A New Way to Address and List Married Couples

It's 2011. It's time for a new way to address married couples on envelopes and to list their names in programs.

I regularly get messages like the one I received today from Carol, who works in higher education:

Hi Lynn:

I found your website helpful, but I have a question. My boss does not like me to address letters like this: Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jones, mainly because she wants the wife's first name mentioned too, so would Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Jill Jones be appropriate? Otherwise, I have to take off the Mr. and Mrs. and just put their first names, which is too informal.

Thanks so much!

Carol

I searched my Gregg Reference Manual, 11th Edition (copyright 2011), even though I already knew what it said. I also searched EmilyPost.com. Neither one supports Carol's suggestion of "Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Jill Jones."

But, Carol, I do support it. It makes perfect sense to use both spouses' names, and in many situations the courtesy titles Mr. and Mrs. are required to communicate respect and formality.

So carry on, Carol! Although in early 2011 you will not find a reference book that agrees with us, your approach acknowledges both spouses and treats them with respect.

I have been waiting for a reference book to agree with Carol and me. When the new Gregg Reference Manual came out recently, the first thing I checked was addresses with married couples. Unfortunately, Gregg did not update its use of the man's name only. 

Last summer I exchanged emails with a minister who wanted to use both spouses' first names in his church bulletin. However, some older members of his congregation wanted "Mr. and Mrs. John Doe." He wrote to me:

Wanting to list also the name of the wife and not just her husband, I suggested listing the couple as Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe.  I was told this is incorrect and we should simply print Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.  I understand that this may be grammatically correct, but we are a church that prides itself on gender equity in value and leadership.  While I understand these rules came to be at a very different social era, is there a way we might retain grammatical and political correctness? 

Yes, Reverend, you have found the way. Please use it with my blessing. Write "Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe" so people in your church can know and respect Jane too.

Let's do it now. Let's name both Robert and Jill, both John and Jane. Then The Gregg Reference Manual and EmilyPost.com can catch up with us.

Lynn
Syntax Training

30 COMMENTS

  1. While writing my Christmas cards, I came across another question-how do you address a husband and wife where the wife uses a hyphenated last name?
    For example, before marriage, her name was Mary Jones. After marriage, she now goes by the name Mary Jones-Smith. Her husband’s name is John Smith.

    I don’t remember how I solved the problem. Suggestions?

  2. Three cheers to you, Carol and the Reverend. I think this is an excellent solution. The antiquated Mr. and Mrs. John Doe…or Mrs. Jane Doe, which indicates she is divorced…relegates women to 2nd-class status. For myself, I’ll stick to Jane and John Doe — or Jane Miller Doe and John James Doe if I’m being more formal. As a Quaker, I’m a bit uncomfortable with titles.

    In the late ’70s, when my husband and I bought our first house, I helped the RE agent (who didn’t type) correct the offer because my name was misspelled. Without thinking, I put my name first. When it was published in the local newspaper, as RE transactions were at that time, it appeared as “Jane Doe et ux.” We got a kick out of that.

  3. What if the wife hasn’t changed her name at all?

    I am Dr Clare Lynch. I chose not to take my husband’s name and I worked far too hard on my PhD to drop the title! (Even without the title, the feminist in me would rather be addressed as a Ms.)

    I particularly hate it when my name is completely subsumed into my husband’s – as in “Mr and Mrs David Pollack”.

    If you’re writing to us, the safest bet is to drop the titles altogether. I don’t think that’s too informal at all.

  4. Hi, Scott. Thanks for your suggestion with the titles and first names together: Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Doe. Like you, I have been considering that solution.

    I think “Mr. and Mrs.” keeps the flow of the traditional way of addressing couples: “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe” changed to “Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe.”

    Let’s see how the situation evolves. Maybe your suggested approach will gain popularity.

    Lynn

  5. I’m with Mr. Scott Buchanan on this one.

    “Mr. Lester Smith and Mrs. Jennifer Smith” addresses both people equally and exactly matches the format of couples in which neither spouse changes last names (as in “Mr. Lester Smith and Mrs. Jennifer White”), as well as couples in which both spouses adopt the other’s (as in “Mr. Lester White-Smith and Mrs. Jennifer Smith-White”). I have friends in all three of those categories.

