Addressing Couples: When they are using two names or are unmarried

by EPI Staff on June 2, 2009

Q: I’m confused about how to write to some of my friends. What’s the correct way to address a married couple when the wife has kept her own name? What about addressing a couple who live together but aren’t married?

A: In addressing the married couple, write their names on the same line: “Ms. Carolyn Smith and Mr. Anthony Simpson.” In the case of an unmarried couple who live together, write the names on separate lines:

Ms. Mary Jones

Mr. Calvin King

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa June 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

My son is getting married out of state. We are able to get a very good hotel rate with in walking distance to the wedding and rehearsal at the same hotel the couple will be spending their first night in.
The other hotel options are more costly and/or not close to the wedding and reception. The bride is very unhappy that we are planning to stay in the same 685 room hotel.
Are we wrong to do this? The bride and groom are only staying 1 night and we are planning to be there about 3 days.
Thank you,

Reply

Daniel Post Senning June 18, 2009 at 7:47 am

It might be good idea to reassure the bride that you will be giving her and her new husband (your son) all of the privacy that they might want. By acknowledging her concern and communicating that your choice has to do with price and convenience and not a need to be close to your son, you could go a long way toward diffusing the situation. There is no reason you can’t both stay at such a large hotel and still allow each other the space to enjoy the wedding in your own distinct ways.

Reply

Mary Kay June 3, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I’m confused about your response regarding the addressing of the invite to the married couple when the wife has kept her own name. Since she is married, shouldn’t she be addressed as ‘Mrs. Carolyn Smith’?

Reply

Daniel Post Senning June 4, 2009 at 11:16 am

I went to double check this for you. The answer that we gave in the post is the traditional form and is widely recognized. The option that you suggest would be fine as well, although this is new and might be confusing to people who are used to a different standard. There is a fascinating history behind evolving forms of address for women as the role women play in society has changed. I would like to elaborate on this answer in a front page post next week so that the whole community can see the discussion. This is a standard that is changing right now as we talk about it. Please check back and contribute your thoughts.
To elaborate further (because I like this topic and can hardly contain myself), here at The Emily Post Institute we are doing research for the 18th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette. This will be one of the areas where there are likely to be changes to the 17th edition. I will be curious what our readers have to contribute as we think about ways to acknowledge all of the roles and relationships that are becoming more common.

Reply

Mary Kay June 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Wow – thanks for the very informative reply! I’ll look for the post next week.

Reply

Jollie June 28, 2009 at 4:06 am

Isn’ it kind of discriminative to do it differently for married and for unmarried couples? It just gives me a not-so-good impression. I personally would write it the same -with “and”- that is for married, unmarried and gay couples. Is there a reason why it wouldn’t be appropriate?

Reply

P Cline February 2, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I was wondering what the proper way to address a couple if using their first names. I always thought that if you didn’t use Mr. & Mrs. then you used the man’s name first and the wife’s. I am seeing it the other way. I am confused. I have always addressed married couples using the husband’s name first. I sort of get the women first idea, but why then is it Mr. & Mrs.? It seems that if you use their first names instead you would do it the same.

Reply

J Barrett February 4, 2013 at 9:09 pm

In using names, you do not separate the man’s name. For example it would be Mr. and Mrs. John Smith or with first names, Mary and John Smith.

Reply

veda December 11, 2011 at 12:04 pm

How about a written check gift with names on the card with the check made out to one, is it understood that it is for both?

Reply

Elizabeth December 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm

As someone who was recently married, I found it rather annoying to find checks made out to both of us, especially when then were addressed to me as Elizabeth Husband’sLastName – which I did not take. I had to double sign each check, then he had to sign it, it was kind of a pain at the bank, you get the idea. If you make it out to the bride or groom (whoever’s side your on) will make things a lot easier. The couple will definitely understand that it is a gift to both of them. If you do make it out to both – please find out whether the bride intends to take the groom’s last name and address the check accordingly!

(Just FYI- I do not care when well-meaning relatives address holiday cards to us under my husband’s last name, I know that not everyone realizes I kept my name, and that’s fine. It really was just all the double signing and hoops at the bank that made the check experience so frustrating.)

Reply

Jeff November 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Since the last post in this thread is almost a year old, I hope it is not dead. I believe I am coming from the other side of the fence. I married a widow and she kept her married name. If we are sending an invitation, are we Mr. and Mrs. (my name) or Mr. (my name) and Mrs. (her name)? Are both forms acceptable? To me, the latter makes us sound like two people married to other spouses. Thank you.

Reply

Winifred Rosenburg November 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Because she does not use your last name, “Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Last” does not work as it implies you have the same last name (or that she uses that name socially). The correct way for you would be “Mr. Jeff Last and Ms. Jane Smith” or with those names reversed.

Reply

Alicia November 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

If you were not married it would be
Ms Jane Smith
Mr Jeff Jones

“and ” in invites means married as does Mrs.
Mrs Jane Smith and Mr Jeff Jones thus would be you as a married couple

Reply

Winifred Rosenburg November 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Actually Mrs. is only correct when followed by the husband’s name. “Mrs.” roughly translates to “wife of” and “wife of Jane Smith” doesn’t make sense. She would have to use “Ms.” with her first name.

Reply

L. Scheppmann February 1, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I am married but have never liked being addressed as, for example, Mrs. Jeff Smith, but rather would prefer, Mrs. Jane Smith. I’m sure there are many women who would agree with me. I guess you could call it a pet peeve of mine. So, how could we update society to “formally” address a couple, e.g., on a wedding invitation? Would it be Mr. and Mrs. Jeff and Jane Smith, or, would it be Mr. Jeff Smith and Mrs. Jane Smith??? Or other???

Winifred Rosenburg February 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm

It would be “Mr. Jeff Smith and Ms. Jane Smith” or with the order reversed.

L. Scheppmann February 2, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Am replying to Winifred Rosenburg’s response directly above – was wondering if one is Mrs., then, if only they took their husband’s last & first name?

Reply

Winifred Rosenburg February 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I’m honestly not sure why EPI would say that. Miss Manners says “Mrs. is correctly used only with the lady’s husband’s name.”

Reply

L. Scheppmann February 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm

If you google Mrs. definition on bing.com, it states that Mrs. is a title that is used before HER name OR the name of her husband – which is contrary to your statement saying that Mrs. is correctly used only with the lady’s husband’s name.

Reply

Elizabeth February 17, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I would be interested to know what your source is. Bing is a search engine, not a source and certainly not an authority.

Reply

L. Scheppmann February 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm

To add to my previous statement … Per the article: “Guide to Addressing Correspondence,” (on EmilyPost.com) it says it IS acceptable today, to be called, Mrs. Jane Smith – “formally.” But when formally addressed as a couple, then, why would she all of a sudden have to change from a Mrs. to a Ms.??? Thanks for your reply.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: