Of course everyone I’ve talked to today is all in a tizzy about poor Countess LuAnn from The Real Housewives of Something Something. They’re all, “Will she get to keep her Countess title?” and “How will she be able to act superior to her friends after the divorce?” Well, not to fear, folks. Over at Jezebel, they’ve done the research (i.e. cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia) and rest assured, LuAnn is going to be all right.
“When LuAnn married Count Alexandre de Lesseps (the great-great-great grandson of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who built the Suez Canal and presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States) she gained the title Countess, and was ‘legally entitled to the privileges of peerage,’ meaning that she had a ‘life estate in her husband’s dignity.’ She is not a peer in her own right, but simply ‘style’ alone. Still, it’s considered a legal title.
“She loses her legal right to the ‘peerage style’— being Countess LuAnn de Lesseps — following divorce. However, with divorce having become more and more common in the last couple of centuries, a convention was developed that allows divorced wives to retain a ‘courtesy title,’ which means that her first name will be placed before the title, followed by her last name, i.e. LuAnn Countess de Lesseps. This helps distinguish divorced wives from a peer’s subsequent wives. She’s not required to be addressed that way, and can instead go by her given name, or simply LuAnn de Lesseps. Knowing how much she’s come to identify with her husband’s aristocracy, I think it’s safe to say that LuAnn will opt for the courtesy title.”