Mademoiselle: Understanding This French Word

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The French title Mademoiselle, literally "my young lady," has long been used to distinguish between women, whether due to their age or marital status. Shopkeepers and bank clerks, for example, always greet female customers with a polite Bonjour, Mademoiselle or Bonjour, Madame, and so have to make a quick assessment of the woman's age in order to choose the correct term. Likewise, on administrative forms, women have to indicate their marital status by checking either Mlle or Mme in front of their names.

Miss in French--an Outdated Title

For a number of reasons, many people find the term Mademoiselle unnecessary or even offensive, and as of January 1, 2012, the town of Cesson-Sévigné (Ille-et-Vilaine, Bretagne) has removed it from all administrative forms. (The city of Rennes was the first to drop Mademoiselle, in 2008, but that made much less of a splash since it was not accompanied by today's national campaign.)

On February 21, 2012, Prime Minister François Fillon decreed that the term Mademoiselle was to be removed from all administrative documents: Madame will be used for women of any age and marital status. Likewise, the terms nom de jeune fille (maiden name) and nom d'épouse (married name) must be replaced by nom de famille and nom d'usage, respectively. It remains to be seen whether the private sector will follow.

Here is a brief overview of some of the arguments from the campaign against Mademoiselle: This distinction does not exist for men, so why should it for women?

Why does a woman's age and/or marital status matter when a man's doesn't? Demoiselle refers to not just a young, unmarried woman, but also, by extension, a virgin - another bit of personal information that women might not necessarily feel like sharing with the whole world.

Interestingly, there was once a masculine equivalent to demoiselledamoiseau, but for some reason, Mondamoiseau never really caught on as a title.

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ThoughtCo. "Mademoiselle: Understanding This French Word." ThoughtCo, Feb. 26, 2018, ThoughtCo. (2018, February 26). Mademoiselle: Understanding This French Word. Retrieved from ThoughtCo. "Mademoiselle: Understanding This French Word." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 19, 2018).