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Use Mesdames, Mssrs. for two or more

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

Dear Miss Manners: I work for a company that specializes in wedding products for gay and lesbian couples and, because we offer wedding invitations and bill ourselves as “mother-approved shopping,” we often get questions about proper etiquette when addressing envelopes and wedding gifts to gay and lesbian couples.

Though this seems to be somewhat uncharted territory, I find that I am able to offer recommendations to my clients that follow the basic rules of respect, or that can be modified off of traditional etiquette for heterosexual unmarried couples or those married couples who do not share the same last names. With the recent shift in legal marriage, however, I have found myself stuck in how to best answer this question:

How do I address a wedding invitation to a lesbian (gay) married couple who have the same last name? Can one add in both names with something along the lines of Mrs. Sally & Betty Jones, or is it most proper to drop one name (Mrs. & Mrs. Betty Jones)? If so, how does one determine which name to drop?

Gentle Reader: “Mrs. and Mrs.” not only encounters the problem you mention, but it is jarring to those who know the traditional rule that “Mrs.” is never used with a lady’s first name. Furthermore, those who violate that rule do so to indicate divorce or widowhood, neither of which is appropriate here.

You should not be looking to the Mr. and Mrs. form, in which one person’s given name disappears, and which is increasingly avoided for that reason. Sally is not becoming Mrs. Betty Jones nor is Betty becoming Mrs. Sally Jones.

After all this carping, you will be surprised to hear that Miss Manners has a simple solution, which she could have come out with in the first place.

Use the plural form of “Mrs.” or, in the case of two gentlemen, the plural form of “Mr.” These are, respectively, “Mesdames” and “Mssrs.” (“The Mesdames Sally and Betty Jones,” “The Mssrs. Trevor and William Cartwright”).

All right, Miss Manners admits that these are odd plurals. But they are at least traditional and dignified.

Dear Miss Manners: I invited a couple for lunch. After accepting, the lady called and left a message on my answering machine saying that she would bring sandwiches, dessert, plates, napkins, silverware and cups. She requested that I have iced tea available.

I returned her call telling her that was unacceptable to me. I asked that, if she was unable to eat any particular food or was allergic to anything, I would prepare and serve the lunch as I had sufficient dishes, etc. I’m sure my tone of voice showed my frustration. How should I have handled this situation?

Gentle Reader: By thanking her for her offer, rather than declaring it unacceptable, but rejecting it just as firmly. Your friend is one of those people who, in the hope of being no trouble, makes a nuisance of herself.

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