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Writing to Same-Sex, Same-Name Couples

Carolyn wrote to ask for guidance on addressing correspondence to two women who are married to each other and have the same last name. Below are suggestions for a couple I will call Grace and Linda Smythe.

For a formal business letter

On the envelope: Mses. Grace and Linda Smythe
For the greeting: Dear Mses. Smythe:
(Mses. is the correct plural of Ms. Ignore Microsoft’s suggestions to change the abbreviation to Mess, Moses, Muses, Messes, Messy, or Miss.)

If you happened to know that the women preferred the title Mrs., you would use these forms:
On the envelope: Mesdames Grace and Linda Smythe
For the greeting: Dear Mesdames Smythe:
(Mesdames is the plural of Mrs.)

For an informal or friendly business letter

On the envelope: Grace and Linda Smythe
For the greeting: Dear Grace and Linda: or Dear Grace and Linda,
Either woman’s name can come first.

Whenever you are not sure how someone wants to be addressed (for example, Ms. or Mrs.), feel free to ask. People like to be asked about their preferences.

As for asking me, I am receiving more questions about salutations and other topics than I can answer. That is why I cannot promise to respond to individual questions. If you send me a question that will interest readers here, I will answer it here. For questions about salutations, please see earlier entries such as this one on addressing doctors and others and this one on writing to Jrs. and Srs.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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