Difference between Ms and Mrs: Am I a Mrs if I don’t change my last name?

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I decided long ago that I'd keep my name if I got married. But … what IS my name? I never use miss, I've often used the “Ms.” title, and I expect to keep doing so. “Mrs.” can, however, be useful.

I always assumed I'd use my full name as Mrs. MyName at those times, but during this last week I've realized that in my mind, if I use Mrs, the title is inextricably linked with the husband's name.

Mrs. doesn't just signal that I'm married, it tells people the name of the person I'm married to! Mrs. MyName feels self-contradictory and weird, like I'm married to myself. Like I'm my own mistress, lol.

Maybe I just have a problem with the title “Mrs.” Do people use it when they keep their name? Are you Mrs. Stallings? (My man, when asked, said I should just use “Dr.”, but that's only because he likes reminding me that I really have finished my PhD.) Basically, I don't understand the difference between Ms and Mrs! -Suzanne

It's not just in your mind that the Mrs. title is linked to your spouse's name. Historically, the Mrs. honorific doesn't just mean “I'm a married woman” — it meant “I'm the wife of ______.”

If you're using Mrs., technically you're not even Mrs. YourFirst TheirLast. If you're into etiquette, when you marry someone and take their name, your title becomes Mrs. Their First TheirLast or just Mrs. TheirLast. You literally lose your first name.

Let's talk about the traditional rules and supposedly proper etiquette

By the traditional rules which were in effect before the 1950s, it's incorrect to refer to yourself as Mrs. YourFirst TheirLast. It's easy to see why feminists in the 1960s and 1970s balked at using Mrs. — your name literally disappears when using traditional honorific titles! For many young women, this struck them as gross. (Hell, for many adult women this struck them as gross! Why should a woman's marital status effect both her names?)

Since Mrs. does indeed tell the world who you've married, you're right that Mrs. YourFirst YourLast suggests you've married yourself. While we love that idea, that may not be what you want to convey.

If you're keeping your own name as an unmarried woman or man, you stick with Ms. YourFirst YourLast.

The honorific of “Ms” intentionally doesn't indicate whether you're married or who you're married to. If I'd taken my husband's last name, I could have gone from Miss. Stallings to Mrs. Fetz or Ms. Fetz. Since I kept my own last name, I'm definitely Ms. Stallings … if you're nasty.

Now let's talk about modern title preferences

  • The old rules were that you were miss until you got married, at which point you became missus or mizz, in formal settings.
  • The new rules basically boil down to personal preference. You an use whatever prefix you like, including switching to a gender neutral title! If you want to get non-binary about your formal title, let's talk about Mx as an awesome title of respect, regardless of your pronouns.
  • That said, divorced women and other femme folks typically use Ms.

How do you let your family know about your last name situation?

If you know before the wedding what you're doing with your names, you can include that information on your wedding invitations. But what about if you want to let your families know after the wedding that you're keeping your maiden name? That's got a relatively easy solution… thank you cards, which offer two opportunities to share the news:

  • Your return address on the envelope should include both of your full names.
  • Sign the cards with your full names — and you want to really drive the point home, draw a little arrow to your last name and note: Yep, I kept my last name! 

But what if you want to change your last name after getting married?

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Comments on Difference between Ms and Mrs: Am I a Mrs if I don’t change my last name?

  1. Once you have that PhD., you're a Dr. You're not a Ms. or a Mrs. You've earned that honorific, and there's no reason why you shouldn't use it, for any occasion.
    Mr. and Dr. Lastname.
    Mr. Lastname and Dr. Othername.

    Congrats on the PhD (and the marriage, too)

    • And actually, according to Gregg’s Manual, the female with a title of “Dr.” (or other distinguished titles) would be listed first. Example: Dr. Susan Smith and Mr. John Smith.

  2. Exactly. I'm proudly Dr. MyName, and my husband is Dr. HisName. We both earned our PhDs just as you did, and use our titles correctly every single day at work. 🙂 If I'd taken his, we'd be Drs. HisName, which is kind of cute but also kind of makes us sound like conjoined twins.

  3. My future betrothed partner and I are going to be PhD's (we hope!) and that was integral in my decision to keep my name… besides all of the philosophical problems with patriarchy, of course 🙂

    I am with your fiance – use the Dr.! You didn't punish yourself for nothing, it's something to be proud of! 😀

    Congrats on both!

