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Archive for April, 2010

I appreciate your website. I don’t have a copy of your book, but wish I did. I would like to send a thank-you card to the wife of a two-star admiral and I believe it to be appropriate to address it as “Mrs. So-and-so” instead of using “Janet”, her first name.  But how do I write it?  Mrs. Admiral William Smith just doesn’t sound right.  What do you think?  Thanks!
— PSC, San Diego, CA

Dear PSC:
Official spouses do not receive any special form of address due to the office held by their spouse. (I can’s say there are none actually: but, I can only think of two elected or appointed officials anywhere the world whose spouses do.) Spouses are frequentlyaccorded courtesies that would be show their official spouse, but these are in truth courtesies to the official … not to the person married to the official.
My bet is that to use the most formal form on a thank-you note’s envelope to the wife of an admiral is a good idea. The most formal way is to address the envelope as:
Mrs. William Smith
(Address)

and then on the salutation use:
Dear Mrs. Smith,
If you are on a first-name basis, on the salutation you could use:
Dear Janet,
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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Thank you for your site. I find it very useful.  We have an event coming up in May and I want to be sure I have listed the public officials correctly in the program. I’m not quite sure how to list former President George W. Bush. My inclination is to list him has Former President George W. Bush. Is this correct?  Your advice is greatly appreciated!
— SS., American Wind Energy Association, Washington, DC

Dear SS:
Listing officials in a program is a bit different that addressing them directly, but if you want to use the form used in direct address … it is absolutely O.K.
Former presidents are The Honorable:
The Honorable George W. Bush
Not sure you need to identify that he’s a former president …. but if you need to list something after his name, consider …
43rd President of the United States
Former President of the United States
President of the United States, 2001-2009
Let me know it this helps. I hate being left in the dark!

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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How do you list an elected official, such as a town mayor, in a cc?  Mayor John SmithHonorable John Smith, Mayor? Thank you any help you can lend.
— Robin B., Legal Assistant, Memphis, TN

Dear Robin B.:
List him as you would formally address him:
The Honorable John Smith
Or if it’s necessary to identify him for an addressee who might not know who John Smith is:
The Honorable John Smith, Mayor of Greenwich
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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“Is an Attorney General Addressed as “General” is question that came in a while ago. But I got some interesting comments/responses I wanted to include, so here is the posting with updates. As Dean Martin use to say “Keep those cards and letters coming in.”

General is a military rank and form of address of a person holding that rank.  Why do some journalists (print and broadcast) address the Attorney General (US and state) as “General?”  Isn’t this grammatically incorrect in that in the title Attorney General, the word general is an adjective modifying/limiting the noun attorney?
— R. F.

Dear R. F.:
My first reaction is that you are right — I am not familiar with General being used as an honorific for an Attorney General.  The Attorney General of the United States is addressed most formally as Mr. Attorney General.
I mentioned the question to a room full of trainees at The Protocol School of Washington’s Protocol Officer Training and they thought the use was bizarre. But most of them were from the government and military where they have plenty ofgenerals in uniform wearing stars.
But I do see on the National Association of Attorneys General website they useGeneral (Surname) in the bios of some of their member attorneys general.
Still not quite believing it I spoke to Chris Young, Chief of Protocol, State of Georgia and an attorney. He says attorneys general and solicitors general are addressed and referred to as General (Surname) in courtroom settings. He says in federal and state supreme and appellate court proceedings you will see references to attorney generals as General (Surname).
A law librarian at the Library of Congress did some research on this at my request and confirms in oral arguments, court documents record the Attorney General and Solicitor General as “Gen. (full name), Esq.”
UPDATE: I’ve heard from a the offices of three state attorneys general, and to quote the Executive Assistant of the Attorney General of Montana: “Your e-mail asks a number of questions regarding the preferred form of address for the current Montana Attorney General.  “Dear Mr. Bullock” is the commonly-used and accepted form of address for the current attorney general, in any situation.  “General” is rarely used, and then by those who are not aware of our customary practice.”
UPDATE: Got an e-mail from BF who said “Spoke with an acquaintance who is a retired Judge Advocate General Corps brigadier general and now a law professor. He indicated the use of “general” started with US Attorney General Janet Reno, when some in the media hung the title on her as a result of her role in “the defeat of Branch Davidian forces at the 1993 Battle of Waco.” Over the years there have been increasing cases of misuse of the title by those who don’t realize that “general” in attorney general is not a title but an adjective used to modify/describe the noun attorney.   If true, I’m sure most AGs would want to distance themselves from the title “general.” I took a look at the site you listed.  I suspect the bio was submitted by someone on Cuccinelli’s campaign staff as its style (and multiple use of “general”) doesn’t parallel  most of the other bios on the site.” Thank you BF.
UPDATE:
Got an e-mail from WD noting that the plural of attorney general in the dictionary is not attorney generals but is attorneys general … emphasizing that the office is that of an attorney, and general is an adjective describing the attorney with a broad range of duties for the state.  Thus there is no way they would be generals.  He also noted I’d been careless in those spellings in my posting (he was right) so I corrected the spellings. Thank you WD.

