How to Address Former Government Officials?

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Archbishop, Catholic        
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Ambassador of one country
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Assistant Secretary
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           
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Brother, Catholic
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Board Member     
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Certificate, Name on a 
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Chaplain in the
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Chargé d’Affaires         
Chief Executive Officer 
Chief Judge          
Chief Justice,
      U.S. Supreme Court 
Chief Justice, of a State
      Supreme Court             

Chief of Police          
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Chief Operating
City Manager
Clergy & Religious
Club Official          
Colonel, Kentucky      
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    or USMC     
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Commodore of a         
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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            
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Deceased Persons        
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Deputy Chief of Mission
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District Attorney
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Doctor, Military           
Doctor of
   Veterinary Medicine          
Doctor, Optometrist   
Doctor of Osteopathy            
Doctor, Other Disciplines     
Doctorate, honorary      

Elect, Designate
Pro Tempore      
Esquire, Esq.       

First Names, Use of
   Formal / Informal     
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. Use of Rank by
       Retired Military    

   3. Q&A 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 Former Officials
Questions & Answers, Frequently Asked Questions, and Blog

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 23 March 2020

How to Refer to Former Officials?        
How to Address a Corporate Official, Who Use to Be Something Else?     

How to Introduce a Former Prime Minister
      to a Former Foreign President?      
How to Address a Former Vice President?        
How to Address a Former Speaker of the House of Representatives?        
How to Address a Former Congressman with Degrees?             
How to Address a Former Congressman?              
How to Address a Former Secretary of (Department)?            
How to Address a Former Governor?            
How to Address a Former State Attorney General?      
How to Address a Former Judge?    
How to Address a Former Mayor?     
How to Address a Former Member of a City Council?     
How to Address a Former Sheriff?             

Regarding Former Presidents of the United States of America    
     Is a Former US President Addressed as "President (name)"?    
     Referring to a Former US President?     
     How to List a Former US President in a Program?    
     How to Address a Former US President in Conversation?      
How to Address a Former Foreign President?     
    How to Address a Former Foreign President and His Family?     

See also the listings for individual offices at left & below.
Many of those have notes on how to address former office holders.

How to Address Retired Military Personnel?
Questions about how to address retired officers and enlisted personnel are among the most frequent questions I get. Check out either of the two pages for additional information:

Link to Q&A just on how to address retired military personnel     

Link to Q&A just on use of rank by retired military & veterans    

Link to Q&A just on Joint Forms of Address
       (Specifically military personnel and their spouses)     

How to Address a Corporate Executive
Who Use to Be Something Else?

        In correspondence to a retired major general who is works for a state agency, what is the protocol for addressing them in their civilian capacity?

       -- Kim

        How do you address a letter a former ambassador who is now a chief executive officer of a company?
       -- Toni

Dear Kim & Toni,
     Sometimes officials get a form of address that they keep when they leave office. Both of these former officials attained a personal rank, and ranks can follow them after they leave office. Here are the details:
      1) Military Personnel: Department of Defense (DoD) documents are interpreted to suggest that when retired personnel go into post-retirement jobs they should not use their rank in their new employment. The DoD guidelines suggest retired personnel should not be addressed by rank in any situation which might look like they are seeking some personal benefit due any endorsement that might be implied from the use of their rank.  Typically they use Mr./Ms. professionally in post-retirement commercial jobs. Personally and socially they continue to use their rank with their name ... i.e., when issuing a daughter's wedding invitation.
      2) Ambassadors: A former ambassador might likewise choose to be addressed as "Mr./Ms." when acting in a commercial capacity, since having served as an ambassador might not be pertinent. But, most ambassadors I've met continue to prefer to be addressed as Ambassador (Name) in every situation, forever.
      3) What to do? Since you are writing to the person the safest course is to address him/her like he/she likes to be addressed.
Sometimes you can check their organization's website and see how he/she is identified on their biography. The foolproof method is to call their office and find out if they prefer "General" "Ambassador" or "Mr."
-- Robert Hickey

Is a Former President
Addressed as President (name)?

