Archive for the ‘Editorial Issues & Matters of Style’ Category

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/

When Bill Clinton first won the presidency, the form of address used for him and the first lady, Hillary, was as follows:
     The President and Mrs. Clinton

This form of address fits into the traditional formula in writing: The President and Mrs. (Surname) and in conversation: 
Mr./Madam President and Mr./Mrs. (Surname).

If Hillary Clinton wins the current presidential election, Bill Clinton will be a first: the first First Husband, Spouse, Partner, or Significant Other.

So, how will the White House staff address Bill Clinton? How will his name appear with the President’s on invitations?  How will his place card read at a state dinner? How should the media address him or refer to him?  Perhaps First Gentleman Bill Clinton, awkward as that might seem? According to Robert Hickey, author of The Protocol School of Washington’s Honor and Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles and Forms of Address, the formula for the husband of President of the United States (POTUS) has been around for a long time. It just hasn’t been used thus far:

In writing: The President and Mr. (Full Name)

As a former elected official, Bill Clinton does have a special title. He is “the Honorable.” Using this courtesy title fits right in without a hitch.

In writing: The President and the Honorable (Full Name)

However, which version of Bill Clinton’s full name would be correct?  That is a matter of how formal a reporter or social secretary chooses to be for any given occasion. Bill Clinton, William J. Clinton, or William Jefferson Clinton might be frequent choices.

Still, two questions linger:

1. How should he be addressed in direct conversation or as a salutation?
 a.  Mr. Clinton
b.  President Clinton

2. How should reporters refer to him in order to not mislead or confuse their audience on who is the current president and who is not?
 a.  Mr. Clinton
b.  President Clinton
c.  Former President Clinton

According to Hickey, the right option for both questions would be  a. Mr. Clinton.

“While it is common practice in the media and elsewhere to address and identify former presidents as ‘President (Name),’ this is a mistake,” said Hickey. “Serving as President of the United States does not grant one the personal rank of ‘President’ for life. The office of President is a one-person-at-a-time role that a specific individual holds and then hands off to the next person.”

“Courtesies, honors, and special forms of address are symbols of the power of the office. They belong to the office and to the citizens, not former office holders.”

Hickey goes on to say the media and the public should be wary of identifying or addressing previous holders of the presidency and other unique offices by referring to them as “former (title).” This qualifier diminishes the singular prestige of both the office and its current occupant and is potentially misleading/confusing to their audience.

“There is an accepted term of respect used for previous presidents and other elected U.S. officials to recognize their service. This title is one of high distinction that they keep for life: she or he is addressed as “the Honorable (Full Name).”


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My question concerns a how the president of a country’s name and title are written on a conference name badge when there are other heads of state in attendance. Is there a proper form?
      — Tony O.

Dear Tony O.,
This one is easy. You will never get a chief-of-state / head-of-government to wear a name badge. High officials refuse to wear them. Since they are recognized, no one needs them to be wearing a name badge for identification.
    — Robert Hickey      http://www.formsofaddress.info/faq.html

Thanks Robert!
You’re right of course. Coming from the rock-and-roll world I should have known that the same would apply: Artists never, ever, wear their backstage passes.
      — Tony O.

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For an elected county engineer, would you use The Honorable on the envelope? For example, would this proper if you were an elected county engineer?
The Honorable Robert Hickey
Lake County Engineer

                 — G.L.G. in Lake County

Dear Mr. G.L.G.:
      The form you have looks O.K. if the county engineer is elected in a general election (like a mayor or member of the US House of Representatives).
Since I have not run into many The Honorable county engineers – it brings to mind one caveat I should mention about city officials.  Many municipalities do not address elected officials below the rank of mayor as The Honorable.
For example, I now live in New York City and all the members of the New York City Council are addressed as The Honorable (Full Name).  But I was brought up in Arlington, Virginia, and there none of the members of the Arlington County Board are so addressed.
So before you proceed, check for the local tradition. It’s less a matter of what’s technically correct than what the particular county, city, or town traditionally does.
                – Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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I will soon be a Registered Paralegal and able to use the post nominals R.P. with my name. Which post nominals come first?  I earned my M.S. in 1989, and the R.P. is a national test a la the C.P.A. exam.
       — RK Gill