  4. Thanks for posting this (as well as the video, which is playing in the background right now…)! I hadn't given the title much thought, because I really couldn't think of anyone who would use a title in addressing me. Really, what situation in life would call for a title? I guess healthcare. Medical office receptionists should probably just go with Ms. to be safe. I guess I'll find out when I get health insurance. For now, if anyone asks, I'm either "Ms. Mylastname" or "Eliza, Mrs. Jeremy." The latter comes up at the bridal showers of his extended family members, you know, for reference.

  5. One thing Ariel didn't mention specifically is why "Mrs" originally proceeded the last name of the man you married. It seems obvious, but I'm always surprised at how many people have never noticed that "Mrs" is simply the possessive form of "Mr" ("Mr's")…as in, "belonging to Mr. Whatever". (Sorry I don't have any source to cite here–just something I learned in a course in college that stuck in my mind!)

    Kinda crazy, huh? In my case, we're both taking my last name as a second middle name, and using his as our last name for the "team" and future children reasons. I expect I will go by Ms. HisLast…although I will probably get called Mrs. by my students no matter what, since they don't seem to understand that not all adult women are married!

    • Just from an English Lit education,
      I’ve been taught that Mrs is just short for Mistress. I’ve never heard the possessive of Mr idea.

  6. Good post! I was always a bit confused about this topic. I think I prefer going as a "Ms. HisLast" rather than a "Mrs.". Awesome! And really, who says you can't make up exactly the name you want!

  7. Actually, "Mrs." is an abbreviation of "mistress," not a possesive of "Mr." (which is an abbrebiation of "master")
    From etymonline.com & Merriam-webster dictionary.

  8. actually, "Mrs." was never "Mr's" – it was actually a shortened version of "Mistress" as, incidentally, was "Miss" (Miss was originally written as 'mis'). "Mistress" and "Mrs. " were used for married as well as unmarried women in early usage.

    I think it was sometime in the 1700s that "miss" and "mistress" gained their individual meanings of married and single – in the 1790s, you can find writings basically telling people that folks are using the words incorrectly in the United States, and in Europe unmarried women were still being referred to as "Mrs" at that time. The first recorded instance (in the US, at any rate) of "Mrs." being used explicitly to refer to a woman as 'wife' (the mrs.) was in 1821.

    Check out the Dictionary of American Regional English… as the title states, it's just American… but it has a well documented history for Mrs.

    Sorry for the rant… I used to study linguistics!

  9. We decided to go with Mr. & Ms. HisName-MyName. We decided to combine our names, but even if I'd taken his name I would still have been a Ms. based on personal preference.

  10. Nice to see all the doctors here! I will hopefully shortly have my PhD, and I am definitely going to use my title! I'm also keeping my surname, since I have work attached to that name and it seems strange to change it. So we'll be Dr Me and Mr Him. 🙂

  11. i have friends who are married and both are dr. hisname (they are medical doctors, though). it's pretty cute, actually, though i do not have full details as to why she chose his name, because obviously that isn't really appropriate to ask people randomly.

    i can't imagine not having my last name. i feel so a part of my family and have only brothers, the married of which are fairly conventional, so we all still have the same last name. and i'm old, i've had this name a long time. but i would love to have a team name with my partner. i kind of do (we're in a band together, so sometime we go by myfirst bandname and hisfirst bandname). but i just don't think it'll work out. we won't have kids though so that's something we don't have to worry about.

    i'm a big fan of combining last names into new names (as opposed to hyphenation) but this doesn't always work out very well.

    that all said, i thought the entire point of going by ms. was to eliminate the married/unmarried signifier. do even if you take your partners name, it makes sense to continue going by ms. in situations where for whatever reason you need someone to know you are married to them, you would want to use their last name anyway, even if you weren't legally named that, because otherwise there'd be no point in going by mrs.

  12. Excellent, Ariel!

    Just to add my two cents: Ms. was specifically invented so that us ladies could have a title throughout life that would not connotate singledom OR married-dom (just like Mr.). Before, you only got to be Miss or Mrs.

    And yes, technically speaking, you only get to use Mrs. if you take his name. Otherwise, you're indicating to people that you are actually your own mother (Mrs. MyLastName is actually your mom, if she took your dad's name).

