As a wedding calligrapher, I think a lot about names. As a feminist, I also think a lot about names and the meaning that they convey. Particularly, I find the "traditional" way of addressing envelopes a bit, shall we say, dated. I've been gratified that many of my clients feel the same way and have instead been moving toward a new, 21st-century model of addressing wedding guests.
The Old Way: Patriarchal Etiquette
The traditional standard for addressing envelopes follows the dictates of our patriarchal society, in that the man's name is the one that counts.
If guests are married, this means that the structure is:
If a woman is single, she should technically be "Miss," which indicates her singleness. Men, on the other hand, get to always be "Mr.," regardless of their marital status. The invention of "Ms." during the women's movement attempted to even the honorifics playing field. Mercifully, "Ms." is widely used now, but young unmarried women are still supposed to be "Miss."
The traditional etiquette that especially galls me is the guidance for widows. Even after her husband dies, a widow is still supposedly his property and doesn't even get to use her own name; she's Mrs. [Husband's first name] [Surname]:
I'd like to call for a revolution in the way that we think about politeness. I think most brides and grooms default to this patriarchal standard for names because it's tradition, it seems more formal, and there's an established rule book.
Five years ago, when I was married, I followed this patriarchal structure myself when I addressed my invitation envelopes. Honestly, I didn't know that there was another option. So, now, being a little older and wiser and having learned from many of my thoughtful clients, I'd like to propose a new way.
The New Way: Equality Etiquette
If you're having a less formal wedding, just use people's names! Radical, I know. But it can be done.
Here's a simple, modern way to address an envelope to a married couple:
Or, here's how an envelope to a family could be addressed, particularly if the couple have maintained their own separate surnames:
If you're having a more formal wedding, what about giving women back their names? Even if you want to keep the Mr., Mrs., Ms. distinctions, give women, who, it turns out are people too, the chance to be named.
If a couple is married and shares the same surname, here's one way to address the envelope:
And if a couple is married but with different surnames, put them on the same line with their full names:
As you can see, it's possible to preserve an element of formality AND return some simple dignity to women. When it comes to weddings, sometimes the little things really do count. And I, for one, am looking forward to this (slow but meaningful) revolution in the way that we think about weddings.