Etiquette 101: Whose name should be first, the husband’s or the wife’s?

8 Jan

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My interest in “paper etiquette” started in college as I began more frequent correspondence with family and friends and began my professional career. You have to know who to address and how. But I think my real education grew exponentially as I planned my wedding. There are SO MANY RULES to consider. It’s a nightmare.

Some might think that attention to etiquette today is completely antiquated, but I’ve always believed that the intention of following such rules is politeness and if there is one thing I pride myself on, it’s politeness. But I do want to remind you that as time has passed, traditions evolve and at the end of the day, intent is all that truly matters and as long as you let that dictate your actions, you can’t go wrong and shame on anyone little enough to comment on it otherwise.

The subject of whose name should be written first has come up within our own family conversations over the years so when it resurfaced this holiday season, I decided to do a little research to learn if there is a rule for the correct order to writing a husband and wife’s name. Here’s what I learned:

Outside of the traditional, formal “Mr. & Mrs. John Doe”, the wife’s name is ALWAYS first when using first names: “Jane and John Doe” (1). In social importance, the woman is always first, then males, then children. Traditionally, the man’s first and surnames are never separated. The confused idea of the man’s name first (John and Jane Doe or Mr. John Doe and Ms. Jane Smith) is neither traditional nor appropriate.

At Emilypost.com, she notes that traditionally, a man’s name was first on an envelope address (Mr. and Mrs. John Doe), and his first and surname were not separated (Jane and John Doe), but that “nowadays”, the order was irrelevant.

I beg to differ. Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and Crane’s Blue Book of Social Stationery either state outright or give examples consistent with the following:

Married Couples

– Formally: Mr. & Mrs. John Doe
– Informally: Jane and John Doe
– In which man is a doctor: Dr. & Mrs. John Doe
– In which woman is a doctor: Mr. and Mrs. John Doe or Dr. Jane Doe and Mr. John Doe
– In which both spouses are doctors: Dr. and Mrs. John Doe, or The Doctors Doe, or Dr. Jane Doe and Dr. John Doe. [My note: I could recommend this last option, personally]

Interesting, right? I’d actually never read that about the husband’s first and surname never being separated, but have always preferred to list the woman’s name first out of respect. I don’t know why exactly but I think the fact that Brian (my husband) always holds open doors and ushers me ahead of him when we enter any room or restaurant,  (wasn’t it women and children first into the lifeboats when the Titanic sank? …just saying!), but balks when I try to make him walk ahead of me, has ingrained this sensitivity into me.

Since posting this, I’ve had numerous readers reach out for further clarification and comment and wanted to share.

“I’m currently working on my doctorate and would be very offended if, after I earned it, I was still referred to as Mrs John Doe, especially if my husband were referred to as Dr John Doe.”

“In a situation where my husband has opted to take my name (the wife’s name), how do you address both informally and formally. Particularly since, traditionally, the man’s first/last name aren’t separated. I also prefer to be addressed as a ‘Ms.’ and not ‘Mrs.'” – Michelle

A: Great question, Michelle, thank you. I dug and dug and could NOT find a clear answer to this one not surprisingly. Personally, in this instance, I would follow the traditional form of address as far as listing the female first but I would just treat your husband’s last name (yours) as if it were his all his life; he did take it upon your marriage! So per your preference of ‘Ms.’ and say Ms. Michelle and Mr. John X (X being your last name. Hope that helps!

Please leave any comments or questions or feedback in the comments below. This has proven to be such an interesting topic. Please know, I’m not an expert by any means and only know what I know thanks to regular perusal of etiquette books and intense searching of online resources. Hopefully, you found this useful! Good luck!


Sources:

1 – Crane’s Blue Book of Social Stationery (2002) uses this for its examples (pages 89, 108, 110, 111, 112). “The woman’s name appears first” appears on 112, 113, among countless others.

Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (2005) states on page 603, “That gentlemen appear first in the traditional designation of a married couple, Mr and Mrs, should not be allowed to go to their heads. Given the choice whenever other forms are used, the lady’s name appears first. ”

2 – Emilypost.com

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/When_writing_to_husband_and_wife_do_you_put_the_man%27s_name_first?#slide=2

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13 Responses to “Etiquette 101: Whose name should be first, the husband’s or the wife’s?”

  1. Candice January 8, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Interesting that when the man is a doctor you must let it be known but when the woman is the doctor it’s okay to leave it out.