     I have been directing people to refer to former presidents
as President (last name). Is that correct?
             --- Anna McDonald, Stafford, Virginia

Dear Ms. McDonald:

    This issue is complicated since we hear former Presidents referred to as President Clinton and President Bush on the media all the time; Here's what is the correct formula as it appears in my book (assuming they didn't have an honorific other than Mr./Ms. to go back to ... as General Dwight D. Eisenhower did, who went back to "General Eisenhower" or Barack Obama did, who went back to "Senator Obama".): 
    Former President of the United States
    Envelope, official:
       The Honorable
       (Full name)
    Letter salutation: Dear Mr./Ms. (surname):
    Conversation: Mr./Ms. (surname)

    Here's the WHY behind the correct form. This
is the traditional approach for any office of which there is only one office-holder at a time. So, with officials such as mayors, governors or presidents ... only the current office holder is addressed as Mr. Mayor, Governor, or Mr. President ... formers are not addressed that way.
    That's not to say some reporter might not call a former mayor Mayor Smith
or a former president President (Surname). But doing so is incorrect and confusing to the public. The former office holder is no longer due the precedence and courtesies we extend to the current office holder. He or she speaks with the authority of a private citizen. We honor former office holder's service, but the 'form of address' -- which acknowledges the responsibilities and duties of office -- belongs only to current office holder.
    With offices of which are many
office-holders at a time ... senators, admirals, judges, etc. addressing 'formers' with their former honorific not disrespectful to a singular current office holder.  
     To explain the correct form I would say
"using the title of a former position is flattering to the former official and he or she may not correct you, but is not respectful to the current office holder.  There's only one "(name of the office)" at a time."
                          -- Robert Hickey

     Yes, but everyone uses President (last name).
               --- Anna McDonald, Stafford, Virginia

     Do they? Are presidents of organizations and companies addressed as President (surname)? Do these former office holders keep the rank President forever?
      President is it not typically used as an honorific and formers go back to what they were before. Being president of the United States is a role, not a permanent rank one attains and keeps.  You do hear it in the media where they have a need to identify politicians, but you won't see formers so addressed in official situations where noting -- who is currently in power and who is not -- is important.
                          -- Robert Hickey


How to Address a Former President
of the United States in Conversation?

   Greeting from Canada. I will meet President Clinton in a few weeks in person.  What should I call him when I meet him or when I introduce others to him: Mr. Clinton, or President Clinton? Thanks for your help.
        -- Politico, Toronto
Hi Politico:
    Former Presidents of the United States are most formally directly addressed as Mr. (Name) and are identified as "President of the United States from Year-Year". 
    You will hear the media say President Clinton in a news story to be clear who is being discussed. The media using "President (Name)" in the third person makes many think it is a correct form of address.
The correct form for formal introduction -- e.g. from a podium before his speech to the audience would be something like ... It is my pleasure to introduce The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton.
    In conversation address him as Mr. Clinton. 

    If you make an introduction say Mr. Clinton may I present...

        -- Robert Hickey

How to Address an Invitation's Inside Envelope
to The Clintons?

Dear Mr. Hickey,
       I just received your book and it is a wealth of information!  I am addressing a wedding invitation to the Clinton's.  I understand, per your answer, that the outer envelope would be addressed as follows:
    The Honorable
William Jefferson Clinton
    and The Honorable
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Would the inner envelope be addressed Mr. and Mrs. Clinton?
    -- Many thanks, Claudia

Dear Ms. Engle,
    Really happy you are finding the book useful. Since you have it ... here's where where you should look to find the answers to your questions:
    See on page 167 for all the forms of address for a former president
    Former cabinet secretaries go back to whatever form of address to which they were entitled to before they assumed office, though they are certainly described as former Secretary of .... .  Former senators DO continue to be addressed as Senator (Name) so that's what it traditionally correct for Hillary.
    So, what's correct is:
      Mr. Clinton and Senator Clinton
    -- Robert Hickey

