Manners Monday :: Addressing Familiar Names Properly

This may be the single most common rule infraction, mostly because people don’t know that such a standard exists or why. In fact, I believe that most of time when it is kept, it is either by accident or for the wrong reasons.

This is the rule: when using the familiar (first) names of a couple, the woman’s name goes first. Example: Jane and John Smith.

As evidenced by this month’s Architectural Digest, this rule is broken broadly and often. This doesn’t make it OK. At Manners Monday, we strive for excellence.

Many who practice the correct manner of writing her name first probably do so for the wrong reasons. They think it is the chivalrous thing to do. So then you see women, when they are writing their own names, put their husband’s name first. That, my dear ladies, is precisely the offense. A man’s first name should never be separated from his last.

Admittedly, the example above presents a common delima for women who have a double last name. What is one to do when the wife’s last name is not the same as her husbands? This should have read:

Will Smith + Jada Pinkett Smith (or) Jada Pinkett Smith + Will Smith.

If it is an engaged couple, the woman’s name should go first to indicate she is being presented to her groom. Jada Pinkett + Will Smith. As it reads, one might believe that Will’s last name is also Pinkett Smith.

I once addressed a professional who should have known better on his breach of etiquette. (Mind you, this is someone who is well known for his practice of sending his staff to etiquette school, so I was not over-reaching my grounds.) He labeled a photo “John and Jane Smith.” When I called him on it, he proffered that the lapse was purposeful because the male was picture on the left. Ahem. In this case (if the names are without distinguishable gender) the photo should have been labeled “John Smith and wife, Jane.”

Now that you know how to properly address a couple, you’ll have many opportunities to practice it: sending invitations, signing guest books or signing thank you notes.


Don’t forget, October will be dedicated to table manners. Send me your questions, pet peeves or most awkward situations to navigate, and I’ll address them next month. I was excited when I realized, there are five opportunities for Manners Monday in October!

Previous Manners Monday:
Manners Monday :: Making Introductions
Manners Monday :: Thank You
Manners Monday :: Introduction


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