    • addie2u August 21, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

      That was glaringly obvious. I actually read those examples twice to make sure I read them correctly. Reminds me of what my grandmother always said “men inherently need their egos stroked” (no matter how self-assured they come across). 😉

    • Lyndsey April 30, 2016 at 8:03 am #

      I’m not sure what sort of website I have stumbled onto, but I’m currently working on my doctorate and would be very offended if, after I earned it, I was still reffered to as Mrs John Doe, especially if my husband were referred to as Dr John Doe. I lose my first name AND my title I will have worked just as hard as all the male Drs who earned the degree and dserve to have this acknowledged. I suppose some might call me an angry feminist, but women have egos too and should have their acomplishments noted. I guarentee any female Dr who recieves mail addressed to Dr. and Mrs jane doe when they are both Drs is not going to be happy with the writer of this correspondence. I see these comments are old, so I may just be writing to myself anyway.

      Honestly, I can’t stand the idea of being reffered to as Mrs “man’s full name.” I always prefer at weddings where the couple are intruduced as Mr and Mrs Jane and John Doe if they are sharing their last name. It may not be proper, but language and customs do often evolve. I know it’s “tradition,” and I will be accused of being too sensitive, but these things do have underlying meaning. The bride becomes nothing more than the Mrs. who married to the complete man with a full name. She apparently has no first name worth mentioning while being intruded to her wedding guests.

      Also, like the French, I believe that it’s become unessary to refer to a female’s marital status when addressing her. In English, men are always mister. There is no need to declare a woman’s marital status anymore. The French now legally use madam for all women, married or not, although colloquially mademoiselle is still used. Many other countries, such as Portugal, Denmark, germany and Italy generally ony use the married term for all women . English could just miss, or misses. I know we can use Ms. but it doesn’t feel like a real word and often sounds to much like Miss. Anyway, that’s just my two cents.

      • CMS November 7, 2017 at 11:44 am #

        I think that form “Dr. so and so and Mrs. So and So” for married doctors has gone largely out of style, and is only still used if preferred by the addressee. Typically I see “Drs. John and Jane Doe”, “Dr. John Doe and Dr. Jane Doe”, or “Dr. John Doe and Dr. Jane Smith.”

  2. Staci January 9, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    What an interesting post!! I find myself trying to remember how I usually put our names when I sign cards and stuff and I think I usually put Tim’s name first but I’m not sure haha.

  3. Kazzyfam Ak March 5, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

    But Why Did The Woman’s Name Appears First In Wedding Invitations

  4. Julita April 25, 2017 at 7:45 pm #

    okay… but what if you are trying to include a title? dont? for example – i’m sending out a list of attendees to the attendees themselves, so they know who’s sitting at their table… i want to list Jane & John Doe, but also state that John Doe is CEO of Company A. So how do i do that?

    if i wasn’t listing his wife, i’d write: John Doe, CEO, Company A

    so is it… : Jane and John Doe, CEO, Company A? Doesn’t that imply they are both CEO? sigh. help.

  5. CANDICE July 26, 2017 at 1:07 am #

    WHAT ABOUT A HUSBAND AND WIFE WEBSITE THAT IS INFORMALLY NAMED WITH EACH PERSONS FIRST NAME… WHO’S NAME SHOULD BE FIRST… WIFEYANDHUBBY.COM OR HUBBYANDWIFE.COM??

    • Wendy July 26, 2017 at 3:34 pm #

      Personally, I think the wife’s name should be first. Our of respect. Hope that helps!

    • CMS November 7, 2017 at 11:47 am #

      I think these days it’s up to the preference of the couple. However they want to be listed is how they should be listed. Presumably, the husband and wife are creating the website, so it’s up to them to decide. I’ve always thought that the first rule of etiquette is that it’s there to keep from hurting people’s feelings. We have rules so that people know what to expect, but an individual’s personal preference in how they are addressed, or in what order a couple’s names are listed, is ultimately decided by the preference of the person, or persons, in question.

      • Wendy December 31, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

        We share that opinion about the purpose of etiquette rules. In today’s world, I think attention to etiquette is merely intended as a politeness, to prevent offense. I do think there is room for flexibility and interpretation. The intent is there, you know?

        I was curious about the actual ORIGIN of etiquette, so I did a little research if you’re interested:

        https://www.noozhawk.com/article/john_daly_etiquette_origins_20140812

        Interesting right?!

  6. Michelle December 29, 2017 at 11:52 am #

    My husband took my last name. I also prefer to go by Ms not Mrs. or Ms.

    So my conflict (for the informal way) is if the woman’s first name is typically first, which also facilitates the husbands first name being attached to his surname… how would ours work?

    Would it be HusbandFirstName & Michelle WifeSurname
    or Michelle & HusbandFirstName WifeSurname

    How would it work formally?

    • Wendy December 31, 2017 at 7:51 pm #

      Hi Michelle! In your case, as you’d guessed, I would personally still lead with your name first and then finish with Husband First Name Wife Surname since he’s adopted yours. Hope that helps!

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