Terms of Address

You’ll remember that I wrote about my confusion over the disparagement of “Ma’am” as a form of address.  Well, in England I’m apparently “Mrs. Erin Penner,” a term that I find really confusing (either Ms. Penner or Mrs. Sydney Penner, but Mrs. Erin Penner?).  As far as personal tics go, “Mrs. Penner” always makes me feel a bit like a kindergarten teacher (always amusing), and I like “Ms.,” just because it has some of the simplicity that “Mr.” does, though I realize other people read this as a strong feminist streak coming through; in truth, I like “Ms.” because it means no one has to guess about my marital status or wonder whether “Sydney” is my name or my husband’s.  My English bank cards read “MRS E PENNER”; who knew that banks cared about your title?

At any rate, I liked this recent post from Miss Manners on the subject:

“You cannot imagine — evidently — how weary Miss Manners is of hearing idiosyncratic interpretations of female terms of respect: “It makes me feel old,” ”It’s disrespectful to my husband,” ”My husband doesn’t own me,” and so on.

“These are courtesy titles, ladies (and no, please don’t tell Miss Manners how bad “ladies” makes you feel). They are not intended to characterize you, other than as a female who is due respect.

“The trouble is that there are too many of them. Uncharacteristically, etiquette has offered a choice.

“Bad idea. It has only led to squabbling when no insults were intended and declarations of feelings when no such outbursts were required.

“Funny — gentlemen just have “Mr.,” and yet most of them manage to open their mail without carrying on about how the envelope makes them feel.

“You are right that people should address you as you wish to be addressed, and that it is ridiculously complicated to find out, in each case, how that is. So a lot of tolerance is required when people guess wrong.

“Chances are that if the message isn’t insulting, the address is not meant to be, either.

“That’s why we prefer standardized etiquette rules, folks.”

As a side note, it appears that even “Mr.” can have its problems: when Sydney gets things addressed to “Mr. S. Penner” it often looks a lot like “Mrs. Penner.”


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Terms of Address

  1. Mother-of-the-bride says:

    In today’s world of I.D. theft, I prefer to keep my personal life…personal. It’s nobody’s business to know my marital status except for the most important things e.g. insurance, beneficiaries, etc.

    Therefore, I disclose nothing, particularly to strangers and unknowns. I always use Ms.

  2. Heidi says:

    My dad co-signed the note for our mortgage. We sold it, and since I kept my maiden name, I get mail addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Kris E. at our new address, and Mrs. Kris E. Its kinda creepy.

    Keeping my maiden name has simplified things for me (I like Ms. better anyway), and since it seems confusing to Mark’s relatives, I try to be really forgiving of however they address the envelopes.

  3. Lisa says:

    Heidi, I own my place with my mother. I get mail addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Lisa and Lori… Not only am I weirded out by the implication that I’m married to my mother (Oedipal?), but I’m also a bit offended that I’m somehow the husband in this scenario.


  4. Heidi says:

    That definitely takes the prize for strange! I know that this is intended as a courtesy, but very often I feel like it would be more courteous for us to stop guessing at relational statuses (and gender!) and just write the first and last name.

  5. fustianist says:

    MY mother uses “Ms”? I didn’t know that! 🙂


  6. Mother-of-the-bride says:

    Very funny, daughter!

    Ditto Heidi’s last comment – almost. It’s snooping, not courtesy. How else could our name/status/gender be sold to advertisers so they can inundate our mailboxes and emails and fill our landfills with junk mail?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *