In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
Deciding how to address wedding invitations can feel like walking into an etiquette minefield. You've got Emily Post on one shoulder and Gloria Steinem on the other, your mom was a bra-burner, but your mother-in-law is a traditionalist, and you're doing your best to avoid offending both the Millennials and the baby boomers. It's a tall order.
Many believe that addressing a married couple as Mrs. and Mr. John Smith is a tradition as old as time, but it's actually much more complicated. Historically, вЂњMrs.вЂќ was not an indication of marital status, but rather of social standing. Mrs. and Mr. are short for Mistress and Master, both terms that describe вЂњa person who governed servants or apprenticesвЂ¦ we might say a person with capital,вЂќ according to Dr. Amy Erickson. вЂњ'Mrs' was more likely to indicate a businesswoman than a married woman.вЂќ
So what changed? The media, of course. Novels of the mid-to-late 1700s depicted вЂњyoung gentry Misses and upper (single) servants titled Mrs.вЂќ Miss used to refer to children of the upper class. But then, вЂњsocially ambitious young single women used 'Miss' as a means to identify their gentilityвЂќ, and slowly the shift occurred. вЂњThe boundaries between the old and new styles are blurred, but Mrs did not definitively signify a married woman until around 1900.вЂќ
Jane Austen had a role to play, as well. In the 19th century, England was the only place in Europe where a woman took her husband's surname upon marriage. Jane Austen referred to married women in her books using their husbands' full names to establish seniority, as in вЂњMrs. John DashwoodвЂќ from Sense & Sensibility.
Even in the late 20th century, many women felt the practice of replacing a woman's name with her husband's was offensive. While it would be quite uncommon today for your neighbor to address you in passing as вЂњMrs. Bob Burger,вЂќ it's still viewed as proper wedding invitation etiquette to address a married couple as вЂњMrs. and Mr. Bob Burger.вЂќ There are etiquette guides that stretch for miles describing how to address everyone from вЂњa divorcee who is still using her former husband's nameвЂќ to вЂњa married couple, wife is a doctor.вЂќ What's strange is that this etiquette does not account for how people actually feel about their individual identities being subsumed into their partners'.
Jessica of Texas says, вЂњI cannot stand when mail is addressed to 'Mr. and Mrs. His Name.' In fact, I refuse to open it. I make him do it because that's not my name.вЂќ As for her preferred alternative, вЂњI'm perfectly happy with anything that acknowledges me as a separate person or simply addresses us as a family.вЂќ
Abby Farson Pratt, a calligrapher in Virginia, says вЂњI think most brides and grooms default to the patriarchal standard for names because it's tradition, it seems more formal, and there's an established rule book.вЂќ But she suggests that вЂњIf you're having a less formal wedding, just use people's names! Radical, I know.вЂќ
Cindy of Missouri took this approach. вЂњWe addressed our invitations just as we'd do any other mail-no titles, no formalities.вЂќ She suggests the following format:
- First Name Last Name for single people
- First Last & First Last for couples who don't share a last name; First & First Last for couples who do
- The ______ Family for the few people we invited who had kids
Some people elect to maintain the Mrs. and Mr., inserting them into the above formula where appropriate. But not Regina of Ohio: вЂњI didn't use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. at all! It made my mother-in-law very upset.вЂќ She laughs, вЂњAt least she assumed it was an etiquette faux pas on my part rather than a choice driven by feminism.вЂќ
See more: Wedding Traditions Debunked: The Bachelor Party
Erica of North Carolina says, вЂњI feel like the practice of erasing a woman's given name once she is married is simply the worst, and when people disregard what my actual name is and use my husband's name, it is super disrespectful.вЂќ She makes a great point: вЂњAdditionally, it is just easier to use each individual's name on the invite, as it guarantees there is no question about who is invited.вЂќ