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:
– 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 – Emilypost.com