Is it time to update the etiquette for addressing a married woman?

A few years ago, my sister addressed an envelope to my dad and step-mom as “Mr. and Mrs. John Clise”. That is the proper way to address an envelope to a married couple. However, my step-mother was not pleased with being called “Mrs. John Clise”. She stated she has her own identity separate from my dad. My sister meant no offense and was simply following envelope addressing protocol.

I understand my step-mother’s outrage. The tradition of addressing women by their husband’s name seems very old fashioned and sexist. Much has changed since Emily Post wrote her bestselling book “Etiquette” in 1922. I have been grappling with how to approach this.

When a married couple does not share the same last name the proper way to address an envelope is “Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. Brad Jones”. That seems perfectly modern and appropriate because each has their own identity. But how do you address a married couple that has the same last name? “Mrs. Jane and Mr. Brad Jones”? “Mrs. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones”? “Jane and Brad Jones”? “The Jones”? “Mrs. Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones”?

And that begs another question. Do women still want to be addressed as “Mrs.” or is “Ms.” just fine, thank you very much?

I posed the question to the World Wide Web and I saw many iterations, much disagreement and some heated comments. Many women were very uncomfortable with being addressed by their husband’s first and last name. However, many women were OK with it.

Here is what I think. If the married couple is older – as in in their 60s or older – and you know they are traditional, I would go ahead and address the envelope as “Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones”. Everyone else I would address thusly: For a formal occasion, “Ms. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones”. It doesn’t seem as clunky to me and honor’s a woman’s identity. For an informal occasion, simply, “Jane and Brad Jones”.

What do you think? Would you be offended if you received an invitation addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones”? Married women, do you prefer being called “Mrs.” or “Ms.”? Do you agree with my suggestion or do you have others?

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62 thoughts on “Is it time to update the etiquette for addressing a married woman?

  1. ArdenClise

    @Solar Thanks for commenting. It is indeed a changing world and it seems some of these old traditions need to be updated. I think they will be, but it takes time. 

    As I’ve said to others, assume people mean well if they call you Mr. The United States is very casual compared to the rest of the world. It would be very insulting to call someone you just met or who you don’t know well by their first name. 

    When in Rome do as the Romans do.

  2. Laura

    @Kris The problem with considering “older couples” over 60 as likely to appreciate the more formal Mr. and Mrs. Fred Smith is that over 60 now means baby boomers like myself who don’t want to be addressed in such a way. I did change my name but I want to be acknowledged as a separate person from my husband, though I would not take offence if I did receive such an invitation. So maybe older couples for the sake of this argument should now be those over 70 or even 75.
    I now face this quandary as we decide how to address invitations to my son’s wedding. This married couple with the last name category is the tricky one. I’d suggest: Mrs. (Ms.) Marjorie Smith and Mr. Fred Smith as least awkward.

  3. Manorisims

    I honestly HATE being called by such an archaic name as Mrs. John Doe.  Especially if I’m donating to a non-profit and I was the one that wrote the check.  Just because my husband’s name was also on the check and he is a male doesn’t mean I should just loose my first name.

  4. Gramps Mickey

    I’m 76 and do not consider myself “old.” A woman has a first name. All forms of address should acknowledge that identity. There is no such person as “Mrs. John Jones.” This appellation does not appear on any birth certificate or drivers license. Use her name in forms of address

  5. Arden Clise

    Hello Gramps Mickey,

    I agree with you. It’s an old tradition based on women’s identities and financial security being tied to their husband. Today, women make up over 55% of the workforce, we deserve our own identity with our own names.
    Arden Clise recently posted…Will it kill you to be nice?My Profile

  6. Hanna

    Hi – I came across your blog post researching etiquette for wedding invitations. For my female married friends, I’d like to acknowledge them first, then their husband by using:
    Mrs. and Mr. Jane and John Doe.
    Are there any major issues with using Mrs. and Mr.? Everything I’ve found says only use the female first if she outranks him socially as a Doctor – this is problematic for me as a feminist that the male outranks his wife by default. Thoughts?

  7. Arden Post author

    Hello Hanna,

    Traditionally the man is first. However, I would list who you know best first. Ie: Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. John Smith. We usually use Ms. for women married or unmarried, but if you know your friend prefers being Mrs. then use that title.

    I hope that helps. Have a wonderful wedding.

  8. Tali

    Hi Arden. I stumbled across this post and found it very curious that most women no longer take pride in their married name. I’m 28, recently married and find it a joy and sign of honor to be referred to by my husband’s name. I know my role as a woman and wife is just as important and valued as his role. I think there’s simply been many shifts in our society’s view on marriage. Besides, how frequently do we even get the honor of being referred to by our husband’s name?

  9. Arden Post author

    Hi Tali,

    Thanks for commenting. It’s all a matter of perspective and what you value. Many women don’t want to be referred to by their husband’s first and last name. They want an identity separate from their husband. But, like you, there are many women who really enjoy being addressed by their husband’s name. They consider it an honor. Vive la difference! The most important point is to respect how people choose to be addressed, even if you don’t agree with it.

  10. Alexa

    My family received a wedding invitation addressed to “The Alex Hyatt Family.” NOT EVEN ALEX HYATT AND FAMILY! or Mr. And Mrs Alex Hyatt. I was pissed.

  11. mj

    I know this is an old post, but I think it’s one that is still relevant. In my social circle, most couples have maintained their birth names, though there have been a few who both hyphenated. Also my married female friends all use Ms. (or Dr., if applicable), and some don’t really mind when someone uses Mrs. without knowing their preference, but there are several who are very upset by that.

    I’m interested to know your view on proper address for couples in which the husband takes the wife’s last name, and the wife maintains the same name from birth. Since they share a last name, are both Mrs. and Ms. appropriate options for addressing the wife? Or just Ms. since the last name originated with her? Is referring to the husband as Mr. Wife’sfirstname Wife’slastname appropriate formal address?

  12. Arden Clise

    Alexa, I can understand your anger at how the wedding invitation was addressed. Someone apparently doesn’t know proper forms of address. Sorry to hear that.

    MJ, isn’t it wonderful the world is changing and men are taking their wives last names? Your question is a good one. First off, Ms. would be appropriate whether the husband took the wife’s last name or the wife took her husband’s name. Ms. is the correct term for women today. Mrs. is an abbreviation for Missus, which simply signifies a woman is married. That was a proper way to address women at one time so that men knew if women were married or not. Today, because a majority of women work and aren’t (as) dependent on men for their financial well being, it isn’t important to designate a woman’s marital status, especially in the business world.

    The proper way to address a modern couple, whether the woman took the man’s last name or the man took the woman’s last name, is, Mr. John Smith and Ms. Jane Smith.

    Thanks for commenting.
    Arden Clise recently posted…Four ways to promote your business on social media without spamming your friendsMy Profile

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