It would seem that older witches are often called 'Madam' but is this definitely the criteria? E.g. Madam Pince the librarian, Madam Pomfrey, even Madam Hooch and Madam Rosmerta of The Three Broomsticks.

In one of the films at least, Hermione as Bellatrix gets called 'Madam Lestrange'

It is certainly not common in my area of the UK to title any women as 'madam' every time you speak to them, so JKR obviously made a decision to use this styling. Is it a historical reference, or an aspect used just to further set the wizarding world apart? Does she dislike Miss or Mrs?

Additional: I know what 'madam' means and where it comes from. I am asking why JKR chose to use this for a huge variety of women almost every time they are spoken to and about.

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    It's a term of politeness for a female non-Professor or someone who doesn't hold another more obvious title. – Valorum Aug 9 '16 at 16:04
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    Poor Mrs Weasley! – ThruGog Aug 9 '16 at 16:10
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    @ThruGog To be fair, Mrs. Weasley is technically unemployed. If she worked at Hogwarts, I'm sure the students would be instructed to refer to her as Madam Weasley. – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 9 '16 at 17:04
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    Migrate to ELL? – Shane Aug 9 '16 at 17:56
  • Same reason fake latin is used for spells. It sounds foreign. The alternative is mrs., which is apparently not exotic enough for wizarding Britain. The only one i remember being called mrs is molly, who's apparently not sophisticated enough 2 b addressed 'madame'. – user68762 Aug 10 '16 at 15:28

Dearest TruGog,

I've just received your inquiry by owl, and I must say you muggle-borns tend to wonder about the strangest things. Still, it is the way of nobles to enlighten those in need of proper educating -- noblesse oblige, as it were.

I think this has more to do with Wizarding society. Consider that even though this takes place in 'your modern world', Magical London is stuck in the 1920s, at best. So this would be more of a throwback to how London society would have been in ages past.

However, by this logic, there should be more 'ladies' than 'madams'. So, we'd have to use a combination of magical history and 'muggle world history'.

There was a 'split', a divergence from the wizarding and muggle worlds. The International Statute of Secrecy, signed in 1689. So, it can safely be assumed that there would be less and less interaction between magical and muggle after this point, but likely before this point as well.

Considering there are 'noble and most ancient houses', it could readily and reasonably be inferred that these are nobles with a long history, and a proclivity to maintain the familiar.

In conclusion, you cannot compare 'wizarding London' to 'muggle London'. I do hope this helps, and do try not to owl me during the midday meal -- most inappropriate, that.

Sincerely yours,

Alexandra Williams.

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    Interesting. So you're going for 'the wizarding world is stuck in the past' - it kind of works, but I have a pretty good knowledge of European history and I wouldn't say it was ever common in England to call lots of women 'madam' just to be nice. Not so long ago, titles were everything - even among servants - and even using the wrong one by mistake was a huge slight on someone. Calling everyone you respect 'madam' doesn't seem just to be a nod to the past. – ThruGog Aug 9 '16 at 19:11
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    This is true. But that ignores that muggle and wizarding nobility would value things differently. After all, if the muggles are doing it, it can't be right -- or it's just a novelty, at best. That's why one is introduced as 'of the noble and most ancient house of Black'. It has a different ring than 'Lord', or even 'Duke'. – Fayth85 Aug 9 '16 at 19:19
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    I swear, a lady tries to get some sleep and the whole world goes nuts in my absence. Stop editing my answer, people! – Fayth85 Aug 10 '16 at 11:01

It is about being polite. Using Miss or Mrs. both imply other things about the woman being addressed - a Miss is youthful, and a Mrs. is married. A title like Lady might be more appropriate to nobility, being equivalent to Lord, and it doesn't seem to be used much in the wizarding world, either - it may be restricted as a title (though it may be used as a descriptor, "these young ladies" is a very different usage from "the Lady X"). Not using a title implies familiarity, or a lesser status.

Madam is a more neutral title, it is a way of being respectful, if the other two cases don't apply. It is also a way of being respectful if someone doesn't know, or it doesn't matter, if the other two titles might apply or not - someone young or married who is in a separate position of authority, or someone being spoken about who the speaker doesn't know the circumstances of. It was often given to unmarried women past a certain age, especially those in a position or power or station where they deserved respect.

Using Miss or Mrs would be a perfectly respectable title to use where their implications were true - it would be polite to refer to Mrs. Weasley by this title. As for Bellatrix, it should also be polite to refer to her as Mrs Lestrange - she may be called Madam because the person speaking may be extra cautious and polite, or it may be a way for that person to imply she has authority in her own right, not just from her husband (as Mrs might imply) - or just because she prefers it.

