Is ‘master bedroom’ sexist or racist? Is ‘owner’s suite’ more modern?

Jennifer Karmon
Is ‘master bedroom’ sexist or racist? Is ‘owner’s suite’ more modern?
Would you call this a "master bedroom" or an "owner's suite"?

Has the "master bedroom" ruled the roost for long enough?

Evidently so, according to Washington Business Journal writer Michael Neibauer. His informal survey of 10 major D.C.-area home builders found that six of them are instead using phrases like "owner's suite" or -- and this one just slays me -- "mastre bedroom" in their floor plans.

"Why? In large part for exactly the reason you would think: 'Master' has connotation problems, in gender (it skews toward male) and race (the slave master)," Neibauer writes.

He found evidence of a trend among listing agents too. The vice president and managing broker of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., Lorraine Arora, told him that her office is split on the issue. Younger agents "want to be more politically correct," she said, whereas older agents generally stick with "master."

I asked the National Association of Realtors about this apparent shift. Spokesperson Sara Wiskerchen told me: "While this hasn’t become a widespread trend, we have heard that some real estate brokerages have shied away from using certain phrases that may carry negative connotations. Realtors are strong advocates for homeowners and strive to be respectful of and sensitive to the needs and concerns of their clients."

I conducted my own unscientific research by running searches on listing sites including Yahoo! Homes, Zillow (from which Yahoo! Homes gets its listings),, Trulia and Redfin. On every site I found far more uses of "master bedroom" than I did "owner's suite" and its variations, usually at least 10 times more. Still, 10 percent isn't insignificant. Maybe we are witnessing the early death throes of the "master bedroom."

As far as I can tell, none of these builders or agents are responding to actual complaints from feminists or anyone else. One builder "vaguely recalled a few lawsuits brought against builders over the phrase," Neibauer wrote, but I couldn't immediately find any such suits. (I did find a newspaper story citing fear of such lawsuits in the mid-1990s.)

On the other hand, an official federal memo from 1995 states:

"Advertisements which are facially neutral will not create liability. Thus, complaints over use of phrases such as master bedroom, rare find, or desirable neighborhood should not filed."

With that, here's hoping that housing industry pros can rest easy tonight in their master bedrooms, or wherever they choose to lay their heads.

What do you think? Does the phrase "master bedroom" have "connotation problems" for you? Is it beginning to sound antiquated? Please post your thoughtful comments below!