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… at least in the law …

It has always been one of The Legal Genealogist‘s pet peeves.

Males, pretty much regardless of age, always have the honorific Mister, abbreviated Mr.

Yeah, yeah, I know that boys were once called Master, and it’s even still technically accepted for very young boys — up to age eight in some parts of the country.1 But addressing any John Jones as Mr. John Jones, regardless of age, is just dandy.

But a female? Sigh… For generations there’s been a distinction between an unmarried female, referred to as Miss, and a married woman, referred to as Mrs., and, of course, with her husband’s surname and not her own.

I mean, seriously, where’s the equality in that kind of terminology, I ask you???

That’s the main reason why I like the honorific “Ms.” If any John Jones is Mr. John Jones, regardless of age, then any Jane Jones should be Ms. Jane Jones.

Alas, the term is still not universally accepted or followed.

Bachelor spinster

So it was actually with a bit of glee that I noted a comment that came in via Facebook yesterday in a discussion about the legal age for marriage in Canada in 1835. “I do find it a bit odd,” one writer noted, “that they refer to the bride as both a spinster and under age.”

Well, no, that’s not odd at all if you consider the legal definition of s spinster in 1835 (and before and after, if we’re being technical here): “The addition given, in legal proceedings, and in conveyancing, to a woman who never has been married.”2

And that prompted another to say that “an unmarried man of any age remains a bachelor.”

Um, no. Not exactly. Not in the legal sense.

In that sense, there really is an equality of terminology. The word “bachelor,” in the legal sense, is a term used to mean only a “man who has never been married.”3

A never-married female is a spinster.

A never-married male is a bachelor.

Equal terms for equal statuses, and both appearing in legal documents we may review as genealogists.

Even if I don’t think I’d recommend addressing a letter that way today…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Equality in terms,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Jan 2019 ( : accessed (date)).


  1. See Nancy Tuckerman & Nancy Dunnan, The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, 50th Anniversary ed. (New York : Doubleday, 1995), 662.
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1115, “spinster.”
  3. Ibid., 112, “bachelor.”
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