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Mrs. or Ms. What do we call the widow?

Well, this can certainly be a touchy subject.  Like most everything after the loss of a spouse, the decision on which name you would like to be referred to is an important choice for each woman.

Personally, I had been married for 26 years when Mike died.  I chose to change my name.  My maiden name became my middle name, and I took his last name.  That was the summer before I started teaching.  As a student teacher in college I had gone by the name of Miss Sanders.  My parents, and even a grandmother, was a teacher so hearing adults called by Mrs. —– or Mr. ___ was completely normal for me.

Once I started teaching I was always Mrs. Divers.

In my generation, some women chose to keep their maiden names.  Some women decided to use the term Ms.

Some women get divorced.  They are not ready to change their names at the Social Security office, but they switch from Mrs. to Ms.  It gives them a sense of freedom from their husband and his name I imagine.

According to several websites I researched for this article, a widow is traditionally addressed as Mrs. John Jones. A divorced woman should be addressed as Ms. Jane Johnson on invitations.

A widow was and still is addressed with the same title as when she was married.

There is absolutely no reason, or convention, for the title of a widow to change from whatever title she used prewidowhood.  And there never was.

If she was Mrs. before, she is Mrs. now, unless she decides otherwise.

Whatever it is, if it is her choice, it is OK.

Traditionally, a widow retains her husband’s name until she remarries.

And then what… I wonder how many women change their names again?  I would feel bad changing my name again, but if you are marrying someone else, isn’t that the right thing to do?

Anyway, I bring this up because this issue blindsided me this school year.  For 29 years, I have worked in elementary schools and been referred to as Mrs. Divers.  It is sort of who I am.  I am a teacher.

When I sent home my welcome letter to the families in August, I told them about my kids and pets, my hobbies and some things to expect in Kindergarten.  I signed the letter Mrs. Divers.

A few days later when the children arrived I was thrilled.  They are so cute and excited and nervous.  We had fun getting to know each other and I planned lots of fun activities including name games.

what to call a widow. Ms. or Mrs.

The next day one child left behind the school issued name tag.

Wasn’t I surprised to read below this precious child’s name, the name Ms. Divers!

I wasn’t ready for this one.  I had never changed my name.  Why had it changed?

I asked for advice from my virtual friends on Facebook.  I have found comfort and friendship from other widows and widowers who have been down this path before me or that I can help along those first few years.  I asked if I should bring it up to someone or just let it go.

Well, just like the wearing a wedding ring or not, this issue got heated. Do Widows Wear Wedding Rings?

Some people thought I should just let it go.  I am no longer married and this is another way to help me move forward.  I don’t need to hang onto the title, and it will help understand that I am no longer going to ever be that same person anymore.

But more people thought, that if it bothered me, I should bring it up.  I didn’t have to be defensive or nasty about it, just express that I prefer to be called Mrs. since that is how I still refer to myself when I write correspondence with parents or anyone else.

I don’t like confrontation.   I really don’t.  I needed to do some of that since Mike died with the lawsuit.  It was important, but I can not continue to live in the state of anger and agitation indefinitely.

This wasn’t too bad.  I mentioned to our school secretaries that I prefer to stay Mrs. and the people I told were super nice and understanding.  They thought I wanted the change because it made me sound younger.  Does it?  I thought that was what hair dye was for.

Anyway, crisis averted.  One thing this whole tragedy has taught me is that so many things are really not a big deal.  If something bothers you, find a way to fix it.  Nothing is as bad as finding out your husband is dead.

I never wanted to have to change my name and so I choose to keep it for now.

Have you changed your name?  Do you think you ever will?

