It happens with startling regularity. An envelope comes to our house that contains a very formal wedding invitation. You can tell at a glance—creamy paper, fancy black script. And before I even pick it up, I know what it’s going to say: Mr. and Mrs. HisLast. Nevermind that my last name is MyLast, and as such I don’t use Mrs. (Ms. is my address of choice anyway—it’s nobody’s business if I’m married or not.) That means nothing on that envelope approximates my name…though since my husband isn’t married to anyone else, I generally assume it’s me that they meant to invite.
I know exactly why this happens. In the process of planning a more formal wedding, somebody decides that formal honorifics must be used on the envelopes for the sake of Etiquette. Nobody stops to think that etiquette is all about treating people with respect, and it’s not very polite to address people by things that are not at all their names.
But the truth is, the etiquette of addressing wedding invitations can feel a little byzantine and hard to mesh with our current feminist and genderqueer reality. So with some help from the #APWplanner, I’ve put together a handy Internet-friendly guide that you can use for even the most formal of wedding invites. (In fact, please use it for the most formal of wedding invites.)
Addressing Wedding Invitations (And Staying Feminist)
Mrs., Ms., and Mx.
Figuring out the right way to use honorifics in our wonderfully progressive time can be a real pain. (Options are the best! Till they’re the worst.) So feel free to skip them altogether, except for the older folks on your list who use them religiously. But if you do use honorifics, please put in the legwork required to use the right ones for the right people.
- “Miss” and (the adorable) “Master” are appropriate terms of address for children.
- Once a woman is grown, address her as “Ms.” if unmarried (just like you would address a man as “Mr.”).
- Married women who don’t share their husbands’ last names have the honorific of “Ms.,” not “Mrs.”
- Many married women who do share their husband’s last name also use the honorific “Ms.” Hopefully you know which of your friends this applies to!
- “Dr.” is a term that some people use socially, and some don’t. You can use it or not, but if you use it, please use it for everyone who is a doctor, not just men. (Because there is legit a theory out there that you should drop Dr. from a woman’s name so she doesn’t feel too… educated? I can’t.)
- Widows should be addressed in the same form that they preferred when their partners were living, unless they’ve decided to change their form of address. If that’s “Mrs. His-First His-Last,” that remains the same.
- If you’re looking for a gender-neutral term for your gender queer friends, use Mx. Mx. is typically the gender-neutral title for anyone who is non-binary and/or does not wish to reveal their gender. The best way to Internet-stalk the right answer to this new-ish question is to check a person’s pronoun on Facebook. If they use “they” (see what I did there?), go with Mx.
Include the Kids
If children are invited, list them on the envelope. (Or on the inner envelope if you have one.)
Handling Different Last Names
Traditionally people with different last names are listed on different lines, and women’s names go first. I’m kind of down with that, because while women make $0.79 on the man’s dollar, I’m scooping up any extra prizes you throw at me. But if that doesn’t work for you, skip it.
The Golden Rule of Envelopes
This one is the golden rule of wedding invitations. Maybe you’re not using honorifics, but you know that your grandmother likes to get her mail addressed to “Mrs. His-First His-Last,” even though her husband died years ago. She’s earned it, so address her invite that way. Once you’re married, you’re going to be dealing with trying to get people to address you in the form you prefer, so earn some points with the universe now.
Forgive Yourself in Advance
This is particularly true if you have a slew of friends who just got married and you can’t remember what names they’re now using. Try your best to figure out their current form of address (that’s what social media is for), apologize when you make a mistake, and then let it go.