Etiquette Q&A: Appropriate Addresses and Signatures

A picture of a letter and letter seals

Our etiquette series started out with a tutorial related to basic table manners, and since then, we’ve discussed table settings and buffet fundamentals. Last week we moved into the realm of proper titles. This week, we continue the conversation with more advice concerning addresses and signatures.

Q: What is the proper way for a married couple to sign a register at a wedding or a funeral?

A: Though the appropriate way to sign a guest register at a hotel is “Mr. and Mrs. Howard Smith,” the proper way to sign a wedding or funeral register is more personal. Both husband and wife use their first names, with the wife’s name listed first and the husband’s second. It helps to remember the old Southern rule of always keeping the man’s first and last name together. And, of course, last names are always written.

Q: If I am writing a thank-you note from my husband and myself, how do I sign the note?

A: The person writing a letter or note should be the one to sign it. You will want to carefully word your note, however, to let the recipient know you are speaking for both you and your husband: “Howard joins me in thanking you for the delicious cake.” Or “I just had to write and let you know how much Howard and I enjoyed the wonderful cookies.”

Q: How do I address an invitation to a couple when the wife has kept her maiden name for professional reasons?

A: Sometimes married women who keep their maiden names professionally still use their married names socially. It is best to determine whether this is the case before addressing the invitation. If the woman does use her married name socially, then address the invitation as you normally would: “Mr. and Mrs. Howard Smith.” If the wife always uses her maiden name, however, the proper address would be “Ms. Sally Gates and Mr. Howard Smith.” An exception to this rule comes when the man has a professional title. In that case, his name would be listed first: “Dr. Howard Smith and Ms. Sally Gates.” What if she’s the one with a professional title? Then she goes back to being listed first: “Dr. Sally Gates and Mr. Howard Smith.”

Calligrapher and Dixie Design Collective designer Holly Hollon recommends Crane & Co.’s Blue Book of Stationery as well as their blog for more tips on stationery etiquette.

Have an etiquette question of your own? Submit it on our contact page.

A picture of letter seals