Mrs. or Ms. what to we call the widow


At the age of 51 I unexpectedly became a widow. For the first 6 months after my husband died, I was in shock and numb. I journaled and with the help of friends, family and therapists was able to get back to living my old life, even if it is now very different. Before I was married, I had spent a semester in England and backpacked around Europe. My husband and I moved from New York to California for 8 years and started a family. Travelling took a back seat to raising a family and going to work everyday. Since the loss of my husband I have visited a lot of places with family and friends and took a solo trip to Thailand. I am enjoying sharing my stories and adventures as well as some of my insights to how I am traveling the path of being a widow. I hope to share my stories and adventures as well as some thoughts on being a middle aged widow. While I have some great experiences traveling to Thailand and cruising to Central America, some of my adventures involve a trip to see a Broadway show in nearby Manhattan and a shopping trip at Bed, Bath and Beyond. If I can inspire anyone to go out and continue to live a good life that would be my greatest accomplishment.

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53 Responses

  1. cedar51 says:

    I changed my name in the early 1990s, not because I was in your circumstance, but because my marriage collapsed. His surname which I had used for near on 15 years, wasn’t a pleasant sounding name, so I changed it – I didn’t return to my maiden name instead for a surname I rejigged my original middle/second name and added some thing else…for vanity reasons more than anything else. Now this name certainly has people flummoxed because they believe I am foreign…and I’ve had many people when writing it on something like a “name badge” come up with some very interesting spellings…but it’s all okay me!

    • runawaywidow says:

      That’s great. So creative to work with your name and add some flair. I’m glad it made you happy.

  2. This is such a thought provoking post! Something you never really consider unless you are in the situation. Definitely loved reading this!

  3. Luci Cook says:

    I didn’t know there was a difference between Ms. and Mrs. I don’t if I would take my husbands name if I ever get married. A friend of mine got married and she still goes by her maiden name.

  4. KYLIE ABREU says:

    Wow this is something I had never really thought of before. For some reason I had thought they were scrapping Miss and just having the options as Ms or Mrs

  5. LA says:

    I didn’t change my name, but I’m almost never referred to as ms. Or Mrs. or whatever, so it doesn’t seems to matter. I never thought about it

  6. I found it interesting they changed it because they said it sounded younger? hmm. Good for you for staying above the fray.

  7. Lynn Keller says:

    Thought provoking topic! I choose to assume that only good intentions are behind however someone addresses me. More important to me is that I wish young grocery clerks, etc. still called me “Miss” instead of the age-appropriate “Mam”! : )

  8. Pauline Flanagan-Tully says:

    Can’t believe you just wrote this. The other night I was booking a flight and went back/forth Ms. or Mrs.
    Stayed with Mrs.
    Mrs. Divers you always hit it out of the ballpark😘

  9. I guess I’ve never that about this before since I don’t really know if I’ll ever get married. However, I think that if I do get married, I’ll definitely change my last name to my husband’s.


  10. Britt says:

    I’m not married but if/when it happens I’d completely eliminate my maiden name and just be Mrs. – Heaven forbid my hypothetical husband passes away I would still remain Mrs., at least until I become ready to date or remarry. With that being said, I can’t put myself in your shoes and definitively say how I would happen someone calling me “Ms” if I still identified with “Mrs”. But I don’t think that this is something to be offended by, especially not by a child. Anyway good luck with everything!

  11. Patricia G. says:

    I am not a widow, nor have I ever been married, so my maiden name is still my name. However, I admire you for choosing to keep your late husband’s memory alive by keeping the Mrs, but I would respect you as well if you went to Ms. I think for a widow this is a personal decision that should both by respected by others and given much thought.

  12. This is such an interesting read! When I got married I changed my last name and although it was a long process I’m glad I did it!

  13. Rebecca says:

    This is such a great article to show the importance to ask about even the “little” things. Others may consider it “little” but it is not. I have 2 friends recently widowed. The questions, the comments, the things to consider are so raw and so unexpected. Thank you for sharing! Ask don’t assume – its always a good life lesson.

  14. I loved reading this post! I am married and I though I have taken up my husband’s last name and my maiden name became my middle name, I haven’t added Mrs. to my name because I think adding my husband’s last name should be proof enough of our marriage, LOL. It was also a of rebellion against the fact that as a woman, I am expected to change my name (which I did) and title but men don’t have to go through the pain of getting everything changed at the Social security office/passports/DL or bank accounts. I loved reading your perspective and realised that it really is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong way to go about it.

