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Can “Esq.” be used after a woman’s name?

Q: Here’s a question I’d love to see addressed in a future edition of Woe Is I. Should “Esq.” be used after a woman’s name? I’m a professional editor and this question just came across my desk, but I have no answer for it. I’ve checked The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, Words into Type, and Wired Style, but found no opinions. One dictionary I consulted listed it as a masculine title, but most avoid the subject altogether. Help!

A: For an answer, I went to A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, whose author, Bryan A. Garner, is both a lawyer and a usage expert.

He says “Esq.” can be used in American English these days after the names of men and women alike to signify that they’re lawyers. But he says people shouldn’t use it after their own names—on their stationery and cards and so forth. Although it’s OK to use “Esq.” in reference to other people who are lawyers, it’s not necessary and it’s never used with another title, such as Mr. or Ms.

So if you’re the kind of person who likes to append “Esq.” to a male lawyer’s name, you should do likewise for a female. You might pretend it stands for “Esquiress,” a term the Oxford English Dictionary has recorded as being in use as far back as 1596.