It's happened to so many of us, no matter our name or gender. You get a piece of email or snail mail and the honorific or courtesy title is wrong. I have experienced this a number of times — and it always makes me roll my eyes a bit. I mean, my name isn't exactly ordinary, but it is an obviously female one. And then, I feel a little bad for getting annoyed. Who cares? (I guess I do....) After all, maybe the sender isn't a native English speaker and doesn't know which names are female and which are male. I certainly don't know which Chinese, Indian or Icelandic names are for which gender. How would most of the world know that my name is a woman's?
Of course, all the guys named Tracy and Carol, and all the girls called Ryan, James and Charlie experience this on a regular basis. After all, boys' names for girls are really popular these days. And androgynous names like Jamie, Jordan, Alex and Cory engender confusion of their own. The rise of crossover and either/or naming conventions indicates a shift of cultural values towards less compartmentalization of gender and its accompanying stereotypes.
Besides prescribed or adopted names, there are transgender folks who are transitioning, and other people who don't really identify with one gender or another. Much like the history of sex roles in general, we welcome more options that represent who we really are. Surely we are all more than just male or female, married or single, so some things become a little more complicated. Courtesy titles are one of them.
But humans are smart and creative and we can solve this minor problem. With a globalized workforce, shifting gender identities and privacy concerns, a new solution is in order. Following the lead of Ms. in the 1970s, which gave women equal footing with men in terms of being identified regardless of marital status, now there's a general neutral honorific.
Mx. has mostly been used by our friends in English language across the pond, and in The New York Times, just once.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary: "Pronounced to sound like mix or mux, the title Mx. (which, like other honorifics, is styled without the period in British English) is used increasingly on various official forms in the U.K., including driver's licenses and banking documents."
Some might argue that getting rid of honorifics altogether is another simple solution to this problem, and I agree. But as anyone who has filled out any type of form knows, it's easier to innovate with what already exists than to delete it altogether.
Whether the title is adopted or not is most likely one of time; Ms. was introduced in 1901, but didn't become accepted until the 1980s. As someone who has been using Ms. her whole adult life, it seems as if its always been with us — which is how Mx. will probably feel to people of the future.
Related on MNN:
- A closer look at Wikipedia's gender problem
- What will humans look like in 100,000 years?
- New evidence revisits theories of gender and our brains