Names to Use for Greetings and Envelopes

First name? Last name? His name? Her name? THEIR names? At this time of year, when many people mail holiday greetings, the big questions involve how to render people's names in the greeting and on the printed envelope: How do I write to two doctors? Whose name goes first, the woman's or the man's? How do I address same-sex couples? 

Below are guidelines and FAQs (frequently asked questions) for what follows “Dear” and appears on envelopes. A comma–not a colon–follows all greetings in these personal messages. In a professional business message, follow your greeting with a colon. 

When you know your reader and your relationship is friendly, use his or her first name in the greeting. On the envelope, use a courtesy title or just first and last name.

Use this greeting:          Dear Kim,          

On the envelope use:    Ms. Kim Batcher   
                            OR:    Kim Batcher 

 

When your relationship is formal, use a courtesy title or a professional title and a last name. Examples of formal relationships are student to professor and nonprofit employee to donor.

        Greeting: Dear Mr. Alfano,                      

        Envelope: Mr. Albert Alfano        

        
        Greeting:
Dear Professor Cook,               

        Envelope: Professor Amanda R. Cook

 

When you write to someone who is much older than you or highly esteemed, use a title and a last name.

        Greeting: Dear Reverend Carlock,          

        Envelope: Reverend Anita Carlock

 

        Greeting: Dear Dr. Mak,                          

        Envelope: Dr. Ronald D. Mak
                  OR: Ronald D. Mak, M.D.

 

When you write to someone you do not know very well, greet the reader using a title and last name, or use both first and last names without a courtesy title.

        Greeting: Dear Ms. Yang,      OR:  Dear Monica Yang,
        
        Envelope: Ms. Monica Yang
                  OR: Monica Yang

 

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Get more examples and answers to questions in my book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time. You can get a signed paperback with a laminated bookmark from me. (It's also a great gift for clients and colleagues!) Or buy it for your Kindle (from Amazon) or your Nook (from Barnes & Noble).

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Unless you are certain that a woman prefers the courtesy title Miss or Mrs., use the title Ms. or leave the title out. Pay attention to women’s signature blocks and online bios and profiles to see whether they communicate a preference. 

Use Mx. when you write to someone who prefers a gender-neutral courtesy title. If you have trangender friends and associates, find out which courtesy titles they prefer. 

Be sure not to switch between a first-name and last-name basis with someone. If you do, Salma may wonder what she did to suddenly become “Dr. Bishara.” If you have an assistant who prepares your correspondence, be sure he or she knows which approach you want to use.

Do not use an academic degree (M.S., M.D.) or professional designation (SPHR, Esq.) in the greeting. On the envelope, if you include an academic degree or professional designation after a person’s name, do not use a courtesy title that indicates the same achievement (for example, do not use Dr. and Ph.D. together). You may use a title and a degree on the same line if doing so is not redundant.   

     Greeting:    Dear Dr. Abramson,
             OR:     Dear Rabbi Abramson,

    Envelope:    Rabbi Sydney Abramson, D.D.

 

    Greeting:     Dear Dr. Pelley,                                

    Envelope:    Olive Pelley, Ph.D.                                                                      

    Greeting:     Dear Mr. Lowe,

    Envelope:    Jason Lowe, CPA

  

Jr., Sr., and roman numerals such as III are normally included on the envelope, unless a message is informal. However, do not include them in your greeting.

    Greeting:     Dear Nicholas,                                  

    Envelope:    Mr. Nicholas Parson Jr.

    

    Greeting:     Dear Mr. Noss,

    Envelope:     Mr. Jonathan Noss III                                                             

The modern way to address couples is to include both spouses' (or partners') names and both of their titles if titles are included. On the envelope, render the names either on the same line or one beneath the other. List first the name of the person with a special title or the primary recipient (for instance, the person you know better).

    Greeting:     Dear Anne and Bruce,

    Envelope:    Anne and Bruce Wright

   

    Greeting:     Dear Anne and Bruce Wright,       

    Envelope:    Ms. Anne Wright
                       Mr. Bruce Wright Jr. 

