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Can I Still Use Sir and Ma’am? When Should I Use Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Mx? What to Do When You Don’t Know Someone’s Gender

Articles Apr 19, 2022

For years, the traditional business communication advice has been to use “Mr.” for a man and “Ms.” for a woman. However, now we know that those forms of address aren’t fully inclusive because they don’t include people outside the binary categories “man” or “woman.” Even the recent addition of “Mx.,” for someone who is nonbinary or genderfluid, doesn’t actually solve the problem, and for many people, it feels inauthentic and uncomfortable.

Asking which courtesy title – or honorific – the person uses is a best practice, just like asking a person’s pronouns. But what if you don’t know the gender of the person you are addressing – either because you are writing an email or making a cold call?

Some writers choose to exclude honorifics entirely and address everyone by their first name. But in some cases, that too seems inadequate, largely because using these titles is a way to honor the other person’s dignity. When someone who is trying to earn my business calls me “Ms. Keister,” for instance, I feel respected and valued. I feel differently when they address me as just “Amber.”

“There are lots of feelings associated with these gendered honorifics, because people feel they’re so inherently tied to respect,” says Dr. Dana Riger, Clinical Assistant Professor of Human Development & Family Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Amber Keister

Amber (she/her) is a Certified Diversity Executive and content strategist for The Diversity Movement. She writes, researches, and edits TDM articles, guides, videos, and more.