Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mrs. originated as a contraction of the title Mistress, the feminine of Mister or Master, which was originally applied to both married and unmarried women. (Similarly, "Ma'am" drops the middle consonant of "Madam.") The title split into Miss for unmarried women and Mrs. for married women during the Victorian era. The term can be found spelled out in the works of Thomas Hardy and others, as "Mis'ess."
The title may be used with the last name alone, or with the first and last name. Traditionally, the title Mrs. was used only with the husband's full name, as Mrs. John Doe, for a married woman or widow. In the United Kingdom, the traditional form for a divorcée is Mrs. Jane Doe. In the United States, the form Mrs. Maiden Doe was traditionally used, with the maiden surname in place of the first name, but the form Mrs. Jane Doe has since become common as well.
Many married women choose to forgo the use of Mrs., particularly in professional life, even those who choose to take their husband's name. Instead, these women use Ms. However, Mrs. remains a popular title, more popular than Miss.
The plural of Mrs., rarely used, is Mmes. (an abbreviation for, and pronounced as, the French mesdames). In direct address, a woman with the title Mrs. will usually be addressed as Ma'am.
Mr. and Mrs.
It is now rather uncommon for women to use their husband's first name, except in compounds such as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.
A current controversy in etiquette is the question of how to address married couples in which the wife does not choose to use her husband's name, or uses a title other than Mrs. Etiquette writer Judith Martin (Miss Manners) recommends addressing the couple on separate lines:
Ms. Jane Smith
Mr. John Jones
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