Dear RK Gill:
      The order is: first academic post nominals; then license post nominals.
So if you are going to use both, that would be: (Full Name). M.S., R.P.
This is the same order a Register Nurse would use: (Full Name). M.S., R.N.
                – Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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       I am co-hosting a dinner with a U.S. Senator. For purposes of preparing my place cards, how should they be addressed? For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein? OrSenator Feinstein?
For the other guests  I plan to use first and last name: Debbie Menzer. Is this proper ettiquette?
    — Debbie Menzer in Corporate Affairs
Dear Ms. Menzer:
        It would be better for all the place cards to be the same style. Senator Feinstein is the most formal form to use on a place card (it’s the conversational form).:
      Senator Feinstein
      Ms. Messemer
      Mr. Hickey
If you are going to include honorifics on some, you should do them all with honorifics.
The form I show above provides just the information needed for a guest to find his or her place.
But I see you are in corporate affairs. If it is your company style to include first and last names on place cards, how about giving the official her courtesy title:
      The Honorable Barbara Feinstein
      Debbie Messemer
Robert Hickey

It’s not technically ‘the most formal style” but you get first and last names … anyone entitled to a courtesy title gets theirs … and the place cards can be doneconsistently and I like consistency.
       – Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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     I completed an Executive MBA in Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, and hold a RMC certification as a Registered Medical Coder.  I do not want to come across to formal on my business card, however find that it may be something that can differentiate me from others as I am with a biotech company.
Should it be abbreviated as EMBA or just MBA?  Second, should I list it as EMBA or MBA, RMC?  Or, do you have a better suggestion all together?
             – Tim M.

         What is the appropriate way to abbreviate the masters degree granted by Air University?  It is titled, Master of Military Operational Art and Science.  At first I thought it would truly be a Masters of Science, but even the accrediting institution refer to it as titled.  Therefore, the most common MS will not do.  Would it be a MMOAS?
        — Jason S.

My Master’s Degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution was recently conferred and also have been certified as a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator. What would be the proper way to list both after my name?
        — Marie M.

Dear Tim, Jason & Marie:
    What to post-nominal to use? The post-nominal abbreviations for degrees vary by the tradition of the granting institution. For example, if certain institution offers both MBA and Executive MBA they might make the distinction between an MBA and an EMBA. Call the Dean’s office and ask. Someone there will know what most graduates use … or will know how to find out.
  When you want to include more information? On your resume you can include every detail. But sometimes people want to be more specific [on a business card or e-mail signature block] when a degree/certification qualifies them to offer a particular professional service. Whether they abbreviate it or spell it out depends on for whom the post nominal is included?  Other professionals might know the abbreviation.  But will the public know the meaning of the string of initials and it would be better to list it fully?
  What should I include and what should I leave off? What you use on your card or e-mail signature block should be about clarifying to the reader who you are to them / how you may be of service to them. It is not a presentation of your complete resume.
 Who will notice what you do? It will be your peers (those holding the same degree) and the granting institution’s faculty and staff who will be your harshest critics if you use something they don’t like. I truth, the rest of us don’t care so much precisely the letters you use for your earned degrees. We’re too focused on our own post-nominals!
                    — Robert Hickey

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I am creating a rustic wooden sign for my daughter & her husband for their lake house.  I was planning on on putting Todd & Bethany’s Lake House on the sign, but my friend insists that there is a rule that Bethany should be first.  Is there a rule on this?
             — DC

Dear DC,
There is a “rule” that when you write a couple’s name … and they use his family name as their joint family name … you keep “his” name together as a unit:
 Bethany and Todd Wilson
Rather than:
 Todd and Bethany Wilson
Other books suggest that the woman’s name is always first … due a “ladies first”rule.
I don’t think either are critically important rules since using both first names is informal … and informality is flexible. (Formal would be Mr. and Mrs. Todd Wilson)
I am always looking at donor lists in programs and you typically see both forms among the names.
So to me it’s a personal option … but I would use your friend’s suggestion.
I follow the Bethany and Todd Wilson rule, thus the Bethany and Todd’s Lake House form is consistent with that … and I like to be consistent.
Professional obsession I guess!
      — Robert Hickey

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