wedding wednesday: emily post would be proud

April 4 2012

Our Save the Dates [or STDs as the cool industry folk call them] have officially been designed, ordered, and are currently being shipped to me to mail out this week. Yay! I can’t show them to you yet because we want all of our friends an family to see them first, otherwise why even send them? But next week! I promise! Anyway, while collecting everyone’s addresses and formal legal names, I’ve come across a lot of calligraphy etiquette that would put my college graduation announcements to shame. There were a lot of things I already knew like spelling out drive, road, apartment, states, etc. and to address people and Mr. and Mrs. Man’s Last Name.  But what if they aren’t married but live together? What if they are married but she kept her maiden name? What if you’re inviting children? What if you’re inviting college aged children who don’t live at home anymore, but can’t bring a date? These were all valid concerns of mine, so I’m going to share my findings with you!  Even if your wedding isn’t “that formal” the concept of a wedding is, and therefore it’s what you do.

First, here is a little breakdown of the common elements of a formally addressed invitation. The word “and” is always written out, you never use & or +.  Also, legal names are in order here. Even though he’s you’re uncle Billy you need to write out William. All drives, avenues, parkways, etc. must be spelled out. Thats right even Mr. Boulevard! The word “apartment” also must be spelled out, and usually gets it’s own line, unless it will fit with the street address, that’s okay too. If you’re unsure whether someone lives in an apartment, townhouse, condo, unit, etc. It’s best to write “Number 78″ just to be safe. Never write “#78″. All state names need to be written out as well. Luckily I don’t know anyone is Massachusetts, so I dodged a bullet on that one.

Now let’s get into the nitty gritty. The only time a man and woman should be listed on the same line of an address is if they are married and she has taken his name. Otherwise the woman’s name will be listed first. This includes all unmarried couples living together as well, along with same-sex couples. For same-sex couples put whoever is closer to you first, and if they’re both close to you then put them in alphabetical order by last name.

However, if the couple isn’t living together but you know that they have been in a long relationship with each other [aka you know they'll bring the other person as their date] then it’s safe to put their name on the envelope too. In this case you would put whoever is closer to you first. For example, if your cousin Jonathan has been dating Melissa for a year and you know he’ll be bringing her to the wedding then his name will go first, followed by her. It is never appropriate to say “and guest” on an outside envelope, instead you would only write the name of the person you’re inviting on the outside envelope and can then include “Melissa and guest” on the inside envelope, or on the RSVP card. Even if it’s your cousin Melissa and she happens to be dating some dude you’ve never met it still wouldn’t be appropriate to include the mystery man’s name on the envelope and you would instead only list her name and then on the inside envelope you can say “Melissa and guest”. Confused yet?

If your guests have professional titles like Doctor, Colonel, Lieutenant, etc. it is appropriate to write out these titles. If the couple is married and the man is a Doctor you would say Doctor and Mrs. Jonathan Preston. However, if the couple is married but the wife is a doctor you would still say Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Preston. If the woman has kept her name though or the couple is unmarried only then would the woman be addressed with her title on an envelope.

For guests who are at least a third or higher generation using their names it is appropriate to use roman numerals after their name [no comma]. However for guests who are only the second generation it is appropriate to write out the word “junior” in all lowercase letters after a comma.

For widows you will always address the woman as “Mrs. Jonathan Preston” she will never be Mrs. Melissa Preston because Mrs. stands for mistress and a woman cannot be a mistress of herself she can only be a Mistress of her husband. So even though he has died she will still carry his name. However if you have uber liberal women in your family [like me] who would be appalled to still fall under a man’s name after he has passed it is safe to say Ms. Melissa Preston, but the later is less appropriate and should only be used in dire situations because it can also offend older more traditional generations.

Now what about children? It’s also never appropriate to say “and Family” on your wedding invitations. Why? Because some people will take this as a free invitation to invite anyone they consider family to your wedding. I kid you not. So it’s better to list out everyone specifically that you would like to invite. This also prevents the whole awkward “are kids invited?” debacle. If you list everyone that you want to be there this eliminates all of that confusion. For example if you want children to be at your wedding but only a certain age bracket [no babies, etc.] then you can simply leave Tiny Tim off your list for clarification. Also this gives the mother ample time to find a babysitter.

There [of course] is etiquette for children as well. If a woman is over the age of 21 you should address her as Ms. Melissa Phillips. Although technically “Miss” is appropriate, if she’s a successful member of society calling her “Miss” is kind of a slap in the face” and implies she still lives at home with mommy and daddy. However if she is under the age of 21 is is more than okay to address her as Miss Melissa Phillips.

For males it’s basically the same only the age bracket has changed. If a man is over the age of 16 he shall be addressed as Mr. Jonathan Preston, yet if he is under the age of 16 he should be addressed as Master Jonathan Preston. How cute is that?

