Mrs. [for a widow, or "courtesy title" for an older woman]

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CKM367

Senior Member
Russian
I am reading 'The Last Camellia' by Sarah Jio and there is a character, housekeeper Mrs. Dilloway. She has no husband, no children, but everybody calls her Mrs. Dilloway, not Miss Dilloway. Does that mean that she is a widow?
 
  • Susan Y

    Senior Member
    British English
    Sorry, I should have said a courtesy title, particularly for an older women. I believe it was customary until the early twentieth century to call senior female servants, such as housekeepers, by the courtesy title Mrs even if they were unmarried (and whatever their age).
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    In a similar way, it is customary for British school children to address their female teachers as "Miss" when not using their name.


    Mrs Jones to child in class: "Have you written your notes?"
    "Yes, Miss."

    Later Mrs Smith asks the same child whose class he is in and he answers, "Mrs Jones' class."
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Sorry, I should have said a courtesy title, particularly for an older women. I believe it was customary until the early twentieth century to call senior female servants, such as housekeepers, by the courtesy title Mrs even if they were unmarried (and whatever their age).
    To extend upon this, by tradition, if Mary Smith married Robert Jones, then, formally, Mary Smith would be known as Mrs Robert Smith. Upon Robert Smith's death, she would become Mrs Mary Smith.
    See #13
     
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    CKM367

    Senior Member
    Russian
    So, if I hear "Mrs. Mary Smith" I can know that she is a widow, can I not, even if I have never known that she was Mrs. Robert Smith?
     

    CKM367

    Senior Member
    Russian
    In a similar way, it is customary for British school children to address their female teachers as "Miss" when not using their name.


    Mrs Jones to child in class: "Have you written your notes?"
    "Yes, Miss."

    Later Mrs Smith asks the same child whose class he is in and he answers, "Mrs Jones' class."
    I wonder if it is the same in the US?
     

    Bevj

    Allegra Moderata (Sp/Eng, Cat)
    English (U.K.)
    To extend upon this, by tradition, if Mary Smith married Robert Jones, then, formally, Mary Smith would be known as Mrs Robert Smith. Upon Robert Smith's death, she would become Mrs Mary Smith.
    I disagree.
    I have never known a woman revert to her maiden name upon becoming a widow (myself included).
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Well, I made a complete mess of that post by losing track of names. It should read:
    To extend upon this, by tradition, if Mary Smith married Robert Jones, then, formally, Mary Smith would be known as Mrs Robert Jones. Upon Robert Jones's death, she would become Mrs Mary Jones.
     
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    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree about the senior female servants being addressed as 'Mrs' as a courtesy title. This gave them status which they would not have had, if they had been addressed as 'Miss'. They would not usually have been married.
    I was horrified to find American women giving their names as their husbands, Mrs Henry Marshmallow for example, some thirty years ago when I joined an American woman's club in Europe. These were women who considered themselves socially superior, who also needed to define themselves by their husband's status in the diplomatic and official world.

    The idea that women revert to using their own first names when they are widowed seems Victorian to me.

    Hermione
     

    vivace160

    Member
    American English
    In a similar way, it is customary for British school children to address their female teachers as "Miss" when not using their name.


    Mrs Jones to child in class: "Have you written your notes?"
    "Yes, Miss."

    Later Mrs Smith asks the same child whose class he is in and he answers, "Mrs Jones' class."
    I wonder if it is the same in the US?
    I can't speak for the whole country, but where I grew up/went to school, definitely not. We called (and children still do today) our teachers Mr./Mrs./Ms. Last Name: Ms. Gordon, Mrs. Moore, Mr. Gertler, etc. (I did have a couple teachers in high school that insisted on being called by their first name, but, in my experience, teachers who do that are few and far between.) Calling a teacher "Miss" when her name is Mrs. Moore is a really foreign concept to me.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    We called (and children still do today) our teachers Mr./Mrs./Ms. Last Name: Ms. Gordon, Mrs. Moore, Mr. Gertler, etc. Calling a teacher "Miss" when her name is Mrs. Moore is a really foreign concept to me.
    Surely you wouldn't call a male teacher Mr X every time you address him, especially when he has a long surname. You would just say "Sir". "Miss" is just the customary equivalent of "Sir", because for some reason "Madam" or "Ma'am" just isn't used in schools. There is no suggestion that Mrs Moore would be called Miss Moore, "Miss" would be used without surname.
     

    vivace160

    Member
    American English
    Surely you wouldn't call a male teacher Mr X every time you address him, especially when he has a long surname. You would just say "Sir". "Miss" is just the customary equivalent of "Sir", because for some reason "Madam" or "Ma'am" just isn't used in schools. There is no suggestion that Mrs Moore would be called Miss Moore, "Miss" would be used without surname.
    I didn't suggest that either. I said I would never address Mrs. Moore as "Miss" (without her last name). But yes, I would call a male teacher Mr. X every time I addressed him. My 11th grade English teacher's name was Mrs. Mordecai-Moore, and we always addressed her as Mrs. Mordecai-Moore, not Miss. If she had been a man, we would have called him Mr. Mordecai-Moore, not Sir. I never once used Sir or Miss to address anyone in school, only ever Mrs. X, Mr. X, and Ms. X.

