Mrs vs. Ms: Am I a Mrs after I get married if I don’t change my last name?

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Photo by Adrien Real

I decided long ago that I’d keep my name if I got married. But … what IS my name? I’ve often used the “Ms.” title, and I expect to keep doing so. “Mrs.” can, however, be useful. I always assumed I’d use Mrs. MyName at those times, but during this last week I’ve realized that in my mind the Mrs. title is inextricably linked with the husband’s name. Mrs. doesn’t just signal that I’m married, it tells people the name of the person I’m married to. Mrs. MyName feels self-contradictory and weird, like I’m married to myself.

Maybe I just have a problem with the title “Mrs.” Do people use it when they keep their name? Are you Mrs. Stallings? (My man, when asked, said I should just use “Dr.”, but that’s only because he likes reminding me that I really have finished my PhD.) -Suzanne

It’s not just in your mind that the Mrs. title is linked to your husband’s name. Historically, the Mrs. honorific doesn’t just mean “I’m married” — it means “I’m the wife of ______.”

If you’re using Mrs., technically you’re not even Mrs. YourFirst HisLast. If you’re into etiquette, when you marry someone and take his name, your title becomes Mrs. His First HisLast or just Mrs. HisLast. By the traditional rules, it’s not correct to refer to yourself as Mrs. YourFirst HisLast. It’s easy to see why feminists in the ’60s and ’70s balked at using Mrs. — your name literally disappears when using the traditional honorific!

Since Mrs. does indeed tell the world who you’ve married, you’re right that Mrs. YourFirst YourLast suggests you’ve married yourself. If you’re keeping your own name, you stick with Ms. YourFirst YourLast. The honorific of “Ms” intentionally doesn’t indicate whether you’re married or who you’re married to. If I’d taken my husband’s last name, I could have been Mrs. Fetz or Ms. Fetz. Since I kept my own last name, I’m definitely Ms. Stallings … if you’re nasty.

But what if you’re choosing to change your last name after getting married?

If you’re changing your last name to after getting married, we suggest going the easy route using HitchSwitch.

They make the name change process simple, guiding you through the process step-by-step. Prices start at $39, and they make way easier than dealing with all the paperwork on your own.

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