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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Dear Readers: I came across an interesting story by Georgiana Vines at Knoxnews.com(Knoxville, TN) entitled “How should the president of the United States be addressed in the media”. She wrote that the AP Style she followed –referring to “President Barack Obama” first then switching to “Mr. Obama” — raised the ire of some members of the community who felt the should be always be “President” and anything less was disrespectful.  I wrote her the following:
— Robert Hickey

Dear Ms. Vines:
I enjoyed your posting on “How should the president of the U.S. be addressed by the media?”  Showing respect for an office is a reflection that citizens understand the office represents them, and their institutions are worthy of respect —  without regard to the current office holder,
This question of how to address vs. how to refer to an office holders is frequently discussed at The Protocol School of Washington’s trainings. Here is a protocol view of the forms of address issue.
For us, the issue is whether one is directly addressing The President…. in which case the correct form of address is “Mr. President”. “President” is never used as an honorific for the president of the United States in direct address.
In the most formal forms of address with the highest officials the name is not used.  When you meet Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, address her as “Madame Speaker”. When you meet John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, address him as “Mr. Chief Justice”.  If you meet Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom (she’s also the Queen of Canada and lots of other places), address her as “Your Majesty”.
When reporters are writing (or reading) a story about The President, they are not addressing him. Reporters are telling a story and identifying the ‘players’ in a way that will be clear to the audience.  They are referring to him in the third person, so forms of address rules don’t apply.
Referring to him as “The President” might be clear, but it might not be clear if the story includes another “president”.  “President Obama” is clear. “Mr. Obama” and “Obama” are also clear, but not as deferential.  But as for “How to refer to the president of the United States”, I’d say is the AP style is respectful for news articles.
Usually when this topic arises, people outside protocol hold the opinion that if they were to meet The President they should address him as as “President Obama” and will argue strongly that it’s the traditional form of address. But I think “President Obama” is what they hear and read in the media day to day, and having little experience in direct dealing with The President” they are just following what they hear and read.
Sincerely,
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

Thanks very much for your note. This is a topic that has generated quite a bit of discussion with readers. It’s been interesting to hear from them.
— Georgiana Vines

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Our local Heritage Association is having a birthday celebration for a citizen turning 100.  We will have the following elected officials in attendance who will be presenting proclamations: Do I have their order correct?
Mayor of City
County Commissioner
Superintendent of Schools

We will also have proclamations from the following that will not be in attendance:
President of the U.S.
Former President of the US
Governor of the State
State Representative

Is there an order to how these proclamations should be given?   Thank you for your assistance.
— Judy I., Heritage Association of Frisco

Dear Judy I @ HAF:
In terms of precedence an official most closely in his or her domain is always the highest. E.g., the mayor in his or her city has the highest precedence at any event in the city.
However, typically lower officials (governors, mayors, etc.) grant visiting higher officials the higher precedence as a courtesy.
But, the application of precedence is situational. You have present officials and absentofficials. I suggest you read the absent officials proclamations first (since they are high) … then have the present officials read their own. I would not want to have a superintendent of schools reading his proclamation before a president of the United State’s proclamation just because he was in attendence.
So, based on the White House Precedence List this is what I’d suggest:
Absent Current President of the U.S. (#1 on the White House List)
Absent Governor of the State in his own state (#3 on the White House list)
Absent Former President of the U.S. (#5 on the White House list)
Absent State Representative (#39 on the White House list)

Then ….
Present mayor in his own city (#30 on the White House list)
Present commissioner of the board
Present superintendent of schools

I include a prototype White House Precedence List in my book for just this kind of situation. Great thing about using The White House’s List is if someone questions you about the order — you can say “we used the order established on the White House Precedence List’  … and on hearing that they usually keep quiet!
– Robert Hickey
www.formsofaddress.info

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In the United States order of precedence, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court are explicitly ranked in order of appointment, but the ranking of retired justices doesn’t seem to be specified. Will retiring Justice Stevens rank ahead of (earlier appointment) or behind (later retirement) O’Connor & Souter?.
— M. Woods.

Dear Mr. Woods:
Justice Stevens will be first.
Precedence lists around Washington do include how to order some former officials: butthey don’t include how to order former associate justices. When lists DO state how to rank ‘formers” they all use the same approach …
Former Presidents of the United States by earliest assumption of office.
Ambassadors of foreign nations by date of presentation of credentials …
Senators by length of service … (which is the same as earliest assumption of office)
Former cabinet members by seniority of assuming office
Retired (armed service officers) by date of rank

So standard protocol is to order ‘formers’ by the earliest assumption of office — not by total length of service or most recent date of retirement:
Stevens appointed 1975
O’Connor appointed 1981
Souter appointed 1990
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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