The Protocol School of Washington

Robert Hickey, "Honor & Respect"

How to Address the Spouse of an Official

How to Address the Spouse of an Elected Official?

The new Vice President of my country, Bulgaria, is a woman.  I would be very grateful for your expert opinion on the question: How to address the husband of the Vice President when the Vice President is a woman?
– Milko Belev

Dear Mr. Belev:
Spouses of elected officials do not receive any special form of address based on their husband or wife’s office.

—-The husband of an official is addressed with whatever honorific to which he is entitled:
—-—-Mr. (Full Name)
—-—-Dr. (Full Name)
—-—-General (Full Name), USA

—-The wife of an official would be addressed as:
—-—-Mrs. (Last Name)
—-—-Ms. (Full Name)
—-—-Dr. (Full Name)    How to Address the Spouse of an Elected Official

Robert Hickey, "Honor & Respect"

Some think wives of elected officials get a special form of address and give the example of the wife of the President of the United States. While the wife of a President of the United States is described as the First Lady[and in the media they say ‘Today, First Lady (Name) welcomed visitors from XYZ to the White House for a luncheon in honor of …’] – She is not addressed as First Lady (Surname). She is correctly addressed as Mrs. (Surname).  The reason?  President is an elected office. First Lady is a role – not an elected office. In official situations that’s an important distinction.

The only spouses of officials who DO receive a special forms of address are in monarchies:

—-#1) The spouses of royal heads of state if they have no royal title get one when they marry the king, queen, duke or prince.

—-#2) Wives of vice royal representatives of a monarch (such as a lieutenant governor of a Canadian province) get a special form of address. Bad luck for the husbands of women lieutenant governors: they don’t any special form of address. Only wives do.

I know that’s a bit complicated, but I explain it fully in my book if you need more information.

– 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 the Surviving Spouse of a Deceased Elected U.S. Official?

For the widow of a former elected official, I am unsure of the form of address in writing on envelopes and invitations.   When he was alive the form of address was The Honorable John Smith and Mrs. Smith.    So now, with the death of her husband, is his widow The Honorable Mrs. John J. Smith? or is she simply Mrs. John J. Smith?   I know, of course, in conversation or a salutation, she is simply Mrs. Smith, or Jane.
– N.N.

Dear N.N.,
She continues to formally be:
——–Mrs. John J. Smith

A retired or former U.S. elected official continues to be The Honorable (Full Name) for life. But the spouses didn’t get a special form of address based when their official spouse was alive and don’t get one when their official spouse is deceased.

– Robert Hickey

Related Forms of Address: --------Boy --------Couples: Military --------Couples: Private Citizens --------Couples: U.S. Officials --------Couple, Same Sex --------Family --------First Names --------Girl --------Man or Woman, Social --------Woman, Married --------Miss --------Mrs. vs. Ms. --------Mx. --------Retiree --------Spouse of an Official --------Widow

Robert Hickey, "Honor & Respect"

When Should You Use the Forms of Address 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 Question Answered?

—-#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)  After checking the list and reading the posts, 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 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, I will post the question & answer – but leave out your name and change all the specifics.

— Robert Hickey 

Robert Hickey, "Honor & Respect"

The Protocol School of Washington (PSOW) was founded in 1988 and offers open-enrollment, classroom-based programs where students learn to become a licensed Intercultural Etiquette and Protocol Trainer, or can earn a certificate in operational protocol by completing Protocol Officer Training. Private, on-site training is also available to provide tailored training solutions. In 2020, PSOW launched online, instructor-led training to meet the needs of students worldwide.

PSOW has offices in: Washington, DC; Columbia, SC; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The school is nationally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) and provides international protocol, cross-cultural awareness, business etiquette, and image training preparing professionals to build lasting business relationships.


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