So many times I see the wife of a Knight or Baronet etc. referred to in our newspapers or on television in the wrong way and it does frustrate me that so many people in the media get this simple rule wrong. I have just seen it done on the Facebook page for Radio Devon as well. They are talking about us coming and meeting Michael Parkinson and his wife, Lady Mary. She isn't Lady Mary, she is Mary, Lady Parkinson or just plain Lady Parkinson. If they wish to use her forename as well, then it should precede the title. For the media to always get this simple rule wrong never ceases to amaze me. It seems only The Times or The Telegraph ever get this right.
So when is a lady not a lady? When it is not in her own right. Here is an example. Diana Spencer, the late Princess of Wales was born the daughter of an Earl. As such, she was known from birth as Lady Diana Spencer and could be called Lady Diana as the title was in her own right meaning it was her birthright. However, when she married Prince Charles, her correct title was not Princess Diana of Wales (even though everyone called her Princess Di), it was Diana, Princess of Wales. The reason? Although born a lady, she was not born a princess, she acquired that title through marriage and not as her birthright. So Princess Ann is The Princess Ann (you always put a 'the' in front when referring to them) and Di was, Diana Princess of Wales.
Anyone born with a title is entitled to have the title first and their name following e.g Lady Diana, Princess Ann, Princess Margaret. Likewise, if a woman is awarded a peerage in her lifetime then she too would be allowed to be called Lady as in Emma Nicholson Liberal MEP. She was awarded a peerage and as such is Baroness Nicholson and can be referred to as Lady Nicholson or Lady Emma. Had she been married and the award given to her husband, then she would be known as Emma Lady Nicholson. It might sound complicated but it's really very simple. If you're born with or awarded a title, the title comes first and the name after. If it isn't you personally who was born with or awarded the title, then the name comes first and the title follows.
If your title is only acquired through marriage or awarded to your husband throughout your marriage, you are only entitled to be addressed by your name first and the title follows thereafter. So in Mary Parkinson's case her husband was awarded the title not her and she should, therefore, be known as Mary Lady Parkinson or just plain Lady Parkinson. Had she herself been awarded a peerage, she could then be addressed as Lady Mary, but as she wasn't the way they are addressing her is completely incorrect.
Hope all that made some sense?!