'  .... today I observe that married women use various honorifics depending on the situation.
          Ms. Robin Buchanan ...  where their marital status is not an issue but you want to specify an honorific. Doing so implies you are not automatically on a first-name basis and prefer be formally addressed in conversation as Ms. Buchanan.  Many women use this form at work.
          Mrs. (husband's first name) Buchanan .... in very formal situations or when you are involved as a spouse/part of a couple. This definitely implies that others will call you
Mrs. Surname.  Widows continue to use this form when formally addressed as part of a couple.
          Mrs. Robin Buchanan .... is often the choice of women in the context of being a
mom -- dealing with school teachers (as you do), pediatricians, etc.  This form provides the first name for those with whom they would be on a first-name basis. For me ... as an outsider .... this form has the potential to cause some confusion since it is not clear whether they want others to address them by first name or as Mrs. Surname. Part of presenting your name is giving guidance to the other person as what you want to be called in subsequent conversation.
          Robin Buchanan .... is casual. You also use this form when signing your own name: One never gives oneself an honorific.
     So to me -- you are all of those names at different times. You choose the one that's right for the circumstance.
     For formal etiquette geeks like me
Mrs. Robin Buchanan is the traditional form for a divorced woman who was formerly married to someone named "Buchanan" .... but had kept using the "Buchanan" perhaps because that's the family name of her kids, or for some other reason.  BUT ... one of the basics of forms of address is that your name belongs to you .... and EVERYONE is entitled to be addressed as they prefer!
-- Robert Hickey

Dear Mr. Hickey
     Thank you for your prompt and thorough answer to my question. As a school director, I hope that our teachers follow proper etiquette in every way, especially when dealing with the public.  I will relay your response to the librarian and show that we all can learn something new every day. I certainly have! I will refer to your site for all protocol questions.
     I followed the link to review your book and will suggest to our librarian we get a copy. I enjoyed the section on how to address a PhD and how to address a MD. I work with few PhDs but an increasing number of EdDs (Doctorate of Education). I previously worked in health care and therefore worked with many physicians. From my limited experience, the PhDs and EdDs all are more defensive about being called “doctor” than an MD. I agree with your medical friend’s response to the “doctor” question.
     Thank you again for your time.   It was a pleasure.

     -- Mrs. Robin Buchanan

What's My New Name When I Remarry?
I am 54 years old, have been married prior and have been divorced for many years. I retained my married name due to having a child in school at the time. Since then I have gone to college, had a successful career and have a security clearance.
        I am about to get married and my fiance would like me to take his name. Both for simplicity and preference, I would prefer to maintain the name by which my education and reputation are known. If I do so, would I be addressed as Mrs. his-last-name but my legal name could remain the same? If not, given what I have indicated above, got any recommendations?
          -- R.S.

Dear R.S.,
        There are many of options.
        You will have a legal name and as long as you pay the taxes for all of your income, the government doesn't care what go-by name(s) you use. 
        I heard a protocol colleague say that her university had once hosted Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews to their campus to honor Blake Edwards, and during the visit Julie Andrews asked to be addressed as Mrs. Edwards.  To me that indicated she knew she had many names, and she was comfortable with using the one pertinent to whatever situation she encountered.
        Today, many couples have different last names and simply list their names fully, one after the other. You see lots of women professionals use this form.
        Mr. James Smith
                and Ms. Nancy Wilson
        Mr. James Smith
                and Dr. Nancy Wilson

        Whether or not they are married is not specified in this form, only that they present themselves as a couple.
        You can keep your current legal name and just accept that sometimes you will be addressed by a number of names:
        Ms. (Your Current Surname)
        Mrs. (HIs First and Surname)
        Mrs. (His Surname)

        Re: Mrs. (Woman's First and Surname) e.g., Ms. Rachel Snyder
        This is the form traditionally used by divorced women who would no longer use Mrs. David Smith since there could be another Mrs. David Smith if he remarried. That's not to say I don't encounter currently married women using this form: I do.  But if you look in etiquette books they say it's a form for a divorced woman.
        -- Robert Hickey

