Madam Or Madame Vice President? The Correct Use Of Kamala Harris’s New Title — And Why It Matters

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Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is the United States’s first-ever female vice president. So what is her official title: Madame Vice President or Madam Vice President?

There are a lot of historical changes happening in the Biden-Harris administration, and one of the first adjustments we’ve had to make is getting used to addressing our first female Vice President. 

While we’ve been accustomed to referring to the second in command as “Mr. Vice President” since 1789 when John Adams first held the position, this new administration welcomed a long-overdue shift in title. 

Madam or Madame Vice President?

When Kamala Harris first addressed the nation after being elected Vice President, she said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last.” 

But after centuries of male power, Harris will have to excuse us for a few moments while we get her title correct once and for all. Should we be calling her Madam or Madame Vice President?

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The etymology of these words is crucial in settling this debate. "Madam" is historically used in English-speaking countries, while "Madame" is generally considered the French version of the title. 

But "Madam" also has some negative connotations that have arisen from a history of sexism and misogyny. Given that this culture of sexism is something we’re trying to undo by electing a female V.P., these aren’t connotations we want to bring with us into Harris’s term. 

The term is derived from the Old French term for "my lady," "ma dame," and the Latin phrase "mea domina," which bears associations to the Biblical "madonna." 

And while "madam" was historically a signifier of prestige and honor, it slowly developed into a less desirable title. 

By the 1600s, "Madam" was being used disparagingly to talk about women who were perceived as pretentious or self-important. And by the late 1800s, "Madam" was most commonly associated with sex workers. 

"Madame" remained a title given to high-ranking women for much longer, particularly amongst high society French women. 

However, in more recent years, it has been adopted by women of all statuses in French-speaking countries. It is now used in the same way as we would use "Ms." meaning it has no connotation with power. 

Why not Miss, Mrs. or Ms. Vice President?

Given that both "Madam" and "Madame" have somewhat contentious definitions, why not go with some of the more traditional honorifics used for women?

Kamala Harris’s male predecessors have been going by Mr. Vice President since the United States was founded. But the title of "Ms." does seem a little lackluster for our first woman Vice President. 

Madam or Madame, when we trace back to their historical origins, carries with them more of the honor that Harris has most definitely earned.  

What are the officials saying?

Most politicians and supporters definitely seem to have ditched the "e" in their address to their new Vice President. 

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Maya Harris tweeted her congratulations to her sister back in November 2020, calling her “Madam Vice President-elect.” But Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, showed off his pride for his wife on Inauguration Day with this tweet, using the term "Madame":

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Most of the media has adopted this spelling also, suggesting that this is the official title of our first female Vice President.

Why it matters:

Titles matter. Words matter. How we address people matters. 

Since being selected as Biden’s running mate in the 2020 Presidential campaign, Harris has been subjected to much racism and sexism

By giving her a title with sexist connotations, we risk opening her up to a world of misogynistic insults and ridicule. 

That said, given how many barriers and anti-feminist stereotypes Harris has already broken down in her career, reclaiming a title used to insult women could be her next power move. 

Interestingly, when used as an insult, "Madam" has no male counterpart. 

For women, an honorable title used to give them importance can easily be weaponized against them to undermine this prestige. But when it comes to men, we rarely contest or mock their power

By taking on the title of Madam Vice President, Kamala Harris is showing us that there is power in being demanding, there is glory being a "Madam," and there is honor in being a woman. 

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a generalist with an interest in lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.