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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81 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

  13. Jojo E

    Hey there, Arden. Thanks for the post it was really helpful. I was assigned to make an observation about the usage of the female personal address and compared it among the English speaking people and non English speaking people. Btw, nice comments though!

  14. Arden Post author

    Hello Jojo,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Is there a difference between English speaking people and non-English speaking folks when it comes to how women are addressed?

  15. Jules

    Hello Arden:
    I saw your question about how woman are addressed in other countries, and as I have lived in quite a few, thought I would answer that for you. Spanish, French, Italian, and German speaking countries (just to name a few) address women not by married status, but by age. So, if you are considered not yet a woman (teenager or perhaps young twenties), you are called the equivalent of “Miss”. The moment you look like an adult, you are called “Ms/Mrs.”. Of course, there is not that relatively new usage issue that exists in English of “Ms v Mrs.”. Either you are a child (“Miss”) or an adult (“Ms/Mrs.”); your married status does not matter.
    By the way, we should not forget the origins of English, where both the terms “Ms” and “Mrs” are actually “Mistress”, and that term also has no significance if the woman is married or single. Mistress, just like Master, meant that the woman was of higher social standing. Unfortunately, in pretty recent years (the last 100ish), “Mrs.” suddenly got twisted into signifying being married. Are we getting more old-fashioned in the 20th & 21st centuries? (that said as a pejorative!)

    One thing I do not understand is how many people still think it is “polite” or ok to address a woman by her husband´s first name on an envelope! (The “Mrs John Smith” question). It always appears that the person addressing the envelope in such a way suffers from either of the following: A) doesn´t know the woman´s first name B) doesn´t care to remember it or find it out C) doesn´t care either way if the woman turns up, as only the man is the truly invited guest, or D) thinks women are chattel. It is rude no matter how you look at it. You might as well say, “Hey you, whatever your name is”!
    I do not know of anyone who likes being called “Mrs John Smith” (be it professionals or housewives). And I have heard from several people that these invitations usually end up in the garbage, without even an RSVP. It is one thing to accidentally call or address someone newly acquainted by her husband´s last name based on assumption, but I cannot find any excuse to address anyone by her husband´s given name. (As I like to joke: “How does a dog get its name when you buy it? The new master gives it to him.” )

    As some more trivia about matrimonial names in other countries: in France a woman uses her husband´s name socially or informally, if so desired. Legally (like identification paperwork), however, she cannot use his name. Any time a woman uses her husband´s name, it legally is considered a “stage name”; formally, you cannot use any name other than what you were given at birth. I personally like Spain´s culture: the woman also keeps her name and just adds on a “of Smith” (e.g.) if she so desires. By using the “de”, you know it is the husband´s name. The children use both parents´ names, and anyone I knew was proud to make sure you knew and used their mother´s name, too. It was not cumbersome to use the double names, because it just rolls off the tongue. Of the people I knew, several went by their mothers´names when studying in the UK (e.g.) just because that name was easier for English speakers or else there was a mistake at enrollment (think of American application forms with space for one name). Of course, they didn´t consider it a “mistake” to be called by their mother´s name!

    Hope that answers your one question about addressing women in other cultures! (I just wish there was an answer to why some people think it is “nice and polite” to address envelopes in only the man´s name – “Mr & Mrs John Smith” – but I know from experience would consider it next to a mortal sin to address the same envelope in the woman´s name – “Mrs & Mr Jill Jones”. It is pretty disheartening to think that in the year 2015 women are still “less than” men.)

  16. Arden Post author

    Hello Jules,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing some really interesting facts. I had no idea about Mrs. being short for mistress. As for how other countries handle addressing married women, I would agree that Spain’s tradition for married names is very civil and respectful to both men and women. As for why many people still address envelopes as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith,” I think it’s a long-held practice that people have not realized is old fashioned and considered disrespectful by many. However, there are still women who want to be addressed this way. I’m all for getting rid of the outdated practice.

  17. Rosemary

    I am 68 years old and have just been informed by a much loved neice that she does not wish to receive her christmas card in her husbands name, She and her 12 year old daughter feel it conveys a message that the woman is owned by the man. I have been married for 45 years and I don’t wish to be referred to as a manuscipt (Ms being the abbreviation). Get a life, I can’t believe that people get so upset about such trivial matters I have never felt owned by my husband and I have always been very proud to be addressed as Mrs. (husbands name). Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me!!!!! I daresay these same women want their husbands to open the door for them. I’m just thankful to be on someone’s Christmas card list I don’t care how they address it I accept their wishes in the manner I trust they are sent.

  18. Arden Post author

    Hello Rosemary,
    The topic of addressing a married woman is a heated one. Many women resent being addressed by their husband’s first and last name. It makes them feel they don’t have an identity. There are also many women, like you, who are perfectly fine with being addressed that way. What’s important is that you honor how someone wants to be addressed. If your niece prefers you address the Christmas card envelope as “Mr. John Smith and Ms. Jane Smith” then it would be respectful to do so. And, she should honor how you like to be addressed and write the envelope as “Mr. and Mrs. husband’s first and last name.”

    Mrs. is not used very often any longer, but it is still used because some women want their marital status known. Until this is all sorted out, we need to honor people’s preferences.

