A Proper Madam

Personally, I think that titles are a tad silly. That is to say, I’d much prefer that men, women and children who come across me call me by my first name. I don’t need a title. I don’t even expect my children to call me ‘mum’ . (They do, anyway, as a term of endearment, rather than a title).

Only in Asia – where I spent ten years and over half my adult life – do they manage to get my ‘title’ right, anyway. You see, I ceased to be a ‘Miss’ when I ceased to be a teenager and got married. It makes me grit my teeth when people call me ‘miss’. It’s an ugly word, with horrible connotations. If you don’t quite manage to achieve something, you ‘miss’ it. If you’re away from something or someone you love, you ‘miss’ them. If the bus pulls away two seconds before you reach the bus-stop, you ‘miss’ it. ‘Miss’ is all about loss and ‘not-quiteness’.

‘Ms’ is horrendous. To me, it smacks of the 1980s and man-hating women who thought they were liberated and that that liberation could be communicated by their affected use of ‘Ms’ as a prefix to their names. ‘Ms’ is so not for me.

If I am to have a title, I prefer the one that was conferred on me in the East; ‘Madam’. Madam is a great title. It is used by and for women who marry, but continue to use their pre-marriage surname. For example, if a Miss Woo marries a Mr Wong, she is Mrs Wong, but Madam Woo. I like that. Her marital status is conveyed, but she is ‘allowed’ the use of her original surname. Similarily, women who have been divorced are known as ‘Madam’ and whatever their original surname is. A woman with children is always respectfully addressed as ‘Madam’.

I like the term, I like what it applies and – as it happens – it applies to me. I liked being Madam Larkin far more than I ever liked being Miss Larkin, Ms Larkin, Missus Larkin, Missus Jay, or Missus Sridhar. The only other title I enjoyed nearly as much was that of ‘Mama Ishthara’ – as I was called by the vegetable man, the newspaper man and various other wallahs in India after my eldest daughter was born.

The fact of it is, though, that in this part of the world, very few people will ever deign to address me as ‘Madam Larkin’ rather than ‘Hazel’. Musing over this with a friend yesterday, she hit upon the perfect solution: I’ll just have to finish my doctorate. Then I can insist upon being – and expect to be – called ‘Dr Larkin’. 🙂


It might be easier just to re-marry, though.