How to Address Couples: U.S. Military & Spouses

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   1. Formula For
       How to Address     
   2. Use of Rank by
       Retired Military    

   3. Q&A on
       How to Address
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of the U.S.
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Warrant Officer       
White House Staff    
Woman, business        
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How to Address Couples:
Joint Forms of Address
U.S. Military & Their Spouses

Questions & Answers, Frequently Asked Questions, and Blog

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 23 March 2020

How to Address Couples: Private Citizens    

How to Address Couples: U.S. Officials & Spouses            

How To Address Married Military Personnel and Spouse?      
How To Address Married Military Personnel with the Same Rank?      
How To Address Married Military Personnel with the Same Rank:      
      One is Active Duty, the Other is Retired?

How To Address Married Military Personnel with Different Ranks?      
How to Address a Member of the Military and a Spouse Who Is a Medical Doctor?      
How to Address a Member of the Military and a Spouse Who Is a Dentist?    

How To Address a Retired Member of the Military and Spouse?     
How To Address a Retired Member of the Military and Spouse who is "the Honorable"?      

How to Address Married Military Personnel
and His/Her Spouse?

    If you are addressing an envelope to Joe Schmo and his wife and he’s a 2nd Lieutenant in the USMC, how should it read?
         --- Marilyn Huddleston

   How do I address an envelope to 2nd Lieutenant in the USN and his wife. She kept her maiden name.
         --- David Kramer

Dear Ms. Huddleston & Mr. Kramer:
  I cover this in Chapter 9: Joint Forms of Address.
     The formula is.
           (Rank) (Full Name)
            and Mrs. (Surname Name Only)
                              (state and ZIP code)
           (Rank) (Name)
            and Mr. (Full Name)
                              (state and ZIP code)

The envelope should read:
           Second Lieutenant Joseph Schmo
            and Mrs. Schmo
                              (state and ZIP code)
      If she uses a different surname it should read:
           Second Lieutenant Joseph Schmo
            and Ms. (Her First and Last Name)
                              (state and ZIP code)
      If the spouse is a man, it should read:
           Second Lieutenant Jennifer Schmo
            and Mr. (His First and Last Name)
                              (state and ZIP code)

      1) The member of the armed services is listed first (people with ranks are listed before people without ranks).
Use of and between their names (before the spouse's name) implies they are married.
      2) On social correspondence branch of service -- USMC or USN -- is not included. On an official letter to the Second Lieutenant you would include branch of service.
      3) Formally you don't break up a rank + name.  Second Lieutenant and Mrs. Joseph Schmo is frowned on in the armed services. I've seen it on envelopes addressed by civilians, but it not the best form. People with ranks get their name on a line by itself, so put the spouse's name on the next line.
      4) if you are interested in the use of Mrs. vs. Ms. for wives, I have several postings on that issue.

           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address Someone Addressed as
"The Honorable" and Their Spouse
Who Has a Military Rank?

          I am addressing envelopes for invitations and one couple being invited is a retired judge and her brigadier general (Army) husband, also retired.  Your book says that once honorable, always an honorable.  Is a judgeship considered a “rank”?  Who has the higher rank in this situation?
        ~ Virginia @ Public Works

Dear V@PW:
          Joint forms can be complicated.  I cover all this in my book in Chapter 9 on Joint Forms of Address if these sorts of things come up often.
          Yes, being "the Honorable" is a personal rank which stays with the person. As a retired judge she is still the honorable.
          On the envelope it would be:
                    The Honorable Nancy Doe
and Brigadier General William Doe
          There are service-specific abbreviations for military ranks, but above I've show it fully written out.  Writing every word fully is the most formal.
          The General's branch of service,
USA (United States Army), and Retired are not used on social correspondence.
          Elected officials and judges of federal, state, and municipals courts have higher precedence than armed service officers, so if you are inviting the judge, or both equally, the judge's name is listed first. The officer could be first if the officer were the intended invitee. Invitees are listed before their guests.
          On the inside envelope write their names as you would address them in conversation:
                    Judge Doe and General Doe
           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Member of the Military & Dentist? 
       How do I address an envelope to a Navy captain and a dentist who are married?
                Captain Joshua & Dr. Brooke Jones?
       -- D. Bainbridge

Dear Mr. D. Bainbridge:

        Most formally people with titles and ranks get their names as a unit ... not combined with another person's name. Since he is in uniform ... military uniformed personnel have precedence over civilians ... so the USN Captain is listed first.
        So the form would be:
                Captain Joshua Jones
                and Dr. Brooke Jones
       -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Military Officer and a Medical Doctor?
What is the correct form for a joint salutation when the wife is a medical doctor and the husband is a Colonel (not sure of the branch)? They share the same last name.  Is there a hierarchy to which is listed first?
    Same question for the address on the envelope: Should the male go first or does a Dr. trump a Colonel regardless of the gender?
         -- Jeanie Farrell in Arkansas