How Do I Address a Spouse in Conversation?
I was wondering if you could help me with the distinction between use of “Miss,” "Ms.," and “Mrs.” We have a visitor coming to visit our headquarters with his spouse and we are told that we should call her either Mrs. (Husband's first name and last name) or (Her first name and his last name). e.g. Mrs. Paul Smith or Carla Smith ... but not to call her Mrs. Carla Smith as that would imply she is divorced.  Is that right?
            -- Wondering about Married Women

Dear Wondering,
   Here are some things to consider: If she is coming as the "wife of" a visitor, then in writing she would traditionally be:
             Mrs. (Husband's complete name)
   And in conversation use:
            Mrs. (Husband's last name)

   Women who are included as a spouse are typically O.K. with being
Mrs. (Husband's Full Name). They are being included because they are a spouse, not on their own.
In an oral introduction you could May I introduce Mrs. (Surname) or May I introduce (Woman's first name) (Surname) .... no honorific .... either is O.K.
    This is how it is done for First Ladies. For instance the wife of "Bush-43" was either Mrs. George W. Bush, Mrs. Bush or Laura Bush.
    Hillary didn't mind Mrs. Clinton, but did not want to be addressed as Mrs. William J. Clinton .... and requested to be addressed as Mrs. Clinton
and referred to as First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
    If she chose the form of address many working women use, she likely would have used Ms. Hillary Clinton, (... or perhaps Ms. Hillary Rodham if when practicing law if she wanted to continue use of her maiden name.)
        Yes ... Mrs. (woman's first name) (surname)  ... is the format traditionally used by divorced women in the U.S.
    Widow's traditionally continue to be "Mrs. (Deceased husband's full name)" .... as long as they don't remarry.
                       -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Married Woman: Ms? or Mrs.?
     In my country (Trinidad), we use the British grammar, but I’m sure you can help with regard to the usage of the word “Ms.”
     I use it if I’m not sure that the lady is married e.g. “Ms. Jane Jones”
     When she uses a hyphenated name e.g. Jane Smith-Jones, I will address her as “Mrs. Jane Smith-Jones”.
     However, I have been told that in this circumstance, she should be addressed as “Ms. Jane Smith-Jones”.  Which is correct?
           Mary Lister (Miss) in the Trinidad

Dear Miss Lister:
      I am not sure I can advise you of what to do in Trinidad & Tobago but I can tell you what I know is happening in the USA.
    In the USA it is acceptable to address any woman you don't know personally as Ms. .... e.g., "Ms. Nancy Jones."  "Ms." is an equivalent to "Mr." which defines gender but not marital status.  Since it's against the law to discriminate on the basis of sex, age, marital status, etc. in employment .... Ms. removes non-pertinent info from the name.
    When marital status is pertinent
as in family activities (social), "Ms. Nancy Jones" may use "Mrs. Henry Jones" and "Mrs. Jones" too.
    I hear from married woman who want to be addressed as "Mrs. Nancy Jones" ... but from a traditional point of view, that's the form which is correct for a divorced woman who still wants to use her former husband's family name for some reason..
    I have friends where the wife does not like "Mrs. Henry Jones" ... EVER .... she likes:
        Mr. Henry Jones
            and Ms. Nancy Jones

    Re: Hyphenated Names: If you encounter someone with a hyphenated name ... in the US we'd just use it as presented with "Ms." like you note: "Ms. Nancy Smith-Jones." Whether that's her married name ... or birth-family name ... doesn't enter into the use of honorific.
    In the USA the use of "Miss" has been reduced to addressing girls of under ten or twelve years of age ... and once they have become a teenager, they want to be Ms. which they see as adult.   I just taught a class of 42 students .. none knew anyone who used "Miss" professionally  ... and only two people knew anyone who used "Miss" socially -- and they were elderly women.
I have since met two women who used "Miss" professionally.
    All this said ... in doing the research on my book I found that there are some women who use "Miss" and "Mrs." professionally.  But you see it less and less often in the USA: Ms. has come ubiquitous.
             -- Robert Hickey

How to Introduce Married Women from The Podium?
Dear Mr. Hickey,
    How should I introduce members of the book committee (I am the chair) to the full club membership at a meeting?  Some of committee members use Mrs. (their husband’s full name), others Mrs. (their full name), and others avoid the issue by using just their (First and last name).  What should I do?   
    -- Mrs. Michael Dillon ... aka ... Jane Dillon

