DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the protocol for addressing a U.S. citizen by a title they obtained through marriage, e.g., “countess” or “princess”?
A newspaper book reviewer referred to Lee Radziwill as “princess.” In another article, a reality television “star” refers to herself as “countess.” Both women are American.
Is it correct for Americans to use such titles? I always thought that Americans should not -- that, in the words of a dear, late friend, “It’s just not done.”
GENTLE READER: Yes, but so many things that are just not done are done.
Those who retain their American citizenship should not use titles in reference to themselves. For that matter, no titled people, domestic or foreign, should ever refer to themselves by using their own titles. This is such an established tradition among aristocrats that anyone who violates it is under suspicion of using a false title.
But one of your examples is the opposite: namely, how other Americans should address or refer to those with titles. Miss Manners sees several factors at play here: courtesy, practicality and silliness.
Addressing people as they wish to be addressed is a matter of courtesy.
The practical part is so that we know which Elizabeth you are talking about.
Those reasons alone would justify using the titles by which these celebrities are known.
As for the silliness: Many Americans are frightfully fond of titles, and toss them around haphazardly. It was impossible to convince such people that there was no “Princess Diana.” She was styled Lady Diana because of her birth -- itself a courtesy title, because the British recognize only one title holder in a family -- and, by marriage, Diana, Princess of Wales.
The error that Miss Manners sees is not in addressing others by their titles but in doing so incorrectly.