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If a woman keeps her maiden name what is the proper way to address her?

Mrs, Ms, or Miss?

I have seen it done multiple ways, but am unsure what is the proper way.

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This is a social question, not a linguistic one. –  Colin Fine Nov 2 '11 at 17:18
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@Colin: It may well be a matter of etiquette rather than language per se, but it is specific to a particular context and usage. I think it's on-topic. –  FumbleFingers Nov 2 '11 at 18:31

6 Answers 6

This is not so much an issue of proper English as it is a matter of modern etiquette. Putting Mrs in front of a surname indicates that the woman is or was married to the Mr by the same name. Putting Mrs in front of woman's maiden name makes it sound like she is married to her father. Many woman who keep their maiden names much prefer Ms. and will tell you if they prefer something else.

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I'd suggest that Ms doesn't work at all as a form of address and is perhaps clumsy even in written English. If it's inappropriate to give either a married or unmarried title, then the name alone will have to stand. So Mary Jones will present a talk on teapots. Of course, that makes it awkward to use Mr. in the same context so: Mary Jones and Tom Smith will present...

It is usual for schoolchildren to address female teachers as Miss or Miss Jones, regardless of the teacher's marital status. (Albeit that some teachers allow less formality.) (Male teachers are addressed as Sir, which would be regarded as archaic in most other contexts.)

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Miss..."regardless of the teacher's marital status"? That's new to me. Where do you hear this usage? –  Mitch Oct 31 '12 at 0:00
    
It was certainly the custom when I went to school in England during the 60's and 70's. As far as I know it's still the case, although of course, some people may also use the correct name. But a nice challenge! How widespread is it, I wonder? –  Dominic Cronin Oct 31 '12 at 9:01
    
There is a syllable count element going on, as well as the alliteration, voiced/unvoiced consonant sonorance, not to mention the social aspect of calling someone what you've already heard her called. –  livresque Jul 10 at 5:42

Ask the lady how she wishes to be addressed.

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It could be the lady is answering to questions here. :-) –  kiamlaluno Nov 19 '11 at 13:27
    
If she's the kind of person who is comfortable with being asked which way to be addressed, then the usage of 'the lady' will probably also be in question, and a more contemporary reference would be 'the woman' or 'she'. –  Mitch Dec 5 '11 at 19:03

There's what etiquette purveyors say we should do and then what people actually do.

What people currently do in everyday speech is to avoid Mrs/Ms/Miss entirely (Mr also), and only use titles for doctors/professors/judges/mayors/presidents (hm what do military people expect when conversing with civilians?).

If (as a commenter pointed out) you need to address them without knowing the first name, then you do use a title and there is no question about whether they're married or not. You'd use the title 'Ms' followed by the last name of their choice.

I suppose it has been addressed already in etiquette manuals (which you should consult instead of here in order to answer 'what is proper?'). On formal invitations, consult the latest Miss Manners. Formally, I'd expect a problem since saying 'Mr. and Mrs. John X' (when the wife is named 'Jane Y' sounds antediluvian, but 'Mr. John X and Mrs Jane Y' sounds like they're not married.

But when talking to or referring to someone, it'd be perfectly proper to not use Mrs/Ms/Miss/Mr.

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But if you don't use their first name when addressing to sb (because you aren't familiar with them) how do you call them? Just the surname sounds unnatural. –  Irene Nov 2 '11 at 15:01
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@Irene: I missed that situation. Yes, then you do need a title of some kind, and when it is unknown then it should be 'Ms' –  Mitch Nov 2 '11 at 15:22

In my experience "Miss" as an honorific is really on the outs. It is used to refer to young pre-adulthood girls primarily now. Generally, in my experience, single women prefer "Ms." FWIW, Wikipedia tends to agree with this view.

As a matter of fact, I think "Mrs." is on the outs too. This is much less so than with "Ms." but usually I'd use it only with women who I knew tended toward a more traditional view, or when used in a mixed context with her husband, such as "Mr. and Mrs. Jones."

However, that is my opinion and experience only. I am sure that this is very culturally dependent.

As a general rule, you can't go wrong with "Ms." I think in the specific context of your question, I'd say "Ms." is always correct, and "Miss" might be acceptable if old fashioned and possibly patronizing, and "Mrs." is probably wrong.

If the woman chooses to hyphenate, (Mary Smith-Jones) I think either "Ms." or "Mrs." would be acceptable, and "Miss" would be wrong. If her maiden name was first I'd go with "Mrs." if her maiden name was last, I'd go with "Ms."

One other brief thing: I think a period is optional after both Mrs. and Ms. but is incorrect after Miss. This doesn't make much etymological sense, but it does seem the common usage.

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Entirely disagree: in my (specialised) workplace, "Miss" is usual, and "Ms" (unless requested) is mildly disparaging. But this is etiquette/politeness, which varies enormously from place to place, rather than English; I think the question is off-topic. And the etymological reason for the stop after Mrs is that it's an abbreviation while Miss is not. –  TimLymington Dec 5 '11 at 14:19
    
You might then argue that Ms doesn't deserve a full stop. I'm fairly sure it's not an abbreviation. –  Dominic Cronin Oct 30 '12 at 23:06
    
Isn't the Br.E (among other languages) convention for the stop used when the abbreviation does not end with the same letter as the word, not just for an abbreviation in general? –  livresque Jul 10 at 5:37

It is proper to refer her as Ms Smith (for example) regardless of her martial status. Since the woman in question kept her maiden name, I would opt for this title or use the appropriate occupational title (e.g. Doctor Smith, Professor Smith, Major Smith, etc.)

Miss is a title for an unmarried woman, and is not acceptable.

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