How To List a Former President of the United States in a Program?
      I have your book and I find it very useful.  We have an event coming up in May and I want to be sure I have listed the public officials correctly in the program. I’m not quite sure how to list former President George W. Bush. My inclination is to list him has Former President George W. Bush. Is this correct?  Your advice is greatly appreciated!
         -- SS., American Wind Energy Association, Washington, DC

Dear SS:
     Listing officials in a program is a bit different that addressing them directly, but if you want to use the form used in direct address ... it is absolutely O.K.
     Former presidents are The Honorable:
           The Honorable George W. Bush
     Not sure you need to identify that he's a former president, people will know that. If you want to, I generally avoid 'former' since it sounds so has-been.  I if you need to list something after his name, consider ...
           43rd President of the United States
President of the United States, 2001-2009
          -- 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 ...
    1. I suggest you not use the word "former". if you feel necessary to define his prior service it's better to include he was the 43rd President or he served as president from 2001 to 2009. "Former" sounds so 'has been'.
    2. It's not necessary to identify that she was the First Lady.
    3. 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 "Laura Bush" as opposed to "Barbara Bush".)   So I would probably consider:
    [Company X] commends the leadership, dedication, and commitment of The Honorable George W. Bush and Laura Bush in their efforts ...
             -- Robert Hickey

How to Refer to a
Former President of the United States?

     I learned forms of address before there were television "readers' who spoke of  current-president of the United States George W. Bush as "Mr. (Last Name)", yet called a former president as "President (Last Name)."
      In the 1940s,  I was taught that judges and senators were entitled to continue using their titles because there are many judges and senators, but since there is only one president at a time, a former president resumed an earlier title held by him.
       You are more cognizant of today's forms of address. Have things changed? I would appreciate it if you would bring me up to date!
              --- Mrs. S.L.S.

Hi Mrs. S.L.S.
    What you hear in the media are not forms of address: they are reporters specifying for clarity in the third person a person in the context of their story. So, referring to "President Clinton" "President Kennedy" and "President Obama" are all clear ways of referring to a person in a written story or newscast.
    In direct address "Mr. President" is still correct ... and IS USED CURRENTLY at the White House by The President's staff, government officials, and members of the diplomatic corp.
    The one-at-a-time rule continues to be correct.
    Eisenhower went back to "General Eisenhower" -- as you note -- there are more than one general at a time.  There are plenty of admirals, senators, and judges at one time, too.
     In Arkansas there is only one Governor at a time so I wouldn't call him "Governor Clinton" The correct form of direct address would  be "Mr. Clinton."  In a formal introduction from a podium you could identify him as The Honorable (full name), Governor of Arkansas (year-to-year) and the 42nd President of the United States.
    I've seen Newt Gingrich addressed on the Sunday-morning news shows as "Speaker Gingrich." It is wrong.  He was "Mr. Speaker." Now he is Mr. Gingrich / 58th Speaker of the House or
Mr. Gingrich / Speaker of the House 1995-1999.  I am certain he knows it's not correct, but for whatever reason he did not correct them.
         -- Robert Hickey

Bill Clinton: What to Call Him
If He Becomes the "First Husband"

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/

When Bill Clinton first won the presidency, the form of address used for him and the first lady, Hillary, was as follows:
     The President and Mrs. Clinton

This form of address fits into the traditional formula in writing: The President and Mrs. (Surname) and in conversation:
     Mr./Madam President and Mr./Mrs. (Surname).

If Hillary Clinton wins the current presidential election, Bill Clinton will be a first: the first First Husband, Spouse, Partner, or Significant Other.

