Visit our new site at

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - You can call me... Edition

We have a follow-up question from a newlywed whose parishoners don't know what to call her...

Hello! Thanks for the words of wisdom earlier this year as I prepared to get married. We had a great wedding last month and are working our way through the thank you notes. We know that thank you notes and holiday cards will be our opportunity to inform people about our married names. Both of us have hyphenated our last names. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname and Bride Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname. So that means we are now the Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname Family. The return address on the thank you cards reads "The Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname Family." We are just starting to get Christmas cards addressed to: Mr. and Mrs. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname. This drives me insane because I'm offended that I'm now only identified as "Mrs. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname" for two reasons. The first reason, of course, is the disappearance of my first name and the second reason is that it completely ignores my title as an ordained minister. I'm not really a big fan of formal etiquette and titles but his side really is (which made addressing the wedding invitations oh so much fun...). They were extremely concerned that we every single military title correct for our guests, which we did. Now, I'm finding they have no regard for my civilian honorific and that bothers me.

Matriarchs, please help me put this into perspective. Do I just try to give them the right example this year and hope they'll pick up for next year and try my best not to let it bother me it if they don't?

My understanding from this website is that on envelopes we should be addressed as The Reverend Bride Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname and Mr. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname. In ten years will I be so over this that I'll just be going by Mrs. instead of Rev.?

I think I got pushed over the edge today by a card sent to me at work from someone who was a member of my home church and it was addressed:

Mr. and The Rev. Mrs. Groom Hisfamilynameonly

The Rev. Mrs. made me want to vomit.

Please help! 

Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart, was the first to respond:

I remember this phase of life so well!  Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and my beloved and I were wed, we had the same experience and the same laser-like attention to the matter from people who thought it all over terribly carefully and erred on the side of leaving off my title and my first name….just like you’re experiencing!  My beloved and I are both clergy and for some reason, his title would be retained and mine wouldn’t. Gag.  I even had a member of the congregation he serve write me a letter in which she ruminated on paper about how to address the envelope and future Christmas cards and said, “I assume that you’re just so delighted to “finally” be married, that I naturally surmise that you would love to be called Mrs.Your Beloved’s First and Last Names.”  “Well,” I muttered while carefully replacing the note in the envelope, “you assumed incorrectly.”

I think continuing to model your preferred example is the best route to take. Maybe the conversation will even come up over eggnog in the next few weeks and you’ll have the chance to speak your mind, lovingly, of course!

Kathryn adds:

As someone who suffered through this with in-laws who were incensed that he married a FEMALE minister (the horror!) and who has seen all kinds of hack jobs of titles and last names let me offer you this advice: let it go.

Make sure your return address has it correct for those who care to get it correct, and then enjoy the ones that get it right. Do all you can to get over the ones who don't. They won't..... ever. Maybe for each one who gets it wrong the two of you could put a $1 in the 'date night' jar.

Sharon, blogging at Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offers the following:

You have raised a situation that is important to you, so my answer will be "YES" to the question:  "Do I just try to give them the right example this year?"  I suggest that you use return address labels that more explicitly spell out the "hers and his" designation, with titles, rather than the  "hyphenated-names family" designation.  Each year, you could put a blurb in the November church newsletter that says: "Christmas cards to the pastor's family may be sent to [insert preferred forms of address here]."

I'm hearing that you feel some disrespect from your spouse's family and, possibly, there is a power struggle beginning to simmer.  If so, this is about more than how they use your clergy title and how they address your Christmas card.  We are here for you, with advice and hugs, as this develops.

And "YES" to the part about "try[ing] my best not to let it bother me it if they don't?"  A very big "YES!"  Please.  And don't simply "try" to do your best. Do not allow this to bother you even for one month, much less ten years.  Really.  Just don't.  Please consider whether this is one of those times when it is better to be loving than to be correct. 

Wishing you fewer barf bags and more mistletoe,

And from Muthah+ blogging at Stone of Witness

Write out your name the way you WANT to be called (whether it follows the rules or not) and stick to it.  Keep putting it out there and the folks who care about you and love you will use it.  Others will be knuckleheads and ignore them.  I have found that military are the worst about titles themselves but once they are out of their comfort zone--all are civilians!

