Open main menu

Miss (pronounced /ˈmɪs/) is an English language honorific traditionally used only for an unmarried woman (not using another title such as "Doctor" or "Dame"). Originating in the 17th century, it is a contraction of mistress, which was used for all women. A period is not used to signify the contraction. Its counterparts are Mrs., usually used only for married women, and Ms., which can be used for married or unmarried women.

The plural Misses may be used, such as in The Misses Doe. The traditional French "Mademoiselle" (abbreviation "Mlle") may also be used as the plural in English language conversation or correspondence. In Australian, British, and Irish schools the term miss is used interchangeably with female teacher.

Use as a title (honorific) in the United StatesEdit

The usage of "Miss" as a title in the United States is most frequently seen when referring to young women, or women whose marital status is unknown. Though Miss is less commonly used as a title by unmarried adult women in the United States than in the past, some still prefer to be referred to as such. Twenty-first century etiquette honors an adult woman's personal preference of title. However, if the preference is not known, "Ms." is used. "Ms." is the preferred choice as the female title in business. It is the equivalent to the male title "Mr." as neither is marital status specific.

Miss was formerly the default title for businesswomen, but has largely been replaced by Ms. in this context. It was a default title for actresses (Miss Helen Hayes, Miss Barbara Stanwyck) or other celebrities (Miss Amelia Earhart). Such default usage has also proved problematic; the poet Dorothy Parker was often referred to as Miss Parker, even though Parker was the name of her first husband and she herself preferred Mrs. Parker. Later in the century, the use of "Miss" or "Mrs." became a problem for The New York Times in referring to political candidate Geraldine Ferraro[citation needed], a married woman who did not use her husband's surname, since Mrs. has been used with a woman's maiden name only in limited circumstances in public life before the 1980s. (See more at Ms.)

Use alone as a form of addressEdit

Miss is an honorific for addressing a woman who is not married, and is known by her maiden name. It is a shortened form of mistress, and departed from misses/missus which became used to signify marital attachment in the 18th and 19th centuries. It does not imply age, though youth corresponds (as marriage implies adulthood).

Those seeking to diminish the importance of marriage status to a woman's social identity began to appropriate the office expedience of Ms. (unpunctuated in the UK) in the early 1970s, when it rose 700%. In formal correspondence as women entered the workforce, Ms. pronounced "mizz," served/serves some conservative social functions in avoiding unpleasantness where a woman might keep a marriage name after a divorce, or where the interpersonal gaffe of failing to acknowledge the important marriage event might cause offense (or indicate junior authorship of correspondence). The use of Ms., nevertheless, is in decline. [1]

Other usesEdit

In some American subcultures, such as the American South and some urban cultures, Miss is sometimes used irrespective of marital status with a woman's first name in direct or indirect informal address, as Miss Ellen from Gone with the Wind or Miss Ellie from Dallas. This form was also used in upper class households in some English-speaking countries by servants to address or refer to the unmarried ladies of the household, and occasionally in family-run businesses in the same manner, though more commonly it was used to address servants if they were addressed by title at all. This is also common with female child-care givers; small children will refer to their preschool teacher or nanny as "Miss" and their first name, regardless of marital status. In some school districts in the United States, this custom extends through the early primary school grades.

In some styles of etiquette[which?], the eldest daughter of a family was addressed on paper simply as Miss Doe, with the younger daughters being addressed as Miss Jane Doe and Miss Rebecca Doe. In person, as in when making introductions, the styling would have been extended to unmarried cousins with the same surname.

Another notable use of Miss is as the title of a beauty queen (given that in most pageants it is a requirement that contestants be unmarried), such as Miss America, Miss World, and Miss Universe. Other languages, such as French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese, have borrowed the English Miss to refer to the winner of a beauty pageant.

In some Mexican schools (particularly, but not exclusively, in bilingual schools), the term Miss and female teacher are used interchangeably; students often address their female teachers simply as Miss.

See alsoEdit

  • Fräulein (German-language term for Miss, gained popularity due to the Fräuleinwunder, lit. Miracle of the Miss)


  1. ^ Ngram, Google. "Google Ngram Viewer". Google. Retrieved 7 January 2019.