Archive for May, 2010

I am writing with a question regarding the use of the Honorable in listings of names that are included on invitations. I work in the communications office at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. We hold many events on campus that often include invited guests of our President, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We are responsible for creating many materials including invitations and programs-for these events.
Our specific question is, how should we refer to Dr. Jackson on our invitations and programs, and what is the proper etiquette for listing titles for individuals who hold many degrees (both earned and honorary) and are also current or past holders of government offices and are “Honorables”.
Example: Is it proper to say, The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., invites you to join her and the 2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Honorary Degree Recipients as they come together to discuss Re-Igniting the Innovation Economy: Science and Technology. I had read that it is NOT proper for someone who is an Honorable to use it in an invitation. Please advise.
— DP

Dear DP:
I’ve driven by Renssalaer many times … so I am happy to see your note. What a fantastic institution.
To your question …. in the United States “The Honorable” is not used with military ranks, personal honorifics, or scholastic degrees.
The concept is … it is a courtesy title given by grateful citizens to those who have served “we the people” … either as an official in office via a general election … or appointed by the President of the United States.
It is an honor so high it trumps academic degrees.
One does not identify himself/herself as “The Honorable” … others address him/her as “The Honorable.”
So NO to:
The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
and YES to:
The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson
… or if the degree is important …. e.g. on a academic paper … or on in a list where you want to establish her academic accomplishments … then include it … BUT “The Honorable” disappears:
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

and in every instance in conversation she is:
Dr. Jackson

I say “in the United States” because the British DO INCLUDE all personal courtesy titles, ranks, honors, degrees, certifications, etc. with their name. Their ‘complete’ name is their resume.  So you will in see U.K. names such as:
His Excellency The Right Reverend Admiral Sir Kenneth Wilson, O.B., Ph.D., M.B.A., P.C.

On invitations the host/hostess does not identify himself/herself as “The Honorable” … others address him/her as “The Honorable.”
So YES to:
Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info


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I am writing a joint thank-you letter on behalf of two non-profit organizations in our community – the Women’s Business Organization (WBO) – and the Historical Museum.  We recently partnered to do a fundraiser called “Dine Out Springfield”, which raised money that allowed WBO to offer three additional scholarships this year and allowed the Museum to enhance their artifacts and community outreach.
The WBO signatory is our current president.  The museum’s signatory is a US Navy Rear Admiral who is retired.  What is the correct way for me to note his name and rank below his signature line?  Is it Rear Admiral Warren Thompson, USN, Retired or Warren Thompson, R. Adm. (retired) or something else??
— The President-Elect of  WBO

Dear T P-E of WBO:
Note his name below his signature line in the same way one would address him most formally:
Rear Admiral Warren Thompson, USN, Retired
It might be a good idea to include his role under his name since he is not signing the document in any capacity related to his service as a rear admiral:
Rear Admiral Warren Thompson, USN, Retired
Representative for the Historical Museum

I include all the forms of address for rear admirals on page 216 of my book.
Some retired admirals might not use their rank in a post-retirement non-military position, but if you know that he’s a retired admiral, his preference must be to be addressed by his rank.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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I find your site very informative.  I have a question from one of our Embassies overseas and would like to check with you on the order of precedence for the following:
A US ambassador
A head of a presidential delegation on a mission
A three-star general
A local mayor

— Elizabeth at the State Department

Dear Elizabeth:
I am more of a “names, titles, and forms of address” guy …. so I checked withPamela Eyring (director of The Protocol School of Washington®) and Diane Brown(who teaches precedence at the PSOW’s Protocol Officer training) and neither felt there was a single answer without knowing a bit more about the delegation.
Diane comments “The variable is the delegation … depending on the level of the delegation head and the purpose of the visit, the Ambassador may defer honors to that individual, similar to what is commonly done when Sec State travels abroad.”
Pamela wonders “what is the representative’s title? …. would be useful to confirm what if any precedence they personally have. They usually are something besides ‘presidential delegation head.'”
But both agree that a good place to start would be:
1. A US ambassador at his/her post
2. A head of a presidential delegation on mission
3. A local mayor in his own city
4. A three-star general
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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Some of our association members are retired from the Senior Executive Service (SES). Is there any title for them?
For example …. John Smith, SES (Ret.) Maybe?
— DF