    Wow, this all sounds so old-fashioned now.

  13. Thanks! That was my question, and the answer plus people's comments have been very helpful for thinking about it. "Mrs." is officially out, and "Dr. MyName and Dr. HisName" is in. As someone said, we will be using the titles every day at work anyway.

    I've got to say, this is a good week. I had a relaxing few days on our honeymoon, I got the word that my PhD is officially granted, AND Ariel answered my question on offbeatbride! Life is cool.

    P.S., to the last commenter: another Suzanna? Wow!

  14. I admit it, I took my husband's name, but after much thought and deliberation on the matter. Our situation is unique as he is a Laird and I'm a PhD. Depending on the formality of the occasion, we're either Dr. and Mr. Wilcox (professionally); Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox (casually); or formally–Laird and Lady Wilcox. 😉

    • OMG, I love this SO HARD! I hereby proclaim that those without Dr. as an option should go by Lady or preferred variant. 🙂

  15. I wish we could do without titles altogether. I don't feel there's really a need for them!

  16. 2 cents:

    I have a hyphenated last name that my parents gave me. IT IS EVIL. I would not wish a hyphenated last name on anyone. Currently, I'm in a struggle with the USPS that I am not two people (Amanda P Lanyon and Amanda P LeSage), but just one (Amanda P Lanyon-LeSage). They don't believe me.

    I suppose hyphenating your own name is acceptable, since you are doing it to yourself (have fun!) but I would never do it to a child. Cruel and unusual? Yes. It messes up government forms, the SATS thought my name was Aman Lanyonles, no one knows how to pronounce it (Lanyon like canyon, LeSage like The Page [we are not fancy and French]), and I have to spell it about ten times a week.

    My boyfriend's last name is Ferguson, and you can bet your bippy that when we get married, Amanda Ferguson I will become.

  17. But I will say that I'm unsure about the whole Mrs./Ms. debate. My mom is a Ms. (my parents are married, but they both kept their last names), and it has always caused her trouble. And I'm going to be a librarian… I think "Mrs. Ferguson" sounds like a crotchety old lady telling kids to be quiet.

    Can I be one of those cool librarians who says, "Just call me Amanda"?

    • i'm all for you being the cool librarian. At least until you do become the crotchety old lady telling the kids to be quiet. 🙂

    • I've always gone by "Miss Kirsten" to my young patrons (I'm a children's librarian), and while to everyone else I'm going to be Ms. Brodbeck-Kenney (or "Mrs." — I don't really care that it's technically wrong, right now being a newlywed I get a kick out of being called "Mrs.") I'm still going to be Miss Kirsten to my charges.

    • I've always gone by "Miss Kirsten" to my young patrons (I'm a children's librarian), and while to everyone else I'm going to be Ms. Brodbeck-Kenney (or "Mrs." — I don't really care that it's technically wrong, right now being a newlywed I get a kick out of being called "Mrs.") I'm still going to be Miss Kirsten to my charges.

  18. Hi! Just saying, I'm keeping my last name (for now!).

    I'm a teacher, and my students call me Mrs. or Miss and don't seem to know the difference anyway. For me, what's important is that they remember my last name.

    I'm the only one in my family who has my last name, since it was my father's. I don't feel like I'm honoring him (he left when I was a baby), but I feel like I'm keeping what has always been mine.

    Our kids will have future hubby's last name, although we have joked about combining names, i.e. "Coffer" or "Shavitz".

    And, Amanda, of course you can be cool and have them call you whatever you like!

  19. I feel like I have to add my gay little two cents to this. As the daughter of a staunch second wave feminist, I've always firmly believed that not only would i keep my own name, but that I would always be a Ms. It's how I was raised.

    But recently, in going through the name deciding process with my soon to be wife, I realized that, for me, Mrs. is at once a subversive act, a political statement, and something more I can do to recognize that I have elevated the love of my life to the special place of honor and commitment – spouse. Yes, people will assume that I have a Mr., but that's easily corrected, and so should be. People have been assuming my fiance is a man since I left "girlfriend" status behind, and I'm looking forward to having a wife, to being a wife, and for us to be Mrs. OurWeirdBlendedLastName together.

