How to Address the First Lady: How to Address the Spouse of the President of the United States

* * *
BLOG: Robert Hickey
Answers Questions
From On-Line Users
* * *
VIDEO of Robert Hickey
* * *
About the book:

    Christian Orthodox       
    Christian Orthodox        
Acting Official       
Adjutant General     

Admiral, Texas Navy   
Adventist Minister       

Archbishop, Catholic        
   Christian Orthodox        
Archdeacon, Episcopal        
Ambassador, Goodwill
Ambassador of one country
   to another country      
Ambassador of the U.S.
   to another country
   by a U.S. citizen       
Ambassador of the U.S.
   to the U.K.  
American Indian Chief        
   U.S., State / or           

Associate Justice,
   U.S. Supreme Court          
Associate Justice of a
   State Supreme Court
Attorney General           
Attorney General,
Attorney, U.S.         
Australian Officials    
Awards, Name on an

Baron, Baroness           
British Officials,
   Royalty, Nobility     
Brother, Catholic
   Christian Orthodox          
Bishop, Catholic            
   Christian Orthodox         
Bishop, Episcopal        
Board Member     
Brigadier General       
Business Cards      

Canadian Officials    
   USA, USAF, USMC     
Certificate, Name on a 
    Federal Reserve      
Chaplain in the
    Armed Services        
Chaplain of Congress          

Chargé d’Affaires         
Chief Executive Officer 
Chief Judge          
Chief Justice,
      U.S. Supreme Court 
Chief Justice, of a State
      Supreme Court             

Chief of Police          
Chief of Staff     

Chief Operating
City Manager
Clergy & Religious
Club Official          
Colonel, Kentucky      
Colonel, USA, USAF,
    or USMC     
Commissioner, Court     
Commodore of a         
      Yacht Club         
Congressman, U.S.               
Congresswoman, U.S.   
Consul and or
   Consul General   
Corporate Executive         
Counselor (Diplomat)      
County Officials       
    U.S. Military
    U.S. Officials
    Private Citizens    
    Same Sex

Dalai Lama          
Dean, academic            
Dean, clergy            
Deceased Persons        
Degree, honorary      
Delegate, U.S., State

Deputy Chief of Mission      
Deputy Marshal          
    Pro Tempore      
Diploma, Name on a   

District Attorney
Doctor, Chiropractor     
Doctor of Dentistry
Doctor of Medicine              
Doctor, Military           
Doctor of
   Veterinary Medicine          
Doctor, Optometrist   
Doctor of Osteopathy            
Doctor, Other Disciplines     
Doctorate, honorary      

Elect, Designate
Pro Tempore      
Esquire, Esq.       

First, Second,
   Third , etc .        
First Lady, Spouse
   of the President of
   the United States 
First Lady, Member
    of Her   
    White House Staff      
First Lady, Spouse
   of a U.S. Governor
   or Lt. Gov.    
First Lady, Spouse
   of a U.S. Mayor    

First Lady
   of a Church      

First Lieuten
Former Officials    

Gay Couple      


Goodwill Ambassador      
Governor General         
Governor, Lieuten
Governor, Lt., Spouse   

Governor, Tribal Council          
Governor, U.S. State       
Governor, Former    
    Spouse of     
Governor's Staff,
    Member of
Governors, Board of 

High Commissioner    
Honorable, The
Honorary Ambassador       
Honorary degrees
Honorary doctorate
Honourable, The

Indian Chief         
Inspector General    
Interim Official   
   Writing &  
    Writing &

Judge, former     
Judge of US City

     County or State     
Judge, US Federal            
Junior, Senior,
    I, II, III, etc

Justice, Associate

     Supreme Court

Justice, Associate

     Supreme Court


Late, The
   (deceased persons)
Lesbian Couple    
Lieutenant Colonel,     
   USA, USAF, USMC      
Lieutenant General,
   USA, USAF, USMC      

