Tuesday, January 26, 2010
How to address an envelope
In fact, I didn't know how to address an envelope correctly until I was 19 years old. I knew the basics but wouldn't have written to a duchess with confidence. It was only when my grandfather called me up one day, shouting "I am NOT an American!" that the error of my ways was rectified. He resented being addressed as 'Mr', feeling that years of good breeding and Britishness entitled him to be an 'Esq.'. So I was tutored in the ways of envelope etiquette and once learned, it can never be forgotten or relaxed.
For those who want to know - these are the basic rules.
1. To a man, you write: Rupert Fotherington-Smythe, Esq.
(Strictly speaking, you write this to all men except Americans and tradesmen, whom you address as 'Mr' but I don't make that distinction.)
2. To a single woman you write: Miss Arabella Toffington-Love
3. To a married (and widowed) woman, you write: Mrs Rupert Fotherington-Smythe.
4. To a divorced woman, you write: Mrs Arabella Fotherington-Smythe.
5. To a Baronet or knight, you write: Sir Giles Poppy.
6. To an Earl, you write: Lord Poppy.
7. To the wife of a knight, baronet or earl, you write: Lady Poppy.
8. To the daughter of an earl or duke, you write: Lady Celestria Poppy.
9. To the married daughter of an earl or duke, you write: Lady Celestria Fowler.
10. That's it for now. There are further complicated permutations (the daughter of a daughter of an earl or duke is The Hon. An MP is The Rt. Hon. Plus all the Royal stuff) but I'll save those for a rainy day.
The only other thing to note is that even when writing to a couple (eg, Christmas card, invitation or thank you note), the envelope is addressed to the wife only. This is because traditionally the wife organised the husband's diary, and if you stayed with a couple for the weekend she is the one who would have done all the work. As to the question of whether one should stick with the format although the tradition has changed: the answer is yes. After all, I still say please to the bus conductor when asking for my ticket, even though he has long dropped the tradition of saying thank you.
The only problem I find is with rule no.3 as so many women now prefer not to take their husbands names on marriage. Does this mean that they have to be addressed as 'Miss' - when that is ridiculous, surely? And to write Mrs Arabella Fotherington-Smythe makes them look divorced. The only solution, I think, is to drop the prefixes of Miss or Mrs altogether. Although, of course, doing that makes Posh Bird start hyperventilating and there isn't always a brown paper bag handy when doing one's Christmas cards.