Addressing Formal Invitations

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Every issue of the Tuscaloosa Bridal Directory contains an excellent guide on “How to address invitations.” It is, however, necessarily brief, and inevitably questions arise as individual cases present themselves. Though formal wedding invitations maintain a sense of tradition, life in the twenty-first century America has given rise to many changes in family life and nomenclature. Your guest list will have many variants from the usual Mr. and Mrs. As a calligrapher I have made a study over the years of correct traditional forms and contemporary practices. Following are a few special cases that should help you avoid common error. 

When a married woman retains her maiden name, the invitation should have her name first, followed by the word and and the name of her spouse. The and indicates that this is a married couple:

Ms. Mary Elizabeth Anne and William Edward Coates 

Married couples using professional honorifics who share the same last name:

Both are doctors:

Drs. Kathryn Anne and William Edward Coates 


The Doctors Coates 

If she is a doctor and he is not:

Dr. Kathryn Anne Coates and 

Mr. William Edward Coates 

If she retains her maiden name:

Dr. Kathryn Anne Turner and 

Mr. William Edward Coates 

Unmarried persons whose invitation will be sent to one address should have their names on seperate lines:

Dr. Kathryn Anne Turner 

Mr. Steven James Smith 

Using Mrs. with a woman’s given name is poor form. Whether married, widowed, or divorced, a woman should be Ms. Mary Smith or Mrs. John Smith. The Mrs. comes with the man’s name. If a divorced woman retains her ex-husband’s surname and wishes to continue to use the honorific Mrs. it should be followed by her maiden surname and her former husband’s surname. If Mary and John Smith divorce, she may correctly be Ms. Mary Smith or Mrs. Jones Smith, but never Mrs. Mary Smith. 

When using first names, it’s ladies first: Mary and John Smith. This isn’t merely etiquette, it logically keeps the man’s name together. 

When children are invited you will need to know their ages and sexes to list them properly. Age is a factor in deciding whether they should be sent separate invitations. The contemporary custom of giving surnames to girls as well as boys creates confusion.  Note that double envelope sets make this somewhat easier, as children’s names can be listed on the inner envelope. Single envelopes can’t support more than two lines for names, so unless the children are of the same sex, separate invitations become a necessity. 

There are bound to be other special cases that are real stumpers. An experienced calligrapher can help you sort these out while maintaining good form. 

Tuscaloosa Bridal Directory

Andrea Watson, The Fine Hand: Calligraphy, Etc.

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