Lieutenant Governor    

Major General,
Man, business
Man, social
Marquess / Marchioness
Married Women       
Marshal for a
   Judicial District, U.S. 
Mayor, U.S. City   
Mayor, Canadian City    
Mayor Pro Tempore
Mayor, Vice    
   Protestant Clergy       
   Christian Orthodox     
Most Reverend, The        
Mother Superior
Mr. (Social)      
Mr. (Business)      
Mrs., Ms. (Use, Social Forms)      
Mrs. vs. Ms.     
Mr. & Mrs. / Couples   

Name Badges or Tags     
Nobility, UK/British
Nobility, Other & Former     
Nun, Catholic
Nun, Orthodox

Officer, Police     

Pastor, Christian Clergy  
   Christian Orthodox  
   Ecumenical Patriarch
   of Constantinople  
People with Two Titles      
Petty Officer
Place Cards            
Plaque, Name on a    
Police Chief
Police Officer                     
Pope, Catholic
Pope, Coptic
Postmaster General         
Presbyter, Orthodox
President, corporate
President of
    College or
President of a
President of a
    US State Assembly 
President (current)
   of the U.S.A.          
President (former)
   of the U.S.A.     
President of the
    U.S.A., spouse of  
    of the U.S.   
Priest, Catholic          
    Christian Orthodox 
Priest, Episcopal        
Prime Minister
   & Academics         
Pro Tempore,
   Elect, Designate    


Ranger, Texas        
   U.S., Federal           
   U.S., State            
Reservist, Military      
Retired Military
   1. Formula For
       How to Address     
   2. Q&A / Blog On
       Use of Rank by
       Retired Military    

   3. Q&A / Blog on
       How to Address
       Retired Military   
Reverend, The
Right Reverend, The         

Same Sex Couple      
Salvation Army    
School Board Member
   U.S. Department,
   Member of the Cabinet
   of Defense, U.S.       
Secretary, Assistant       
Secretary General
   of the U.N.            
Senator, U.S., Federal       
Senator, U.S., State         
Senator, Canadian       
Senior, Junior,
     I, II, III, etc.         
Senior Judge 
Sergeant at Arms
Seventh Day
     Adventist Minister       
Sister, Catholic       

Solicitor General      
Speaker of the U.S.
   House of
Spouse of the
    President of the U.S.       
Spouse of the
    Vice President
    of the U.S.           
Spouse of an
    Elected Official            
State Attorney     
Surgeon General          

Texas Ranger        
Titles & Forms of
    Address, Useless?        
Tombstones, Names on
Town Justice
Town Manager       
The Honorable     
Tribal Officials     
Two Titles,
    Person With

Under Secretary    
US Attorney
US Federal Officials
US State Officials     
US Municipal Officials

Venerable, The        
Veteran (not Retired)         
Very Reverend, The         
VFW Officer/Official    
Vice Mayor       
Vice President
    of the U.S.
Spouse of the
    Vice President
of the U.S.
Vice President-elect
    of the U.S.      
Viscount and/or

Warrant Officer       
White House Staff    
Woman, business        
Woman, social        

Yacht Club Officer      


How to Address the First Lady: Michelle Obama

While Michelle Obama is the First Lady, and is typically identified on the news and in the media as First Lady Michelle Obama such references are examples of a news reader/writer identifying Mrs. Obama in the third person for clarity in a news story.
    The term First Lady has not traditionally used as an honorific in direct address with First Ladies of the United States. Spouses of US officials receive no special form of address -- they are private citizens -- they hold no elected office. Being first lady is a role … not an office.  Certainly they get attention and a good seat at events, but those are as a courtesy to their spouse -- the office holder.
    [INTERESTING NOTE: In contrast, "First Lady" is traditionally used as an honorific for the wife of the pastor in many African-American congregations, but that is not the tradition for the spouse of United States elected officials.]
     Most formally Michelle Obama is addressed in conversation as Mrs. Obama.
     When addressing a letter, the traditional form of address to any First Lady is to "Mrs. (surname)" in care of The White House. Using just the surname is not confusing at The White House as to whom the letter should be delivered. Here are the correct forms of address ... all based on the forms I include in my book:

Envelope, official:
    Mrs. Obama
        The White House
            1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
                   Washington, DC 20500

Letter salutation:  Dear Mrs. Obama:
Complimentary close:  Sincerely,
Introduction to a group: 
     Michelle Obama
, First Lady of the United States of America
Introduction, one person to another:  Mrs. Obama
Conversation:  Mrs. Obama

Here is the formula for any spouse of The President from my book:

How to Address the First Lady, or
How to Address the Spouse of
The President of the United States

Envelope, official:
    Mrs. (surname)
The White House
            1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
                   Washington, DC 20500

    Mr. (full name)
The White House
            1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
                   Washington, DC 20500

Letter salutation:
    Dear Mrs./Mr. (surname):

FYI, here is what's come in to the Blog that relates to this office/rank.
   For recent questions sent in, check out Robert Hickey's Blog.