  15. Oh that’s an interesting perspective! I usually address all women as Ms. unless they have specifically introduced themselves as Mrs. (since so many of my friends didn’t change their names when getting married.)

  16. runawaywidow says:

    Totally understandable. I think Ms. is much more common that I realize.

  17. Jillian Bell says:

    Very Interesting and unique post. I respect your decision. I’ll also definitely change my last name to my husband’s.

  18. Jill says:

    Very Interesting and unique post. I respect your decision. I’ll also definitely change my last name to my husband’s.

  19. Indrani says:

    Something very hard to decide there. I think women should retain their maiden name first marriage or second marriage. To be known by father’s name is lot better than husband’s name.

  20. This may sound a little strange but, when my husband was alive, I felt like ‘me’ – the real me. I took his name when we married and I can’t imagine ever changing it because I’d feel as though I was losing a part of myself. I’m not sure that makes sense but I can’t explain it any other way :O) xx

  21. Nona Forster says:

    The exact same thing happened to me in my small school district. I was married for 26 years and taught as Mrs. F for the entire time. I was very hurt when all of a sudden, I was being referred to as Ms. F.
    I found this particularly odd as I knew at least half a dozen teachers in the district who were referred to as Mrs., had been divorced for years (some for over 10 years). Some of them had very public nasty divorces.
    There was even a teacher who came to the district already divorced for over 5 years who was called Mrs.

    I loved my husband every day of his life and I was very proud to be his wife. Why would anyone assume that I do not wish to be called Mrs. knowing that ALL the divorced women were still using the title?
    I was hurt, insulted and astounded. I addressed it with the lead secretary. I have not seen it since.
    Bottom line…it should be the widow’s choice and her wishes should be honored.

    • runawaywidow says:

      Yes. It is upsetting I agree. I felt the same way like I was Mrs. out of respect and love for my late husband and I didn’t plan on changing that. Not their place to presume. Thanks for commenting.

  22. DeeJaye says:

    Loved this. I had to recently choose between Mrs and Ms being a fairly new widow. I chose Mrs as he’ll always be my husband, he’s just not alive any longer.

  23. Terry Cherry says:

    Was married 54 years when I became a widow. I am still Mrs. husband’s name, last name. I do not mind if people address me using my first name. I guess it is because for thirty some years I have used my first and last name on my business cards and advertising. I still wear my wedding and engagement rings. If I ever decide to remarry then I would remove them, but since I have no desire to do so I will wear my rings and retain the title I always used. I don’t like the term “moving on”, I am independent and functioning. If wearing my rings is a symbol of an unending love or just a habit what difference is it to anyone else. I guess I am an antique feminist.

    • runawaywidow says:

      Thanks for reading and your comment. I agree. Keeping your name and rings are perfectly fine. Enjoy your rings. I still wear mine with my new ring too.

  24. Pam says:

    I have been married for 35 years and did take my husbands last name. With that I have always had a hard time with Mrs. Men are Mr. married or not. I feel Ms I appropriate for Single, married or widow for a woman.

    • runawaywidow says:

      That is true and a good point. I guess as an elementary school teacher I got used to be Mrs and didn’t like someone else deciding I no longer deserved that title.

  25. Kim says:

    I’m going with Miss. I like it better.

  26. Carolyn r Penuel says:

    I enjoyed reading all the thoughts on Mrs. or MS. I kept my husband’s last name for two reasons. 1-I liked the meaning of the name. 2-it would have been a long drawn out process to change my name on Bank accounts and many other legal documents. I always introduce myself by my first and last names and no one has ever commented or questioned me about Miss Mrs. or Ms. Transition is difficult enough without worrying about the prefix of my name. I do mean this in a kindest regard. I say do what you must to reduce your stress.

  1. October 6, 2021

    […] One day, I received a memo sent home to parents that no longer had my name Mrs. Divers, but now had my name written as Ms. Divers. This brought me to tears. Admittedly, lots of things brought me to tears in those early days, but […]

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