How To Address Just About Anyone

Obama approves of using Ms. [Flickr user QueenofSpainErin]

Forms of address are complicated and fraught with peril because incorrect use can be seen as disrespectful. It’s a good thing that we have evolved from just Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Smith, but without one standard form, it gets a bit tricky. Women are insisting on not being defined by their marital status. Men are taking women’s names. There are same-sex couples to think about. Utter madness. Won’t someone please think of the great-grandmas stuck in their ways?

The rule of thumb is that if you know what someone prefers to be called, then call them that! (Shortcut: If they sent you a letter, see how they put their name on the return address. Boom. Easy.)  If you don’t know, then you can follow the basics:

A single person:

  • Professional titles like Dr. trump any of these (noble titles too, but c’mon you don’t know Sir Paul McCartney or Prince Harry anyway)

  • Mr. Horace Banks

  • Miss Flora Norwood (only for the VERY young- under 18)

  • Ms. Maude Fredericks (married or unmarried)

  • Mrs. Myrtle Hotchkiss (only if you are pretty sure they prefer Mrs.)

  • Mrs. Clarence Jacobs (only if you are CERTAIN they prefer it or if they are very old)

Interestingly in the case of a divorce, a woman shouldn’t use Mrs. Clarence Jacobs at all, though she can still use Mrs. Patricia Jacobs if she retains her married name. If she returns to her maiden name, then she shouldn’t use Mrs. Patricia Rogers, she should go back to Ms. Patricia Rogers. A widow is traditionally addressed with the same title she used when she was married, unless you know she prefers something else.

Juniors, Seconds, and Thirds:

If a man is named after his father, he uses the suffix junior, which is written out as: Edmund Jones, Jr. Ansel Whittleby II is a man that is named after an uncle or a grandfather. Thirds and fourths come after that. FUN FACT: the nicknames Trip and Trey are traditionally used for someone who is a third and Skip is used for someone named after a grandfather because the name “skips” a generation.

Couples and Groups:

A lot of this comes down to formality and preference. The more formal your correspondence, the more formal you should go. Note that in a heterosexual couple, the male title and name traditionally comes first, but either way is correct.

  • Mr. and Mrs. Seamus Finnegan (the most formal address for a heterosexual married couple. Many modern women object to the use of just the man’s name and so this is best used if you are sure that it is the preference. You should not use Ms. with this form- Mr. and Ms. Seamus Finnegan because the old fashioned use of the man’s name doesn’t really jive with the more modern Ms.)

  • Mr. and Mrs. Blanc (an alternate with no first names)

  • Mr. Taran Edwards and Ms. Beatrice Edwards (this is used if you wish to use both first names. Many people will write Mr. Taran and Ms. Beatrice Edwards, but this is less preferable because then it looks like you are addressing the first person as just Mr. Taran, which just looks a bit weird)

  • Mr. Patrick O’Malley and Ms. Bridget Sullivan/ Ms. Jennifer Cooper and Ms. Becky James (for an unmarried couple, a married couple where the woman kept her own name, gay/lesbian couples, roommates, etc. You should try to get both names on the same line, but it’s okay if it doesn’t fit and you have to put them on separate lines. For more formal events, roommates should get separate invitations, though most people aren’t too put off by being included together.)

  • Dr. Camilla Banks and Mr. Peter Partridge (a title like Dr. always outranks the Mr./Ms./Mrs. and the names should be separate, though if you are using the very old fashioned form: Dr. and Mrs. Peter Partridge is correct but Mr. and Dr. Peter Partridge isn’t. Two doctors with the same last name are addressed as The Doctors Partridge.)

  • Henry and Henrietta Henderson/ Jasmine Sultan and Rebecca Bainbridge (the same as above but more casual)

  • The Jones/The Jones Family (this is pretty casual but still useful if you don’t know the preferred title or want to invite the whole family)

Things We Don’t Have To Do Anymore:

Unwed mothers having to go by Mrs. Maidenname to avoid scrutiny. Because heavens to Betsy, what would the neighbors think?

4 thoughts on “How To Address Just About Anyone

  1. My husband claims that if a man is named John Smith III, when his grandfather John Smith dies, his father becomes John Smith and he becomes John Smith, Jr. I think he’s full of shit, but I’m only basing that on Usher (and I have no idea about the mortal status of his grandfather) and common sense, I think. What say you, ladies?

  2. Pingback: Wedding Invitations | Uncommon Courtesy

  3. Pingback: Let’s Talk About Ms. | Uncommon Courtesy

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