So, how will the White House staff address Bill Clinton? How will his name appear with the President's on invitations?  How will his place card read at a state dinner? How should the media address him or refer to him?  Perhaps First Gentleman Bill Clinton, awkward as that might seem? According to Robert Hickey, author of The Protocol School of Washington's Honor and Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles and Forms of Address, the formula for the husband of President of the United States (POTUS) has been around for a long time. It just hasn't been used thus far:

In writing: The President and Mr. (Full Name)

As a former elected official, Bill Clinton does have a special title. He is "the Honorable." Using this courtesy title fits right in without a hitch.

In writing: The President and the Honorable (Full Name)

However, which version of Bill Clinton's full name would be correct?  That is a matter of how formal a reporter or social secretary chooses to be for any given occasion. Bill Clinton, William J. Clinton, or William Jefferson Clinton might be frequent choices.

Still, two questions linger:

1. How should he be addressed in direct conversation or as a salutation?
     a.  Mr. Clinton
     b.  President Clinton

2. How should reporters refer to him in order to not mislead or confuse their audience on who is the current president and who is not?
     a.  Mr. Clinton
     b.  President Clinton
     c.  Former President Clinton

According to Hickey, the right option for both questions would be  a. Mr. Clinton.

"While it is common practice in the media and elsewhere to address and identify former presidents as 'President (Name),' this is a mistake," said Hickey. "Serving as President of the United States does not grant one the personal rank of 'President' for life. The office of President is a one-person-at-a-time role that a specific individual holds and then hands off to the next person."

"Courtesies, honors, and special forms of address are symbols of the power of the office. They belong to the office and to the citizens, not former office holders."

Hickey goes on to say the media and the public should be wary of identifying or addressing previous holders of the presidency and other unique offices by referring to them as "former (title)." This qualifier diminishes the singular prestige of both the office and its current occupant and is potentially misleading/confusing to their audience.

"There is an accepted term of respect used for previous presidents and other elected U.S. officials to recognize their service. This title is one of high distinction that they keep for life: she or he is addressed as "the Honorable (Full Name)."

How to Address a Former Foreign President?
        We are heading to Russia tomorrow and we have their former president, Mikhail Gorbachev, attending a dinner we are hosting. What is the appropriate title for him, given that he is a former President?
         -- Going to Moscow

Dear Going to Moscow:
       Address him as "Mr. Gorbachev", and identify him as "the former president of ... "  It's considered disrespectful to current heads of government to address former head of government by their former forms of address.
       If you meet the current president, FYI, Russians do not address their national officials with courtesy titles. I checked with every embassy and included detailed information one each: the info is on the Russian Federation is on page 511.

       -- Robert Hickey

How Do I Introduce a Former Commonwealth Prime Minister?
       In the case of wishing to introduce the former British Prime Minister and former President of Mexico before their spoken addresses, what's the right form?

         --- Katherine Littefield, New York

Dear Ms. Littlefield:
    FYI, I cover all this in my book: the UK, Mexico and more than 180 other countries.
    You didn't mention which individuals, but I am going to answer using Tony Blair and Vicente Fox. If you were going to introduce them to the audience -- here are some good forms:
    A former prime minister would be The Right Honourable (Full Name), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from (Year) to (Year). 
A British prime minister is The Right Honourable for life.
    A former Mexican president would be (Full Name), President of the United States of Mexico from (Year) to (Year).
Mexicans don't use the courtesy titles when addressing their officials, so use just (first name)+(last name).
    I would avoid describing them as formers. E.g. in United States we identify former Presidents by their number, e.g., the 43rd President But maybe including the years provides a bit more information?
So, do it however you like.
    Using the formal country names (e.g., United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is correct .... just like we most formally say "The President of the United States of America."
          -- Robert Hickey

How to Write a Place Card for a Former Speaker of the House of Representatives?
What is the proper form of to put on a place card for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich? Can I write the card as Speaker Gingrich?
         --- Sarah Buchanan

Dear Ms. Buchanan,
      Formally, former Speaker Newt Gingrich's place card should be Mr. Gingrich rather than Speaker Gingrich in spite of what might hear in the media.
    For more on the history of this tradition see this post.     
           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former State Attorney General?
Dear Mr. Hickey:
What is the proper form of address for former state attorney general?
         --- J.H. in the office of an attorney general and associate attorney general

