Let’s talk about the patriarchal norms that have crept into our everyday lives. My best friend Ashley (we have a lot of fun with it) recently got married, and I helped her with the invitations since I’m definitely the mail expert in her inner circle (plus, I have our resident postal wonk, Kurt Ruppel). Ashley wanted more formal invitations, but she didn’t want to conform to the traditional addressing conventions of listing a married woman as an extension of her husband (for example, addressing it to “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith”). Was there a way she could have both?
Uh, yeah she could! This is the 21st century, America, AND it’s her wedding—she can have whatever she wants! And, as it turns out, the conventions around addressing holiday cards have also changed. As you begin to send out holiday cards to your family and friends, here are some good-to-knows when it comes to more formal, but non-gender biased, addressing.
Addressing Holiday Cards to Families
It’s fine to just use the singular of the family name:
The Jones Family
It’s safe and easy—there’s really no need to list first names of the parents unless you’re really jonesing to (see what I did there?). Important side note: If you’re signing your card from your family, use the plural, and don’t include an apostrophe when you use the last name.
Addressing Holiday Cards to Blended Families
If you have a family where the couple has different last names, or a combination of names, you can use the same addressing philosophy. Mixed families are still families—just include both last names:
The Jones-Smith Family
This is a good compromise between listing every person’s name and keeping it short and sweet. The hyphen keeps the names together as a family and allows the recipients to identify with the name Jones, Smith, or the hyphenated Jones-Smith.
If it’s a laundry list of last names, you can just keep adding to the equation:
The Jones-Smith-Doe Family
If it’s a combination of hyphenated names and singular names, you only need to list the names once. For example, when addressing a household with a husband John Smith, wife Julia Jones, daughter Jane Doe, and son James Smith-Jones, you can still keep it as “The Jones-Smith-Doe Family”—just make sure that the hyphenated name is still together in its proper order.
One common mistake I see with employing this naming method is using “families” instead of “family.” Keep it singular since they are one family unit living together.
Addressing Holiday Cards to Couples
If you want to include first names, you should list who you know best first, even if the couple is married. This is a big departure from listing a man’s name first, partially brought on by the gender equality movement and partially fueled by the cultural shift of non-married couples cohabitating. To keep it clean, use the prefixes with the first names (if you’re including them at all), and list the last name only once at the end:
Mrs. Jane and Mr. James Johnson
If the couple isn’t married, or if the married couple have different last names, you should list each name in its entirety, listing the person you know best first. If it’s a tie, go alphabetical:
Ms. Jane Doe-Johnson and Mr. James Doe
For a married couple with the same last name, you could also simply list the plural of the last name:
Addressing Holiday Cards to Couples with “Freeloaders”
Another necessity due to modern living scenarios is knowing how to address a group of people who live together, but maybe wouldn’t if some members of that home had more solid income (to put it delicately). For those who aren’t related and share the home equally, list them in alphabetical order by last name:
Mr. John Doe, Mr. Tom Jones, Ms. Samantha Smith
For a mix of those who are related and those who aren’t, list the homeowners/majority homeowners first, then alphabetically. Also use commas to keep things clear:
Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Doe, Mr. Tom Jones, and Ms. Samantha Smith
For those who are related, but two are married and the others are extended family unit (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.), or are adults (over 18), you’ll want to list the individual twice, even if they have the same last name. Take for example, a married couple (Jane and John) and their college student child (James):
Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Doe, and Mr. James Doe
If the household includes other kids, like if the couple also had two other kids in high and middle school, you can list them as:
The Doe Family
Addressing Holiday Cards to Singles
If you’re including prefixes (note: In the U.S., we include a period after the prefix and before the name, but in the UK, they don’t include a period before the name.), here’s a little cheat sheet:
- All males: Mr.
- All women: Ms. (this is an all-encompassing prefix for women, but is typically used when you don’t know their age or marriage status)
- Married women: Mrs.
- Unmarried women under the age of 30: Miss
- Unmarried women 30 or older: Ms.
- Doctors: If someone has earned a PhD, list Dr. instead of a gendered prefix.
- Widows: It’s best to ask what they prefer, but “Ms.” is a safe bet.
- Divorcees: This is another best-to-ask situation; find out if they are changing their last name, or if they’d like their maiden name added (typically either hyphenated or in parentheses).
- Non-binary/trans people: Ask what prefix they prefer, and be aware that they may prefer “Mx,” “Misc,” or “Ind”. If you aren’t sure, skip the prefix altogether.
Despite reading a blog on the topic, try not to stress about addressing holiday cards (marketers: you should stress a bit—but we’ll cover how to avoid marketing addressing faux-pas in an upcoming post). It’s one of those “it’s the thought that counts” things, and making an effort to address your mail appropriately will go a long way in showing your sincerity in extending an invitation or greeting.
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