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Are you still considered a Mrs if your husband dies?

The title Mrs. is used to denote a married woman. However, when her husband dies, there can be some confusion around whether she continues to use the Mrs. title or if she switches to another title like Ms. or Miss. This article will explore the proper etiquette and common practices around using the Mrs. title after a husband’s death.

What Mrs. Stands For

Mrs. is an abbreviation for Mistress, the counterpart title to Mister for a married woman. Historically, Mrs. did not necessarily indicate marital status, but it evolved to specify a married woman. The term mistress originally denoted a woman of authority over a household, but over time it became associated with married women.

The term Mrs. arose in the 17th century as a title of courtesy and respect for married gentlewomen. It distinguished a wife from unmarried women who were addressed as Miss. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Mrs. solidified as the standard title for a wedded woman.

Proper Use of Mrs. After a Husband’s Death

Traditionally, a widow would continue to use the title Mrs. after her husband died. This practice stems from the original meaning of Mrs. as Mistress of a household. Even though her marital status changed, a widow was still viewed as the head of her household.

Many style guides advise widows to keep using Mrs. if they choose to honor their late spouse. For example, according to Emily Post etiquette, a widow may continue using Mrs. if she wants to retain her husband’s name. This upholds the identity and social status she held during the marriage.

Some widows may prefer to revert to Ms., Miss, or even Mrs. followed by her first name rather than her husband’s name. This signals she is no longer married while still upholding her authority over her household. Ultimately, it is the widow’s choice how she wishes to be addressed after her husband passes away.

Common Practices for Titles After a Spouse’s Death

In practice today, there are a few common ways titles are used after a husband dies:

Continuing to Use Mrs.

Many widows choose to be addressed as Mrs. until they remarry or pass away themselves. This maintains consistency and continues linking them to their late spouse. It may be especially common for older widows who were married for many years.

Switching to Ms.

Some widows decide to switch to Ms. after their husband’s death. Ms. is a marriage-neutral title used by both single and married women. Switching to Ms. acknowledges the wife’s change in marital status.

Using First Name Only

Informal settings may call for using just a woman’s first name after her husband dies, especially if she reverts to her maiden name. Close family and friends who knew the couple may address her by her first name only.

Combining Mrs. with First Name

Widows who wish to note their former marital status while also signaling they are no longer married may combine titles. For example, they may go by “Mrs. Jane” instead of “Mrs. John Smith.” This honors their late husband while distinguishing they are now single.

Returning to Miss

Some widows, especially younger ones who had short marriages, may go back to using Miss after their husband dies. This denotes they are once again unmarried. However, it is traditionally proper to continue using Mrs. after being widowed.

Special Cases

There are a few special cases when the typical etiquette around Mrs. and widows does not necessarily apply:

Divorced Women

If a woman divorces rather than being widowed, she should no longer use Mrs. It would be misleading to continue implying a marital status that no longer exists. Divorced women generally revert to Ms. or Miss.


If a widow remarries, she should take on her new husband’s name and the title Mrs. It would be inappropriate to continue tying herself to a previous marriage after remarrying.

Professional Settings

In professional contexts, Ms. is typically preferred regardless of marital status. Many women use Ms. at work for consistency through name changes.

Younger Widows

Younger widows who feel less attachment to their marital identity may be more likely to switch to Ms. or Miss. However, using Mrs. is still technically correct if they prefer it.

Men’s Titles After a Spouse’s Death

It is less common for a man’s title to change after his wife dies. The titles Mr. and Master traditionally signal a man’s marital status.

Widowers generally continue using Mr. after their wife passes away. Mr. is still an accurate title for a man who was previously married.

The rare title Master could imply being married to the Mistress of a household. Some very traditional widowers may switch to using Mr. after being widowed, but this practice is now uncommon.

How to Address a Widow

When communicating with a widow, follow her preference for how she likes to be addressed. If you do not know, here are some tips:

– If she has kept her late husband’s last name, continue to address her as Mrs.

– If she has reverted to her maiden name, use Ms. unless you know she prefers Mrs.

– Mirror how she signs her own name on correspondence she sends.

– If you only know her first name, it is safest to use Ms.

– Ask a close friend or family member who knows her preference.

In formal communications, use the title she has requested along with her full name. Informally, you may simply use her first name once rapport is established. Be sensitive, and adjust to how she likes to be addressed.


The traditional etiquette is for widows to continue using the title Mrs. after their husband dies, if they wish to retain their marital name. However, some widows may prefer to switch to Ms., Miss, or use their first name only instead. There are various options, and it is up to a woman’s personal choice based on her individual situation and preferences. The most respectful practice is to accommodate however a widow wishes to be addressed after her spouse’s passing.