   

    Greeting:     Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wright, 

    Envelope:    Mr. Bruce Wright Jr. and Mrs. Anne Wright

 

The traditional way to greet male-female married couples is with the man’s title first, then the woman’s title followed by the last name. On the envelope, only the man’s first name appears. This old-fashioned approach irritates many people (including me) because it diminishes the wife's importance.

    Greeting:    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wright,                          

    Envelope:   Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Wright Jr.

    

    Greeting:    Dear Dr. and Mrs. Terry,     

    Envelope:   Dr. and Mrs. James Terry

    

    Greeting:    Dear Senator and Mrs. Smith,  

    Envelope:   Senator and Mrs. Gordon Smith 

   

In messages to two people (married, coupled, or not), include the name of the person with a special title first, or list the main recipient first. Whenever you know your readers well and want to communicate in a friendly way, use first names in the greeting. But avoid using an abbreviated form of a person’s name unless he or she uses it. For example, do not call a Juan Carlos “JC” or an Emily “Em” unless the individual does so.

    Greeting:   Dear Ms. Donne and Mr. Trujillo,    
             OR:   Dear Drenda and Alex,                                    

    Envelope:   Ms. Drenda Donne
                      Mr. Alessandro Trujillo

   

    Greeting:   Dear Jules and Ellen,                                         

    Envelope:  Jules Bardo and Ellen Metzler

 

Mses. is for more than one woman with the title Ms. You may also use Ms. with each name. 

    Greeting:   Dear Mses. Woodard,  
             OR:   Dear Loretta and Chanel,   

    Envelope:  Ms. Loretta Woodard
                     Ms. Chanel Woodard
              OR:  Mses. Loretta and Chanel Woodard

 

Messrs. is for more than one man with the title Mr. Its use is quite formal and traditional. You may use Mr. with each man’s name instead.       

    Greeting:   Dear Messrs. Stone and Raj,
             OR:   Dear Mr. Stone and Mr. Raj,

    Envelope:  Mr. Joseph Stone
                      Mr. Alain Raj

 

Know which titles to spell out. Never spell out the titles Mr., Ms., Mrs., Mx., and Dr. Do spell out these titles and similar ones: Professor, Dean, Sister, Rabbi, Imam, Senator, Governor, Admiral, and Judge. 

    Greeting:   Dear Captain Klein and Professor Klein, 

    Envelope:  Captain Erika I. Klein
                      Professor Roger K. Klein

   

    Greeting:   Dear Reverend Paul and Mr. White,     
             OR:   Dear Tim and Dan,                                    

    Envelope:   Reverend Timothy Paul 
                      Mr. Daniel White

       

    Greeting:   Dear Drs. Gerber and Singh, 
             OR:   Dear Dr. Gerber and Dr. Singh,      

    Envelope:   Dr. Robin Gerber
                      Dr. Gaurav Singh

 

    Greeting:   Dear Dr. and Mrs. Ellis, [or Ms.]                

    Envelope:   Dr. Moises Ellis [or cut Dr. and use M.D.]
                      Mrs. Renee Ellis [or Ms.]

 

    Greeting:    Dear Drs. Moody,             

    Envelope:   Dr. Claire P. Moody
                      Dr. James M. Moody

     

    Greeting:   Dear Mr. Lee and Ms. Roy-Lee,                       

    Envelope:  Mr. Anthony Lee Jr.
                     Ms. Susan Roy-Lee

  

Mesdames is for more than one woman with the title Mrs. Like Messrs., it is formal and traditional. You may use Mrs. with each name.             

    Greeting:  Dear Mesdames Hain and Pham,     
             OR:  Dear Mrs. Hain and Mrs. Pham,    

    Envelope: Mrs. Marie Hain
                    Mrs. Lu Pham

                                 

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions 

1. Is it acceptable to use & (the ampersand) between names in the salutation?

No. It is traditionally not acceptable to use the ampersand for and in the salutation.

 

2. If the person I am writing to uses two last names, do I use both or only one of them in the greeting?

You use both names in the greeting. 

Dear Mr. Garcia Lopez,     Dear Ms. Gaertner-Johnston,

 

3Is it better to err on the side of friendliness or formality?

You will virtually always be correct if you use a courtesy title or a professional title such as Ms., Mr., Dr., Father, or Dean for your recipient. But think about whether you want the communication to feel personal or professional, informal or formal. 

