Preserving 'Spinster' Lists on Marriage Registers

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The online version of The Times of London reports the British government is going to abolish the use of the traditional terms "spinster" and "bachelor" on marriage certificates and in marriage registers. Laura Lorson offers her opinion of the term "spinster," which she believes is worth preserving.


And now more out with the old, in with the new. The British government has announced a plan to do away with the use of the terms `spinster' and `bachelor' in its marriage certificates. It's part of a series of reforms that includes introducing gay civil partnership registrations this year. Although the term `spinster' has been around for more than 600 years, a lot of people hate it. Well, not commentator Laura Lorson. She says she'll miss it because in this country, at least, it's always good for a laugh.


I did not marry until late in my life. I mean, sure, I was starting to wonder if this was something that was ever going to happen for me, but it's not like I was sitting around in my bathrobe eating quarts of Chunky Monkey ice cream, watching romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan weeping into my cup of herbal tea.

The reason I think I was not terribly obsessed with the whole marriage thing is that I had a wonderful never-married role model as a child, my maiden Aunt Una(ph), who was 75 when I was born, never married and always referred to herself as a spinster. I didn't really know what the term meant. For all I knew, a spinster was your cool, elderly aunt who never drives, lets you stay up late to watch the Johnny Carson show and eat an entire pound of Oreos if you want.

Then along about age 14, I got obsessed with reading British mystery novels, and from this I learned that `spinster' was, in fact, the term to be used, officially speaking, if you were a never-married woman. I thought it was neat. I started telling people this myself once I got past 30 and was not yet married. `Hi, I'm Laura, editor, producer, spinster.' People would either chuckle or, if they happened to be men, get very nervous.

But come December, England and Wales will drop the term from legal language. England seems to have a way with this sort of classification-of-single-woman business. I mean, did people over here really ever call anyone `singletons' until "Bridget Jones"? You kind of have to wonder what the obsession with naming people and boxing them in really is.

I like the term `spinster.' It implies an ability with handicrafts, which is something I admire. It's classical; think the story of Arachne, whose spinning was so good that Athena, the goddess of weaving, got all bent out of shape; bad move. Spinster is evocative; it tells a story. It's only all the more fun if the story it tells is widely inaccurate. It conjures up a woman with many, many cats. It conjures up pink-cheeked women in fuzzy, hand-knit sweaters who are excellent gardeners. So what if spinsters are more than that? One of the best feelings in the world is confounding other people's expectations. So what if spinsters are CEOs or race car drivers or electricians?

Oh, well. I'll just have to pick myself up, dust off my dungarees and head out to buy a new frock to assuage my feelings of apoplexy about yet another perfectly good word consigned to the scrap heap.

BRAND: Laura Lorson fusses over the demise of antiquated words while she sits--maybe rocks--on her porch in Perry, Kansas. And, you know, she's really not that old. She's a local "All Things Considered" host for Kansas Public Radio.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Madeleine Brand.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from