Envelope Etiquette

Get your address book, favorite beverage, and stationery ready, it’s ‘loping season!

Whether you’re finally getting around to sending out your holiday cards, preparing to address your wedding suite, or about to mail out invitations for an upcoming birthday party or business shindig, you need to know how to address your invitations.

Without it becoming a potential etiquette minefield.

How do you address an invite if Sue and Dan are married but she doesn’t want to be known as “Mrs. Dan Smith”? What’s the appropriate way to write out Kari and Tim’s invite if they’re living together but not married? Don’t forget cousin Tammy—she’s no longer living with her husband but technically not divorced—how does one tackle that envelope?

It may seem straightforward, but when it comes to addressing people by name—whether they're friends or barely acquaintances—it can be a sensitive subject. It's also an important logistical one: After all, the names on the outside of the envelope inform the recipients whom the invitation, thank-you, or gift inside is intended for. You don't want to unintentionally exclude (or include) anyone.

Thankfully, there are some tried-and-true rules and etiquette guidelines that are easy to follow. We've rounded up all the intricacies of envelope-addressing below, so consider this your go-to resource for getting it right every time.

Spell it out

For formal correspondence, use the recipients' full names (i.e., Catherine vs. Kate), including their middle name if you know it. Don't use any initials or abbreviations in names or street addresses (i.e., Avenue vs. Ave. or Apartment vs. Apt.).

For less formal correspondence, such as personal thank-you notes, holiday cards, etc., using informal names (if that's what the person goes by) and abbreviations is certainly acceptable.

Get the titles right

Because there are so many options and variables, this can be one of the trickiest parts of addressing envelopes. 

NOTE: For informal notes to close friends and family, omitting titles is okay, but it's never wrong to add them if you're unsure.

Addressing women

  • Girls under the age of 18 should be Miss (Miss Jayne Doe).
  • Single women over the age of 18 or married women who use their maiden name should be Ms. (Ms. Joan Doe).
  • Addressing divorced and separated women with the correct title can be tricky, but Ms. is usually the safest option if you're unsure of their preference. If they've returned to their maiden name, Ms. is correct. When using Ms., don't use the husband's first name (Ms. Janet Smith (maiden name) or Ms. Janet Jones (married name)).
  • For widowed women, the above rule also applies, but it's most traditional to use Mrs. and her late husband's first and last names (Mrs. Sterling Jones).
  • If addressing a married woman who uses her husband's last name (but his name is not included on the envelope), it's traditional to use Mrs. followed by her husband's first name. Using her first name is also correct and may feel more appropriate depending on the scenario (Mrs. Sterling Jones or Mrs. Janet Jones).

Addressing non-binary

Mx. Is known as the universal title that can be used by anyone. It’s gender non-identifying. Even if you identify specifically with a gender, you may still use Mx. and you may see Mx. used when the sender is unaware of your title.

Addressing men

  • is the title designated for an adult man who is 16 years of age or older. It is short for Mister or Monsieur in French.
  • The abbreviated plural for Messieurs is Messrs. While some are under the assumption that Messrs. is used for brothers, it’s used to indicate multiple gentleman (or also multiple companies (i.e., Messrs. Sotheby) Messers. also could be used to indicate two married men.
  • When it doubt, we suggest that you ask male couples if they prefer to be Mr. and Mr. Sotheby or the Messrs. Sotheby.

Addressing couples

  • Married couples who both use the husband's last name should be Mr. and Mrs. followed by his first and last name (Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Jones).
  • Married couples who use different last names should use Ms. and Mr. with full names, joined by "and" (Ms. Janet Smith and Mr. Sterling Jones), however the order is not strict.
  • Unmarried couples and same gender couples who live together should follow the above rule as well. In all instances, if both names cannot fit on one line, write them on two separate lines without the "and". As a rule of thumb, whomever you're closer to can be listed first, or it's common to list same-gender couples alphabetically by last name. (Ms. Emma Clark and Mr. Gregory Twain or Ms. Noella Bauer (followed on the next line:) Ms. Erica Johnson).

NOTE: Traditionally, a woman’s name preceded a man’s name on an envelope address, as his first and surname were not separated (Joan and Josh Kent). In modern times, the order of the names—whether his name or hers comes first—does not matter and either way is acceptable. The only exception is when one member of the couple outranks the other. Then, the one with the higher rank is always listed first.

Addressing families

For invitations, it's important to be explicit about what members of a household are invited via the names on the envelope. This is especially true when it comes to children and weddings.

  • Any children under the age of 18 should be listed on the line below their parents' names, in age order, without titles or last names (Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Jones (followed on the next line:) Erica, Emitt, and Sloane).
  • For less formal correspondence intended for the whole family, the above method is perfectly fine, or you can address the family as one using the father's first and last name (i.e., The Sterling Jones Family).
  • A helpful reminder for making last names plural: You shouldn't address a family this way, but you may use it in the return address on your envelope (or certainly when signing your holiday card). Simply add s or -es to the last name—don't add any apostrophes! More on this below. 

Using professional titles

For doctors, judges, military officers, and members of the clergy, titles should be included when addressing both formal and informal correspondence to the best of your knowledge.

  • For couples, whoever has the higher-ranking title should be listed first (i.e., The Honorable Janet Jones and Mr. Sterling Jones).
  • If both have the same title and share a last name, most titles can be made plural (The Doctors Jones or Drs. Janet and Sterling Jones).
  • If both have different titles or the same title but different last names, distinguish each full name with relevant title, joined by "and" (The Reverend Sterling Jones and Dr. Janet Jones or Dr. Sterling Jones and Dr. Janet Smith).
  • is the default form of address for women in business. Unless you know for certain that a woman wishes to be addressed as Mrs.
  • Do not use Ms. or Mr. if using a professional designation like CPA, M.D., etc. Socially, drop the professional designation and use Mr., Ms., or Mrs. (i.e., Ms. Joan Smith).
  • If using Esquire or Attorney at Law following a name, do not use Ms. or Mr. In conversation or socially, Esquire and Attorney at Law are not used. Instead, use Mr. or Ms. (i.e., Ms. Joan Smith). 

Making it plural

When signing your family's last name on a thank-you note, greeting card, or holiday card, you don't need to use an apostrophe to make it plural. Adding an apostrophe makes the last name possessive, which is unnecessary in this case.

  • Depending on the last letter of the name, simply add –s or –es. Signing a card, "Happy holidays from the Smiths!" correctly includes the entire family in the message's sentiment.
  • Leave out the apostrophe when making last names plural. For names that do not end in –s, –z, –ch, –sh, or –x, just add –s to the end of the name to make it plural. For example, to congratulate a couple on tying the knot, you'd say, "Congratulations to the Hunters on their recent marriage." Or, if you were inviting the Lee family over for dinner, then you'd say, "I'm inviting the Lees over for dinner."
  • For names that do end in –s, –z, –ch, –sh, or –x, add –es. For example, if you were to say, "The Joneses recently moved to Arizona," you're indicating that the collective Jones family moved to Arizona. Names that end in –s or are pronounced with a soft "z" sound may look weird when –es is added, but the usage is correct. As another example, if you were inviting the Banes family over for dinner, then you'd say, "I'm inviting the Baneses over for dinner.”
  • For last names ending in –y, simply add –s. Do not drop the –y and add –ies as with other nouns, verbs, and adjectives. For example, "Merry Christmas from the Brophys." It's as simple as that.

Need stationery to help you send a note or two? We’ve got the right set of note cards for every occasion right here and would love to be a part of helping you reach out.

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