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Don't Make A Ms. Stake With A Person's Preferred Title

05/05/2016 7:42 AM AEST | Updated 05/05/2016 7:42 AM AEST
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Business talk at the reception area

Studying medicine was a long haul. Six years at university, that's even before post-graduate specialisation. The degree was so long that about four years into it my ever-politically-correct university made a subtle change to our titles.

All the women in my course went from being called 'Miss' to 'Ms'. It felt like a subtle nod to the fact that we had already aged enough in the administration's eyes to be possibly married and they best not upset us if we were.

Nowadays, we doctors tend to go by the title 'Doctor' which has happily eradicated the need for having to say 'Ms' in public, lest we be judged.

When we all did finally start getting married, the name game stepped up a notch. When it came time to change our names, the vague trend among my friends and colleagues went like this. A third kept their names for all purposes, a third changed to their husband's for everything and the rest used their name at work and his at home. I do even have a colleague who took his wife's name in order that their children would be able to carry on the family name.

The changing or not changing of the name is, in my opinion, an unnecessarily charged issue. And with the title business (Miss, Ms, Mrs) that goes with it, it all just gets a bit confusing. I look at this in the same way we would someone's first name. You are not going to call James by the nickname 'Jim' if he doesn't like it. It's his name and he gets to choose, so be cool and respect that.

I'm sure it's no great surprise to anyone that I kept my name. The reason was twofold. Firstly, I like my name; it's my identity. Secondly, I kept it for professional reasons. Aside from the fact that you become known professionally by one name, having to change your degree and other professional qualifications and associations is a costly and timely exercise. The day he proposed, my husband told me he knew I wasn't going to change my name. Bless him.

Keeping my surname after marriage has resulted in so many times when I have been called all kinds of things. Mrs My Husband's Name, Miss Stamp or just a blank look. Recently when I was on holidays in an island resort-style hotel, the hotel staff couldn't quite understand why I was not Mrs Husband's Name. When I explained that it's quite natural to not change your name after marriage, the woman at the hotel did a hand-to-the-brow ready to faint and exclaimed 'Oh, the poor man!'. I should have pointed out that I just kept my name, not pulled out his fingernails.

When I book a restaurant, I usually book under my name. Which means that my husband has been called 'Mr Stamp' on more than one occasion. He hates it because, just like me, that is not his name. I book restaurants under his name (when I remember) because I have a better eye roll than he does when someone calls me Mrs.

On our recent holiday, some of our friends in the same name game had a rather embarrassing outcome of the two names. The hotel staff were explained that she is Dr X and he is Mr Y. This resulted in the hotel staff assuming they were not married and gave them two separate beds in their hotel room. What followed was a long drawn out explanation that they were married, they would like to share a bed and assume nothing. The fact that her title was 'Doctor' and not 'Mrs' was yet another conversation.

In the grand scheme of problems facing the modern and independent woman, being called Mrs or Miss when that's not quite right is pretty low down on a list of concerns. But really, we should not assume anything. We don't meet someone and say 'You look like a Sarah. I am going to call you Sarah' so why must we persist with the outdated tradition?

A name is a name and it is a show of respect to call someone by their name, not what we think it should be based on their age, gender, marital status or some other random factor. It would be great if hospitality (hotels and airlines especially) would join us in 2016 where we have choice in who we are. Ask. Very simple.

I was just filling in an online form where there were at least a dozen options including Captain and Baroness. Spare a thought for those folk!

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