How to Address a Former President

—-Envelope or a letter’s address block:
—-—-The Honorable
—-—-(Full Name)

—-—-—-Or a bit less formally:
—-—-—-—-The Honorable (Full Name)

—-—-Dear Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname)—-#1

—-—-Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname)——–#1

—-#1) Traditionally former presidents go back to the form of address to which they were entitled prior to taking office. For example, in retirment Dwight  Eisenhower was correctly addressed as General (Full name) on the envelope and as Dear General (Surname) in the salutation.  After Harry Truman left the presidency he directed others to address him as Mr. Truman.
—-—-For more on this traditional form of address, see the next post Is a Former President Addressed as President (Name)?
How to Address a Former President

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

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:
I’m going to give you the most traditional answer to this.

Yes …. in interviews with former presidents, reporters typically address them as President (Surname) – President Obama, President Bush and President Clinton.

But …. it’s not traditionally correct.  The traditional rule is that former holders of one-person-at-a-time offices go back to the form of address to which they were entitled prior to assuming office. Like all U.S. officials elected to office in a general election, former president’s continue to be addressed as the Honorable (Full Name) for life.  But ‘President’ is not a personal rank one receives, uses while in office, and keeps when one leaves office.

Here’s the WHY behind the correct form:

—–As I noted, there is a traditional pattern for any office for which there is only-one-office-holder-at-a-time. With officials such as:
—–—–the mayor of a city
—–—–the governor of a state
—–—–the speaker of a house
—–—–the chief justice of a high court
—–—–the president of the USA
—–… only the current office holder is addressed with the ‘title’.  Formers are no longer The person. They are out of office.

Elevated forms of address are courtesies of the office.  A former-office-holder is no longer due the courtesies we extend to the current office holder: elevated precedence, better seats at events, big corner office, great parking spot and … special form of address.  Those stay with the office and the current office holder.

A former one-office-holder-at-a-time now speaks with the authority of a private citizen. We honor former office holder’s service, but the ‘elevated forms of address’ –– which acknowledges the responsibilities and duties of office — belong only to the current office holder.

With offices of which are many office-holders at a time … senators, admirals, judges, etc. addressing ‘formers’ with their former honorific is 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 The (one-at-a-time officeholder) at a time.”

— Robert Hickey

How to address a former President

Dear Mr. Hickey,
Yes, but everyone uses the title President that way.
______________— Anna McDonald, Stafford, Virginia

Dear Ms. McDonald:
Are presidents of organizations and companies addressed as President (Surname)?  Do other former presidents keep being President forever?  President is not typically used as an honorific and formers go back to being identified in the manner they were before.

Being president of the United States is a role, not a permanent rank one attains and keeps as one’s personal property. When being interviewed after leaving office, reporters should address them with a form of address supported by the role they are in the day they are interviewed.

What’s so disrespectful with addressing them as who they are today?  The founders included “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States” in Article One of the Constitution.  I wonder if some might argue that this sentiment would apply to permanent titles.  The only one that is traditional is “The Honorable (Full Name)” to acknowledge service as an elected official.

— Robert Hickey

Related Posts: --------Acting --------Candidate for Office --------Deceased --------Designate --------Elect --------Former --------The Honorable, Use of --------Interim --------The Late, Use of --------Nominee --------Pro Tempore --------Retiree

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

How to Address a Former President in Conversation?

Greeting from Canada. I will meet President Obama in a few weeks. What should I call him when I meet him?  I am going to introduce him before he speaks. What do I call him then?  Mr. Obama or President Obama? Thanks for your help.
—————- – Politico, Toronto

Hi Politico:
As a holder of a one-person-at-a-time office – a former President goes back to the forms of address to which he or she was entitled before assuming office.  Barack Obama was a U.S. Senator, so he can go back to Senator Obama, but many people think that seems odd. It would also be correct to simply address him as Mr. (Name).

In a introduction use something like:
—-It is my pleasure to introduce the Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States from Year-to-Year.

You will hear the media say President Obama 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. it is not.

In conversation address him as:
—-Mr. Clinton

If you introduce someone to your guest, say:
—-Mr. Obama may I present…

— Robert Hickey

Forms of Address: How a conversation begins can have a huge impact on how the conversation - even the entire relationship - develops.

How to Address an Invitation to a Former President?

I am addressing a wedding invitation to George and Laura Bush. I understand, that the outer envelope would be addressed as follows:
—-Mailing envelope:
The Honorable George W. Bush

—-—-and Mrs. Laura Bush
—-Would the inner envelope be addressed:
—-—-Mr. and Mrs. Bush
—————————-– Many thanks, Claudia

Dear Ms. Engle,
Looks good.

#1) Officials get their name as a unit. So it’s correct to write his name fully, not combined with another name.

#2) During her time in the White House Mrs. Bush used “Mrs. Laura Bush”  – perhaps to define herself from another First Lady Mrs. Bush – Barbara Bush.  Tradition would say that when a couple uses the same surname the wife goes by Mrs. (Surname).  So both are good.  I vote for the the traditional one below.
—-Social envelope:
The Honorable George W. Bush

—-—-and Mrs. Bush

—-Inside envelope:
—-—-Mr. and Mrs. Bush

— Robert Hickey

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

How To List a Former President in a Program?

We have an event coming up 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?
————– SS., ABC Association, Washington, DC

Dear SS:
Use the official form of the name.  Former presidents are addressed as The Honorable (Full Name):
—-—-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 suggest you avoid the word former since it sounds so has-been.  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

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"

When Should You Use the Forms on this Page?

You can use these forms of address for any mode of communication: addressing a letter, invitation, card or Email. (If there are differences between the official and social forms of address, I will have mentioned the different forms.)  The form noted in the salutation is the same form you say when you say their name in conversation or when you greet them.

Not Finding Your Answer?

—-#1)  At right on desktops, at the bottom of every page on tablets and phones, is a list of all the offices, officials & topics covered on the site.

—-#2)  If you don’t see the official you seek included or your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day or so (unless I am traveling.)  Note: I don’t have mailing or Email addresses for any of the officials and I don’t keep track of offices that exist only in history books.

—-#3)  If I think your question is of interest to others, Sometimes I post the question  – but always change all the specifics.

— Robert Hickey 

Robert Hickey author of "Honor & Respect"