Dear Ms. Farrell:
    1) One doesn’t specify the branch of service on a social letter ... so you are off the hook!  When writing an official letter to a Colonel at his office ... you would include USA or USAF after his name ... and you would need to find out the branch.
    2) In this combination the Colonel goes first: he has an official rank. The doctor has an academic degree, but
not an official rank.
    3) Wives of officials are usually written as  "Mrs. (surname)", but since she’s a “Dr.”, it would be acceptable to use her first and last name as I suggest below.
    On the envelope write this line for line (does not have to be indented however):
    Colonel John Wilson
       and Dr. Mary Wilson
    In the salutation write:
    Dear Colonel Wilson and Dr. Wilson,
         -- Robert Hickey

     I have a follow-up question. I have been under the assumption that if a couple shares the same last name it is not necessary to repeat it in the joint salutation or the joint mail name. Is it wrong in your opinion to say?
        On the envelope: Colonel John and Dr. Mary Wilson 
     In the salutation: Dear Colonel and Dr. Wilson
     Thank you so much,
         -- Jeanie Farrell in Arkansas

    I always suggest the most formal way ... figuring formal is never wrong ... and being casual might be. And the most formal way to write any name is do so completely, all on a line by itself.
        Colonel John Wilson
            and Dr. Mary Wilson

    When the couple uses the same last name and the wife uses Mrs. -- you see the following used on a holiday cards but not on anything very formal:
        Colonel and Mrs. John Wilson

    Most formally it's:
        Colonel John Wilson
            and Mrs. Wilson

    When it's the woman who is the official it becomes:
        Colonel Mary Wilson
            and Mr. John Wilson

    Men using the same last name get their full names, wives don't. That's the tradition!
    A salutation is based on what one calls the other in conversation.
      Most formally in a salutation use: Dear Colonel Wilson and Dr. Wilson,
      Less formally in a salutation use: Dear Colonel and Dr. Wilson,    
    I'd use on of the formal salutations until I was ready to use simply Dear John and Mary,
    -- Robert

How to Address a Military Officer & Medical Doctor
... But They Use Different Last Names?

     I need to address an envelope for a husband and wife who use different last names. The woman is a M.D. medical doctor and her husband is a captain in the military.
         -- Pat

Dear Pat,

      1. Standard protocol is that a person with a rank will have higher precedence than a person without a rank. So the captain's name is first. (See also #4 below.)
      2. If this social correspondence then his branch of service ... USA or USN ... is not included. Official would include situations when you are writing to him as a Captain ... and it was regarding his service in the the Armed Forces
      3. If this is social correspondence then she is "Dr." before ... not "MD" after
         Captain William Henderson
      and Dr. Mary Smith
      4. If she is the invited guest and he is being invited as a courtesy ... as her escort ... then the precedence reverses. The guest is granted higher precedence and the guest's name is first.
         Dr. Mary Smith
             and Captain William Henderson
    FYI, your question is answered in my book in my chapter on joint forms of address.

    -- Robert Hickey

How to Address Married Military Officers with Different Ranks?

     My brother and my sister-in-law are USAF. My sister-in-law holds a higher rank (Lt Col) than my brother (Major).  When addressing an envelope does the higher rank come first, or does the male get first billing as done in "Mr. and Mrs."?
         -- Mary Vogelsang

Dear Ms. Vogelsang,

    I cover how to decide who is listed first in my book. Higher rank always is listed first in joint address when the letter is to them equally or to the higher person. So the order of the names should be:
          Lieutenant Colonel Linda Smith
            and Major William Smith
    -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Retired Military Officer & Spouse?
How do I address should an envelope to a retired Lt. Col. in the Air Force and his wife?
             --- Living near the Base

Dear Living near the Base:
     First off, there are two ways to address this couple in writing: the official way and the social way. (Use the forms I show under Joint Forms of Address, Members of the Armed Services.)
    The forms for an OFFICIAL envelope would be:
            (Rank) (Full Name), (Initials for the Branch of Service), Retired
         and Mrs. (Surname Only)

     This would be used for an event when he's being invited as a retired officer, to attend in uniform and to participate in some official capacity, and she is specifically included.  Anyway, if your event is social where the officer is being invited as a person and not as an official ... keep reading.
   Formal forms for a SOCIAL envelope would be:
            (Rank) (Full Name)
          and Mrs. (Surname Only)
     1) Spelling out the rank is always the most formal: In the armed services, they use the service-specific abbreviations.  If you know them, there are service-specific form of the abbreviation the ranks.
     2) Abbreviations with the periods -- e.g., Lt. Col. -- are the form you will see in social etiquette books. They don't use them in the armed services (note #2), but there is nothing wrong with them.
     3) "Branch of Service" and 'Retired" are not used on social correspondence.
     4) The most formal way to write an official person's name is to not break up the rank and the name ... hence his name is on one line and Mrs. Thompson is on the next line -- not mixed up his rank and his name.