    The only times in my life I have ever called anyone Sir, Miss, or Ma'am is if I needed to catch a stranger's attention ("Excuse me, Sir. You dropped your wallet."), but even then I only do it when I'm some distance away from them. If I picked up his wallet and hurried over to him, I would simply say "Excuse me, you dropped your wallet." I know use of these words varies throughout the US, but in my personal experience here in the northeast, they are rarely used and are non-existent in school.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    As far as AE is concerned, this is all chiefly about the past. Most women, whatever their marital status (and many do not adopt their husbands' surnames), are now addressed as "Ms. [Surname]". It's pronounced "miz".
     

    waltern

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I didn't suggest that either. I said I would never address Mrs. Moore as "Miss" (without her last name). But yes, I would call a male teacher Mr. X every time I addressed him. My 11th grade English teacher's name was Mrs. Mordecai-Moore, and we always addressed her as Mrs. Mordecai-Moore, not Miss. If she had been a man, we would have called him Mr. Mordecai-Moore, not Sir. I never once used Sir or Miss to address anyone in school, only ever Mrs. X, Mr. X, and Ms. X.
    Exactly my experience too (attended New York public schools in the 70s-80s).
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] I was horrified to find American women giving their names as their husbands, Mrs Henry Marshmallow for example, some thirty years ago when I joined an American woman's club in Europe. [...]
    Indeed, that's not a practice I've ever known in the UK — except occasionally for addressing a letter to a married couple, usually with the husband's initial(s) rather than the full first name: "Mr & Mrs P Smith"; and even then the letter itself would start with "Dear Mr and Mrs Smith". But addressing the wife alone, it wouldn't be "Mrs Peter Smith".
    In a similar way, it is customary for British school children to address their female teachers as "Miss" when not using their name. [...]
    I know it was customary in some British schools, but certainly not in all, even way back in my schooldays. I attended six different schools, and in all of them the customary form was as described by vivace (#17): Mr/Mrs/Miss X; never "Miss" or "Sir". I'm aware of at least two schools at present where it's the same, and a teacher friend tells me that the use of "Miss", on its own, has generally gone out of fashion.
    So, if I hear "Mrs. Mary Smith" I can know that she is a widow, can I not, even if I have never known that she was Mrs. Robert Smith?
    I certainly wouldn't advise that assumption, CKM! She may be a widow, but statistically the most likely case is that she's married to a Mr Smith who's still alive.

    Ws:)
     

    Dione

    Member
    American English
    I was horrified to find American women giving their names as their husbands, Mrs Henry Marshmallow for example, some thirty years ago when I joined an American woman's club in Europe. These were women who considered themselves socially superior, who also needed to define themselves by their husband's status in the diplomatic and official world.
    I had to raise a brow at this. I'm American, and in my late twenties, and I have no idea what you're talking about. I have never in my life met a woman who presented herself with her husband's first name instead of her own. I'm certain without a doubt that most American women would be quite disturbed by the very idea of it. I have heard it done jokingly a few times in movies... A girl who has a crush on a guy, or is excited about getting married, will say something like, "I'm going to be Mrs. Henry Marshall!!" (Cue the squeals of giddiness.) Or something to that effect. It's comedic. Your average American woman would not be caught dead seriously introducing herself in that way.

    I didn't suggest that either. I said I would never address Mrs. Moore as "Miss" (without her last name). But yes, I would call a male teacher Mr. X every time I addressed him. My 11th grade English teacher's name was Mrs. Mordecai-Moore, and we always addressed her as Mrs. Mordecai-Moore, not Miss. If she had been a man, we would have called him Mr. Mordecai-Moore, not Sir. I never once used Sir or Miss to address anyone in school, only ever Mrs. X, Mr. X, and Ms. X.

    The only times in my life I have ever called anyone Sir, Miss, or Ma'am is if I needed to catch a stranger's attention ("Excuse me, Sir. You dropped your wallet."), but even then I only do it when I'm some distance away from them. If I picked up his wallet and hurried over to him, I would simply say "Excuse me, you dropped your wallet." I know use of these words varies throughout the US, but in my personal experience here in the northeast, they are rarely used and are non-existent in school.
    I'm from the West, and it's exactly the same here. I'm pretty sure it's the same throughout most of the country.

    And to add to that, you rarely even need to "address" your teachers at all. If a teacher asks you a question, you simply reply with "Yes," or "No." Or whatever you need to say to answer the question. You don't need to add a "Mrs. Roberts" or a "Mr. Daniels" at the end of your statement. If you're trying to catch the teacher's attention, like when you're asking a question or wanting to talk to them one-on-one, that's when you would say it. But that's about the only time.

    On a side note... At least in the US... I would advise anyone to NEVER call a woman "ma'am" unless you're on the phone with a stranger or she is undeniably grandmotherly in appearance.

    No woman aged 18-50 enjoys being called "ma'am." Ever.

    I'd much rather be addressed as "Hey, you!" I am not joking.

    All you really need to do is approach her while politely saying, "Excuse me." I'm telling you, people... It works beautifully.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    And to add to that, you rarely even need to "address" your teachers at all. If a teacher asks you a question, you simply reply with "Yes," or "No." Or whatever you need to say to answer the question. You don't need to add a "Mrs. Roberts" or a "Mr. Daniels" at the end of your statement. If you're trying to catch the teacher's attention, like when you're asking a question or wanting to talk to them one-on-one, that's when you would say it. But that's about the only time.
    I agree. Even in your last example it's not necessary. You should attract attention by putting your hand up and waiting for the teacher to acknowledge you. Don't speak until you're spoken to.
     
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