Everyday Etiquette—Forms of Address


Addressbook, cup of tea and stationery at the ready, you start addressing
invitations for your husband’s fortieth birthday party. All of a sudden
you realize you are in a potential etiquette minefield. Jane and John
are married, but she does not want to be addressed as “and Mrs. John
Kelly;” Sam and Sue are not married, but live together; and Tanya is
separated but not yet divorced. What are the correct forms of address
for each of these invitations?

Help is on the way! Simply refer to our handy chart and take the mystery out
of addressing your social correspondence correctly.

Situation Options/Notes
Addressing a Woman
Maiden name Ms. Jane Johnson Miss Jane Johnson* *usually ‘Miss’ is for girls under 18
Married, keeping maiden name Ms. Jane Johnson
Married, uses husband’s name socially Mrs. John Kelly Mrs. Jane Kelly* *Nowadays this is acceptableMs. Jane Kelly
Separated, not divorced Mrs. John Kelly Mrs. Jane KellyMs. Jane Kelly
Divorced Mrs. Jane Kelly Ms. Jane KellyMs. Jane Johnson (maiden name)
Widowed Mrs. John Kelly* *If you don’t know the widow’s preference, this is
the traditional and preferred form
Mrs. Jane KellyMs. Jane Kelly
Addressing a Couple
Married, she uses her husband’s name socially Mr. and Mrs. John Kelly
NOTE:
Traditionally, a man’s name preceded a woman’s on an envelope adddress,
and his first and surname were not separated (Jane and John Kelly).
Nowadays, the order of the names—whether his name or hers comes
first—does not matter and either way is acceptable. The exception is
when one member of the couple ‘outranks’ the other—the one with the
higher rank is always listed first.

Married, she prefers Ms.

Mr. John Kelly and Ms. Jane Kelly
Ms. Jane Kelly and Mr. John Kelly
*Do not link Ms. to the husband’s name:
Mr. and Ms.John Kelly is incorrect
Married, informal address Jane and John Kelly
John and Jane Kelly
Married, she uses maiden name Mr. John Kelly and Ms. Jane Johnson
Ms. Jane Johnson and Mr. John KellyIf you can’t fit the names on one line:
Mr. John Kelly
and Ms. Jane Johnson
*Note the indent, either name may be used first
Unmarried, living together Mr. John Kelly
Ms. Jane Johnson
Note: Use two lines, do not indent and do not link the names with ‘and’. Either name may be used first.
A woman who outranks her husband:
elected office, military rank
The Honorable Jane Kelly and Mr. John KellyIf you can’t fit both names on one line (note indent):
The Honorable Jane Kelly
and Mr. John Kelly
A woman who outranks her husband:
professional or educational degree
Dr. Jane Kelly and Mr. John Kelly
Both are doctors (PhD or medical) and use the same last name The Doctors Kelly (omit first names)
Drs. Jane and John Kelly / Drs. John and Jane Kelly
Dr. John Kelly and Dr. Jane Kelly / Dr. Jane Kelly and Dr. John Kelly
Both are doctors (PhD or medical), she uses her maiden name Dr. Jane Johnson and Dr. John Kelly
Dr. John Kelly and Dr. Jane Johnson
Business
Woman Ms. is the default form of address, unless you know positively that a woman wishes to be addressed as Mrs.
Professional designations—use only for business Jane Kelly, CPA
Note: Do not use Ms. or Mr. if using a professional designation.
Socially, drop the professional designation and use Mr., Ms., or Mrs.: Ms. Jane Kelly
Esquire:
Attorneys and some court officials
Jane Kelly, Esquire
Note: If using Esquire, do not use Ms. or Mr.
In conversation or socially, ‘Esquire’ is not used; use Mr. or Ms.: Ms. Jane Kelly
Attorney at Law Ms. Jane Kelly
Attorney at Law
This is an alternative to ‘Esquire’ for attorneys. Use Mr. or Ms. and use two lines with no indent.

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11 comments on “Everyday Etiquette—Forms of Address

  1. I’m in the same position as your mom. Its proper to refer to her as “Ms. Jane Doe”….The “Doe” being her currently last name. “Mrs” is used for currently married or widowed addressees.

  2. I am getting married and my father and step mother are hosting the wedding and reception. We want to honor my mother as well. She is divorced but still carries the last name of her ex husband. We have printed the invitations addressing her as Mrs and her married last name. Is that the correct way to address her or have we made a big mistake?

  3. The above is partially incorrect. It is a very big no-no to separate a man’s first and last name – you would NEVER list John and Jane Smith, always Jane and John Smith. That is etiquette 101.

  4. Under married using husbands name: I do not understand the explanation as it says traditionally the man’s name preceeded the wife’s name and his given name and surname are not separated, however the example has the wife’s name preceeding. “Mrs. Jean and John Kelly”.

  5. We are hosting our daughter’s wedding. I do not like to be called Mrs. Sean Bailey. I am Mrs. Alexandra Bailey or Ms. Alexandra Bailey. So in the invitation, how do I avoid using “Mr and Mrs Sean Bailey request the honour…” so that I get my first name in too.

  6. I am getting married and my father and step mother are hosting the wedding and reception. We want to honor my mother as well. She is divorced but still carries the last name of her ex husband. We have printed the invitations addressing her as Mrs and her married last name. Is that the correct way to address her or have we made a big mistake?

  7. I’m planning a life celebration for my mother’s 70th birthday. In the invitation I want to include her maiden name and need help with doing it correctly. Is it “first name, middle name, married name (nee: maiden name)”? Thanks in advance for your help.

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