Miss Conduct

My ex kept my name

Should a Mrs. give it up? Plus, the real purpose of retirement parties.

By Robin Abrahams
June 20, 2010

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I have been divorced more than five years and have remarried. My ex-wife continues to go by Mrs. My Last Name. In my mind there is only one Mrs. My Last Name, and I am currently married to her. What is the proper etiquette in this situation? G.C. / Boston Once you’ve given someone your name, you can’t ask for it back, I’m afraid. Honorific-wise, a divorced woman is within her etiquette rights to continue to go by “Mrs.” if she so desires (and if she has kept her married name). Presumably, you still address or refer to your ex by her first name, so it’s not as though you are forced to call her “Mrs. Your Last Name” yourself. In which case, then, you need to let it go. I understand that you feel your ex is clinging to an identity that no longer exists. But she’s a woman with whom you have no further relationship, so why should what she calls herself bother you enough to write to me? Perhaps you’re the one who needs to work on moving on.

As someone who coaches people who are about to retire, I have been told by quite a number that they are dreading their company’s retirement party. They have asked me how to stop it altogether, call in sick and avoid it, or take some control over it so that it doesn’t turn into a huge event that will make them uncomfortable. Many of them know that they will be expected to speak at the party and are terrified at the prospect. Do you have advice for employers about how to handle retirement parties? Is there some way they can let the prospective retiree influence the planning? D.R. / Cambridge

Of course the retiree should be able to influence the party planning – celebrants should always have a say in how they are to be celebrated – but what your clients aren’t quite realizing is that the retirement party isn’t entirely about them, no matter whose name is on the gold watch (or, these days, blob of Lucite). Retirement parties, like graduation ceremonies, are a way for institutions to show continuity: Today’s graduates become tomorrow’s teachers, today’s retirees make way for those rising in the ranks. Such ceremonies are meant to show current employees (or students) what a successful relationship with the institution looks like: the honor cords, the plaques, the grateful thanks. And they’re meant to round off an experience that, for better or worse, has consumed the retiree’s (or graduate’s) energies for a significant chunk of that person’s life. “Closure” is a cliche, but cliches become cliches for a reason (which is also a cliche, and I’m going to stop here before I get into a recursive loop). It would, I venture, feel strange to walk into the office on a Monday morning and have Bob or Janet, who had been such a longstanding presence, suddenly absent, as if whisked away by the Men in Black.

This is what the retirement party is supposed to do. Rituals, of course, rarely match up exactly with the emotions they are meant to evoke: I doubt bar mitzvah boys feel particularly manly warbling through their Torah portions, and most brides are more preoccupied with logistical details than they are with their husbands on their wedding days. But we try.

Employers should work with retirees to make the retirement party experience as positive as possible (while maintaining a certain level of uniformity for the sake of fairness). But I’d say the onus is on the retirees to realize that this is not about them – it’s about the people who came before them and the people who will come after. A good retirement speech could be a small collection of memories or a simple “thank you” to the many different people who have helped the person in various ways throughout his or her tenure with the organization.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at

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