  • I understand why people in general would use the title, I was looking more for a reason that JKR decided to make it so prevalent in her world. – ThruGog Aug 9 '16 at 19:06
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    @ThruGog - I would guess, as Fayth85's answer suggests, because its use gives a bit of an old fashioned feel to the story, that the wizarding world is a bit 'out of time' (as opposed to using something like Ms, which is much more modern). It may also be prevalent because the characters are schoolchildren, and are interacting with women with power over them (like professors), who are given extra-respectful titles regardless of personal status, and they might not notice the subtleties of other titles and their use. The specific title a child uses, might not imply things as an adult's use does. – Megha Aug 9 '16 at 19:31
  • I feel like between both answers and comments, we're getting to something that I feel fully answers it, but that both answers need clarification. Also, most of the 'Madams' don't seem to come from children who don't know better. An adult says 'Madam Lestrange' and the Hogwarts staff definitely have it as their titles. – ThruGog Aug 9 '16 at 19:59
  • @ThruGog - I did mean my answer to be supplementary to Fayth85's, since it already covered part of what I was thinking. As for the Hogwarts staff, I don't think it's about 'kids not knowing better' - the staff have authority and are given the title, but the kids aren't interacting much with other people to hear who might get titles from other adults or not (random citizens, other parents, those without extra authority), while kids should give respectful titles to any adult (like "sir"). Mrs for Mrs Weasley is polite, Madam for Madam Lestrange from an adult seems to be about extra status. – Megha Aug 9 '16 at 20:23
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    @ThruGog The Hogwarts professors are just that: professors. You don't work up to such an esteemed title and resign yourself to 'madam'. But, 'madam' is in fact an oldfashion title for people you don't know well. It was more common towards the beginning of Early Modern English (circa 1500s) because of the heavy French influence on the language (though this could arguably put it around 12th century as well). – Fayth85 Aug 9 '16 at 20:23

Madam or madame is an honourific used for muggle and magical women alike. It comes from the French word "madame" meaning "my lady". In general, "madame" is used to show respect, presumably in lieu of qualifications that would allow the usage of the other respectful honourific, "Professor" (though it has been used to refer to known professors also); for example, this applies to Female Ministry of Magic employees like Dolores Umbridge and female members of the non-teaching staff at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry like Madames Pince and Pomfrey.

  • Note JKR always spells it 'Madam' - also consider Madam Rosmerta of The Three Broomsticks. – ThruGog Aug 10 '16 at 9:17
  • @ThruGog Madam Rosmerta is included on the list of notable witches that are using the title "Madam": Amelia Bones, Cho Chang's mother, Edgecombe, Rolanda Hooch, Mafalda Hopkirk, Bellatrix Lestrange Malkin, Griselda Marchbanks, Marsh, Minerva McGonagall, Z. Nettles, Irma Pince Poppy Pomfrey, Primpernelle, Puddifoot, Modesty Rabnott, Rosmerta, Hepzibah Smith, Pomona Sprout, Dolores Umbridge, Celestina Warbeck, Seraphina Picquery. – Nae Yi Shin Aug 10 '16 at 9:45

It doesn't seem unusual to me (American, born 1980s) that an arts instructor should be styled "Madam such-and-such". I can't really put my finger on why, though. I did a quick Google/IMDB search and found only one relevant arts teacher:

  • Madam Bergerone, leader of a ballet troupe from Top Secret!

one relevant scientist:

  • Madam Curie

and one relevant witch:

  • Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone

but I can't shake the feeling that "Madam such-and-such" is a common-ish title for an instructor in the fine arts (dance, piano, voice, things of that nature). Googling "madam piano teacher" does turn up quite a number of references. I would guess that "Madam" is an evolution of "Madame", and that "Madame" was a popular name for beaux-arts teachers in past centuries because of course all the good beaux-arts teachers came from France (so even if you personally weren't French, you'd better advertise yourself as "Madame such-and-such" if you wanted any business).

Since magic is certainly a fine art, it feels "right" to me that magic instructors be styled "Madam". ...Or maybe it feels "right" because I've lived through 15 years of Harry Potter movies. Too late to tell at this point. :)

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    Female magic teachers are called 'Professor' – ThruGog Aug 10 '16 at 8:01
  • But other professionals are called madam. Madam is only used in a professional context, which this answers explains is still a common title in certain muggle fields. – Adam Martin Aug 11 '16 at 13:16

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