As far as I know, the abbreviation "Mrs" is applicable only to women. Though, when translating an article from an old British paper I found this sentence about marriages:

On the 2nd March, at the British Embassy, Paris, LIEUTENANT GENERAL NAPIER CAMPBELL to CAROLINE MARGARET DUFF (Mrs. HENRY PRICHARD), daughter of the late Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Murray Duff

Can anyone tell me what "Mrs" means in this context? As I understand it, Henry is only a male given name. I thought that maybe this is just the person conducting the marriage, but this discrepancy between "Mrs" and the name confuses me.

  • 1
    If the source is the simulation boardgame "Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective" then perhaps you should say so
    – Henry
    Jun 17, 2016 at 23:06
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    Not sure I agree with the edit made to the title here. The original "Usage of Mrs for male" made it clear that the person asking is a non-native speaker. Secondly, it's clearer why the question is being asked, "Why does a male have a female title?". Thirdly, the older title was snappier and quirkier.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 19, 2016 at 20:19
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    @Mari-LouA IMO the new title is a better explanation/summary of what is being asked (at the expense of explaining why it was asked, which the previous title also didn't do well ). The why is still apparent if you read the body text of the question.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 19, 2016 at 22:27
  • In the book Great Expectations, the main character's sister's first name is never mentioned. She is only said as Mrs. Joe Gargery. There's a lot of old-timey stuff in there that makes it confusing as hell.
    – nelomad
    Aug 9, 2016 at 16:22

3 Answers 3

  • Mrs was most often used by a woman when married, in conjunction with her husband's first and last names (e.g., Mrs John Smith).

  • A widow was and still is addressed with the same title as when she was married. Mrs was rarely used before a woman's first name, her maiden name, or a hyphenated surname her husband was not using. For example, Mrs Jane Miller (wife of John Smith), Mrs Jane Smith, or Mrs Jane Miller-Smith were considered incorrect by many etiquette writers, especially of the early 20th century.


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    This anachronism is still practised by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, commonly known as Wimbledon. Their Ladies Singles Honour Roll lists 2006 finalist Justine Henin-Hardenne under her then husband's name, Mrs. P-Y Hardenne. And in 1980 there was an all-wives final between Mrs. R.A. Cawley (Evonne Goolagong Cawley) and Mrs. J.M. Lloyd (Chris Evert-Lloyd). Jun 19, 2016 at 0:45
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    And couples were also known as Mr. & Mrs. John Smith.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jun 19, 2016 at 21:14

Josh61 is 100% right, however, I would like to point out that even today, in formal circumstances especially, it's still custom and valid to address a wife as Mrs. [Husband Name].

My wife goes by:

  • Heather Cotey - 70% of the time (the default)
  • Mrs. Heather Cotey - In communication that relates to just her but is slightly formal
  • Mrs. Robert D. Cotey II - In any communication that relates to her, formally, as the female head of the household. (Matron, Mother, Wife)
  • Mr. And Mrs. Robert D. Cotey II - In any formal communication that relates to both of us in just about any way.

I don't think we have been introduced, formally, as Robert and Heather Cotey at any time. Though, in less formal settings, we have been introduced as:

  • Heather and her husband, Robert
  • Robert and his wife, Heather
  • Robert and Heather
  • The Coteys - When in a casual family orientated setting.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Cotey - This is most common, non-formal, non-personal introduction (think business or similar where you're not being friendly)

It's important to note that these days it has a lot to do with the circles you run in and how you present yourself. Just in general, I am usually called Mr. Cotey by nearly everyone I do business with. My wife is Mrs. Cotey. When conducting business, it's rare that we go by our first names. When hanging out with friends and family, Heather and Robert are pretty common.

Point being that the usage you listed is still in use today, and you may run into it again. Especially in formal situations.

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    Re etiquette and names (in the US). Professionally, women almost entirely now go by Ms. TheirGivenFirstName TheirLastName. (and TheirLastName is what they were born with or by choice if they married possibly their husbands last name). For wedding invitations (the most formal situation nowadays), there is a lot of variation: If married, Mr & Mrs Bobby Watson or Mr Bobby and Mrs. Suzy Watson, if not but both appearing... it gets complicated.
    – Mitch
    Jun 17, 2016 at 15:49
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    It does, a lot of it is preference, opinions, and audience.
    – coteyr
    Jun 17, 2016 at 16:19
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    While it's still certainly in use, the reception you get will vary significantly depending on your audience. There are many (particularly professional, particularly younger) women who would actively take offence to being referred to as Mrs Husbandsname even in the most formal situations. I would not address a woman I didn't actively know preferred that address as Mrs Husbandsname. (Mrs Cotey or Mrs Heather Cotey seem much more neutral to me.)
    – krman
    Jun 18, 2016 at 12:37
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    Maybe edit a caveat into your answer? As folks have pointed out in comments, this might work for some people, but it sounds archaic and possibly offensive to others - I don't think I'd describe that as "still custom and valid."
    – Cascabel
    Jun 18, 2016 at 15:28
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    It doesn't seem so hard to figure out when John marries Jane and James marries June, but what do you when John marries James and Jane marries June? Calling people by other people’s names seems quite confusing.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2016 at 23:37

Mr. John Smith is the husband, while Mrs. John Smith is the wife.

However, this usage has fallen by the wayside over time, as females were recognized as people and not property, got the right to vote and own land, etc.

Similarly, while Master John Smith is used for a male child, and Miss Jane Smith is used for an unmarried female of any age, the current usage tends toward "Ms." for both married and unmarried females.

Times change, and English usage changes over time to reflect that.

  • 1
    This answer lacks references and examples, but otherwise seems about right to me. The downvotes seem a bit unnecessary; unless something's changed in the edit.
    – JHCL
    Jun 19, 2016 at 20:16
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    I believe the downvotes are because this answer seems to project modern, progressive values onto the customs of historical periods and/or to show bias against modern traditionalists.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Jun 20, 2016 at 1:50
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    @JHCL It seems unnecessary to get up on a soapbox about the backwardness of this usage or society in the past when that is not really what the question is about. Sure, it's reasonable to say that today many women would be offended by being addressed in this way, but this answer goes beyond that into pontificating and jumbling together various societal changes taking place over a wide span of time.
    – Casey
    Jun 20, 2016 at 2:15
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    My down vote at least is due to the soap boxing. It also makes a statement that using Mrs. Husband's name is some how sexist (an opinion presented as a fact) without any facts to back it up.
    – coteyr
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:38
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    My downvote is due partly to the false claim that the appellation "Mrs. John Smith" was used to label women as property, when there is no evidence of any particular motive behind this practice. Also, as Josh61's and coteyr's answers demonstrate, the idea that it has "fallen by the wayside" is false as well. It is certainly less common than it once was, but it is still proper in certain contexts.
    – Nicole
    Jun 27, 2016 at 23:08

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