Dear Mrs. Dillon,
    I recently spoke at at meeting of the Centennial Club in Nashville, Tennessee, and noted a speaker using a form that worked. She gave a woman's married name followed by her given name. While it may seem a bit elaborate, it enabled the speaker to avoid offending anyone
           Mrs. Michael Dillon .... Jane
           Mrs. Thomas Franklin ... Cindy
           Mrs. Robert Elizer ... Harriet
           Mrs. Richard Montgomery ... Francis

  -- Robert Hickey

How to Address A Married Women: Mrs. or Ms.?
     I came upon your site when searching for an answer to my question regarding addressing a married woman who kept her maiden name.  For example, my name is Hope Miller.  My husband’s surname is Clark but I did not change my name when we married.  So, which is the correct way to address someone in this situation:  Ms. Hope Miller or Mrs. Hope Miller? 
     Is it acceptable to address me as Mrs. Hope Clark even though I am not legally a "Clark"? 
     I would really appreciate your insight.

-- Hope Miller

Dear Ms. Miller:
    You need a legal name for your taxes, passports, purchasing real estate, etc., but you can pretty much use whatever name you want to socially as long as you pay your bills!
    For example, an actress might have
legal name, a stage name and a married name ... answer to all of them ... use each in the appropriate situation.
    Most frequently women who use a different surname than their husband, use in professional situations (when their marital status is not pertinent): Ms. Hope Miller
    Mrs. Hope Miller is a bit odd to me since Mrs. traditionally means Wife Of .... though certainly many women using their birth name use it to insert their marital status into their name.
    About using your husband's family name: You might indeed use Hope Clark or Mrs. Clark ... for example, with your children's teachers or at a neighborhood party.  It's not your legal name ... but it might be who you are at the moment.  
    I list all the traditional forms and several questions on this topic at

       -- Robert Hickey

Not Finding Your Question Answered?
Below are other topics covered in my blog and at right is a list of officials, Between the two I probably have what you are looking for.
     After hunting around a bit, if you don't see your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day (unless I am traveling.)
      If I think your question is of interest to others, I will post the question & answer – with your name and any personal specifics changed.
      -- Robert Hickey

Mr., Miss, Jr., III, & Names        
Married Women       
Deceased Persons         
People with Two Titles
Post-Nominal Abbreviations and Initials         
Sequence Post-Nominal Abbreviations: Sr., Jr., etc.    
Couples: Private Citizens / Joint Forms of Address 
Couples: U.S. Military / Joint Forms of Address     
Couples: U.S. Officials / Joint Forms of Address      

Former Officials            
Professionals and Academics        

United States Federal Officials, Currently In Office             
United States State Officials, Currently In Office              
United States Municipal Officials, Currently In Office             
       All About The Honorable with U.S. Officials         
       Former United States Officials of all types             
United States Armed Services
       Addressing Active Duty Personnel              
       Addressing Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Veterans      

Tribal Officials 
Clergy and Religious Officials           
Canadian Officials         
Australian Officials          
British Officials, Royalty, and Nobility        
Diplomats and International Representatives
Foreign National Officials and Nobility        

Author's Name on a Book       
Business Cards
Flags and Anthem Protocol             
Invitations: Writing & Addressing
Invitations: Just Armed Service Personnel        
Name Badges & Tags            
Names on Programs, Signs, & Lists            
Naming a Building or Road            
Place Cards            

Plaques, Awards, Diplomas, Certificates    
Precedence: Ordering Officials 
Thank You Notes             

Site updated by Robert Hickey on November 20, 2015

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Robert Hickey is the author of Honor & Respect:
The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address
Published by The Protocol School of Washington®
Foreword by Pamela Eyring

Copyright © 2015 Robert Hickey.     All Rights Reserved.
Book Photo: Marc Goodman.

All information on is copyright © 2015 by Robert Hickey.
The Protocol School of Washington® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Honor & Respect is dedicated to Dorothea Johnson, Founder of The Protocol School of Washington®