Madam , or madame ( or ), is a polite and formal form of address for women, often contracted to ma'am (pronounced in American English and in British English). The term derives from the French madame (French pronunciation: [ma'dam]); in French, ma dame literally means "my lady". In French, the abbreviation is "Mme" or "Mme" and the plural is mesdames (abbreviated "Mmes" or "Mmes").
In speaking, Madam is used in direct address when the lady's name is not known; for example: May I help you, madam? The male equivalent is "sir".
In 2009 the European Parliament issued guidance on the use of gender-neutral language which discouraged the use of terms which indicate a woman's marital status.
In the UK, the wife of a holder of a non-British hereditary knighthood such as the German, Austrian or German-Belgian Ritter, the Dutch-Belgian Ridder, the French-Belgian Chevalier and the Italian Cavaliere is called Madame. The English male equivalent is Chevalier.
In France, under the Ancien Régime, the wife of the younger brother of the King was known as Madame. A famous example is Henrietta Anne of England, daughter of Charles I. She was married to Philippe, duc d'Orléans who was the brother of Louis XIV of France.
Madam is also used as the equivalent of Mister (Mr) in composed titles, such as Madam Justice, Madam Speaker, Madam President. In the UK, job titles such as President or Prime Minister are not used as titles, as such. By the precedent set by Betty Boothroyd, a female Speaker of the House of Commons is Madam Speaker.
In the Supreme Court of the United States, the Supreme Court of Canada and the superior courts of Australia, rather than adopting the title Madam Justice for female justices, the title Mrs. Justice was replaced simply by Justice. Likewise, female presidents of the Republic of Ireland have preferred to be addressed simply as President in direct address, rather than Madam President. In the United Kingdom, female judges of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales are titled Mrs. Justice rather than Madam Justice, regardless of marital status; however, female District Judges are referred to as either Madam or Ma'am. Female judges of the High Court of Hong Kong and the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong are, however, titled Madam Justice.
"Ma'am" is commonly used to address female officers of the rank of Inspector and above in British police forces and female Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers in the British Armed Forces. In the United States Armed Forces, "ma'am" is used to address female commissioned officers and Warrant Officers. In the Canadian Forces, "ma'am" is used to address female commissioned officers and Chief Warrant Officers.
In Southeast Asia, most women who choose to continue using their maiden name after marriage are usually addressed in English as "Madam" instead of "Mrs". "Madam" will normally be used followed by the woman's own surname, while "Mrs" may be used followed by her husband surname.[verification needed]
Traditionally, Chinese wives retain their birth name. Marital status is indicated by using Madam or Mrs.