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


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, 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!


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 –



  1. 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.

    1. 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). 😉

    2. 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.

      1. 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. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been 4 years but somehow this is still floating around. I’m working on my doctorate right now and when I receive it I would be very offended to have that accomplishment wiped away in correspondence. I also always go by Ms. and the surname I was born with. I do find it insulting to my gender to have a woman’s first name disappear simply because she marries a man. There is no reason to change a woman’s title based on marital status. I will respect a woman who chooses to still use Mrs. but my choice should be respected as well.

  2. 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. 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.

    1. Where there is a title distinction, simply separate each onto another line. What you are sending out sounds informative, not formal. I would prioritize clarity over any etiquette concerns, in this case. I’m curious why you want to include a title at all?

      A few different approaches:

      Jane Doe, any title she has
      John Doe, CEO, Company A


      Jane, [any title she has in a bracket]; and
      John Doe, CEO, Company A.


    1. 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.

  5. 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?

    1. 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!

      1. My husband took my last name and I remember reading somewhere we should formally be addressed as Mrs. and Mr. Wife First Name Wife Last Name. It doesn’t really matter to us and we just go with the flow of how people address us, but I do kind of like the sound of that!

  6. Having read through your article, my reckoning of naming couple is either who I knew first and tack on their partner or how they introduce themselves. I will not follow etiquette should it end up being John and Jane, that is how they will be addressed.

  7. My wife kept her maiden name after we married for many reasons beyond the scope of this note. When formally addressing her she prefers Ms. and not Mrs. We frequently personal receive mail addressed her first and last name first, followed by my first and last name.

  8. question – for service bulletins listing memorial flowers – is it ok to write Mrs. first name, maiden or middle name & Mr. first, last name.

  9. Ms Constance Rissberger & Mr Paul Waterson. Is this correct?

    We’re married but I kept my maiden name.

    1. You could use Mrs. Constance Rissberger because the “Mrs.” denotes marriage. But if you prefer, “Ms.” that is also perfectly acceptable. I do prefer to see your name place first, followed by your husband’s.

  10. Your section on dealing with multiple people in the couple being doctors is highly offensive. Women work just as hard as men to achieve their doctorate. It is rude and improper to erase her correct title. As to not promote outdated and frankly sexist practices, you should edit this article to delete the following as a correct way to address married doctors:

    – Dr. and Mrs. John Doe

    In addition to “The Doctors Doe” or “Dr. Jane Doe and Dr. John Doe,” I suggest you may also address them as “Dr. & Dr. Doe.” Further, you did not provide any examples of the wife being a doctor and the husband not having an additional title. In such cases, the following is appropriate:

    Dr. & Mr. Doe
    Dr. Jane Doe & Mr. John Doe

    Finally, here are a couple of examples for when the wife has a different title than the husband:

    Dr. Jill Biden & President-Elect Joseph Biden
    Rev. Jane Doe & Mr. John Doe

  11. How do you write a married couple’s name when using both of their 1st names, her last name is hyphenated, and his last name has the subscipt, Sr.?

    Example: Joe Doe, Sr. and her name is Jane Smith-Doe

    How would you formally write their names together when addressing them as a couple?

    1. Personally, I would begin with the woman’s full first name and then follow with the mans: Mrs. or Ms (whichever she prefers) First Name Hyphenated Last Name and Mr. First Name Last Name. As long as you never separate the man’s first and last name, you are following the traditional written etiquette.

  12. After reading your interesting post, I think I have made a bad mistake regarding an entry on a Scroll of Remembrance for my parents that I arranged last year. I put my Dad’s name first as otherwise It would have been split up i.e. Edna and Ronald (on one line) and William Aikin on the next. So it actually reads Ronald William (on the first line) and Edna Aikin (on the next). Now I can’t have this changed and feel rather bad about it. My dear Mum always liked things to be right and I wouldn’t want to think I’ve let them down.

    1. Oh no at all. These etiquette “rules” are by no means hard and fast, they are just meant to provide some rules for politeness. That has always been my interpretation anyways. Is Ronald William Aikin your father’s full name? As you’ve done it, I don’t think it’s a grave mistake by any means. In an instance where you’ve chosen to use the middle name for him, but not your mother, I think it’s more balanced as you’ve done. I’m so sorry for your loss. Be well.

      1. Thank you very much Wendy for your reply. Yes, my father’s full name is Ronald William Aikin. My mother only had one Christian name, Edna. I don’t feel bad now about putting ‘Ronald William and Edna Aikin’, as I noticed that someone else had also put their father’s name first and their mother’s name after. They assured me at the crematorium that it was perfectly acceptable, and the scribes that do the entries in the books of remembrance would have pointed out anything that wasn’t quite correct. I put it that way because I wanted my Mum’s name next to my Dad’s surname. I am grateful for your input and reassurance on this. Thank you. Christine.

  13. Currently I’m creating a generational list of members living in the same resort community. It goes back to 1914, and includes five generations of families. I’ve definitely included maiden names, where possible, for the purpose of following each family. There are no “Mr. and Mrs.” titles º just first and last names. After exploring the etiquette of writing these names I was left with the rule that the man’s name should never be separated, so wrote: Mary (Smith) Jones & John Jones. But when there were no maiden names available I was under the impression that his name should be first. That made it very confusing, with her name first with maiden name, but his names first the rest of the time. For the sake of continuity, should I write all couples with her name first, except when he is a doctor? Then his name first?

    1. Personally, where there isn’t an exact precedent for this sort of list, I would do exactly as you intuited. In some situations, you just need to go with what makes the most sense! For the sake of continuity, I like your solution. Good luck!

  14. Parents of the bride have been divorced for many years. Close family on both sides are hosting a large announcement party for the couple. In listing hosts for the engagement event celebration, I am inquiring about acceptable placement of married host couples to include maiden names of the wives. For instance…is the following example acceptable?
    ..Mrs. Jane Smith Jones and Mr. John Jones

    1. Hello, Linda. Thank you so much for your inquiry. If I am understanding correctly, this is perfect as you’ve done it. The parents of the bride are not remarried, I take it or each would be listed with their spouse? This form is correct, so long as Mrs. Jane Smith Jones USES this form of address. I know after divorce, some prefer to drop the (former) married last name in favor of their maiden name, while some, usually with children, will often retain the married last name, choosing to add or not add the maiden as well, just before the married last. I hope this is clear. Happy to clarify if needed. Thanks!

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