Posts Tagged ‘Correct Forms of Address’

I received a note addressed to M Chris Buchanan, not Mrs. or Ms.  
Is using M proper?
        — Ms. Chris Buchanan

I have read there is a rule that one never signs one’s signature with an honorific — Mr., Mrs., Judge, Senator, Captain, Dr., etc. But I sign my e-mails Mr. Robin Thompson so people when they reply know to address me as Mr. Thompson rather than Ms. Thompson.
Is that O.K.?
        — Mr. Robin Thompson

Dear Ms. Buchanan and Mr. Thompson:
     The issues here are “how to address someone as Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss when you don’t know their gender?”  #1 & #2 below – and – “How to specify your gender when you know they will want to know it?” #3.
     1) Though not traditionally formal, when you don’t know the gender and you want to address someone, address them by their (Given Name)+(Family Name):

Chris Buchanan
Dear Chris Buchanan,

Robin Thompson
Dear Robin Thompson,

     2) If you want to formally address someone and use Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss … and don’t want to do #1, you have to ask them to share that information: call their office. That takes time, but is the only thing you can do. If you are trying to start an important conversation, what could be more important than getting their name right?
     3) With regard to not giving oneself an honorific, I still advise when you sign your signature never give yourself an honorific: just sign your name.
But it is O.K. to type your name at the end of an e-mail as Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss (Given Name)+(Family Name) to someone you have not met – or – type your name as Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss (Given Name)+(Family Name) in the signature block (above which you actually sign) on the letter.
      Others will want to know – and it is both useful and considerate to provide that information.
– Robert Hickey


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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

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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

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In an age when it is the ideas that are important, why are office holders so dogged in demanding reverence? Why do office holders require others to use titles to address them?  We are all equals. Doesn’t insisting on being addressed in a fancy way indicate an inferiority complex rather than confidence?
     — BB

Dear BB,

Since the Stone Age, man has addressed those with specific roles by title.  This lets everyone know who is who in the hierarchy. And, there is always hierarchy in a room when there is a group of people.

Much of what you find so irritating is a person’s craving to hold onto status and privilege. We all find this to be unbearable when we observe it in others.

When we notice this behavior, it’s wise to remember that in democracies, the power of public office does not belong to the occupants — but to the citizens: a current office holder wields the power of the people. Thus, respecting the office — and the current office holder — respects the people. Whenever you show respect to someone you show respect to yourself.

When I was a teenager my Dad gave some advice to me that still resonates today, I was frustrated with some completely unreasonable dictum handed down by my Mother. He calmly said “Robert, you don’t say those words in that tone of voice to your Mother. You may disagree with what your Mother says, but you owe her your respect because she is your Mother.”

Our presidents, prime ministers, premiers, mayors, police officers, even our bosses, fall into this category deserving some deference simply due to their office.

So, while we may personally disagree with a judge, we behave appropriately in his or her courtroom thus respecting the rule of law. That’s why they call misbehaving in court “contempt of court’ not “contempt of the judge.”

Sometimes we do encounter an official who is demanding special treatment. Just remember that this current-office-holder unlike our “Dad” or “Mom” is just temporarily in the role. His or her successor may be more down to earth and to our liking!

        — Robert Hickey

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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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I am a Magisterial District Judge who is retiring- having lost an election for purely political reasons. (In other words, no dishonor as referenced in one of the answers). I am returning to full time private practice. Here in PA, MDJs who are lawyers frequently have law practices in addition to their judicial post, which is what I did.
I understand that many people will still call me “Judge” out or courtesy, respect, and friendliness. My question regards how I refer to myself. I do not intend to use that honorific in attorney correspondence. I am preparing announcements to send to friends, other lawyers, existing clients, and other people advising them that I will be expanding my practice to include certain matters that I could not, by rule, handle while an MDJ.
Would it be proper, in those announcements, to say, for example, Judge Knight will draw on his 25 years of experience as a prosecutor and District Judge, in the defense of criminal and traffic cases.
Thank you for your insight.
             — Kevin Knight

Dear K.K.,
In your announcements do not refer to yourself as Judge Knight.
Best approach would be use a form that reflects the current position .. not a former position.
  Kevin Knight will draw on his 25 years of experience as a prosecutor and Magisterial District Judge, in the defense of criminal and traffic cases.
Certainly socially you could use Judge Kevin Knight on a daughter’s wedding invitation if you choose to.  And if in the future you are at an event as a former MDJ … then you could be addressed as Judge Knight.
I am influenced by how protocol officers typically handle this in official situations. Protocol officers at the Pentagon who regularly have retired officers working for defense contractors, who as employees of the contractors are in commerce with the Pentagon.
DoD’s perspective on using his rank+name+retired in a subsequent job would be … to paraphrase the current Chief of Protocol for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon:  If retirees are in a new job, then they should be addressed in a way that supports their new job and not using military rank+name+retired – it is a misrepresentation. They are in a new job – not the military. When retired officers attend Pentagon events as the holder of a post-retirement job — and are not invited as a retired officer — they are not addressed by rank+name+retired on invitations or tent cards etc., but as Mr./Ms. (name) and their new company affiliation.
      — Robert Hickey

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We are preparing place markers for a panel discussion.  Among the panel are three attorneys (one of whom is also a state representative) and the Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The only two “civilians” are members of the press.
Would we simply list their names on the first line, followed by the title on the second line??
— Anne Leslie.

Dear Ms. Leslie:
I am assuming by place markers — you mean tent cards with their names on them so the audience can tell who is who?
If so, give the elected official and Chief Justice their formal forms:
The Honorable (Full Name of State Representative)
Chief Justice (Full name)
The Supreme Court of Wyoming
      Give the attorney the post-nominal used to identify practicing attorneys:
(Full Name), Esq.
And since the others are getting a courtesy title, honorific, or post nominal … give the reporters an honorific too:
  Mr. James Wilson
(Name of newspaper)

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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