   For specific offices/ranks, check out Robert Hickey's On-Line Guide.

How to Address a Former First Lady?
       How should a letter and envelope to a former First Lady be addressed?  The Honorable ______?

            -- W.T. Wynne

Dear Mr. Wynne:
       A First Lady is not The Honorable (Full Name) when her husband is in office -- or after.
       She is be identified in an introduction as the First Lady of the United States from (year) to (year) and is addressed as a private citizen.
       So formally, she is addressed on an envelope as:
              Mrs. (Husband's Full Name)
       And the salutation would have been:
              Dear Mrs. (Surname)
       Note #2: Laura Bush used Mrs. Laura Bush on invitations
sometimes when she was in the White House, so if you know Mrs. (Her Full Name) was a former First Lady's preference, you could use it. But using the formal form -- Mrs. (Husband's Name) -- is also correct.
       Note #1: Addressing Hillary Clinton is a different. She is entitled to
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton -- in her own right since she was elected to office in a general election, and served as Secretary of State -- and is thus an exception among First Ladies.
     -- Robert Hickey

How to Greet a Foreign First Lady?
    I am meeting the wife of the present president of Mexico next week. What is the correct form of address?

         -- Vishnu

Dear Vishnu:
    Orally address her in English as:
        Mrs./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname)
    Use the honorific to which she is entitled or prefers.
    Take note that she may not use the same surname as her husband. In the US, Canada, and Northern Europe women frequently use the same surname as their husband, but in the rest of the world – don't assume that they will.
    I extended conversation switch to:
    The spouse of a foreign head-of-state is granted many of the courtesies due to her spouse, but she is not an official herself. 
Being a First Lady, as spouse of a head-of-state, does not come with a special form of address.
      -- Robert Hickey

How to Address the Spouse of a Female President?
Dear Mr. Hickey:
    What is female president's spouse called? The First Gentleman?
        -- Mickey (
Michelle) Broom

Dear Ms. Broom:
    First Lady is used to describe the wife of the president of the United States, but it's not a form of address or honorific. The First Lady is addressed as "Mrs. (surname)" so currently that is -- Mrs. Obama.
    The male spouse of a president of the United States would be addressed as Mr. (full name) in writing and Mr. (surname) in conversation.
In my book I show both the masculine and feminine forms ... but avoid the issue of whether he would be the First Husband and titled the section Spouse of The President.

            -- Robert Hickey

Is a Girlfriend Addressed as "First Lady"?
      I have a question about the title of the Governor of New York's girlfriend. Would she be addressed as the First Lady if they aren't married?  Hope you can help. If she isn't called First Lady, how would she be addressed? Thanks so very much.

        -- PR in Florida

Dear PR,
       Spouses, partners, girlfriends (cousins, children, and neighbors, etc.) of officials do not receive any forms of address based on their spouse's/ partner's/ boyfriend's office. Spouses typically DO get preferential seating as a courtesy to the official ... e.g., when they are with the official -or- the preferential seat the official would get when they are representing the official.
       Interestingly the First Lady of the United States is not even on The White House's Precedence List ... she has no official standing herself: She is not an official – she was not elected.
       And while the wife of a President is described as The First Lady ... there is no official form of address for this un-elected role.  She is addressed as Mrs. (Surname).    Yes, you hear newscasters saying First Lady (Her Name) ... but that's not a form of address ... its' a newscaster using a shorthand to refer to her in the third person.
       So back to the girlfriend – If you were to address a invitation's envelope to them, here's how it should look. You don't need to mention his office on a social envelope:
              The Honorable (Full Name of the Governor)
                     and Ms. (Her Full Name)


        -- Robert Hickey

How to Refer to a Former
President and First Lady in Text?

