French Government Phasing Out “Mademoiselle”

France is moving into the 1970s, phasing out titles which distinguish between married and unmarried women.

France is moving into the 1970s, phasing out titles which distinguish between married and unmarried women.

AP (“Call me ‘madame’: French government phasing out use of term ‘mademoiselle’“):

Forget what you learned in French class about “madame” and “mademoiselle.” The French government now says women’s marital status shouldn’t matter, at least when it comes to this country’s far-reaching bureaucracy.

A new circular from the prime minister’s office Tuesday orders officials to phase out the use of “mademoiselle” on administrative documents. Until now, a woman has been required to identify herself as a married “madame” or an unmarried “mademoiselle” on everything from tax forms to insurance claims and voting cards. France offers no neutral option like the English “Ms.”

Men don’t face this issue: Their only option is “monsieur,” married or not.

It’s all the more strange given that French young people widely shun matrimony, and more than half of French children are born to unmarried parents.

Feminist groups have been pushing for the abolition of the “mademoiselle” option for years and hailed the circular.

The US government adopted the use of “Ms.” in 1972–four decades ago.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Gender Issues, World Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    I thought you were a conservative JJ? This isn’t something you should be celebrating.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    They can have my “Senorita” when they pry it from my cold, dead mouth.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Brummagem Joe: I support evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in these sort of affairs. In my judgment–granting that I was in grade school when the “Ms.” changeover was occurring here–the US movement was somewhat too early and the France change far, far too late. That is, in the early 1970s the US was still largely a traditional society in which women married and not only adopted their husband’s surname but styled themselves “Mrs. John Jones.” In France, though, they hung on to Mademoiselle long after it became outmoded at the grass roots level.

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    I still address my letters to Mrs John Jones. But then I’m something of a reactionary in social customs. I still wear grey flannels suits.

  5. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    France has a negative net birth rate across all demographics, save for the notable exception of its unassimilated Muslim immigrant worker class. France also has weak growth, a giant welfare state, a high debt-to-GDP ratio, and given that it’s inextricably tied to the Euro it won’t be able to devalue its currency to pay off its bills. Ergo in a couple of decades — perhaps sooner — the French government might very well be debating Arabic vs. French. Seriously.

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @James Joyner: I’m not positive, but I think that it would have expanded into the workplace first as a natural phenomena, as women gained more traction in white collar environments, simply as a matter of convenience. I’m actually surprised that this is still a thing in France – it seems like it would have become outmoded by the mid-90s at the latest.

    I started working in office environments in the early 90s and I really can’t imagine being expected to make a phone call every time I had to compose a letter to someone with a female sounding name to find out their marital status. It seems like such a waste of time.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Never underestimate the power of a large bureaucracy to hold back change. Japan is still fighting a rear-guard battle against married women retaining their maiden names for work purposes after they marry. And refuses to allow any alternative listing. Annoys women professionals immensely. In at least one case, the woman was so much more famous under her unmarried name that she and her husband decided to get “divorced” and just continued living together.

    At least in Japan you don’t have to worry about the difference between “Miss” and “Mrs.” Or Mrs. and Mr., for that matter…..