I was very confused for a while when I first started reading wedding websites (erm, for research for friends weddings and this here etiquette website) and people kept referring to escort cards. At this stage in my life I had not been to many weddings so I was like “what’s an escort card?” If you also do not know, an escort card is the little card with your name on it that you find at the entrance to the reception that tells you what table you are to sit at. This is a modern alternative to the more traditional seating chart or a simple place card at your seat (why doesn’t anyone do these anymore???) The most confusing thing about escort cards, to me, was the name. Sure they tell you where you are supposed to sit, but they aren’t ESCORTING you there. It seemed like a very active verb for such a passive way of getting you to your seat.
It turns out that escort cards have a previous etiquette life where they made a lot more sense.
Back in the Downton Abbey type of era, for a fancy dinner all the guests would meet outside the dining room before the meal started. When dinner was ready, the butler would say that dinner was served. Then all the guests would line up two by two, boy and girl, like little ducks and march into the dining room. To complicate things, in England (and other places??), every single person had a rank and that rank HAD to determine where they would sit at dinner and in what order they would march in. Hostesses literally had to hire people and buy giant books to tell them what order their guests had to go in. So after putting all that work in, the hostess couldn’t let the guests bungle it up by choosing who to walk in with. So, the escort card was invented to tell men which lady they would be ESCORTING (active verbs for active actions!) into the dining room and what order they would be in. These would be shown to the men discreetly or handed to them when they arrived for dinner.