Remember us revgals are still new in history.  In most mainline traditions we have had only 2 generations of ordained women in our midst.  It takes a long time for patterns change.  In my lifetime we have finally gotten an abbreviation for adult women who do not chose to use their husband's name--Ms.  Before that I was called "Miss" long after I had graduated from maryjanes and crinolines.  So it is still incumbent upon us to help the public to understand what is proper address.

I am from a tradition in which male clergy are called "Father". I hate the title--my theology and psychology rebels against it and the parallel "Mother".  But it seems to be what people are using here in my new home.  It is something I am having to "endure".  You are right, in 20 years it won't matter.  But I do think that we can influence how titles and terms are developed in our communities when we gently correct and just say "I prefer...."

Do you have experience with this issue?  A successful strategy for teaching people what you'd like to be called?  Let's talk about it.

A blessed Christmas to you all+


  1. After nearly 20 years of marriage, during which my name has not changed one letter, my parents hyphenated my name for me anyhow--until I became a pastor this last summer. Suddenly they remembered the one and only name I have ever had, the one they gave me. Others, including church members, address cards to Mr & Mrs Grooms name. I personally ignore it all--and feel some sympathy for those who struggle with what to call me, let alone how to spell it all. My DH and I know who we are, as do my children. In my experience, corrections are usually ineffective; clear introductions (I'm Pastor my name and this is my husband his name) the most graceful. Rejoice in your new partnership!

  2. In an older tradition, Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname is a wife, and Mrs. Hername Hislastname is a widow. Chances are that people are either 1. Clueless, or 2. trying to be correct, by an older formality. And no one seems to know how to append "The Reverend" to any name or title.

  3. (First, I left this comment thinking I would appear as Songbird, but I guess since I merged all my Google accounts together, you see my name now.)

    I think the key is gracious repetition. This time last year I was trying to communicate a name change (from married back to maiden), and I took advantage of Christmas to do it even though I really didn't feel like doing cards. Now this year's cards from others are coming, and some are still coming to Martha Voldemort, while some are coming to Martha Spong. You would think the Facebook friends, who have seen Martha Spong flash in front of them a million times, would be the ones to get it right. But they are not. And I did get one card, from someone who definitely knows about my divorce and name change, addressed to Mrs. Martha (Spong) Voldemort, complete with parentheses, which I do not believe were ever used my Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt or Miss Manners.
    This is not meant to be a rant, merely a case study.
    Since this is not my first divorce (go me!), I have been through this before, although without the additional complication of when and whether people use "The Reverend" in writing to me. In those days, teachers, doctors and especially my children's friends, continued to call me Mrs. LastNameofMyKids. I concluded that as long as they meant it politely, it was preferable to "Hey, you!" or other worse possibilities.
    Finally, if you're sending me a card, I would rather you dispensed with the title and just sent it to Martha Spong, so that's what I put on the return address stickers last year. This is one area of life where I'm prepared to become less formal.
    Also, I'm never changing my name again. Next time, someone else can do it. :-)

  4. I have nothing to add to this conversation, but want to congratulate Martha on finding the best possible pseudonym for the ex! :-)

  5. I'm with Teri, I laughed right out loud and it isn't even eight a.m. yet, so that's a record. LYMI, Martha.
    With regard to titles and families; from the moment my dissertation was accepted my dear mother, peace be upon her, addressed everything to "Dr. Crimson". And when I was ordained, by contrast, she was so offended she not only added the "Rev.", she rescinded the "Dr." THAT was supposed to "larn me," I guess.

    Dear newlywed -- do it right yourself, and let it go. Life is too short.

  6. What a great discussion! And as someone who has had to deal with her own name issues, I sympathize with you. I dont' have any other advice, what you have here already is great, but I was just gonna add that if you wanted to have a little fun: When I was in seminary, we had a whole host of seminarians marrying other seminarians, and so we had lots of Rev. and Rev. couples--and one of the first women who got married, a good friend of mine, we jokingly referred to as "Reverend Mrs. Smith", because she was thrilled to be married, but kept the title. What started out as a fun joke (which the bride loved, btw), quickly caught on at the seminary--and now all kinds of women there say i'm "Reverend Mrs."
    I don't know how this would fare in the real world, but it could be a fun little comeback when someone just calls you Mrs. or Mrs. Groomsname.

