In the few cases that we’ve received invitations over the past few years, I’m not a stickler. Spell our name wrong, don’t spend money or hours laboring over calligraphy, call me by my husband’s first name: it’s not my day, it’s the couples’, and I’m usually just impressed to get actual snail mail and to see pretty stationery.
However, in other matters, ones that don’t involve love or rehearsal dinners, I do pay attention to how letters are addressed to my husband and to me, and when, for the sake of etiquette, I am referred to as a Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff.
I image there was a day, perhaps in Holland many moons ago, when there are were a lot of Mrs. Vander Schaaff’s, and it was useful to specify that it was the Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff to whom the letter was intended.
These days, being that we’re not in Holland, the only time I’ve had a near run in with a linguistic doppelgänger was at a local bakery around Thanksgiving.
“What do you mean another Sarah Vander Schaaff reserved an apple pie? Surely that is my apple pie on the counter.”
Perhaps then, and only then, I might have asked if it was a Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff’s apple pie and not some other Mrs. Vander Schaaff, but I didn’t.
No, for the sake of clarity and dignity, it seems fitting to simply say Mrs. Sarah Vander Schaaff and not invoke my husband’s first name, especially when he’s not even listed on the envelope or, presumably, intended to read its contents.
I decided to check with the arbiters of modern etiquette. First, I turned to the Emily Post Institute online, which says that, “Above all, manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”
On their page, Guide to Addressing Correspondence, they have several options for addressing a woman. If you want to get a headache, try reading all the variations. Suffice it to say, they state that if you are addressing a married couple formally, and the woman has taken her husband’s name, and she uses the prefix Mrs., the correct way to address the envelope is: “Mr. and Mrs. John Kelly”.
There are many exceptions, and all hell breaks loose when a woman elects the prefix Ms. or, as they say, “outranks” her spouse.
I then turned to Martha Stewart. In a page dedicated to addressing wedding invitations, the site offers a tip for informal address: “To some couples, omitting wives' first names feels too old-fashioned; including the first names of both husband and wife after their titles is appropriate.”
Congratulations, women, having your first name appear on the envelope after your title is, in fact, appropriate in 2013. While Martha’s team intended this for weddings, perhaps we can spread the news.
A few years ago, when we were searching for schools for my then six-year-old, I looked into an all girls school nearby. I didn’t need to be convinced of the benefits of same-sex education, but they certainly did a good job of giving me the facts, including information about what a strong indicator it was for future positions of leadership.
Given our daughter was six, I did all the work for the application. I wrote the essays, I filled in the PDF forms, I wrote the check for the application fee. My husband was supportive, but I was the one who stood in line at the post office to mail in that packet.
The formal correspondence we received from this school for girls, this institution that celebrated their potential, came back addressed to: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Vander Schaaff.
I don’t think it was a betrayal of their core philosophy. I think they just forgot that actual etiquette is a “sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.”
In most cases, identifying someone by her first name, even if she's elected for whatever reason to take her spouse’s last, is an acknowledgement of her personhood—if not feelings.
This week on The Educated Mom, I take a look at one school tradition that reminded me why it's good to get out of the classroom.