I am a school board representative who received a hand-written note from the school librarian asking me to read to a class. The envelope was addressed to M Robin Buchanan, not Mrs. or Ms.
Is using M to address a woman a proper salutation? I understood M is to be used to address men.
I thought perhaps the librarian did not know if I was a male or female, although that information would be easy to find.
Should I be concerned by her lack of consideration to the person she is writing to or worry that she is using improper salutations?   Or do I something new to learn?    Thank you for your clarification.
Best regards,
    — Mrs. Robin Buchanan

Dear Ms. Buchanan:
     1) The issue here is ‘how to address you formally?’  I suspect they wrote M Robin Buchanan … just because didn’t which honorific you preferred … or didn’t know your gender … and were avoiding the issue. I advise if one is writing someone and are unsure of how he or she prefers to be addressed — call and ask. I find no one minds being asked how to be addressed respectfully.
     2) As to the question of ‘How do I present my name to others?’  …. today I observe that married women use various honorifics depending on the situation.
Ms. Robin Buchanan …  where their marital status is not an issue but you want to specify an honorific. Doing so implies you are not automatically on a first-name basis and prefer be formally addressed in conversation as Ms. Buchanan.  Many women use this form at work.
 Mrs. (husband’s first name) Buchanan …. in very formal situations or when you are involved as a spouse/part of a couple. This definitely implies that others will call you Mrs. Surname.  Widows continue to use this form when formally addressed as part of a couple.
 Mrs. Robin Buchanan is often the choice of women in the context of being a mom — dealing with school teachers (as you do), pediatricians, etc.  This form provides the given name for those with whom they would be on a first-name basis: this form provides information for others to address them by (First name) or as Mrs. (Surname).  Part of presenting your name is giving guidance to the other person as to what you want to be called in subsequent conversation.
[Another note: Traditional etiquette references state that using Mrs. (Woman’s Given name) + (Family name) is the form used by a divorced woman, who wants to keep using her former husband’s family name, but can no longer use Mrs. (husband’s given name) (Family Name) because her former husband might have remarried and there would be a new Mrs. (husband’s given name) (Family Name).Thus, she uses her given name with Mrs.  But some still married women don’t care what was ‘traditional’ in etiquette books and like to use Mrs. … thus including their marital status with their given name.
 Robin Buchanan …. is casual. You also use this form when signing your own name: One never gives oneself an honorific.
So to me — you are all of those names at different times. You choose the one that’s right for the circumstance.
For formal etiquette geeks like me Mrs. Robin Buchanan is the traditional form for a divorced woman who was formerly married to someone named “Buchanan” …. but had kept using the “Buchanan” perhaps because that’s the family name of her kids, or for some other reason.  BUT … one of the basics of forms of address is that your name belongs to you …. and EVERYONE is entitled to be addressed as they prefer!
    — Robert Hickey

How do you address a former pope of the Roman Catholic Church? I bet you never considered that!
          — B. E. in Georgia

Dear B.E.,
It’s less that I have not considered it, than the Roman Catholic Church didn’t have a formal style for how to address a retired pope in it’s modern literature.
I don’t define how anyone is addressed … I just keep track of how current organizations address their current and former officials – so those of us outside their domain can address them correctly.
Now they’ve established there can be a former office holder.
Some would have guessed that Pope Benedict would return to the form of address to which he was entitled before assuming office — cardinal. There are already retired former office holders at that level. Having a retired cardinal addressed in the same way as current cardinals presents no confusion, since being a cardinal is not a singular (only-one-office-holder-at-a-time) position.

* For example, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated the throne to her son Willem-Alexander in 2013, she returned to the form of address to which she was entitled prior to taking office: Princess.

However, In the UK, “Queen Elizabeth” – the Queen Mother (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, the present British sovereign, and the widow of King George VI) continued to be addressed as Your Majesty when her daughter assumed the throne without much mishap.

These situations are, of course, a bit different, but they are modern examples of how other hierarchies dealt with titles of office holders.
       — Robert Hickey 

How should a pastor go about signing his or her name?  I’m wondering whether I should be signing my name as “Rev. (Full Name),” “(Full Name), Pastor,” or ” Pastor (Full Name).”
     — DPM

Dear DPM,
When you say signing your name …. well, actually we just sign our names as … our name.
I never sign Mr. Robert Hickey …. I just sign Robert Hickey.
Physicians don’t sign their prescriptions (if you can read their signature) as Dr. (Name), they sign as (Full Name).  Full Name, MD appears in writing on the form, so they don’t need to include MD in their signature.  Even the President of the United States just signs his name to correspondence.
So, it would be odd to give yourself an “honorific” when you sign your own name.
Formally in writing your name is written (e.g., on the letter for you to sign above, in the weekly bulletin, or a sign outside your church} as:
   The Reverend (Full Name)  or
              The Reverend (Full Name), Pastor
In up to you to let others know how you like to be addressed in conversation or a salutation — Rev. (Name), Pastor (Name) etc..  So if you prefer pastor, a salutation would be:
    Dear Pastor (Surname).
       — Robert Hickey

How does one address the envelope of an invitation to the mayor of a city and his wife?
 — Susan Hensley

I need to address our elected sheriff and his wife. On the envelope, would it be The Honorable and Mrs. James Smith?
 — Agnes Harrington

How do I address a governor and his wife?
 — J.K. in Virginia

How do I address a former senator and his wife?
 — Ann Buchanan

Dear S.H, A.H., J.K., and AB:
I cover how to every type of elected official and spouse in my book in Chapter Nine: Joint Forms of Address.

What all these U.S. officials have in common is that they are addressed as “The Honorable.” You didn’t tell me the names … so depending the form of her name … there are several options.