  20. I've been trying to convey to my fiancé why changing my name doesn't skeeve me out (we discussed the name situation at great length, and which parts of what names meant what to whom, and mutually agreed that me appending his surname and having two middle names was the way for me to go), but why being Mrs. Hisname does. I fully expect to be addressed as Ms. going forward as I have been for most of my adult life.

    Though it is true that in the professional world these days Ms. really is the default, because you don't know if someone is married when you address her — and it shouldn't matter.

  21. I have to throw in a recommendation for the man taking the woman's last name that's what my husband did. If the argument is about not wanting the kids to have a different last name or a hyphenated last name why not have the man take the woman's last name? I think that refusing to consider that possibility highlights just how much the name change business is still driven by the patriarchy. Technically probably Mrs. is not "correct" in that case and I would always go by Ms. if asked but it doesn't bother me if someone were to address me as Mrs.

  22. To the other Suzanna: RAD! Nice spelling there, lady. 😉

    To Kelly G. : YES! I love the blended-last-name-Mrs.-lesbians! Way to make the system work for you.

    Personally, I dig the Mrs. Don't know if that's what I'll choose when the day comes, but, as one elderly lady I know said, when asked if she wanted to be called Jane or Mrs. Smith: "Mrs. Smith, of course! I've certainly earned it!"

  23. Professionally I will be Dr. Hall and in a familial setting like "billy's mom" kind of thing I guess I'll go by Mrs. Luba. I'm not sure if I'm going to legally change my name or not. I had always kind of assumed I would hyphenate but then we'd be HallLuba or LubaHall…..one sounds like a polka themed party and the other sounds like a skin cream…..ick

  24. I am changing my last name to his, but I'm about to get my PhD and he is not. Does anyone know if there's an etiquette to the order of titles? Like, usually if you introduce a married couple with the same last name, you would normally say "Mr and Mrs Smith". If he's a Dr and she's not, it's "Dr and Mrs Smith".

    What about if I'm a Dr and he's not? Do we still say "Mr and Dr Smith" or does Dr trump Mr, and we get introduced as "Dr and Mr Smith"? 🙂 This is not very important, it was just something we were wondering about in the car last night.

  25. I'm with Sarah Beth – I am a teacher and have added my husbands name on to the end of mine, as acknowledgment of the joining of our families. However, expecting 5 year old children to call me Mrs MyName HisName is a bit tough, and because I am known professionally as Ms MyName (and often got Mrs anyway), I am happy for them to call me that. I don't feel like I have married myself and I don't feel like I am my mum, I just feel like my title (Mrs) is being recognised.

  26. While I fully intend to be Dr., I also feel that my personal life is really no one's business that I don't want it to be, therefore even if I were changing my name, I'd be Ms. People can disagree, but defining women's formal titles based on marital status, while not defining men that way, suggests that the primary part of women's identity is their relationship to men, while men are above their relationship to women. That's not what I want my sons and daughters to learn.

    I think the use of Mrs. is so normal, or how people have been using Ms. as a substitute for Miss has been trying to push women back into the family or else box.

    I mean, if you're a lesbian or in an otherwise non-traditional relationship, the use of Mrs. can be subversive and redefine the normal… but otherwise Mrs. to me, screams out patriarchy and unequal relationships. I'm not comfortable with that.

  27. My mom kept her last name when she married my dad, and she's always called Mrs. Dad'sLastName anyway. She doesn't mind, though-I think she kind of goes by the "A rose by any other name still smells as sweet" type mentality.

    I took my husband's last name, ultimately because it was more important to him that I take his than it was to me that I keep mine. I occasionally get called Mrs. HisLastName, but by friends, just to bug me I think-Mrs.HisLastName is still my MIL (because she's uncomfortable with being called by her first name, which is another discussion altogether). Honestly I really don't like it, but after growing up watching my mom I figure I'll have to deal with being called Mrs. HisLastName no matter what. I kind of figure it's moot. I'll be called Mrs. by lots of people just because I'm married, whether or not I kept my maiden name. Anyone else will just call me Kate. I don't plan on using Ms. or Mrs at all. The only title I might ever go by is Dr., muahahahaha. 🙂

    Amanda-I'm going to be a librarian too, and I fully plan on just going by my first name. Ms. or Mrs. is too damn formal for me, no matter where I am!

