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If the French Can Abandon 'Mademoiselle,' Can We Kiss 'Miss' Good-Bye?

By Madeline Holler |

miss, mademoiselle

The French let go of "mademoiselle." Should we Americans abandon "Miss"?

I recently ranted against the idea that we should emulate the French when it comes to raising kids. Today, I’m kind of changing my mind. This has nothing to do with expecting toddlers to have impeccable table manners. Instead, I’m very interested in their new government mandate to rid society of “mademoiselle,” the French term for “Miss.”

Tuesday, an order came out of the French prime minister’s office to phase out the use of “mademoiselle” on administrative documents. Tax forms, insurance claims, voting documents, everything had a space for women to identify themselves as “madame” or “mademoiselle,” the former for married women, the latter for unmarried. Even ordering online groceries required women to declare their martial status. There’s no third option, no French equivalent of “Ms.” So in a country where fewer and fewer think marriage is even relevant to their lives, the women were still forced to make it a part of their identity.

Besides sexy smoking and living on brie, this “Miss” business is one way I wish we Americans could be a little more French. Sure, we’ve already gotten rid of the Miss/Mrs. check box on most government documents, which is as it should be. What I’d like to see is the elimination of it from speech — powered by the people, not the government, of course.

In a world of financial crises and overwhelming societal issues, I realize excising “Miss” from daily language is low priority. There’s also likely not a whole lot of public interest in doing so. Still, I really hate the word “Miss,” I always have, and the only thing that makes “Miss” grate even harder on my nerves is when it’s followed by my first name. Yes, even when cute little kids have just uttered it.

I know, dear Southerners (and some very good friends who I hope are not reading this right now!), I just heard you gasp. I see you shake your head. I know my stating this only strengthens your resolve to keep this tradition alive because what’s my problem, how dare I, etc. But boy do I hate being called “Miss Madeline.” Hateithateithateit.

I was raised by a Ms. and I’m sure that has something to do with it. I consider myself a Ms. if my unadorned first name just won’t do. But mainly I don’t like being called “Miss” because there’s something about it that sounds infantilizing to me, especially when a little kid says it. In my mind (one that, admittedly, was shaped in a culture where courtesy titles accompanied last names, not first ones), calling me “Miss Madeline” send the message that I’m owed the courtesy of a title, but not too great of one. Your kid isn’t supposed to call me by my first name only because that is too intimate, too presumptuous, too rude. And yet he’s address me with a term also reserved for a child. It’s as if your first-grader is patting me on the head.

When I hear “Miss Madeline,” I always want to repeat it, mock it, kind of shake my head and do a little dance. I want to start referring to myself in third person. “What can ‘Miss Madeline’ get you?” “Tell Miss Madeline what’s on your mind!” “Miss Madeline packed crackers. Would you like Miss Madeline to share some?”

Look, I’m all about bending to the norms of different cultures (except when those norms involve racism, etc.). In fact, I’m kind of proud of my ability to do so. So, I’m not about to tell some four-year-old or her mom to knock it off with the “Miss Madeline.” When in Rome, I answer to whatever the Romans want to call me, I really do. Lucky for me (and my apparently delicate naming sensibilities), I live where first names with adults are the presumption, not the exception. When I run in to a “Miss Madeline” situation, I usually respond “just Madeline is OK.” Once or twice, I’ve asked to be called “Ms. Holler” instead. Mostly, I shake it off and smile.

After all, documents are one thing, talking to people is another. And if there’s one thing Miss Madeline loves it’s flapping her gums with others.

How about you? Do you like and/or use Miss? And how does it work with men? Mr. Steve?


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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “If the French Can Abandon 'Mademoiselle,' Can We Kiss 'Miss' Good-Bye?

  1. CW says:

    I would actually much prefer my children to address adults by a title + last name. I don’t care whether it is Miss, Mrs., or Ms., all of those are a-OK with me. But because 99% of the adults where I live insist on children addressing them by their first names, I do settle for the “Miss + First Name”. That compromise at least acknowledges that the child and the adult are not of equal status, and that the child therefore owes the adult the respect of using a title. I know a lot of my acquaintances don’t like it, but it’s either “Miss Madeline” or “Ms. Holler”. Just plain “Madeline” is rude and disrespectful, and I’m not going to put up with that in my kids.

  2. grace says:

    I am so happy I am not the only one who HATES being called Miss + first name by a child. Title + last name is fine with me, thank you, and that is what I teach my children.

  3. jenny tries too hard says:

    I would be fine with getting rid of Miss, and Mrs. and just have one generic title same as men. I would just switch Miss FirstName to Ms. FirstName and really, young children (round here anyway) are pretty much saying Mizz/Ms. already—before I was married my last name would’ve been hell on children and I greatly prefer Miss Jenny or Ms. Jenny to Aunt Jenny—it’s fairly common here to insist that children use some title for adults (which I kind of like), and for some bizarre reason “aunt” is an acceptable title even for people completely unrelated to you. I’ve always hated to be called Aunt by children who are not related to me.

  4. EP says:

    Undoubtedly, it must be thrilling to hear a 12-year old girl being called “madame”, or “mrs”, or whatever other generic form, just like her mother.

    12-year old Johnny is just Johnny, not Mr. John(ny). However, 12-year old Annie, can be Miss Annie and it’s so much more conducive to a polite attitude.

    Sadly, we live in a world where the meaning of being polite is confined between the covers of Richard Scarry’s books, and words like Miss and Mademoiselle have no place. Then we wonder why girls are not respected…

  5. Rachel says:

    I generally use Ms. because I often don’t know someone’s marital status, nor is it generally relevant. I often wonder why we have multiple designations, depending on a woman’s marital status, but not one for men. I also prefer to go by Ms. because I kept my last name when I got married. Calling me Mrs. Mylastname isn’t really accurate since I didn’t marry a man by that last name.

  6. Donna says:

    I HATE it as well and thanks for naming it for me. It is infantilizing. My oldest sister who is about 15 years older than me would constantly address cards in the mail to me with that title. Even after I earned my Ph.D. and was in my 30s. It felt like I was less than in some way…It may not have bugged me so much though if I didn’t feel like I had to fight for legitimacy in a large family (e.g. yes I’m still in school; no I received my Masters 3 years ago; no, I haven’t met a great guy, etc)

  7. DRO says:

    I hate the Miss / Mrs. titles. We should be using only Ms. and Mr. Wondering why you focused on “Miss” and not both “Miss and Mrs.”?

  8. Madeline Holler says:

    Just narrowing the focus on the continued use of “Miss+First Name,” DRO. But I also prefer a Mr./Ms. I wouldn’t even consider asking to be called Mrs. anything. One thing in this discussion is that we see much less Miss/Mrs./Ms. on any governmental forms than apparently the French have until now. One big pet peeve of mine is being forced to pick one when filling out stuff online, even when Ms. is an option. I also hate my grocery store’s attempt at connecting with me as a customer by looking at the bottom of the receipt and saying “Thanks Mrs. Hub’s last name.” It’s not that I want them to call me Ms. Holler, either. “Thanks” is nice enough for me!

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