 

4. If I am writing to a family and each person has the same last name, what is the proper greeting?

The easiest way is to use first names.                         

Greeting: Dear Don, Julie, and Julian,                        
Envelope: Don, Julie, and Julian Burke

 

5. When writing to an entire family, should everyone’s name be on the envelope and in the greeting?

Rather than crowd envelopes and greetings with many names, you can use the parents’ names with “and Family.” For example, address the envelope to “Ernest and Kate Elgin,” with a greeting to “Dear Ernest, Kate, and Family.” Or use just the last name in both places: on the envelope “The Robinsons” and for a greeting “Dear Robinsons.” 

 

6. Should I use Miss or Ms. for a young girl?

Emily Post’s Etiquette suggests the use of Miss until age 16 to 18, then Ms. The Gregg Reference Manual recommends addressing teenage girls as Ms. or Miss, following the girl’s preference when you know it. For younger girls, Gregg indicates that you may use a title or omit it.

For boys, Emily Post’s Etiquette recommends the title Master until age 6 to 7, then no title until age 16 to 18 years, then Mr. In contrast, The Gregg Reference Manual recommends addressing a boy as Mr. when he becomes a teenager. Gregg notes that Master is rarely seen.

 

7. If I am sending a letter to many people, may I use a greeting such as “Dear Stephen et al.”?

Et al., which is Latin for “and others,” is not appropriate in a greeting. Many people will stumble over it, detracting from your message, and it's too clinical for a relationship-building message. If you need to greet up to five people, use all of their names. If you have more than five readers, try a group greeting such as:

Dear Chamber Members,          

 

These ideas come from my award-winning bookBusiness Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time. Get this excellent gift for yourself or anyone who wants to build business relationships. 

Lynn
Syntax Training

29 COMMENTS

  1. One example I didn’t see here is when the woman holds a professional title and her partner does not and they don’t share a last name. I have had many friends ask how to address formal invitations to us. I don’t care if my name and title are first or not. But it really grinds my gears if they call me Ms. (I’m Dr. either use the correct title or none at all) or when they address me by my husband’s name or him by mine. By all means don’t call us Mr. and Mrs.

    First names for the greeting are fine.

  2. One of my pet peeves is being identified by my husband’s name. Mr. and Mrs. John Smith is grating, but Mrs. John Smith is just plain disrespectful. You mentioned this when you discussed traditional address, and I agree that it can be very irritating. I had no idea this still existed until I started opening cards after my wedding.

  3. Good morning Lynn,

    Thanks a lot for your advices.
    I have heard that using the word (in certain European country like France) “Dear” is really unprofessional. Could you please confirm?

    Thank you

  4. Is there a rule for the order of names after “Dear?” It appears to be random…sometimes the woman’s, sometime the man’s.

  5. Dear Lynn,

    could you tell me how to address someone in a formal letter if both me and the person have the same academic title? Or, a bit more complicated, if I am a professor and the other “just” holds a PhD?

    Best wishes and thank you very much in advance,
    Henning

  6. Hi Henning,

    I would follow the norms of your profession. If the other person’s Ph.D. points to the use of Dr., use it. If it doesn’t, use Mr. or Ms.

    However, if you are going to refer to the two of you in the letter, I suggest using Dr. for both, rather than pulling rank.

    I hope that answer helps. Perhaps I have missed something.

    Lynn

  7. Dear Lynn,

    Thank you so much for your prompt reply! The full situation: I am professor, submitting an article to a journal with two editors-in-chief who are both professors (I saw this later, first I thought it’s one prof and one dr). One from the UK, one from the US. I have met the UK one years ago(he is quite famous) and he offered to use his first name (I was still a PhD student at that time, he won’t remember).

    Should I address them with their first names? Or “Dear professor …, dear professor …”? The more famous one with first name and the other with professor seemed strange to me.

    Thank you so much in advance for your advice,
    Henning

  8. Hi Henning,

    Be consistent. Use either of the choices below.

    Dear Professors Jones and Smith:

    Dear James and Susan:

    I believe it’s better to err on the side of formality than familiarity, but it’s really a choice for you.