Dear J.H.:
    In the United States, if he/she was an “Honorable" when in office, in writing he/she will continue to be “The Honorable (full name)” for the rest of his/her life.
    In conversation, address a former state attorney general as “Mr./Ms. (name)”. In a state there is only one attorney general at a time. Former officials who hold a title of which there is more than one at a time -- retired judges, retired ambassadors, retired generals, retired senators and many others -- use their “title” in every situation for the rest of their lives, but attorney generals don't use anything except "Mr./Ms.".
    All this assuming he/she left office under good terms. Those who leave a high office in disgrace do not continue to be addressed as "The Honorable."
           -- Robert Hickey

Is a Former Secretary of (Department)
Still "The Honorable"?

    Is a former Secretary of Labor still The Honorable?
         --- G. G. Johnson

Dear Ms. Johnson:
  A former secretary of a U.S. Federal Department continues to be addressed as The Honorable.
     The rule is once an Honorable always and an Honorable
     But, he or she is no longer Mr./Madam Secretary or Secretary (Name) since there will be a new holder of this only-one-person-at-a-time office.  Generals, judges, ambassadors, senators, and doctors keep their personal ranks forever, but being a secretary grants no personal rank that continues. Like the parking space, preferred seating, and higher precedence ... forms of address are a courtesy of the office, and stay with the office.

      After leaving office a secretary goes back to the honorific to which he or she was entitled before assuming office. That doesn't mean you will not hear or read reporters doing it incorrectly in the media. I heard Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe say -- after he had misidentified a former as the current, and the gentleman corrected the mis-identification before he started the interview -- "well, we always puff up our guests to give them more credibility."
           -- Robert Hickey

How to Orally Address a Former Secretary?
     First, if you were working with a former secretary, e.g., former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, would you still address her as Madam Secretary? I think now that she's out of office she would be just Dr. Rice -- the form of address she had before she took office and was on the faculty of Stanford University. Right?
     Second, if I am right, how do you delicately inform an executive who strongly feels she is still "Secretary (last name)"?
         --- Kelly Roberts McLean

Dear Ms. McLean:
  You are right. Condoleezza Rice is officially Dr. Rice in direct address and identified as the Secretary of State from 2005-2009
or something similar.
There are some positions which come with a rank, and former office holders continue to be addressed with an honorific of their former position forever: senators, judges, ambassadors, and military generals, for example. 
     But being a Secretary is a ROLE, not a RANK. T
here's only one secretary of (a department) at a time, and only the current office holder is granted the courtesies of the office. Being addressed as a "Secretary" is a courtesy of the office.
     While a former official might find receiving the courtesies of the office to be flattering, it is not respectful to the current, singular, office holder.

     As to how I would delicately inform an executive who strongly felt she is still "Secretary (Name)" ... I would inform her only if she asked me for my advice.
    I hear a lot of bad grammar too, but that doesn't make me think the rules of grammar have changed. When I hear bad grammar I simply think I am dealing with someone who doesn't know the rules, or doesn't care.
    A former Secretary wanting to be addressed as Secretary (Name) is definitely hanging on to his or her former glory, in hopes some of the prestige and power will hang on too!  But, there's no upside for you to get into that argument.

           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former Governor Who Held Other Positions?
    My former boss passed away last week.  He was a U.S. Senator and a two time Oklahoma Governor.  He was a Governor, Senator, then Governor. We are debating how to refer to him in programs and announcements  -- as Senator -- the higher office or as Governor  -- the last office?  Thanks!

