How to Properly Address an Envelope on a Card
How to Properly Address Christmas, Birthday, or Holiday Cards
Below is a quick and easy lesson on addressing an envelope or card for Christmas, or any other holiday or occasion. I often see envelopes and holiday cards addressed incorrectly. The rules are easy to remember and you can avoid embarrassment by following them.
Don't Do This!
The Biggest Mistake in Addressing a Card Is Using an Apostrophe in the Last Name of the Recipient
How to Address an Envelope with Multiple Last Names
Now that many women are keeping their maiden names after they get married, many families now have more than one last name. For these trickier situations, I've made a handy table that should address all of the possible situations you may face.
- Typically, it doesn't matter whose name comes first on the envelope except when one spouse "outranks" the other—then the person with the higher rank should be listed first.
Proper Address Labels
Correct Form of Address
Married, informal address
Jane and John Doe
Married, informal address, she uses maiden name
Jane Kelly and John Doe
Married, formal address
Mr. and Mrs. Doe
Married, she uses maiden name
Mr. John Doe and Ms. Jane Kelly
Married, she uses maiden name, with children
The Doe/Kelly Family or The Doe and Kelly Family
Unmarried, living together
Mr. John Doe and Ms. Jane Kelly
When she outranks husband (elected office or military officer)
Senator Jane Kelly and Mr. John Doe
When she outranks husband (professional or educational degrees)
Dr. Jane Doe and Mr. John Doe
Both doctors (Ph.D. or Medical)
Drs. Jane and John Doe or Dr. Jane Doe and Dr. John Doe
Both doctors (Ph.D. or Medical), she uses maiden name
Dr. Jane Kelly and Dr. John Doe
The Honorable Kelly and Mr. John Kelly
Biggest Mistake When Addressing a Card or Envelope
The biggest mistake that I see when writing an address on a card is the improper use of the apostrophe. Apostrophes show possession. You are addressing the entire family (a plural), not something they possess.
Some might say that you could be referring to the house when you use an apostrophe in a label, e.g., The Edmondson's [house]. The problem is that you don't write to a house, but to those living in the house. Your best bet is no apostrophe.
Here is a basic example of an uncomplicated address:
Addressing an Envelope: Names Ending in S, SH, CH, X, or Z
It becomes a bit more complicated when you have names ending in "s, sh, ch, x or z". In these cases you add an "es" to refer to the entire family.
Remember, The Vix's or Jones's is incorrect!
Another Method of Address
If adding an "es" to the end of the family name sounds awkward, then you can address the letter to "The Vix Family" or "The Jones Family."
PO Box Addresses
Addressing an envelope to a PO Box is simple. Do the same thing you would do for a home address, except put the PO Box number where the street address would go. Here's an example of a PO Box address label.
More Helpful Tips for Addressing Envelopes
The United States Postal Service gives the following guidelines:
- Other than the ZIP + 4 code, punctuation may be omitted from the address block.
- City names must be spelled out completely.
- Place one space between the city, state, and ZIP. (Two spaces are preferred between state abbreviation and ZIP.)
- Always put the address and the postage on the same side of your mailpiece.
- On a letter, the address should be parallel to the longest side.
- Use capital or block letters
- At least 10-point type
- Simple type fonts
- Left justified
- Black ink on white, or light, paper
- No reverse type (white printing on a black background)
- If your address appears inside a window, make sure there is at least 1/8-inch clearance around the address. Sometimes parts of the address slip out of view behind the window and mail processing machines can’t read the address.
- If you are using address labels, make sure you don’t cut off any important information. Also, make sure your labels are on straight. Mail processing machines have trouble reading crooked or slanted information.
- Military Addresses: Overseas locations must contain APO or FPO designations along with two character "state" abbreviation of AE, AP or AA, (AE is used for armed forces in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Canada; AP is for the Pacific; and AA is used for the Americas excluding Canada) plus the ZIP (e.g., APO AE 09001-4567); domestic locations use only the approved city name, as listed in the City State file, and the state abbreviation and ZIP.
There is no use for an apostrophe in address labels. For more information about addressing your envelopes visit the U.S Postal Service website.
Questions & Answers
How do you properly address an envelope if a couple is married and has a child of their own, as well as another child from a previous marriage?
I would address the envelope:
Jane, John, and Mary Smith and Lisa Brown
(Mary and Lisa being the children)
How do you address someone who is divorced twice and the kids use the first husband's last name but the mother has the second husband's last name?
In this case, you can have a blended name, e.g., The Smith/Johnson Family
Can I just put Brown Family instead of adding an S on the last name on the envelope?
Yes, it's fine to say "The Brown Family". I prefer to add the article "the", but you don't have to.
Do you add "the" to a family name?
Yes, I would add a "the" to the beginning of the family name, e.g., The Johnsons.
When sending a Get Well Card for a judge who is a friend, how does one address the envelope?
The proper way to address a judge is, The Honorable (Last Name). If the judge is someone that you would consider a very close friend/family member and is not a formal person, you probably could get away with using their first and last name.
However, it might be a good idea to err on the more conservative side and address them as stated above. It is a sign of respect that they likely deserve.