Is it time to update the etiquette for addressing a married woman?

A few years ago, my sister addressed an envelope to my dad and step-mom as “Mr. and Mrs. John Clise”. That is the proper way to address an envelope to a married couple. However, my step-mother was not pleased with being called “Mrs. John Clise”. She stated she has her own identity separate from my dad. My sister meant no offense and was simply following envelope addressing protocol.

I understand my step-mother’s outrage. The tradition of addressing women by their husband’s name seems very old fashioned and sexist. Much has changed since Emily Post wrote her bestselling book “Etiquette” in 1922. I have been grappling with how to approach this.

When a married couple does not share the same last name the proper way to address an envelope is “Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. Brad Jones”. That seems perfectly modern and appropriate because each has their own identity. But how do you address a married couple that has the same last name? “Mrs. Jane and Mr. Brad Jones”? “Mrs. and Mr. Jane and Brad Jones”? “Jane and Brad Jones”? “The Jones”? “Mrs. Jane Jones and Mr. Brad Jones”?

And that begs another question. Do women still want to be addressed as “Mrs.” or is “Ms.” just fine, thank you very much?

I posed the question to the World Wide Web and I saw many iterations, much disagreement and some heated comments. Many women were very uncomfortable with being addressed by their husband’s first and last name. However, many women were OK with it.

Here is what I think. If the married couple is older – as in in their 70s or older – and you know for sure they are traditional, I would go ahead and address the envelope as “Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones”. Everyone else I would address thusly: For a formal occasion, “Ms. Jane Smith and Mr. Brad Smith.” According to Robert Hickey, an expert on titles and forms of address, that is the proper and respectful way to address a married couple in a formal way.  For an informal occasion, simply, “Jane and Brad Jones”.

What do you think? Would you be offended if you received an invitation addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Brad Jones”? Married women, do you prefer being called “Mrs.” or “Ms.”? Do you agree with my suggestion or do you have others?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Ms. Batchelor on June 15, 2021 at 12:25 am

    It is hard to believe it is still “proper” to address women the way we do and that anything questioning this notion is harder to find while searching the Internet. It is also a little hard to believe some women still actually enjoy becoming Mrs. John Doe instead of maintaining their own (and even current) identities. It makes me angrier than it should that change isn’t officially happening. I was asked to address an absurd amount (200 +) of retirement reception invitations for a teacher who recently retired. Yes, it is crazy that we are snail mailing that many invitations at her request, but I digress. She gave me the information to use to address the envelopes. Only husband’s names were mentioned, even though she was really only inviting the wife and kids. It still blows my mind any time something like this happens. I generally perform a Google search on the topic a few times a year hoping for something new. I wish we, as women, were farther along than we are in 2021. I am a 33-year-old, unmarried (God forbid!), professional woman in a long-term, committed relationship. I have chosen not to marry because of issues I have with marriage like this one. Women seemingly aren’t allowed to maintain their own identities in the south (Alabama of course) or even opt out of becoming a “Mrs.” instead of just plain, old and seemingly normal “Ms.” I work in education and most everyone addresses me wrong, even with a stylish office door hanger sign with my preference. Most still use “Miss” on their own. Some assume and use “Mrs.” Some are confused and don’t know how to address me. Men don’t have extra titles revealing their marriage statuses, and they never will. It also wouldn’t be understood here for me to keep my last name if I ever chose to marry my partner. I have a great example of this too. My sister, who is a local physician, never legally changed her name after marriage because she was already established as a doctor, and it is a huge hassle for a doctor to change names. However, she felt pressured to change her last name on social media to match her husband’s name. It’s crazy to me. She is very well-known. He is not. She is also the “breadwinner.” Both things are true for my partner and I too. I have made peace with becoming what people here call an “old maid,” but it still pisses me off that nothing has been discussed in the mainstream. Why do we continue to act like this doesn’t bother a large number of us? It is definitely time to update our etiquette for addressing women IN GENERAL. Thanks for your very relevant post, even a decade later. I hope you are continuing to question the status quo because it isn’t working for all of us, and I see the damage first hand that our male-dominant world is having on young minds in rural Alabama. I want more for my young people than for them to focus on finding a husband to take care of them. I want us to run the world!

  2. Itis2021People on August 6, 2021 at 7:50 am

    The year is 2021, I never changed my name to match my partner’s, and yet I still get the courtesy of getting slapped in the face with a Mr. and Mrs. John Doe letter. I can’t wait for this to die. That is not in any way my name!

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