Salutations for Women: Miss, Ms., or Mrs.?

In the spirit of Word Wednesday, let’s look at the correct way to address women in professional correspondence. The following is a message I sent to my alma mater in response to a card I received for my annual donation:

Dear [redacted]:

It was a pleasure to receive the goody bag from UT for my donation, but I was a little troubled to be addressed as “Mrs.” Sharma. Considering that my professional relationship with UT predates my marriage and that my employment–not my husband’s–provides me the resources to make an annual donation to my alma mater, I found this reference to my marital status unwelcome and unnecessary.

While I speak for myself alone and not for any other women Longhorn donors, it is a sad fact of our society that as a woman working in a STEM career in a male-dominated environment, I have had to work to overcome a perceived lack of industry knowledge and other gender stereotypes in order to be taken seriously and to earn the respect due to a subject matter expert by my colleagues both past and present. This work is mine alone, and being addressed as nothing more than my husband’s wife by the same university that provided the education that has enabled these successes truly saddens me.

In future correspondence, I strongly urge you to use the general salutation “Ms.” to avoid misunderstandings, especially in correspondence of a professional nature. “Ms.” places women on equal footing as men, who are universally recognized as “Mr.” regardless of their marital status.

With sincere regards,

Hook’em Horns!

Preeti Sharma

Now, it may seem that I’m being excessively hard on someone who, after all, was sending me a thank you note. But when I read the note, I was genuinely upset!

I intensely disagree with any use of “Mrs.” outside of social correspondence, like wedding invitations addressed to my husband and me. How is it any of the university’s business whether I’m married or not when I’m conducting a financial transaction with them? I did not have to get my husband to write the check, as I might have had to in bygone eras, nor did I need his permission to spend the money as I saw fit beyond the joint and equal discussions we have about our budget.

Use of “Ms.” is always appropriate. It was in fact devised to eliminate the confusion of addressing women of unknown marital status. So let’s use it.

Have you ever been addressed incorrectly in correspondence? How do you respond?

6 thoughts on “Salutations for Women: Miss, Ms., or Mrs.?”

  1. Mary kay mattheus

    I have never seen the need for honorifics. Just call me by my name, and I will call you by yours. My respect for a person is clear from the content of our conversation. (Does anyone remember when calling someone a gentleman actually signified respect? It appears to mean the opposite now.)

  2. Since I kept my maiden name (there is a word that offends me), I run into it a lot less often. But I don’t understand why Ms. should be limited to professional correspondence. I use it for both professional and personal. After all, I am a distinct individual at all times.

    My rules of dealing with the lack of respect is simply to let my money speak for me. I don’t spend money where I do not get the respect I deserve. And whether that is donating to the University or leaving a tip for a service person who gives the check to my husband assuming that as the man he will pay the bill, respecting me as a person is reflected in the money given.

    1. Maiden name is indeed offensive. In our mother tongue, there is a much less offensive term, but perhaps I don’t understand the linguistic nuances well enough to recognize their implications. Of course, this same culture requires women to change both their first, middle, and last names upon marriage, so choosing not to offend them by calling their original names their maiden names is kind of moot.

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