Honorifics, Vol. 17, Issue 34

Since Etiquetteer couldn't possible be considered one of Those Sporty Types, it takes a matter of manners to draw Etiquetteer's attention to the athletic arena. So how convenient, now that Wimbledon is well and truly launched for the season, for The New York Times to run a piece about how the All England Club uses honorifics for married female competitors. Forms of address are most decidedly a matter of manners!

The Club continues to use what Etiquetteer calls the Pre-Ms. Practice of referring to married ladies as Mrs. Husband's Name. This hearkens back to the era when ladies had no choice in what they were called. Once a lady married, she took her husband's name, and that was that. Then came the 1970s, and not only did Gloria Steinem give the world the new honorific Ms., but more and more ladies decided to retain their own names after marriage. Now, almost 50 years later, ladies most definitely have a choice in how they are addressed, and Etiquetteer thinks those choices should be honored. All England Club . . . get with it! Protocol author Robert Hickey best explains the current state of feminine honorifics on his Honor & Respect website.

The situation at the Club is made a shade more complicated by the fact that, although it is a private club for members (and can therefore establish its own rules), it's hosting an event with unrelenting television coverage and everyone competing in it is already a worldwide celebrity. Very, very few people are going to recognize that "Mrs. L.W. King" is really Billie Jean King, for instance. Expecting the rest of the world to understand a private club's rules is not, perhaps, very realistic.

All that said, Etiquetteer must betray some impatience with Serena Williams, who has said she is "still figuring out how she wants to be addressed." Good gracious, that is something that should have been "figured out" before the wedding took place to prevent just this sort of confusion! Having expressed that Fit of Pique, Etiquetteer recalls that this Change of Status does present unique challenges for Prominent Women. The great Letitia Baldrige Herself, after her marriage to Bob Hollensteiner, went through a brief period of being known professionally as Letitia Hollensteiner. But then several people begged her to go back to her maiden name in professional life. Not only was that how everyone knew her, "Letitia Hollensteiner" was a real mouthful to get out over the phone!*

So ladies must be addressed as they wish to be, but Etiquetteer draws the line at Royalty. "Her Royal Highness, Megan Markle" is not Perfectly Proper. She is now properly addressed as Her Royal Highness Princess Henry of Wales, Duchess of Sussex.**


*This charming story from Baldrige's wonderful memoir A Lady, First, page 222.

** Etiquetteer absolutely expects to hear from a few Devoted Royal Watchers who will take issue with this one way or another.