Now when arranging children on your envelope, you will write the parents’ names first [using the above protocol for married, unmarried, etc.] followed by the children in age order with the oldest first. However, if you have a family with a lot of kids that are taking over the envelope, it may be best to write out all of their names on your inner envelope [if you have one] or on your RSVP card.

So now that that’s all out of the way, let’s try a really hard one. What about your gay Uncle Trey [they call him Trey because he's the 3rd Jonathan Preston in his family], his partner Patrick[the doctor], and there three rugrats?

Naturally you would list your uncle first using his full name and include his roman numerals, followed on the next line with his partner’s name and title of “Doctor” the next line would list their oldest child followed by Jonathan Jr., then their youngest child and their address.. Phew! That is a hefty envelope! After formally writing out our entire guest list, I have these rules down!! If there is anything I’ve left out please let me know and I’ll answer it to the best of my knowledge. Oh and before I forget, the most important rule of all. All wedding invitation envelopes must be hand written. This was a sad day for me because I planned on doing it the easy way and typing them all out and clicking print. Nope. It’s much more personal if you take the time to hand write each and every name and address on your guest list.
So that’s what I’ll be working on this weekend I hope I don’t get carpel tunnel :)

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11 thoughts on “wedding wednesday: emily post would be proud

  1. Kira

    This is a great guide. I have decided, however, for all formal addressing I am required to do in my future, I won’t use the “Mr. and Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName.” It just makes me feel icky. She doesn’t get her name at all? He gets two? I’m making up my own system, etiquette be damned!


  2. question

    Hi! Great post, although I think you may have a problem with the suffixes… A junior would never follow a III… A junior technically is the II (following the “senior”, even though senior is used neither legally nor formally). Spelled out: John Smith begat John Smith, junior whom begat John Smith III whom begat John Smith IV and so on…


    the girl Reply:

    Good eyes! You are right, I was more trying to explain how to write out junior, and didn’t even think about how a junior wouldn’t be the son of a III lol whoops! :P those should definitely be switched! Thanks for catching that!


  3. Mary

    Junior and II are not interchangeable. If John James Doe
    has a son named after him, that son would be named John James Doe, Jr. If John James Doe has a nephew or grandson or any other than a son named after him, that person is John James Doe II. The son of JJD, Jr. or JJD II would be John James Doe III.

    Also, the use of “Miss” for a woman over 21 is quite acceptable- it really is based on the personal preference of the person receiving the invitation. “Ms.” was coined to use when a woman’s marital status was unknown or immaterial (particularly in business situations).


    the girl Reply:

    I never said that Junior and II were interchangeable. I stated to always use “junior” over “II” when referring to the son of the senior. I had forgotten to mention the rule about nephews with the same name, simply because we were referring to examples in our own families and neither of us have that situation so it had slipped my mind. Thanks for adding it though!

    In the business environment I have always used Ms. when I didn’t know their marital status, but in the modern world with independent women with successful careers it felt silly or maybe insulting to call them “Miss” on our wedding invitations. This was just a personal preference because we have several members of our families who are over 50 and unmarried who are very successful women, and to address them as Miss on our invitations would make them feel not so great. Almost like being called ma’am. So in any of the etiquette books I’ve read they stated that women over 21 may be referred to as Ms. It isn’t required though. I was just stating what we did.


    Mary Reply:

    You said in your example above ” always say junior
    rather than II”, but those addressing envelopes should use the name that the male has been given. A man is named with junior suffix or II suffix. We don’t get to decide which he is called when addressing him. Sometimes
    parents misname their boy John John James Doe II when
    he should be junior or vice versa. Even though it is not correct, that is what we should use when addressing as that is his name. I have been professionally addressing envelopes for 30 years. It is the calligrapher’s job to know the
    etiquette rules and inform the client, but in the end, the client makes the decision- it is his or her event. I always say “Do you care if your recipient cares that they are addressed correctly ? If so , follow the traditional rules, otherwise do whatever you want.”

    I think you are right that “Ms” is a personal preference.


    the girl Reply:

    Yes, I agree. Follow the traditional etiquette to the best of your ability, but even we had to bend the rules a bit for a Widower who although will always be Mrs. John Smith would freak out if we addressed her invitation that way so instead we had to say Ms. Susie Jones. It all depends on your family, but I try to be as traditional as possible when it’s such a formal occasion. When in doubt, just find out what is on their birth certificate. You can’t get any more exact than that ;)

  4. Laura

    what is the name of the font you used when typing out the name examples? I love it!


    the girl Reply:

    Hi Laura! The font I used is called “Channel” I downloaded it from here :)


  5. Erica

    You are incorrect in regards to addressing a couple in which the wife has a title (professional degree or political office, etc.). If a wife outranks her husband with a degree, then she is listed first.

    Doctor Jane Smith and Mister John Smith

    As a woman who worked very hard for my doctorate, I take note of how frequently this is done incorrectly. Simply discounting the work I put into my degree because I am female and married is rude and sexist.

    In reference, please see Emily Post.


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