    -- Just Wondering in Oklahoma

Dear JWIO:
Think about it in the most formal way: would a former governor be called Governor (name) in the presence of the current governor? He would not.
     Former governors are not 'officially' addressed as
Governor (name) because there is only one Governor of a state at a time ... and doing do is not respectful of the state's current governor.
     This holds true for other offices where there is a single office holder ... The Speaker of the House ... the Mayor of a City .... the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
     WHEREAS there are many senators, admirals, judges, ambassadors at a time ... so calling a former office holder by one of those titles is not in conflict with a current office holder.
     So most correctly he is addressed by his highest, non-exclusive honorific:   
                Senator (Name) a man who served as Governor twice ...
    When Dwight Eisenhower left the presidency he went back to General Eisenhower
    That's also what Albert Gore has done ... he's back to Senator Gore, because he can't be Mr. Vice President.
     Bill Clinton and George W. Bush don't have a title to go back to so they are both "Mr."
     ... and Colin Powell is not longer Mr. Secretary or Secretary Powell ... He's back to General Powell.

                           -- Robert Hickey

     Yea!  I knew it!  In Oklahoma, every person who is a former governor is called governor by those who address him in every social setting I am attending.  Do the Okie's just not know any better?  They are not doing this in front of current Governor, just in the addressing of any former governor.  So, if I see former governor what do I call him?

     It's not just the Okie's ... it just people repeating what they hear the newscasters say.
     If you had been President of some local club ... there would doubtlessly be someone who would continue to call you President (Your Last Name) just to flatter you. Not technically or traditionally correct ... but it happens.
     I have seen hosts of the Sunday morning programs interview Newt Gingrich and call him Speaker Gingrich ... it's not right, but when I observed, he did not correct them on air.
     I see people doing lots of ill advised things ... that they do them -- doesn't make them right. They are either lazy or don't know any better.
     If you meet a former governor and call him "Mr." it won't offend him ... because he will know what's right.
                         -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former Governor in Conversation?
     I read a story recently which said that the organizers of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s book tour have asked the public to address her as Governor Palin at her book signings. Is that proper?

                   -- William Perry

Dear Mr. Perry:
    It's not correct. Officially she is addresses as Ms./Mrs. Palin.
    She is not correctly addressed as Mayor Palin either, because Wasilla has a new mayor, and she is not addressed as Governor Palin because Alaska has a new governor.
    Here is the tradition behind this: Jobs of which there is only one officer holder at a time ... Governor of a state Mayor of city, President Vice President of the US, Speaker of the House of Representatives .... do not continue to be directly addressed in writing or conversation by their former "office" because it is not respectful to the current office holder and confusing to those in the (organization/state/whatever) as to who is currently in charge.
    Jobs of which many hold the same office/rank at the same time DO continue to be addressed by their former honorific ... Senator, Judge, Captain, Admiral, General, Professor .... after leaving their position.
    Having worked with many 'formers' I find that they know their correct honorific.  But the handlers may not know what's correct -or- encourage the reference to their boss's former position to curry favors -- which I suspect is the case here.

             -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Letter to a Former Governor?
     What is the proper form of address when writing a letter to a former Governor?  When he calls our office, he says "This is Governor (surname)” even though he is no longer the Governor.  I have made it “The Honorable (full name)” in the letter's address block, and “Dear Governor (surname)” in the salutation. Sound right?
         --- Lonnie Sue Reardon

Dear Ms. Reardon:
   In the letter’s address block a former governor is
            The Honorable (full name).

Former office holders go back to whatever they were before they were governor. In the saluation use:
Dear Mr./Ms./etc. (name):  
   Only a Governor in office is formally and officially addressed as Governor (name) The reason? There is only one Governor at at time, and it's not respectful of the current office holder to refer to former office holders as it they were still in office.
    I know we hear newscasters referring to former governors as "Governor."  But it is incorrect.
           -- Robert Hickey

       But in this case I know he still want's to be addressed as "Governor"?
         --- Lonnie Sue Reardon
    I wonder if when he calls the current governor, he identifies himself as "Governor (Name)"?
    If we met and you introduce yourself as Monsignor Lonnie Sue I would think hummmm, a monsignor is Catholic priest and is always man.  So I would think it is unlikely you are a monsignor. And you are just using your given name ... like Cher, Fabian, or Sting ... which also strikes me as a bit odd for a monsignor.
   But, I'd call you
Monsignor Lonnie Sue in you presence. You say it's your name and it's not up to me to decide what your name is.
   If I knew this former governor wanted to be addressed as "Governor" I'd do it for him, however I wouldn’t think he changed what was correct.
           -- Robert Hickey

             NOTE: I got an interesting e-mail from H.D. about
             my advice on addressing Monsignor Lonnie Sue.
             Click here to read his note.

