When it comes to addressing wedding invitations, most websites and etiquette experts seem to take an all-or-nothing approach. Most new to tradition insist that wedding invitations be addressed in the most formal way possible, "Mr. and Mrs. John Edward Smith."
The problem is, of course, most modern women resent being an appendage of their husband, not to mention that it leaves no guidance for same-sex couples or those without the same last name. These experts also rely heavily on the use of an interior envelope. However, using only one envelope is one of the easiest ways to save money on wedding invitations. Others take a completely casual approach, either not mentioning etiquette all together, or insisting that titles be simply omitted, like Jane Doe and John Smith.
The problem with this informal version is exactly that: the formality of the wedding invitations should match the formality of the wedding. So here are new and modern solutions for how to address your wedding invitations.
Etiquette is primarily about respecting one another, so the first and foremost rule is to address people how they prefer to be addressed. This rule trumps all the others that come below. If someone has a Ph.D. but never uses the title of Doctor, then stick with Mr./Mrs./Ms. If a woman prefers to use her husband's name (e.g. Mrs. John Smith) then that's what you should write. There are married ladies who use Ms., divorced women who still use Mrs., and those who prefer to remain gender-neutral. The bottom line is, know what someone prefers to be called and address them that way.
Use First Names
It is proper to address a wedding invitation to a person's full name. For those using an inner envelope, then the outer envelope can omit them, while the inner envelope has the full names of everyone invited, but for those who only have one envelope, it should be addressed to everyone in full. Be aware that for those following rule #1, some women, especially widows, prefer to use their husbands' names. In that case, you'll write Mrs. John Smith rather than Mrs. Jane Smith.
A title is a marker of respect and formality. They are appropriate to use on all kinds of wedding invitations, no matter how formal or casual the event is. Except for Mr., Mrs., and Ms., titles should be spelled out fully. (e.g., Doctor instead of Dr.)
Some titles you should use for wedding invitations:
- Mr., Mrs., Ms. for adults
- Master and Miss for children under 18
- The Honorable Judge, The Honorable Governor, The Honorable Mayor etc. (Note: All US elected officials other than the President should be addressed with the prefix The Honorable. Since spouses are not elected officials, they do not receive this designation.)
- Military titles including Colonel, Sargent, etc.
Special Titles First
If one person in a couple has a title other than Mr., Mrs., or Ms., then they should be listed first. For example, Lieutenant and Mr. Jane and John Smith, or Doctor and Mrs. John and Jane Smith. If both members of a couple have titles, then it is traditional to list the woman first: Doctors Jane and John Smith or Lieutenant Jane Smith and Doctor John Smith. For same-sex couples, the order is up to you.
The only exceptions to this rule are when a man vastly outranks his wife, in which case he is listed before her. We write: "The Honorable Vice President Joe Biden and Doctor Jill Biden" or "The Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden"
Respect Different Last Names
There are many married women who don't choose to take their husbands' names. There are others where only one person in the couple chooses to hyphenate, and many same-sex couples where no one changes their name. This rule is a subset of rule #1, but it bears repeating: When last names differ, it's traditional to write a woman's name first before a man's.
Treat Married and Unmarried Couples the Same
Traditional etiquette says that married couples' names should be written on the same line, and unmarried couples should be written on separate lines.
Yet, there are increasing numbers of people who enter into long-term commitments without ever tying the knot, so the modern and new etiquette rule says to treat them all the same: If they're a couple, write them on the same line. If their names don't both fit on the same line, write them on separate lines.
Treat Heterosexual and Same-Sex Couples the Same
This should go without saying, but there's no need to address an invitation to a same-sex couple any differently than to an opposite-sex couple. Don't just invite one person, then write "and guest" for the other when knowing that the couple is in a long-term relationship. Don't send them separate invitations as if they don't live at the same address. Don't write them on separate lines as if they weren't a couple. And of course, don't invite the spouses of heterosexual friends and not those of LGBTI friends.
Different Addresses? Send Two
If a couple doesn't live together, then send separate invitations to each address. For roommates who aren't romantically involved, traditional etiquette says they should receive separate invitations, but it's fine to include them on the same invitation.
No Nicknames, Mostly
As a rule, write a person's full name rather than a nickname on an invitation. Write Joseph instead of Joe or Melissa instead of Missy. However, be aware that not every name that sounds like a nickname actually is one. A woman may be Jenny on her birth certificate and not Jennifer. If you've never heard them ever use a formal name, stick to the name you know.
Include All Invited Guests
Address the invitation to indicate who's invited, so don't just invite a friend, assuming she'll bring her spouse; both of their names should be on the envelope. Similarly, if kids can come, also include their names.
When in Doubt, Write Things out
Tradition says not to use abbreviations on an invitation, writing "Twenty Main Street" rather than "20 Main St." For very casual weddings, there's the option of choosing to ignore this rule. However, using the long-form can help an invitation stand out as a special occasion. It marks an invite as something that took a little extra time to address, which is never a bad thing to communicate.
Be Kind to Yourself
While it's important to always to try and get things correct, it's likely that an error or two will be made in how someone prefers to be addressed. Even the most formal people have had to accept that the world is less formal than it used to be, and most married women who keep their own name are used to occasionally being called by their husbands' names. Hopefully, couples are close enough to their wedding guests to know their preferences. Likewise, they should be quick to forgive an honest mistake.
Examples of How to Address Wedding Invitations
Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Smith
Twenty Six Main Street
- Doctor and Mrs. John and Jane Smith
- Doctor and Mr. Jane and John Smith
- Doctors Jane and John Smith
- Doctor Jane Doe and Doctor John Smith
- Doctor Jane Doe and Lieutenant John Smith
- Mrs. Jane Doe-Smith and Mr. John Smith
- Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe-Smith
- Mr. and Ms. John and Jane Smith
- Mr. Joe Smith and Mr. John Doe
- Misters John and Joseph Doe-Smith or Mr. and Mr. John and Joe Doe-Smith
- Ms. Jane Smith and Ms. Jennifer Doe
- Mrs. and Mrs. Jane and Jennifer Smith
- President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama
- The Honorable Senator Jane Smith and Mr. Joseph Smith
- The Honorable Senator Jane Smith and Doctor John Smith