  19. Jan

    I cannot believe what I’m reading here. “Mrs. and Mr. Jane and John Doe?” That is ludicrous. These women who whine about “keeping their identity” after they’ve willingly changed their names have no leg to stand on. This rule of etiquette will never change. When a woman changes her last name, she becomes “Mrs. John Doe.” Period. She can still be “Mary Jones” informally, but her proper name is “Mrs. John Doe” as long as she is married to John and after his death, until she remarries or takes back her maiden name. If a woman wants to retain her identity, it’s very simple: don’t change your name. I didn’t. I already had a name. The idea of changing it never occurred to me, and frankly, I don’t understand why anyone does it unless she hates her name. The proper way to address my husband and me is:
    Ms. Jan Garver
    and Mr. Paul Flanders (the “and” is what signifies the fact that we are married; there is no “and” before the man’s name if a couple is not married)
    Had I changed my name, I would be accepting the fact that I was Mrs. Paul Flanders, and I certainly wouldn’t complain when people addressed me properly.

    “Mrs. Jane Doe” means that Jane divorced John and kept his last name. Had she reclaimed her maiden name, she would be “Ms. Jane Jones.”

    As a calligrapher, event planner, and etiquette expert, I happily spend a great deal of time explaining to my clients the proper way to address their guests because I feel it is part of my job to ensure that their invitations go out the way they are supposed to. An envelope addressed the way you are suggesting would be laughed at by most people, and it would cast a bad light on the hosts as well as the calligrapher, who is supposed to know how to do things.

    I apologize for the heterocentric discussion here; I will be happy to tell anyone how to properly address same-sex couples as well! 🙂

    Please stop disseminating incorrect information. Some rules of etiquette were never made to be changed because to do so would make no sense whatsoever.

  20. Arden Post author

    Hi Jan,

    Thank you for visiting and sharing your insights. According to Robert Hickey, who wrote a book on using Names, Titles, and Forms of Address, and who works for the Protocol School of Washington, the updated and correct way to address a modern couple where the woman doesn’t want to be addressed as Mrs. John Smith is like this: Ms. Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones. Etiquette evolves, it has to, to address our changing society. When women married 100 years ago their identity was their husband’s identity so it made sense to go by the husband’s first and last name. They also wore bustles and corsets and didn’t have the right to vote nor have opportunities to work, for the most part. Much has changed in 100 years. Women make up more than half of the workforce. We vote, we don’t have to get married and we don’t have to be addressed as Mrs. John Smith.

  21. Debbie Steinman

    Thought I should write as yesterday I signed a form at the hospital with Mrs. I was surprised to hear the young nurse say ” wow these days most women don’t sign their names with Mrs. anymore – I was a little shocked. I said I’ve always signed this way out of habit, I guess I am dating myself (age 60 baby boomer) and of German background. This topic really intrigued me and I think there are many baby boomers that are not aware of this small change to etiquette. With divorces and retaining maiden names etc. it can be daunting to properly acknowledge couples these days. I guess I need to get modern and up to date so I will drop the Mrs. when signing firms from here on. This is a great topic for the World Wide Web to clarify so everyone gets informed.
    Thanks for including the comments as it shows our different perspectives.

  22. Arden Post author

    Hi Debbie,

    Thank you for your comment. It’s an awkward time because there are still people who want to be addressed as Mrs. or even Mrs. John Smith. Sometimes change takes time as people get used to a new way of approaching things. But, it’s important to honor how people want to be addressed. I’m sure in another 20 years we’ll be looking at yet another set of etiquette rules that accommodate our changing world.

  23. Cara

    So basically we have to go to each couple before addressing invitations and ask how each one wants to be addressed? That’s preposterous. People need to stop being so easily offended.

  24. Stephanie

    I sent out wedding invites and encountered this same problem. I am with Cara on this one. If someone thinks highly enough of you and your spouse to send you a greeting card, holiday card or invitation to an event, do not get upset if they do not address the envelope exactly as you want. It is absurd to try and figure out what everyone wants this day and it seems that no matter what you do, inevitably SOMEONE is offended. Society is changing and everyone has different preferences, which is fine, but don’t complain if someone isn’t up to date on exactly what you want as there are too many options/variables!

    I honestly don’t care what I am called…it is an envelope.

  25. Angie

    I am forty years old and agree heartily with Tali, Rosemary and Jan. I believe it is a wonderful tradition and hope to see it remain one. I am quite confident in my identity yet also very content being formally labeled using my husband’s name. I take great pride in his name as I do in him. Call me old fashioned if you will, but perhaps too much has changed and we should once again embrace our unions as higher than our individual identities. My two cents.

  26. S

    Both first names!!!

    When I got married 24 years ago, I wrote a poem to express my feelings on the topic….

    I married for love
    I married for kisses
    I did not marry
    to be JUST a Mrs.!

  27. Toshia

    I recently butted heads with my boss on this. Typing an envelope address to a donor she insisted it go to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. I watched Jane Smith write the check and I knew that she would be upset by the salutation yet nothing would sway my boss from being proper.

  28. Arden Clise

    Toshia, that’s frustrating. Your boss is right, it’s the correct way to address a married couple with the same last name, but I just think it’s wrong and outdated. Maybe Jane will call and ask that she be addressed by her name next time.

  29. Calvin

    I wonder which one is correct as I read many story here to my side I think Mrs and Mr was the correct one now no more Ladies first as now Man will come first as the head I was writing a name to my friend start with Mrs and Mr Huggo

    It was to read what people think

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