Battlepanda: Miss and/or Mrs.


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Miss and/or Mrs.

The mother of one of Gene's tutoring students identified herself as being surnamed Jiang. Seeing as how she is obviously married, I addressed her as Mrs. Jiang (江太太). She explained, "My husband's name is Lin, so I am Mrs. Lin (林太太). But I am Miss Jiang (江小姐)." My mom does the same thing, now that I think of it. She's "Mrs. Oung" but all her documents retain her maiden name.

An interesting workaround for the name change issue that seems to periodically flare up into a raging argument every once in a while. In social contexts involving the entire family, you are Mr., Mrs, and the kids Lin. On your own, however, you retain your independent identity as Miss Jiang. There is no equivalent for "Ms." -- it's Miss or Mrs., though people like Miss Jiang/Mrs. Lin see nothing unusual or awkward at all in alternating between the two. Women start businesses, write papers and sign documents using their maiden name.

I don't think this solution would fly in the US. I think people would get too confused. Changing one's name (or not changing it when one gets married) are loaded decisions -- a rite of passage for traditionalists, an act of defiance for the radicals, a guilt-ridden hobson's choice for those who are somewhere in the middle. Just sidestepping over the whole issue and choosing both? Huh, you can't do that!

By the way, the traditional way of changing names when you marry in Chinese society is to "crown" your husband's family name on top of your own. You seldom see this form being used to identify any but the most ancient women. But perhaps because the maiden name was never kicked out by tradition makes the modernized way of retaining married/maiden names easier.

(Hey, we all know how much I hate hit-and-run overgeneralizations where one extrapolates too much from one somewhat random fact, but hey, it's fun. And it's more or less my own culture, so there.)