Ms: is it really so difficult?!

// 19 July 2013

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By Amanda Chan. Amanda is a 22-year-old graduate working in museum education. Follow her on twitter here.

 I have various bank accounts, and all of these banks refer to me as Miss Chan. I despise the title “Miss” – I find it both patronising and patriarchal. I won’t go into the reasons as to why I detest the title so strongly, but for an excellent explanation, read Margaret Felice’s “Why I hate being called Miss”. Every time I received a bank statement, or pulled out my bank card to see the title “Miss”, the feminist inside me would feel a niggling dissatisfaction; I decided enough was enough.

A phone call to NatWest proved rather unsuccessful. After explaining my request, the advisor asked: “Have you got married recently?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m not married, I just want to change my title from Miss to Ms – it’s just a personal preference.”

“Oh, so no one knows if you’re married or single, that type of thing?”

“Yes, I just have a personal preference for Ms, and would like my bank cards and correspondence to reflect this.”

After being told that without documentation showing that I had officially changed my name from Miss Chan to Ms Chan, they would be unable to change my personal details, I explained that there was no official process that allowed to me to change my title, and that there was actually no official documentation that proved my title at all, be that Miss or Ms.

“No offence right, Miss Chan, but titles aren’t really that important these days anyway…”

At this point I could feel the blood boil beneath my skin. How dare she trivialise my requests! I explained once more that I am not Miss Chan, I had made a conscious decision to use Ms, and that my bank should respect this. Her response was this: “We don’t allow this change on the system without official proof that you’ve changed your name. I’m afraid we can’t help you, Miss Chan.”

Determined to pursue this further, I visited my branch in-store, and remarkably, the staff at NatWest were able to change my personal details instantly, no questions asked, and my newly corrected bank cards were sent out to me within a few days.

Next, I tackled HSBC. A visit to the branch proved rather fruitless. Speaking to the customer service advisor, I asked her how I should go about changing my personal details from Miss to Ms.

“Have you just got married?”

“No, but I use Ms instead of Miss. It’s a personal preference.”

“Well without proof of your change of name to Ms, we can’t change your person details.”

After further discussion, she explained: “As far as I’m concerned, you’re Miss until you’re married, then you become a Mrs, and then if you get divorced, you can become a Ms” – she even wrote out each title for me as she said it, as if explaining the alphabet to a toddler. Refusing to give up, I explained as calmly as I could, that “Ms” was used for women regardless of their marital status, for those women who see marital status as entirely irrelevant to one’s identity. At this point, seeing that I was refusing to accept defeat, she rang her managers. Again, they told me the same thing. “No change of name without evidence of a name-change.” At this point I changed tact – what if I were to bring in a letter addressed to me from an official organisation, such as HM Revenue and Customs, showing my title as “Ms”; surely this would then “prove” that my name was Ms Amanda Chan? She sighed at me, and as if to humour me, said “If you can bring this in then yes, we will fill out a change of name form for you and process it.”

I vowed to return with the proof that I was indeed a Ms, and not a Miss, and hurried home to find a letter from HM Revenue and Customs, which was listed on a HSBC leaflet as official proof of identification. On my return visit to HSBC, I was told once again that this change would not be possible without evidence of a name-change. After 40 minutes of discussing this with various staff members, I was finally able to convince them to change my title on their database, and my new bankcards with my preferred title were sent out to me the following day.

I’m sure there will be many who think that going to such lengths just to change a few letters before my name was completely pointless and trivial. Of course, compared to more serious women’s issues, the matter of Miss or Ms could easily be deemed insignificant. However, feminism is about choice. Women have the right to choose their title, be that Miss, Mrs or Ms. A bank has no right to demand to see evidence of such a decision, and indeed, there is no supporting evidence that can prove a woman’s decision to adopt the use of Ms. I choose to have an identity separate to my marital status. I choose to be recognised as an individual, regardless of whether or not I have made a life-long commitment to a man, and there is nobody on this planet and certainly no bank, who has the right to tell me otherwise.

Blurred image of a bank card by Ed Ivanushkin, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Megan Stodel // Posted 19 July 2013 at 4:05 pm

This is so frustrating!