    Using “Mr. and Mrs.” with both first names but just the single last name creates a unique usage.

    Not that I’d throw away a card addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Lester and Jennifer Smith, of course. Especially if it had a gift certificate or something similar inside!

  6. Dear Lynn:

    Really enjoy your postings!

    Regarding Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Jill Jones: As the instructor on names, titles and forms of address at The Protocol School of Washington (www.psow.edu), I get lots of questions in the same vein, and here’s how I have come to think about it.

    There are formal forms of address that provide “a default form” when you don’t know the preference of the individual. The traditional forms are useful to protocol officers and event planners when the requirement is to use the most formal forms of address for invitations, place cards and programs.
    These people are the ones who love the rules! They love consistency as the scan a table of place cards or a list of donors in a program.

    For people not in those positions, they have the option to be more creative since they are just ‘crafting” one name at a time. These are more casual forms .. useful in less formal and informal situations.

    I don’t see the first group as better … but the two groups are definitely different!

    The “protocol approach” when drafting joint forms of address for couples being issued a formal invitation … is to write the name of the most important person (or the intended guest, who might actually have a lower rank, but at the event, they are #1) on the first line, then the name of their spouse/companion/whatever on the second line.

    That means the most formal, traditional form is ….
    Lt. Colonel William Smith
    and Mrs. Smith
    or if it’s her preference
    Lt. Colonel William Smith
    and Mrs. Nancy Smith
    or if it’s her preference
    Lt. Colonel William Smith
    and Ms. Nancy Smith
    or if the woman his the higher office
    Lt. Colonel Nancy Smith
    and Mr. William Smith
    So, since that’s a normal pattern this is how we teach to address the couple you write about:
    Mr. Robert Jones
    and Mrs. Jill Jones
    This form is better to me …. with the benefit that both people get their names as a complete unit … which is very respectful!

    Also what is great about this approach is that it works well for any couple that presents themselves as a couple:
    Mr. Robert Jones
    and Mr. Tom Wilson
    Ms. Jill Jones
    and Ms. Ann Thomas

    The approach I recommend in my book “Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address” is when creating a form of address first find the traditional form of address so you can know what ‘usually works” then confirm the preference of the individual.
    Ultimately one’s name belongs to them, and others should address them as they want to be addressed.

    Sincerely,
    Robert

    Robert Hickey
    Deputy Director, The Protocol School of Washington®
    The Protocol School: http://psow.edu/
    My Book: http://www.formsofaddress.info/
    My Blog: http://www.formsofaddress.info/faq.html
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/robert.hickey

  7. Hi, Lester. Thank you for joining the discussion. I believe you agree with Robert, whose comment appears beneath yours, rather than Scott, who recommended using the last name only once.

    I am glad we are having this discussion. I will definitely consider your suggestion.

    Lynn

  8. Robert, thank you so much for your thorough coverage of the topic.

    I especially appreciate your last sentence. Yes, we should address people as they want to be addressed.

    On that topic, I heard from the minister I referred to in my original blog post. He said he has started using the woman’s name in church bulletins. He wrote:

    “We have received many compliments. Some came from older ladies who wished, in their day, they had had more opportunities to use their own name. . . . Lesson learned: Rules are important, but people are more important.”

    I was delighted to see that you answer all questions posed to you on your blog. I will be sending people your way when they have etiquette questions beyond my expertise.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge.

    Lynn

  9. What a fascinating and enlightening discussion! Thank you, Lynn, for putting the question “out there” as well as for all the helpful links!

  10. Thank you for addressing this topic! We are having this very discussion at our organization and it had been suggested to set the addressee to “John and Jane Smith” and then the salutation to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”.

    In light of this discussion, I am favoring the “Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Smith” or if their last names are different “Mr. John Smith and Mrs. Jane Jones-Smith”. How would you suggest addressing the salutation in these cases? Possibly as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” or “Mr. and Mrs. Jones-Smith” depending on if their last names are identical? We welcome any feedback. Also, when the primary constituent it the female, would you suggest we alter it to read with the woman’s first name first, such as “Mrs. Jane Jones-Smith and Mr. John Smith”?

