Name placement concerns
Q Please confirm that proper etiquette regarding the placement of a woman’s name when listed with her husband has not been changed. When using first names, the woman’s name should appear first. It should be Mary and John Smith, not John and Mary Smith. The man’s first name belongs next to his last name. The New York Times still follows this standard but I am dismayed to see that many local papers do not.
A You are absolutely correct that this was once the case. Traditionally, a man’s first and surname were not separated (Jane and John Smith). Eventually, the fact that the surname is her surname, as well, eliminated this tradition and the order of the names does not matter. Either way is acceptable today.
Q We have been invited to a party at someone’s home with a dress code on the invitation: “cocktail attire.” I don’t own anything very dressy and would have to buy something. Before I do, can you tell me what this means?
A Dress codes can be very confusing. The best guess would be that the expectation is that women wear dressy cocktail dresses (street length, not long gowns) or dressy suits, and men wear dark suits with a shirt and tie. However, since hosts often simply mean “no jeans, shorts or casual clothing” it’s probably best to call your hosts and ask if they are requesting truly dressy attire so that you know how to plan. If you don’t feel comfortable asking, then do your best to accessorize something you already own to make it a little dressier — dressier shoes and jewelry, a smaller bag, a tank top with a suit instead of a business shirt, or wear a dress you wear to work that is not cotton or denim but is made of a more fluid fabric. The best bet for your husband is to go with the suit and tie and not wear corduroy or khakis or a shirt and sweater or a sport coat.
Q I will be graduating this spring and am excited to have job interviews coming up. How do I address those interviewing me? For example, if the person interviewing me introduces herself as Ann Brown, do I call her Ann? And I have the same question for if I get a job: do I automatically use first names?
A You would address those interviewing you by their title and last name unless they ask you to use their first name. The same is true when you start a job — you call your boss Ms. Brown until she suggests you call her Ann, and the same with any other company executives or people in the organizational hierarchy up a notch from your job title. You would, however, use first names for peers, unless the company or organization is so formal that everyone calls everyone else by a title and last name. You’ll quickly figure out the protocol by listening carefully to how new colleagues address one another.
Have a question of etiquette? Send it to Catherine Michaels in care of arts [at] hersamacorn.com.