     I was thrilled to get your book as a gift. I am enlisting your advice on the correct way to phrase the following message:
    [Company X ] commends the leadership, dedication, and commitment of former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush in their efforts to provide hope for cancer patients in their fight against cancer.
             -- Nelson Jacques

Dear Mr. Jacques:
    Most formally it would be:
    [Company X] commends the leadership, dedication, and commitment of The Honorable George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush in their efforts to provide hope for cancer patients in their fight against cancer.
    1. It's really not necessary to identify that he was The President and she was the First Lady. People know that.
    2. Mrs. Bush liked to be referred to by her first and last name  "Laura Bush."  (Probably to be specific that the First Lady "Mrs. Bush" was "Mrs. Laura Bush" as opposed to "Mrs. Barbara Bush".)   So also consider:
    [Company X] commends the leadership, dedication, and commitment of The Honorable George W. Bush and Laura Bush in their efforts to provide hope for cancer patients in their fight against cancer.
             -- Robert Hickey

What is the DV Code of the First Lady?
      Do you know if the First Lady carries a DV Code?  If so, where can I find this in print?  I tried to Google this information and of course I was directed to your book “Honor & Respect” which I will be purchasing today.

           -- Steven @ The Pentagon

Dear Steven:
    The First Lady [spouse of the POTUS] does not have a DV Code since she does not appear on any precedence list.
    However she is accorded the courtesies due her spouse ... especially when she is there as First Lady & representative of The President. She get's the courtesies of the POTUS even when she is mixed with office-holders who are actually on the precedence list.
    So, while she does not have a Distinguished Visitor Code (DV Code) .... give her a very good seat!
    This is typical for spouses who have a significant hostess functionality in the social aspects of some very high offices such as president, governor, or president of a university.

      -- Robert Hickey

When a Person Has Held Other Offices
How Does that Effect Their Precedence?

     I am working on a report on United States Order of Precedence and in looking at the one you include in your book, what is the precedence for a former first lady (e.g. Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush) when her husband who is still alive is not present? Would Hillary Clinton's status as Secretary of State trump her precedence as a former first lady when she is not with her husband? 
      -- Milton Patel

Dear Mr. Patel:
    The answer to your question is in the difference between "precedence" and "seating."  Think of it this way:
           Precedence is fixed
           Seating is an application of precedence and is event specific.  
    A widow of a former president is the only spouse listed on White House Precedence List. Other organizations have their own precedence lists, but many people look at the White House List as point of reference.
    First Ladies (current and former) have no formal precedence of their own. The preferential treatment they receive is as a courtesy -- based on the precedence of their spouse. (Typically the only courtesy the spouse of any level of official receives is in seating.)
    1) Former First Lady Hillary Clinton's precedence is as the current Secretary of State. When former President Bill Clinton is present, she's moved up and seated as his spouse. The precedence has not changed ... just the seating.
Former First Lady Laura Bush would receive the courtesies due a representative of former President George Bush and her seating would reflect her role at the event.
    So, in summary .... If you have a guest list you can come up with the precedence list.  If you then add a location & occasion you can then discuss the seating.
    Precedence lists are the basis of how a protocol officer would 'start' establishing all physical manifestation of an event ... seating, introductions, the order of who speaks when, who stands where in a receiving line .... etc.
    During The Protocol School of Washington's five-day "Protocol Officer Training"  this is exactly the sort of topic we cover. The training's precedence segment is taught by Diane Brown: I always defer to her on this subject!
    I am glad you referred to my book!

                    -- Robert Hickey

Back to directory of titles  /  See who is using Honor & Respect

For forms of address for invitations, place cards, name badges, introductions, conversation, and all other formal uses, see Honor & Respect: the Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address.

Copyright © 2016 Robert Hickey.     All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Marc Goodman.

All information on is copyright © 2016 by Robert Hickey. All rights reserved.
The Protocol School of Washington® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Honor & Respect is dedicated to Dorothea Johnson, Founder of The Protocol School of Washington®