    Lynn

  9. Dear Lynn,

    great, thank you very much! I didn’t expect to receive so good and quick feedback from a website I just come across via google…

    Best wishes,
    Henning

  10. I received a business letter with the greeting Dear Mrs. Sharon: This struck me as an inappropriate salutation, as I have never seen Mrs. used before a woman’s first name. What are the guidelines for this?

  11. Hi Sharon,

    You are correct that it is not standard to use “Dear” with a first name. I am guessing that the person who used it is from a region of the country in which people use courtesy titles with first names, like “Miss Lynn.” Or perhaps the individual mistakenly thought Sharon was your last name.

    Lynn

  12. Hi Lynn,

    I’m addressing some informal e-vites to a group of people, and I’m typically using “John & Jane Doe” as the name on the virtual envelope. But, when there is a doctor as the husband, and a wife with the same last name, how do I address it? Do I need to include Dr., or is it informal enough to just use both of their first names? I’m not using any Mr. and Mrs. on anyone’s, so don’t want it to get confusing that way.

  13. Hi Lynn,

    I work for a law firm in the word processing department and I was presented with the problem of how to create a salutation for a household where we do not know anyone’s first name or the even makeup of the household. In this case, the recipients were The Kenyons, but we do not know if the Kenyons are a family, a couple (and if a couple, we do not know their genders), or perhaps two people living together with the same last name (siblings? parent & child?). Addressing the envelope as “The Kenyons” is fine, but what about the letter salutation? “Dear The Kenyons” seems odd.

  14. Hi Lyn,

    Should middle initials be used when addressing envelopes? I’m cleaning up our database and would like to set a standard.

    Thank you very much.
    Elizabeth

  15. How do I address a doctor and a senator that are married? The doctor is affiliated with our organization. Do I address the doctor first?
    Dr. Mary Smith and Senator John Michaels or
    Senator John Michaels and Dr. Mary Smith? Or do I refer to him as Mr.?

  16. Elizabeth, that’s an interesting question. I would suggest that your standard be to use the name the individual provides. One woman may be Lynn A. Roberts, and another may be Lynn Ann Roberts–NOT Lynn A. Roberts.

    Also, I don’t think dropping middle initials would make sense. There may be many Juan Martinezes or Tom Joneses in your database, and retaining the middle initial would be important.

    If I missed the point of your question, please let me know.

    Lynn

  17. Hi D,

    That’s an interesting dilemma. My first approach would be to do internet research on the Kenyons to see what I could learn. With no additional clues, I would use “Dear Kenyons.”

    I apologize for overlooking your question back in December. I hope you came up with a workable solution.

    Lynn

  18. Hi Lynn,

    How do I address a man with a double surname that is NOT hyphenated? Do I use both names or just go with the last one. I do not know this person.

    Many thanks
    Emma

  19. Hi Emma,

    I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.

    The answer appears above in the section Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

    2. If the person I am writing to uses two last names, do I use both or only one of them in the greeting?

    You use both names in the greeting. Example:

    Dear Mr. Garcia Lopez,

    Again, I apologize for the delay. I was on vacation.

    Lynn

  20. Hello, Lynn—

    Thank you for your invaluable information!

    I need to send business holiday cards to clients, and in some cases, I have briefly met the principals of the business, but I am much more familiar with the office manager and staff, with whom I have regular contact. Usually, meetings are with a business manager, CFO or other person in authority, and contracts are signed by these persons, but it is the owners who ultimately pay for our services.

    Many of my clients have modern, open-space offices with open-door executive offices and a conference room directly off the reception area, so the card will be posted available to everyone.

    How do I address the card and envelope in this case, so as to recognize the stature of the owners, without offending the manager who signs for my services and does all the work on our projects?

    Many thanks, in advance, for your help!

    Kind regards,

  21. Hi Harriet,

    The stress-free approach is to send two cards: one to the owner and one to the manager. You can’t be sure that either one of them will post your card. So if they are the audiences you want to acknowledge, send two.

    As a corporate trainer, I often have taken this approach: one card to the HR manager and one to the training manager or training coordinator. For some clients where I had many key contacts, I sent cards to all of them. Yes, it costs a few dollars more, but it’s an easy gesture that builds relationships.

    Let me know what you decide to do.

    Lynn

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