Invitation Honorifics

Traditionally, a woman would take on her husband's name when she married, to the point where ...

Adam Lowe,
August 20, 2007

This week, Grammar Girl asked if we could tackle another question from one of her listeners. Melanie wrote to Grammar Girl:

Recently, while addressing my wedding invitations, I had an interesting debate with one of my bridesmaids about when to refer to someone as Mrs. So-and-so or Ms. So-and-so. My friend feels that if Miss Jane Doe marries Mr. John Smith that she is then referred to as Mrs. Jane Doe. From my perspective, Mrs. Jane Doe is Miss Jane Doe’s mother. To further complicate the matter, what if Miss Jane Doe’s married name is Jane Doe-Smith? Is she Ms. Doe-Smith, Mrs. Doe-Smith or something else entirely? Please help!

Thanks to Melanie for the question. Traditionally, a woman would take on her husband's name when she married, to the point where one would address her on a formal invitation as Mrs. Ricky Ricardo, rather than Mrs. Lucy Ricardo. Of course times have changed, which can make it complicated for figuring out the correct form of address. It is still common practice for married women to use "Mrs" rather than "Ms" but many women choose to maintain their original family names. It is also a common practice to hyphenate last names (as in, Lucy McGillicuddy-Ricardo) so a couple can share a last name with one another, or at least with their children.

So here again is a situation where you must use some information and judgment. First of all, you should find out what the invitee uses as her legal name, as well as how she prefers to be addressed. I do not believe there is any harm in asking if you are unsure. Second, use your best understanding of how traditional the person is, how concerned she is with gender equality and how much of a stickler she is when it comes to wedding etiquette.

It is certainly fine to address the invitation to Mrs. or Ms. Lucy McGillicuddy-Ricardo if that is what your friend goes by, although it still does not seem as though many married women choose to use the honorific "Ms."  To older couples, you may do well to address the envelope to Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Mertz. For younger couples, you might forgo the honorific and try Lucy and Ricky McGillicuddy-Ricardo, or perhaps Lucy McGillicuddy and Ricky Ricardo, whichever they use.

I know that some traditionalists may disagree with my suggestions, but I do believe that we are moving away from extensive use of non-professionally-related honorifics, and that the best manners entail addressing someone as he or she prefers to be addressed.

So here's hoping most of your guests have short, unhyphenated names, and thank you for listening to quick and dirty tips for a more polite life.

Send your question and comments to manners@quickanddirtytips.com. The Modern Manners Guy is part of the quick and dirty tips network. Check out the other great shows at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

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