Quite Continental Charm School: Day 2 – Forms of Address

02/02/2013 § 3 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Forms of AddressLittle girl mailing a letter, 1920. Via the Smithsonian.

It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles.
–Niccolò Machiavelli

Day 2: Forms of Address
In an age that is dominated by electronic communications and a very simplified @-addressing system, it can be a bit overwhelming to try to remember the etiquette that governs correctly addressing correspondence. However, when one has his or her forms of address well in hand, it is a small gesture that demonstrates the proper respect by acknowledging a person’s professional and personal statuses.  Moreover, it will add a certain amount of elan to the lovely and disappearing practice we now call “snail mail” — and when properly employed with electronic messages, notice how it imbues a thoroughly modern mode of communication with an air of nostalgia and refinery.

Sidenote: was your first thought that today’s tip endorses a outdated system that traditionally prioritizes men and their titles (e.g., “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe”)?  If so, you’ll be happy to know that as part of a shift in general convention that largely took place in the second half of the last century regarding the status of women within society, the accepted ways to address women has also changed over time, placing men and women on more equal footing…on the back of our envelopes.

  • Ms. is the default correct way to address a woman, unless she has already indicated that she prefers Mrs.  Miss is typically used for girls.
  • It is equally correct to refer to a married woman who uses her husband’s last name as both Mrs. Jane Doe and Mrs. John Doe — i.e., using her own first name.
  • When addressing a couple, you need not refer to the man first.  However, if one spouse “outranks” the other, the higher rank is listed first.  For example, all of the following are correct: Jane and John Doe, John and Jane Doe, Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. John Doe (married, wife uses maiden name), Dr. Jane Doe and Mr. John Doe, Drs. Jane and John Doe/Drs. John and Jane Doe, The Doctors Doe
  • Do not use Mr. or Ms. when indicating a professional designation.  For example: Jane Doe, Esquire; John Doe, CPA.  However, designations are not used in conversation or socially.  In those cases, use Mr. or Ms.
  • The traditional way to address a widow is by using her husband’s first name, for example: Mrs. John Doe.  Of course you should use her own first name or Ms., if you are aware of her personal preference.
The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
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§ 3 Responses to Quite Continental Charm School: Day 2 – Forms of Address

  • Ruth says:

    I’m old enough to remember when Ms. came into use. I was delighted to have a designation to use that did not mark a woman as married or spinster! (And that’s a very old designation you still see used in some places, especially in marriage licenses.) But nowadays many of the forms have fallen by the wayside, and perhaps rightly so. Formal address is not used so much by anyone except professionals of any degree or those trying to impress one with their usage. I think I prefer a less formal usage, though when I worked in retail I could never bring myself to call an older customer by their first name as were always instructed to do. It was disrespectful and too forward for me! I had been taught proper manners by two spinster aunts. It just was not done. It’s not so much that we should do away with respectful forms of address, just that they have a time and place to be used.

  • As my twitter handle indicates, I prefer Miss. I can still be a girl at 21 right? 😉
    xandra ★

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