To add to this for the record for anybody looking at banks, I changed from Miss to Ms at Metrobank and it was the easiest thing in the world.

Much easier than convincing energy companies, letting agencies and so on…

Anna // Posted 19 July 2013 at 4:38 pm

Best use I get out of my PhD, hands down. Whenever I’m asked “is it Miss or Mrs?”, I take great pleasure in replying “well, actually, it’s Dr”. A bit of a roundabout solution to the problem described here, though, I’ll admit.

Jane Fae // Posted 19 July 2013 at 5:31 pm

Music to my ears…or rather NOT music at all!

But absolutely typical of how the banks treat their customers.

This name change/identity thing has been a bugbear for me for several years, not least because the banking approach is fundamentally wrong. They’ve been pushed towards it by government legislation about terror and money laundering.

So their EXCUSE when they start to throw their weight around like this is the old checnut of “security”.

Except that really is a load of bollx! The documents most frequently cited as needed for a change of name are marital or divorce certificates, both of which state very clearly that they are NOT to be used for identification purposes, while the deed poll has become a moneyspinner for solicitors and specialist companies, despite the fact u can just go out and do your own for zero cost (and actually, zero evidential value).

Bizarrely – given that banks MIGHT call on you to get a deed poll – an ENROLLED deed poll (which is a slightly posher version of same) is about the only thing in existence that still requires spousal consent to get. That’s right: you must ASK YOUR HUSBAND before getting proof of something that is your right to have.

Bottom line is that the banks request does not enhance their security, annoys customers and is almostcertainly gender discriminatory. I have twice threatened organisations with an equalities action in the county court on this issue and both times they have backed down.

If you want to read a bit more about it, try

I have a more up to date version, but annoyingly, its not online.

I have also spoken to various MP’s about it and have had some slight nibbling of interest from the Labour front benches. Think i may even have written for the FWord on the subject. So anyone wishing to take this issue further, please contact me… jane at ozimek dot co dot uk

Gethin Jones // Posted 19 July 2013 at 8:24 pm

I’m surprised HSBC did that: a friend of mine also hates Miss as she says it makes her feel like a child, and asked for it to be changed to Ms as soon as she turned 18, which HSBC did without batting an eyelid. If this happens again, you can always make a deed poll showing you’ve changed your title (this is completely free and legal to make from your home computer). After all, there are no legal requirements for a woman to use Ms instead of Miss – you do not have to be divorced like the bank teller wrongly told you.

austengirl // Posted 20 July 2013 at 10:08 pm

This is one of my pet peeves about living in the UK (I grew up in the US, have lived in Britain for 10 years and am now a dual citizen). I’ve used Ms since I turned 18 and it is pretty much a non-issue where I’ve lived in the US, but it still seems to be perceived as slightly outside the norm in the UK and I cannot figure out why. Perhaps it’s connected to lingering ideas about class and social indicators–many UK web forms offer far more choice of title than US forms do. It also doesn’t help that I’ve heard guys my age say they ‘can’t get their head around Ms–why wouldn’t you just use Miss then Mrs when you get married?’ And then act completely baffled when I point out that why should women have to use titles that reflect their marital status when men don’t?

Every account I’ve set up in the UK before and after I got married I’ve used Ms without problem except for one bank where the official misheard me and put Mrs. I really ought to change it but haven’t bothered to do so yet. And if they give me hassle I will threaten to close my account. ;)

The Goldfish // Posted 21 July 2013 at 10:56 pm

Back when I had an HSBC account, they put Ms on my debit card, Miss on my cheque book and Mrs on any letters I received, all relating to the same account, so I can’t imagine why they’d be all that bothered (I even considered investing in more financial products – might I be deemed a Baroness on a savings account?).

The Ms thing really amazes me – as a child of the 80s and 90s, I was quite sure pretty all of us would be Ms when we grew up. I don’t judge women who have another preference, but it is shocking that there’s still these strange ideas and prejudice. I’m especially amused by the idea that Ms belongs to divorcees – it’s not enough that everyone should know if you’re married or not, there has to be a title to depict whether you were married but aren’t any more. When Mx becomes more common, they’ll be folk insisting that’s just for widows.

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