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

8 Jan


My interest in “paper etiquette” started in college as I began more frequent correspondence via letter with family and friends and increased as I began my professional career— you have to know who to address and how in any business. But I think my real education grew exponentially as I planned my wedding. (There are SO MANY RULES to consider. It’s a nightmare.) And lest you think I nailed it all perfectly, I can assure you, I did not.

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. 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

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. Anyways, I’m glad I took the time to look into this so I finally know what is what.


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. ”