Traditional letter-writing etiquette is based on traditional professional and marital patterns derived from the following assumptions:

 

  1. A married couple is made up of a man and a woman.
  2. The man’s name, with the appropriate honorific, goes first.
  3. A married woman takes her husband’s surname.
  4. A married woman’s given name is not part of the address or salutation.

 

Based on these assumptions, traditional etiquette dictates the following forms:

 

Address

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Simpson

Dr. and Mrs. Charles Simpson

Rev. and Mrs. Charles Simpson

 

Salutation

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Simpson

Dear Dr. and Mrs. Simpson

Dear Rev. and Mrs. Simpson

 

Nowadays, however, when some people question even the conventional use of Dear to begin a business letter, how to address a letter can be a hotly contested topic.

 

Many married women still prefer the “Mr. and Mrs.” form, but others feel marginalized by it. As a result, recent guides to letter-writing give the following as acceptable options:

 

Mr. Charles and Mrs. Jane Simpson

Mr. Charles and Ms. Jane Simpson

 

Note: In traditional etiquette, the form “Mrs. Jane Simpson” signifies that the woman so addressed is divorced.

 

In modern usage, when a form other than “Mr. and Mrs. [surname]” is used, the woman’s name goes first:

 

Mrs. Jane Simpson and Mr. Charles Simpson

Jane and Charles Simpson

Dear Jane and Charles

 

An editor at The Chicago Manual of Style considers any of the following as proper forms for a business salutation to a married couple:

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Stern

Dear Irene and Mike Stern

Dear Mike and Irene Stern

 

When members of the couple have different titles, some commentators think that the traditional male-female order should be maintained. For example, if the wife has a doctorate and the husband hasn’t, the form would be “Dear Mr. and Dr. Simpson.”

 

Bottom line: If you know the couple, you should know how they prefer to be addressed.

If you are addressing a letter to people you do not know well, choose a respectful form of address that suits the occasion.

 

Credit: DWT

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