Dear DF:
I have not seen SES used as a post-nominal abbreviation.
It would be used after the name in an introduction .. e.g., “Our speaker to day is Edmund Burns, a member of the Senior Executive Service and ….”
However everyone who is SES has (or had in the case of retired SES) a specific job and job title and it would be appropriate to note that person is a “former (whatever position they held).
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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I am working on an informal publication that will be published by the Defense Department and I need to list members who participated in some of the work. The members include retired military, retired government civilians, persons with academic degrees (PhDs), etc.
I just looked at you website and I have a question .You reference a directive “the DoD directive you refer to forbids the use by retired personnel of a military rank in any sort of commercial enterprise.” Do you know the exact citation for the directive?
— Writing Away @ the Institute for Defense Analyses

I asked an front-line expert on the topic … a Protocol Officer (and Protocol School of Washington® graduate) for the reference: CDR Ginny Raderstorf, NC, USN Retired, Special Assistant, Executive & Legislative Affairs, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland. Here is what she says backs up the statement. Note: JER is the Joint Ethics Regulations.
From the JER, para. 2-304:  “Use of Military Title by Retirees or Reserves. Retired military members and members of Reserve Components, not on active duty, may use military titles in connection with commercial enterprises, provided they clearly indicate their retired or inactive Reserve status. However, any use of military titles is prohibited if it in any way casts discredit on DoD or gives the appearance of sponsorship, sanction, endorsement, or approval by DoD.  In addition, in overseas areas, commanders may further restrict the use of titles by retired military members and members of Reserve Components.”
DODI 5410.20, Public Affairs Relations With Business and Nongovernmental Organizations Representing Business, has a section on commercial enterprises, too — see para. 7.
DODI 1334.01, which concerns wear of the uniform:
“It is DoD policy that:
3.1. The wearing of the uniform by members of the Armed Forces (including retired members and members of Reserve components) is prohibited under any of the following circumstances:
3.1.2. During or in connection with furthering political activities, private employment or commercial interests, when an inference of official sponsorship for the activity or interest may be drawn.”
Thanks, Ginny!
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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I am writing a letter from a High School to a Judge and his wife regarding their child.  What is the proper greeting?  Dear …………  ??
— Thanks, D.N.

Dear D.N.:
On pages 145-146 in my chapter on Joint Forms of Address I answer this question.
The most formal form on the envelope would be
The Honorable Franklin Jennings
and Mrs. Jennings
2345 Westside Road
Melville, NY  11747

The most formal saluation would be
Dear Judge Jennings and Mrs. Jennings:

Most formally people who have high titles get their whole name as a unit, all by itself … so “Dear Judge and Mrs. Jennings” would not be traditionally correct.  Wives who use the same surname as their spouses traditionally lose their given name with addressed with their husband.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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Please tell me how to address an envelope to a commissioner and his/her spouse. Thanks in advance.
— Karen S. in Fort Pierce, Florida

Dear Karen:
On pages 145-146 in my chapter on Joint Forms of Address I answer this question. If the commissioner is elected in a general election … he or she is addressed as “The Honorable” … and if you are inviting a couple, then the envelope would be considered social correspondence … and the social form would be:

The Honorable William Smith
and Mrs. Smith
The Honorable Jane Smith
and Mr. William Smith
Men using the same last name as their spouse get their full name. Women don’t …. so she is just Mrs. Smith and he is Mr. William Smith.   Not fair perhaps … but that’s the tradition.
If he’s an appointed commissioner … well …. appointed officials are not addressed as “The Honorable.”

Commissioner William Smith
and Mrs. Smith
Commissioner Jane Smith
and Mr. William Smith
– Robert Hickey

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