Is a Former Mayor Addressed as Mayor (Name)?
I am addressing an invitation to a former mayor. How do I correctly do that??
     --- Karen Szczpanski

Hi Karen:
        Address a former mayor on the envelope or address block of a letter use this form:
              The Honorable (Full name)
        On the salutation, in conversation, or if your invitation has an inside envelope use this:
           Mr./Mrs./Dr./etc. (Surname):
        Sometimes you will see or hear former mayors addressed as Mayor (name) but it is not correct, Address a former mayor as Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (whatever honorific they had before becoming mayor) (Name).
       The reason? In a city there is only one mayor at a time. It's not respectful to the current officer holder, and is potentially confusing to be addressing more than one person as Mayor (Name).
Being addressed as
Mayor (Name) is a courtesy of the office and is reserved for the current office holder. I know, I know, I know, you hear former mayors addressed as Mayor (Name), but addressing a former mayor as Mayor (Name) is simply a reporter flattering the former official's ego, or the former official seeking to continue to enjoy the courtesies due his or her former lofty post.
      [This contrasts with officials of which there is more than one office holder at a time -- e.g, there are many judges, ambassadors, generals, admirals, professors, senators etc. at a time -- and these former office holders DO use their (Special Honorific)+(Name) in every situation for the rest of their lives.]

            -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former Member of the US House of Representatives?    
       I am meeting one of our former congressional representatives next week, and I am wondering if it is still appropriate to address them as Congressman or Representative, even though they have been voted out of office?
        -- Peter Michaels

Dear Mr, Michaels:   
     Short answer is that Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr. (name) is the absolutely correct way to address a former member of the House of Representatives.
    Now for a longer answer:

     #1 Current members of the US House address each other as Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr. (name).  That's the tradition. They don't use "Congressman" or "Represetative" as an honorific.
      So most formally you may address both current and former congressional representative as Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr. (name),  If you introduce a former member to someone ... you could then add that he/she was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 19XX to 20XX for the XXX Congressional District of (State)
... or something similiar.
       I've spoken to many Members of the House Representatives on just this point and while some like prefer "Representative (name)" or "Congressman (name)" .... all agree that Mr./Ms./Mrs. (name) is absolutely correct. 
    #2 On the other hand ... just to make sure everyone knows who they are .... current members do not object to being addressed as Representative (name) and Congressman (name).  I'd describe that as a "practice" ... it's unofficial ... and done at the preference of the individual.  It's not a rule one can safely apply to all.
    But after all that -- former members don't get a special honorific.
                    -- Robert Hickey

How To Address a Former Member of the US House of Representatives with Degrees?
    We need the correct salutation for a former congressman who may or may not have a formal Ph.D. but who has 45 honorary degrees.  Do we address him in a personal invitation as Dear “Dr. Surname”, “Mr. Surname”, “Congressman”, or drop the “Dear” altogether and put instead “To The Honorable First Name, Last Name”?
    -- Nancy Calvin

Dear Ms. Calvin,
    Holders of an honorary doctorate do not use "Dr." as an honorific.
    Most formally former members of the US House of Representatives are in conversation and in a salutation as Mr./Ms./Mrs. (name).
    Use "The Honorable (Full Name)" on his envelope and the address block of the letter.
He's "the Honorable" for life.
    If this is complicated, see pages 180-181 of my book.