  11. Hi, Tonya. I believe you have it right with these choices:

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:
    Dear Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones-Smith:
    OR

    Dear Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones-Smith:

    Yes, use the woman’s name first if she is the primary constituent.

    Be sure to read Robert Hickey’s helpful comment above.

    Lynn

  12. I almost always agree with you, Lynn, but not on this one. I find your solution to be structured quite awkwardly. Moreover, it doesn’t match any modern guides on address etiquette; Miss Manners is particularly sensible and articulate on this subject.
    In my opinion, Scott and Lester are more on the right track.
    That said, no one is EVER going to make EVERYONE happy with their form of address.

  13. While I realize that the most proper etiquette is to do what people request, it is not always practical to ask each person what they prefer. The most proper way to address people is to be consistent with tradition and protocol so that the least number of people are “offended.” If the proper listing is used for all, then at least people understand why it is listed. For instance, I am a married woman and do not like being addressed as “Ms” under any circumstance. If, for some reason, I should become not married, I will still prefere to be referred to as Mrs. John David Smith (if he died) and if we divorced, then Mrs. Jones (my maiden name) Johnson. Therefore I am listing what several formal organizations I am involved with use and is considered to be both proper and respectful:

    Mr. and Mrs. John David Smith

    The Doctors Jones
    OR
    Doctor Mary Ann Jones and
    Doctor Michael John Jones

    Mary and John Smith (the man’s name is always listed last because he has always been and will always be John Smith, but a lady’s name can change with marriage)

    It is not: Mrs. Mary Jones
    it is either:
    Mrs. John David Jones or
    Mary Jones (informal)

    A divorced lady:
    Mrs. Jones Johnson (Jones is her maiden name)

    Good luck with this!
    Amy

  14. Hi, Amy. Many people view this topic differently. As you can tell from the content above your comment, my views are different from yours. One difference is that I have always seen the courtesy title “Dr.” used–not “Doctor” spelled out.

    If you have the time to write again, please share which etiquette guide you follow.

    Lynn

  15. Question, I am getting married in June and my mother wanted her name to be recognized on the invite as well. The thing that is confusing me is that my dad is a Sr. For ex: Scott D. Williams Sr.
    Mom’s name Sue Williams would it be: Mr. And Mrs. Scott and Sue Williams Sr. I would appreciate any help you can give. Thanks!

  16. Hi, Michelle. You may wish to follow Robert Hickey’s approach, which he generously detailed above. If you follow his guidance, your parents’ names will be as follows:

    Mr. Scott D. Williams Sr. and Mrs. Sue Williams

    Congratulations!

    Lynn

  17. I am making a list of sponsors for an upcoming event. I want husbands and wives to be recognized. I list most as Jane & John Doe, but what do I do with the doctors and their wives? May I list as Jane & Dr. John Doe?

  18. For an engagement announcement for a newspaper — the father of the bride is a reverend and he is also a Jr. and the mother of the bride hyphenates her last name. Example: the father is the Rev. John Doe Jr. and the mother is Jane Smith-Doe. The bride and her mother are adament that the first names of the parents are listed. In other words, they absolutely do not “the Rev. and Mrs. John Doe Jr.” They are also adament that it be worded as: “the Rev. John and Mrs. Jane Smith-Doe Jr.” This, to me, would be incorrect due to the fact that the reverend’s last name is not Smith-Doe AND Jane is not a Jr. I would list as “the Rev. John Doe Jr. and Mrs. Jane Smith-Doe.” Again, the bride and her mother are adament that this is wrong. Please advise how you would recommend the wording in this situation.

  19. Hi, Sandra. I believe you are correct, and I can’t see how it could be done differently.

    Please ask the bride and her mother to read the comment of protocol expert Robert Hickey, above. I believe he would agree with you completely.

    Lynn

  20. I am having this discussion right now with my new boss. I see above that, on an envelope, everyone is using a title regardless of what order they list the names. My boss thinks we should just eliminate “Mr. & Mrs. Miss or Ms.” titles all together and just list as Mary Jones and John Smith or Mary and John Smith, etc. and only use the title if it’s “Dr.” What are your thoughts on this? It seems way too informal for me even if it is an “informal” business letter.

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