If she uses “Mrs.”  and uses the same last name … then traditionally her first name does not appear:
The Honorable William Stanton
and Mrs. Stanton

This is the form the White House would use for a married couple using the same last name. The rule is not to break up “The Honorable” from “(name)”
What you want to avoid is:
The Honorable and Mrs. William Stanton

If she uses a different last name, then her first name does appear, e.g.:
The Honorable Alan Greenspan
and Ms. Andrea Mitchell

If she has her own rank, courtesy title, or some special honorific, then her first name does appear:
The Honorable William Stanton
and Lieutenant Linda Stanton

The Honorable William Stanton
and Dr. Linda Stanton

The Honorable William Stanton
and the Reverend Linda Stanton
Probably more answer than you wanted … but I hope it is useful.
 — Robert Hickey

Daughters of a deceased United States Air Force Colonel have asked for my help for the wording on a headstone/gravestone. I am thinking of:.

 Col. John Patrick Delaney
USAF, Retired

— Betty

I want to purchase a paver (a personalized brick) in a local veterans memorial for my grandfather.  He retired from the United States Army as a CW4.  His name is Harold E Copper,  I have 3 lines,  with 14 spaces per line.  Any ideas?
— JB

Dear Betty & JB:
    Deceased persons are referred to by just their NAME … honorifics, ranks, courtesy titles, and post-nominal abbreviations which are parts of a person’s name at various times during their lives —  are not included as part of the names of the deceased. Roles and ranks they had are listed afterwards.
     Military tombstones in military cemeteries are just NAME followed by rank and branch of service.
     “Retired” is not included. It was pertinent when the person was living and necessary to note that the person was not on active duty. Typically punctuation is not used on memorials, so I’ve shown the ones below without punctuation. So, in a correct style it would be:

John Patrick Delaney
Colonel USAF


Harold E Copper

     See the photos below.
          Robert Hickey

How do you address in writing a former state senator?
          — RW in Florida

Dear RW,
A U.S. state senator is addressed as “the Honorable” — once one is “the Honorable” one is “the Honorable” for life.  Retired senators, since they are not one-officeholder-at-a-time officials continue to be addressed as “Senator (Name)”.
But, you say former state senator.
If you are addressing a letter relating to his/her public service, or it is social correspondence (a letter to a neighbor, a holiday note, or get-well card) — address the envelope and use in the letter’s envelope and address block  The Honorable (Full Name).  Use Senator (Surname) in the salutation.
If you are writing to someone who served as a state senator, but is now working in some commercial/professional role —  e.g., they are now your insurance agent, attorney, or stock broker — and you are writing to them in the context of this commercial/professional endeavor — address him/her as Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Name).  
In the U.S.A. we address people as pertinent to the situation. Each of us has many names and each is correct in a specific time and place. E.g., a woman named “Ann Robinson” might be addressed as “Mrs. Robinson”, “Ann”, “Mom” or “Sweetheart”.  Each name is how she is addressed in a certain situation. How she is addressed relates to (1) who is addressing her and (2) in which role she is being addressed.
Robert Hickey

Dear Robert,
I have a question regarding a former judge who by his own choice returned to private practice. When he was a judge he was the Honorable. Is he still addressed “The Honorable (Full Name),” and as “Judge (Name)”, or would that be inappropriate now that he is a lawyer in private practice?
          — Mark

Hi Mark,
Two part answer:
    1) The general rule is “once The Honorable, always The Honorable.”  So addressing a social envelope to a retired judge would be as follows:
The Honorable (full name)

Retired judges are socially addressed in conversation as Judge (surname).  In a social salutation you would address a retired judge as Dear Judge (surname).  
    2) However if a retired or former official who has assumed another form of employment (for pay) is not necessarily accorded the courtesies of a current or fully-retired official when acting in a subsequent professional context.  A judge who has assumed another position — e.g., returned to private practice  — is addressed as “Mr./Ms. (surname)”.
He or she might be addressed as Judge (Name) in a purely social context and might identify himself as Judge when he issues a wedding invitation for his daughter: Judge and Mrs. (Full Name) request the pleasure … but he would not be addressed as Judge (surname) when acting as legal counsel in another judge’s courtroom.
— Robert Hickey

Dear Mr. Hickey
t could be argued that the title of “Judge” has supplanted the title of “Mister” and that it would be a discourtesy (both to the retired judge and to the court that he or she served) to strip the retired judge of the title he or she earned.  In court the judge is referred to as “Your Honor,” or “The Court,” so the parties involved in the proceeding will not be confused.
I should add it is the practice in our legal community to continue to refer to a retired judge who has returned to private practice as “Judge (surname),” at least outside of the courtroom.
          — JAL & GW

Hi JAL & GW,
         The pattern in forms of address is when one leaves an office which has a special form of address — use of the courtesies of the forms of address related to the office extend to social use only.
        E.g., when USAF General who retires but subsequently works for a defense contractor and is selling a product or service to the U.S. government — he is addressed as Mr. (Name) while working as a commercial representative.
        Through interviews with attorney’s and jurists I have observed the same pattern. The former judge might still be addressed socially as Judge (Name) and could send out wedding invitations for his daughter’s wedding as Judge (Name).  [There is no possibility in either case that one would think his actions have the force of the government behind them.]
        Thus addressing a retired judge as Judge (Name) socially makes sense. But addressing a practicing attorney as Judge (Name) is misleading to his role in the current circumstance.
        When you observe formers being addressed as currents … it has more to do with the person addressing the former office holder wanting to flatter the former office holder, or the former office holder wishing to continue to receive a courtesy accorded a current office holder than with a correct form of address.
— Robert Hickey