  7. My 2 cents - I've been married (21 years) longer than I've been ordained (6 months). I personally would never expect my family or in-laws to address mail to "Pastor" or "Reverend." Of course, many of my relatives come from traditions that don't ordain women. They still love me even though I'm ordained, and I'm not pushing the issue. In fact, I was touched that my aunt who comes from a strict anabaptist church, with no clergy (just elected elders) and strong restrictions on the role of women, came to my ordination. So lack of title on on cards from family (and friends) doesn't bother me.

    I've started to get some cards from my congregations. I'm the first female pastor for them, but they seem to be handling it nicely: most cards are addressed "Pastor Ramona and Family" or "Pastor Hayes and Family" or just "The Hayes Family." All highly acceptable in my book.

    The thing that's tripping me up is how to sign my own cards. I'm used to signing "Husband, Wife, kids-in-birth-order." Now it's "Pastor Ramona, Husband, and son." (The boy is the only child left at home.) I have to check and re-check: Did I make my husband the pastor!?! ;)

    Yes, there will come a time when when you're so over this. In the meantime, make sure all your out-going correspondence states the way you prefer to be addressed. Honestly, most people are simply unsure how to address a formal envelope at all, let alone when there are titles to be included. There will be some who will continue to ignore your gentle reminders, and maybe an in-law or two who will be snarky about it - let it roll off your back.

  8. Heads explode across the world as people try to figure out how to address xmas cards to me and my same gendered partner.

    My favorite:
    The Rev. Myfirstname herfirstname HERlastname.

  9. It's a pain to let it go, but that's all you can do. You can't control anything, but what you put out there and your own reaction to what you get back. All the extra cortisol isn't worth it.

    Oh and it is INDEED a pain to get military titles correct, but not have them care about your title. We get mail addressed to

    Major Hisfirstname Ourlastname's Family
    Major and Mrs. Ourlastname
    Major and Mrs. Hisfirstname Ourlastname

    Only informal greetings come to

    Mr and Mrs Ourlastname

    But people from my church do write

    Pastor Myfirstname and Hisfirstname Ourlastname

    Only family wedding invites come to
    Major Him and Reverend Me Ourlastname and Mastor Boo (our son)

    I'm with Martha in that it's all about the attitude in how they're calling me, not what they're calling me.

  10. "Finally, if you're sending me a card, I would rather you dispensed with the title and just sent it to Martha Spong ... I'm never changing my name again."

    You go, Martha! I remarried (and divorced) when my children were still living at home, so I went back to their last name -- Jacobs.

    Being divorced was a problem in the 1980s for the district committee voting whether to ordain me, and my advisor/mentor was pacing the floor while they voted, saying, "Those turkeys! This wouldn't be a problem if you were a man!" But "everyone knows about divorced women," right? I was flabbergasted at the assumption. And divorced twice? They voted "yes" to ordination because the divorces happened before the call. (Interesting logic.)

    Now, I only add "the Rev." when signing the books at funerals, so the family will know the connection. Otherwise, I too dispense with the title and choose to be simply "Bonnie Jacobs."

    If I ever marry again, I won't change my name. And if the groom objects to my keeping my first husband's name, we won't get married. This has been my name for 52 years now, and I don't intend to lose me in a name change.

  11. SB....bwhahahahaha--LOVE the name for ex.

    I have been through what Martha has been through, changing a name back, (before I was ordained) and it was very much a re-learning process--as your current name change is. Unfortunately, some folks cannot get past their own stuff to respect your wishes; others will but it will take them a while. Just keep modeling how you want it.

    I do get the lack of respect thing--I am also in a tradition where the (male) clergy are called "Father." I don't particularly want to be called "Mother" but it makes me a little crazy when it's Fr. A and Fr. B and Fr. C and Firstname (me) and people don't get why that matters.

  12. Rev. Dr. Mom - I completely agree! That is the only context in which I insist on Mother (firstname) (I am also fine with Father firstname) - but if you use titles for some, you use titles for all.

