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Peggy Post's Guide to Modern Manners: Should a New Divorcée Use “Mrs.” or “Ms.”?

Your trickiest etiquette questions answered

Question: I am recently divorced after three decades of marriage. I am in my late fifties. I will soon return to teaching school and am wondering what is the proper title by which the children should address me: "Mrs." or "Ms." I did not take my maiden name back at the time of the divorce, nor do I intend to.

Answer: The choice is yours. In a teaching or professional environment, either form ("Mrs. Smith"; "Ms. Smith") is correct. It's just a matter of personal preference.

As for first names, tradition has been that a married or widowed woman should use the title "Mrs." only in conjunction with her husband's name, not her own—"Mrs. Arthur Reynolds"—while a divorced woman would use her own first name and her ex's last, as in "Mrs. Susan Reynolds." But today it is acceptable for married, widowed, and divorced women alike to be referred to by their first names after "Mrs." if that is their preference.

In the case of a divorced woman, either "Mrs." or "Ms." is correct when she has retained her former husband's last name, but she should still use her own first name, not his. Many women retain their married surname so that the name won't differ from their children's.

The modern debate on this topic isn't yet over. If you don't know how to address or introduce a woman, simply ask which usage she prefers. (If you can't ask, Ms. is a safe bet.) Also, it's extremely helpful for women to speak up to let others know how they wish to be addressed.

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