    -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Retired Sheriff
       I will be sending a letter to a retired sheriff.  In the heading, he will be addressed as The Honorable Joseph Smith.  Should the salutation read:  Dear Sheriff Smith:?
        -- Gordon Ring

Dear Mr. Ring:
         When there is only one official holding an office at a time ... just one Mayor, one Chief of Police, one Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one Speaker of the House, one President of the United States ... former office holders don't continue the use of their former office's honorific. 
    Whereas ... Generals, Admiral, Judges, Senators ... of which there are many all at the same time ... DO continue to use their office's honorific in retirement.
    So ... Yes now and forever he will be addressed as  The Honorable Joseph Smith  .... but only the current sheriff would be addressed as Dear Sheriff (surname).  So ... in the salutation use Dear Mr. Smith.
    That's not to say friends and acquaintances might not call him
Sheriff informally and socially and to flatter him, but at the Court House he is definitely Mr.
                    -- Robert Hickey

Referring to Former Officials
By their Former Office in the Third Person?
       One thing I find missing is how one should reference a former United States Official in descriptive text or to a third party.  I notice that former Governor Huckabee is always introduced as Governor Huckabee on his TV show.  Is this correct, incorrect, or optional?  I assume it is correct to use their official titles when describing their actions in office.

        -- MLB

Dear MLB:
     Addresing Mike Huckabee as "Governor Huckabee" is not correct.
     Mike Huckabee would not be referred to as "Governor Huckabee" at the Governor's Mansion,
at the State Capital, in Washington, D.C., or in the U.S. Capital. He'd be Mike Huckabee, former Governor of ... or Mr. Huckabee.
    Perhaps the producers of the show are concerned everyone won't know who he is?
    Former officials who hold a position of which there is more than one at a time -- retired judges, retired ambassadors, retired generals, retired senators, retired bishops etc. -- use their “title” in every situation for the rest of their lives.
    But officials of which there there is only one at a time (The Governor,
The President of the United States, The Speaker of the House, The Secretary of State, The Surgeon General ...) don't continue use of their former title.
     They use what they were entitled before taking the one-at-a-time position. E.g., Dwight Eisenhower in retirement went back to General Eisenhower.  He was no longer The President". 
     Same with Colin Powell ... he's no longer addresses as "Secretary" ... he's General Powell. 
     Bill Clinton is now "Mr. Clinton." When you hear a TV journalist saying "President Clinton" it's a short-hand third-person phrase to quickly tell the viewer who is being discussed. It's not a form of address.  If they are directly addressing him that way it is incorrect.

                    -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former Member of a City Council?
      How do you address a letter to a former city council person?

        -- Zoning on AOL

Dear Zoning:
    The rule is "once an Honorable, always an Honorable."  So anyone elected to public office would be addressed (forever) on the envelope and on the letter as:
        The Honorable (First name + Last Name)

Note however:
    1) Not all municipalities of address the members of their council as "The Honorable." Most due, but some don't. So if you know he or she wasn't addressed that way (by local tradition) while in office I wouldn't do it now.
    2) "The Honorable" would always be used when writing the person as a former member of the city council, or if the letter is completely social -- like a wedding invitation. 
    However If he/she is your insurance broker, and you are writing to him/her about a claim from a flood in your basement, you might just use "Mr./Ms. (full name)."

                    -- Robert Hickey

How to Address an Envelope
To a Former Vice President?

    How do I address the envelope and what is the proper salutation and closing on the thank you note to Dick Cheney ... the former vice president of the United States?

    -- About to write a letter

     While in office vice presidents are addressed as Mr. Vice President and they don't continue that when they leave office.
     Envelope and address block on the letter:
         The Honorable (Full Name)

     The salutation would depend on what their highest former honorific.
     * Dick Cheney's was "Mr." so he is: Dear Mr. Cheney:
     * Walter Mondale and Albert Gore both went back to their highest former honorific ... Dear Senator (surname): ... which is used by former Senators.
     For the closing use the very formal: Very Respectfully,
                           -- 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.