  28. Wait, the post above makes it sound like I was indifferent or didn't want to take his name. Not the case. I was actually really excited when I got to change everything-it signified that we're a family now. Wasn't too hot on it at first, but now I love it. It's just the Ms. v. Mrs. think doesn't mean much to me. Does that make sense?

  29. I like the idea of having a "team name," but my first name just "goes" with my last. He's the last male carrying the name on, and his name "goes" with his family name. We've established our professions, and we're in our 30's, it just seems like we've earned our given and surnames at this point. The kids will have his name. I'm sympathetic to the fact that while his folks would support anything we do, they would really like the name to carry on. At least one parent should have the same name.

    As for Ms., Miss, or Mrs., I've been going by Ms. for my entire adult life. The southern folks in my life may still refer to me as Miss, and when I taught, the kids referred to just about every adult woman as Mrs. I won't go out of my way to correct someone, but Ms. is how I'll refer to myself.

  30. I find this whole debate fascinating. I love that there are so many different viewpoints on names in this community – from it being the one 'traditional' thing many woman will do, to being the hill that some other woman will die on. And I support each position fully – your name is your name. Do what you want with it.
    I'm not changing my name when we get married – why should I? I can see absolutely no reason to.
    Especially since he doesn't have to do a danged thing – if he gets to lay back and not fill out any paperwork, neither do I. (And here's where I cross my arms and stare stubbornly down my nose at any naysayers.)
    At the same time, however, I fully intend to use Mrs. MyLastName all I want; screw any 'traditional meaning'. Traditions and the lexicon change over time because of usage – as a citizen of the free world, I am in charge of my own title and I say I can be Mrs. MyLastName. (Again, I stubbornly cross my arms.)

  31. I still remember the old rule, that you were "Miss" if you kept your own name on marriage. I had one receptionist at my old law firm who followed that rule, and called me "Miss." However, when I became noticeably pregnant, she started calling me "Mrs."

    Personally, I prefer Ms. for all women. You don't have to know a man's marital status or the name of his spouse to address him; why should you have to with a woman?

  32. I'm going against what's "traditional". I will give a stern talking to to anyone who calls me Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. Sure, that may be how it USED to be done, but that doesn't mean it always and forever has to be done that way. I'm taking his LAST name, not his WHOLE name. Legally I will be MyFirst MyMiddle HisLast. Nowhere in there is HisFirst.

    Like Deanderthal said… screw "traditional meaning".

    Plus I really don't like the sound of Ms. It's too harsh, I much prefer the sound of Mrs.

    Just like wedding, just because it's traditional, doesn't mean it has to be done. Just because the "rules" say it has to be done a certain way, doesn't mean you have to follow them.

  33. I'm definitely looking forward to being Dr. MyName, so I don't have to worry about the Mrs. Ms issue… But I liked the post, so I know what to use for the next 3-4 years 😉 Thanks for this

  34. I've had a couple friends who thought about combining their last names (Friedmanderson – which I wish they had done, but they didn't!), so we've talked about picking a new third last name for both of us. I go as Mink Rose to most of our friends, and his last name Berquist (Norwegian: birch branch). We're thinking about Rosequist (though "ros" is proper norwegian for rose). Still haven't decided for sure, but we've got some time.

  35. Personally, I'm planning to be Firstname Lastname forever, no Miss, Ms, Mrs, Mr or any of that crap. Titles are all about fake-politeness and gender essentialism anyway.

  36. I am so pleased that I chose to be a Ms before I even knew what feminism was – it just pissed me off one day that men would always be Mr, but women would be Miss and Mrs dependent on their marital status. I am still so proud of my immature decision to be a Ms.

    However, I support what anyone chooses for their title. Great to have the choice.

    And, I am so envious of all the doctors out there – well done for all your hard work, that is my dream!!

    With Miss/Ms/Mrs/Mr can we do away with gender and just be M?

  37. I kept my own name because, well, I like it and everyone knows it. But I hate, hate, hate the title Ms. I always used Miss. But now that I’m married, I’m not eligible for Miss. Am I stuck with Ms.? Eeew. What’s my alternative?

