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Southern "Miss" for married women?
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2010/03/06
10:11pm
lynnmelo
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I grew up down South (N.C.), and most of the time, people would refer to a woman with the title "Miss" and her first name, even if the woman was married. So, I would refer to my father's friend's wife as "Miss Violet" and my friend's mother as "Miss Jeaninne." I never really thought about it until lately. Is this something unique to the South? I'm wondering if anyone has any insight into whether this is widespread down South, and if it is, why we would use the term "Miss" for even married women.

2010/03/07
4:14am
Ron Draney
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Are you sure you weren't hearing "Miz" from your father? Long before it became the pronunciation of the "Ms." abbreviation used by the women's movement, "Miz" was being used, always with a woman's first name as you noted.

Singer Tiny Tim used this form when addressing or speaking of women, as a form of respect (the woman he married was always "Miz Vicki", usually written "Miss Vicki" by newspaper people unfamiliar with the practice). He adopted this Southern form of address even though he was originally from New York city; apparently his own hometown didn't provide him with a title to use that was sufficiently courtly to suit his tastes.

One of my professors in college did the same thing. He also addressed male students as "Brother" plus the first name (I was "Brother Ron" whenever he mentioned me).

2010/03/07
9:43am
torpeau
Left coast of FL
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I believe "Miss Violet" is a Southernism.

Several decades ago, I think businesswomen would be normally addressed as "Miss Smith," "Miss Jones," etc. rather than worry about whether or not they were married and were a "Mrs."

2010/03/08
8:55pm
lynnmelo
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Interesting! Thanks for the replies.

2010/03/09
3:14pm
adventure
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I first came across "miss" as a polite term for an older lady (lady, not woman) in A Rose for Emily, a short story by William Faulkner we had to read in high school. The main character is an elderly woman known as "Miss Emily." I remember being told that this is what Southern people do.
My aunt from Texas calls me "Miss Lilly," even though I'm not married. I'm 25, which I think is still in the "miss" range nationally. Right? Totally.

2010/03/09
3:28pm
EmmettRedd
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Rather than a "Southerism" I always thought of it more as a "slave-ism". There were three women in the O'Hara household. Mrs. O'Hara would have worked for mother, Ellen. But, Miss O'Hara would not have distinguished between Scarlett and Suellen. "Miss Scarlett" and "Miss Suellen" would have easily differentiated between them as well as acknowledge the slave giving "title" and respect to her owner or owner's family member.

Although not necessarily the case for the novel, house slaves were often multi-generational care givers. Continuing to use the "Miss X" formula required no change upon marriage. It also simultaneously displayed respect and endearment.

BTW, I found this quote of the actress who played Scarlett's black Mammy:

Playing the Mammy of Miss Leigh was just about the biggest thrill I've ever had.

Hattie McDaniel

Even long after slavery ended, she was still showing respect to the 'Gone With the Wind' lead actress.

Emmett

2010/03/12
7:03pm
lynnmelo
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Adventure (a.k.a. "Miss Lilly"--LOL!), I don't know how I could have forgotten the Faulkner story. I teach literature, and I always assign that story.

Emmett, your theory sounds plausible. It may well be a carry-over from the 19th century South.

2010/03/12
9:12pm
crestmere
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Is this a Southernism for both whites and blacks or is it primarily African-American? Is it more common with females than with males?

I ask only because I grew up in the South for most of my life but my parents were not from there. My sister had some African-American friends growing up who called my mother "Miss Cindy" (I believe they were from Tennessee but it has been like fifteen years or more and I've lost contact with them) and I have an African-American friend who comes from a different state entirely who referred to a friend of her mother as "Miss Sophie." I never called the parents of any friends by that, it was always either Mr./Mrs. and the last name or first names.

2010/03/14
7:04pm
lynnmelo
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crestmere said:

Is this a Southernism for both whites and blacks or is it primarily African-American? Is it more common with females than with males?

I ask only because I grew up in the South for most of my life but my parents were not from there. My sister had some African-American friends growing up who called my mother "Miss Cindy" (I believe they were from Tennessee but it has been like fifteen years or more and I've lost contact with them) and I have an African-American friend who comes from a different state entirely who referred to a friend of her mother as "Miss Sophie." I never called the parents of any friends by that, it was always either Mr./Mrs. and the last name or first names.


No, it wasn't just among African-Americans. Everyone I knew did this.

Going back to the Faulkner story, I just realized that the protagonist, Miss Emily, is not married. So, that sort of cancels out that as an example (I had forgotten that in my previous answer).

2010/03/15
6:21pm
harmonicpies
Texas
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I have always lived in Texas and the use of "Miss" preceding the first name of the person in question was (and still is) used as a respectful but familiar address to an adult. This applied to all adult women regardless of age, race, or marital status. I still use it at times, both consciously and unconsciously, with friends and associates of all ages for whom I feel affection and respect. As a child, I only addressed adults this way with permission. All adults were Miss/Mrs LastName unless they were introduced to me as Miss FirstName. On the rare occasion that an adult asked me to first-name her, I was allowed to do so only with the "Miss".

It's not as common now, and much less formal, but it's still in use where prompted by parents. The children on my street address me and the other adult women neighbors this way, whether single, married, mothers, or childless.

2010/03/16
10:32pm
Jackie
Spring Green, WI
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Growing up, I spent a lot of time in North Carolina, with family. Miss was always used in conjunction with a woman's first name, be she married, single, divorced or widowed. Although, usually it sounded more like "mizz."

My husband and I are in agreement that children should not call adults by their first names. It's always Mr./Mrs./Miss LastName. Now, if the adult says otherwise, then they may use Mr./Mrs./Miss FirstName. But they may never call an adult strictly FirstName. We see it as a respect thing.

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