    More broadly, titles are hard and ever shifting. Make your preferences clear through modeling what you want, make sure people close to you who might be asked are clear on your preferences (this might mean a chat with closer family members and key parish leaders), and let them help you model and answer questions. Then let the chips fall where they may, and just try to enjoy it. There's holy humour in it all...

  13. Oh, Martha Spong, I love you!

    Such great, gracious, and funny responses here. It sounds like most of us have been there done that, in one way or the other. My husband and I are both ministers, and we both changed our names (using my last name as our middle and his last name as our last, and we both use all three names, but without a hyphen - o hai, we like to confuse people!), and we get every possible permutation of our name, including someone recently who referred to us only by my last name, which was delightful. At this point, I am simply not surprised by what comes in the mail or even what comes out of people's mouths, though I will never get used to the occasional person introducing us as "our minister and his wife" (we've been co-pastors here for 11 years now), and we do correct that one.

    At any rate, I think the bottom line is what has already been said - model what you want and let it go.

    I do differ, though, with the suggestion to use your title in your return address. My understanding is that a minister never assigns the honorific to herself. I might call myself Pastor Stacey (though I usually don't) but I never introduce myself as Reverend Stacey or Reverend Duke or Reverend Stacey Simpson Duke (at any rate "Reverend" technically shouldn't be used without a "the" as in "The Reverend Stacey Simpson Duke" and I certainly don't refer to myself that way), just as a judge wouldn't introduce herself as the Honorable Jane Jones. I will address correspondence to other clergy with "The Reverend" on the address line, but I never have "Reverend" in my own return address.

  14. We are a Rev & Rev SameLastName couple, and almost no one gets my title in there. When they do, I give them a mental gold star and a smile. When they don't, I just let it go.

    If I sent Christmas cards anymore, I might have another opinion...

    Songbird, that is a genius nickname. I snorted.

  15. I was married six months after ordination and my name didn't change at all. Most of my parishioners knew my husband only by his first name, but somehow one of them found out his last name and sent us a Christmas card addressed to Mr & Mrs HisName. My parents-in-law always address mail to Rev MyName and Mr HisName. A recent invitation to a clergy event was addressed to Rev and Mr MyName from which I enjoyed a giggle. Peace to all, Rachel.

  16. I was married six months after ordination and my name didn't change at all. Most of my parishioners knew my husband only by his first name, but somehow one of them found out his last name and sent us a Christmas card addressed to Mr & Mrs HisName. My parents-in-law always address mail to Rev MyName and Mr HisName. A recent invitation to a clergy event was addressed to Rev and Mr MyName from which I enjoyed a giggle. Peace to all, Rachel.

  17. I feel your pain but I suspect my husband feels it more acutely. Let me explain...we're both Revs but I'm the only one with a hyphenated last name. People have NO clue how to address things to us so they often err with "The Revs Christina & Matt Whitehouse-Suggs"...which just cracks me up (thank God Matt has a good sense of humor, too)! Most often, we call ourselves "The Whuggs" in jest but we got several Christmas cards this year addressed as such which delighted us.

    I rarely use my title and don't particularly care if others do or not since my calling and vocation aren't contingent on the title or others' use of it. And I strongly agree with all the other sisters here - let it go. Those who get it, will. Those who don't or won't, ignore 'em. It's not worth the stress or ulcers. :)

  18. FWIW - I love the suggestion that you build up a date night fund out of all the wrongly addressed correspondence - at least you'll have some neat dates!

  19. Well, I was married for over 30 years before ordination and now usually letters are addressed to The Rev and Mr Hisname. However, where I am in South Africa, there is a very high church tradition and male priests are definitely Father (even amongst themselves), which means as Rev Dr Mom said "Father A, Father B, Father C and Rev Pat." Very irritating. But there are other ways it is dealt with. My parishioners simply call me Reverend - or if they are being very friendly (especially the youth) Rev -- "Hi Rev" echoes across the street. But people I pass as I walk to church call me Father, and this is very common! I grin and bear it realising culture cannot change so fast. (I came from Zimbabwe 4 years ago to be ordained here as there they don't even discuss ordaining women!) Otherwise I get "Sister" and, thank goodness, never "Mother" (men just can't get that it isn't the same as Father). However, a friend of mine enumerated the titles we tend to get called and says her favourite is definitely "Revenue"!


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.