How to Address a Former President

—-Envelope or a letter’s address block:
—-—-The Honorable—-#3
—-—-(Full Name)
—-—-(Address)

—-—-—-Or a bit less formally:
—-—-—-—-The Honorable (Full Name)—-#3
—-—-—-—-(Address)

—-Salutation:
—-—-Dear Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname)—-#1
—-—-
Dear President (Surname)#2

—-Conversation:
—-—-Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname)——–#1
—-—-
President (Surname)——-#2

—-#1) Traditionally former presidents go back to the form of address to which they were entitled prior to taking office. The logic was that it was a one-person-at-a-time office so only the current office holder would get the forms of address. For example, in retirement 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.
—-#2) The contemporary practice is to orally address and refer to former presidents as President (Surname) in conversation or in a salutation.  NOTE: The current president is the only one to be identified as The President or addressed as Mr. President.
—-#3) In the writing on an envelope or a letter’s address block — the Honorable (Full Name) is correct for a former president.  As noted use this form also in a program or in a formal acknowledgment from the stage.

—-
—-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:
As you note, the contemporary practice is to address former presidents as President (Surname)in conversation.  The current president is the only one identified as The President or addressed as Mr. President.  In writing for a former president use the Honorable (Full Name) on an envelope, address block on a letter, in a program or in a formal introduction made from the stage.

For those interested the traditional form, here goes:

Today former presidents are typically addressed and identified as as President (Surname) – President Obama, President BushPresident Clinton and President Trump.

But …. the traditional rule was 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 do 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.

—–The traditional pattern for any office for which there is only-one-office-holder-at-a-time 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.  Former-office-holder are no longer due the same courtesies we extend to the current office holder: elevated precedence & seating, the big corner office, a great parking spot and … the same 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 an esteemed  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 traditional form I’d 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

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:
The contemporary practice is to address former presidents as President (Surname) in conversation. The current president is the only one to be identified as The President or addressed as Mr. President. As noted elsewhere on this page, in writing the Honorable (Full Name) is correct for a former president. Use the Honorable on an envelope, address block on a letter, in a program or in a formal introduction. But in conversation it’s O.K. to use President (Name) orally.

— 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
—-—-(Address)
—-Would the inner envelope be addressed:
—-—-President Bush 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.  On the envelope the Honorable is used. On an inside envelope you use the conversational form … thus switching to President Bush.

#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).  Both are good.  I vote for the the traditional one below.
—-Social envelope:
——–
The Honorable George W. Bush

—-—-and Mrs. Bush
—-—-(Address)

—-Inside envelope:
—-—-President Bush 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
—-–__–or
—-—-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”