10 Mar 2023

Etiquette for newlyweds

The wedding is over, the honeymoon a distant memory, and you’re ready to launch yourself into the world as a married couple. You will also need to make decisions about how you want to be addressed. Here are some simple recommendations to help you negotiate the post-marriage minefield:

Socialising as a Couple

• When introducing your partner to a group of friends (at a party for example), always indicate the marital relationship (“This is my wife Marian”, “This is my husband James”, or “This is my partner Eleanor”). This will avert any potential social embarrassment (unsolicited flirting, slighting remarks about the partner when they’ve left the social circle, and so on).

• Try to cut loose in social situation and don’t develop a clinging over-dependence on your spouse.

Traditionally, married couples were always seated apart at formal dinner parties, except for during their first year of marriage. This convention reflected the willingness of society to see married couples as two individuals, rather than a unit that is joined at the hip. These long-established formalities now no longer prevail, but you can still take the initiative and socialise freely,

• Keep your eyes open for people who are on their own, and make sure they don’t feel excluded by couples.

• Be careful that your body language isn’t sending the wrong message. Handholding, touching, or huddling together will broadcast that you’re an impregnable couple, with no interest in anyone else. Concentrate on looking outwards, not turning inwards.

• Don’t use pet names in public or litter your conversation with endearments. This kind of language is very exclusive; it is guaranteed to make the people around you feel like spare parts. While it is certainly important to ‘claim’ your marital relationship, this can be done very discreetly, with a passing reference to your ‘wife’, ‘husband’ or ‘partner’.

New Names

Both opposite and same-sex couples are now entitled to change their names on marriage. They can opt to retain their original surnames, or the couple can create their own double-barrelled surname by using both of their original surnames. Men have the same rights as women to take their partner’s surname.

The British marriage certificate states the surnames of the parties prior to their marriage and is the only supporting evidence required for either party, or both, to change their surname. The same applies to civil partnership certificates.

If the couple adopts a double-barrelled name that does not derive from their surnames, a change of name by deed poll is required.

Name changes are not an inevitable part of being married, and many couples will choose to retain their own surnames. Women may also decide that they do not want to be distinguished by a pronoun that denotes their married status and opt to use ‘Ms’ instead.

Joint Forms of Address

Traditionally, invitations to private functions were addressed solely to the wife. If an invitation was to a public function, it was conventionally addressed to the husband and sent to his official address. These old-fashioned customs reflect a long-vanished age, when wives were firmly in charge of the domestic sphere, and husbands went out into the professional world to work. Today, it is expected that social invitations will be sent to both the husband and wife for both private and public functions.

Conventionally, a husband and wife were addressed as Mr and Mrs John Debrett. However, many wives today find this form of address demeaning and do not like feeling subsumed into by the husband’s name, even if they have chosen to use it. They may, therefore, opt for the following forms, in descending order of formality:

Mr and Mrs Debrett

Mr John and Mrs Mary Debrett (conventionally the male partner appears first)

John and Mary Debrett (it is quite acceptable to reverse the order in which these forenames appear – Mary and John Debrett)

Same-sex couples can choose from the following forms:

Mr James and Mr Owen Sackville
Ms* Emma and Ms* Caroline Meadows

James and Owen Sackville

Emma and Caroline Meadows

*Women may choose to both use ‘Mrs’ to denote their married state

Couples with professional titles should use the following form:

The Reverend William and Mrs Sarah Parker

Mr William and The Reverend Sarah Parker

Dr Michael and Mrs Elizabeth Summers
Mr Michael and Dr Elizabeth Summers

If they are being invited to an event in an official capacity, then the invitee with the relevant professional status should be named first.


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