     -- Robert Hickey

How To Address Married Military Personnel
With the Same Rank?

     How do you address married couples in the military with the same rank.  Is it?
              Captains John and Mary Smith
     or is it?
             Captain John Smith and Captain Mary Smith
    Also what if they are married but have different last names?
         -- Candy J.

Dear PSC:
     I cover how to address two members of the military in Chapter Nine: Joint Forms of Address.
am guessing this is a social form ... such as an invitation? And that both are captains in the same service?  O.K.? if so ...
     Outside envelope: When someone has a special title/rank .. most formally you write out their full name and you don't mix it with the other name:  So both get their rank + full name.
    But ... whose name goes first? His name? Her name? There is a protocol for this decision, and it's neither alphabetical nor ladies first. Military officers of the same rank are always ordered by seniority. One member of the couple has an earlier date of rank ... which gives that person higher precedence / greater seniority.
    I can guarantee you they have discussed this and the couple knows which of them has higher precedence/seniority by date of rank! So you need to contact them if you are determined to do it correctly.
    Since each is getting listed fully ... it does not matter if they have different last names

Captain John Smith
            and Captain Mary Smith  
 (if he has seniority)

        Captain Mary Smith
            and Captain John Smith   
 (if she has seniority)

    Yes, even when personnel have the same 'rank' one has seniority. If you are unsure list the man first, the woman second -- in the order established in "Mr. and Mrs."

Inside envelope:
    Captains Smith (same last name, most formally)
    Captain Smith and Captain Wilson
(different last names, more senior person listed first)
    Mary and William
(less formally if they are very close friends or family and in conversation you would be addressing them by their given names.)

         -- Robert Hickey 

How To Address Married Officers:
Equal Ranks, One Active, the Other Retired?

    What is the proper way to address two married members of the military when one is active duty and one is retired and they are the same rank on official correspondence? I couldn' find the answer on your site.
-- Tish

Dear Tish:
    The rule of precedence is that personnel are grouped by rank ... and active is before retired.
    The way it's phrased on the precedence list I include in my book (page 127) is for, say O-8's:
        VIP CODE 5
        43.    Two-star military: Major general, rear admirals, by seniority.
                 Retired officers by rank by after active duty officers

    I don't try and answer everything on the site .... I have a chapter in my book on precedence and joint forms of address if this sort of thing comes up often.

          -- Robert Hickey

Not Finding Your Question Answered?
(1) At left is a list offices/officials covered and (2) below are other topics covered in my blog. Between the two I probably have what you are looking for.
     But after checking both lists if you don't see your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day (unless I am traveling.)
      If I think your question is of interest to others, I will post the question & answer – but I always change the names and specifics.
      -- Robert Hickey

Mr., Miss, Jr., III, & Names        
Married Women       
Deceased Persons         
People with Two Titles
Post-Nominal Abbreviations and Initials         
Sequence Post-Nominal Abbreviations: Sr., Jr., etc.    
Couples: Private Citizens / Joint Forms of Address 
Couples: U.S. Military / Joint Forms of Address     
Couples: U.S. Officials / Joint Forms of Address      

Former Officials            
Professionals and Academics        

United States Federal Officials, Currently In Office             
United States State Officials, Currently In Office              
United States Municipal Officials, Currently In Office             
       All About The Honorable with U.S. Officials         
       Former United States Officials of all types             
United States Armed Services
       Addressing Active Duty Personnel              
       Addressing Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Veterans      

Tribal Officials 
Clergy and Religious Officials           
Canadian Officials         
Australian Officials          
British Officials, Royalty, and Nobility        
Diplomats and International Representatives
Foreign National Officials and Nobility        

Author's Name on His/Her Book       
Business Cards, Names on
Introductions, Names in
Invitations: Names on
Invitations: Names of Armed Service Personnel on        
Name Badges & Tags            
Names on Programs, Signs, & Lists            
Naming a Building or Road            
Place Cards            

Plaques, Awards, Diplomas, Certificates, Names on    
Precedence: Ordering Officials 
Tombstones, Names on      

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 23 March 2020


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Robert Hickey is the author of Honor & Respect:
The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address
Published by The Protocol School of Washington®
Foreword by Pamela Eyring

Available in   Hardcover   /  Kindle   /  Apple Book

Copyright © 2020 Robert Hickey.     All Rights Reserved.
Book Photo: Marc Goodman.