  38. just a quick note to say ‘thanks’ to you ladies. Just married a lovely guy but in traditional old England (where keeping my own name is WEIRD) and was puzzling over this Mrs/Ms. dilemma. I’m a fan of Ms – so glad to be keeping it. Also, nice to know I’m not the only one puzzling over this one!

    • I’ve been thinking about this a lot – I’ve stayed Miss out of habit (although I don’t see the necessity for titles at all) but now I feel a bit uncomfortable about becoming a Mrs although I am taking his surname (because it’s nicer than mine!). I’d decided to use Ms HisLastName but apparently a lot of people presume you’re divorced if you use Ms in the UK? Has anyone else come across this?

  39. I remember reading this article when it was first published!

    We’ve been writing our names as Mr & Mrs HisFirst HisLast & MyFirst MyLast. So I go by Mrs MyFirst MyLast. So far no one has told me I’m wrong and have married myself. I HAVE had people assume my husband is MyLast… I find that amusing 🙂

  40. So, I took my husband’s last name but really can’t stand being called Mrs. I’ll tolerate it, but if I have the choice, I chose Ms. No idea why, but I can never really see myself as a Mrs. Maybe because I took his last name in the hope that I will have a more easily pronounceable last name (it’s been hit and miss, and the new last name encourages spelling errors). Maybe it’s because I just never saw myself as a Mrs. But Ms. just fits and that’s okay!

    Though I would use Dr if I earned it. Hell, when I finish my program, I’ll be Shelly G, RDMS all the time. Signing a check? Shelly G, RDMS. Signing a mortgage? Shelly G, RDMS. Signing off on a post on the internet? Shelly G, RDMS.

  41. My PhD friend uses Mrs HisName apart from in academia, where she uses Dr HerName. Seems to work for her, but each to their own 🙂 use the name that makes you comfortable!

  42. I’m currently a Miss (Although I have used Ms. MyName on some documentation because I thought that was what I had to do once I reached 25… go figure).
    I’d love to use Mx for my legal title once married, but I don’t think many would be happy with that. I’m not smart enough for a PhD, either.

    Like… could I be Mx in some capacities but legally either a Miss or title-free once married?

  43. As a diehard feminist marrying another feminist, I began thinking about this the second after he put the ring on my finger. Most people assumed I would keep my last name but it is awkward and is NEVER pronounced correctly so I’ve been wanting to get rid of it since I was a kid. His last name is so blessedly simple. We considered a blended name but everything sounded like a medical condition (Stoina? Chewart?). I finally decided that I’d go with Ms. Jamie HisLast but only after I use all the business cards I had printed like 2 days before he popped the question.

  44. Haha, so wonderful to see so many other people are also struggling with this… I was born out of wedlock and therefore christened with my mother’s surname. When she married my stepfather, I got his surname. And when I found my biological father at age 23, I changed my surname to that clan name (so much cooler than surname, don’t you think) and this is my preferred identity, the one that ‘fits’. When I got married, I kept my (third) surname. Upon telling my mother-in-law that we aren’t planning on procreating, her response was that it’s a pity her husband’s name won’t be carried forth (total flabbergastation). First I pointed out that his family tree is quite expanded, whereas we’re just three people, all women, left with my father’s surname. And then I thought, but who says my kids would automatically get his surname? Anyway, I’m awaiting my PhD results, but I’ll just go with my first name in my everyday life – a professional title is only relevant within the relevant professional sphere. So, Ms My Preferred Identity I’ll stay.

  45. Struggled my self to decide , bearing in mind he’d been married twice before and wasn’t going to b the 3rd ‘mrs ?’
    So I decided to keep MY surname but put his name as my middle name …. becoming : Mrs (me) ( him) MY surname ?
    Made it complete x

  46. I am married. But, I still use my maiden last name. So my best friend keeps referring to me in front of others as Mrs. with my maiden last name. I keep telling my best friend that Mrs. with my maiden name means that I am married to my father, since my maiden last name is my father’s last name. But my best friend insists that because I am legally married, “Mrs.” is the correct term to use with my legal last name, even if it is my maiden last name. I argue that as a married woman, “Mrs.” is reserved for the actual man’s last name of the man a woman marries, and in my case it would be Mrs. followed by my actual husband’s last name. But, because I didn’t change my last name, I would be referred to Ms. even though I am married. My best friend disagrees.

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