How to Address a Former Official

How to Address a Former Official

NOTE: I have included guidance on how to address many former officials on the page on addressing a current official.  Find the page on the current official in the list How to Address on this page.  Then look for a post on How to Address a Former?  Below are the general guidelines of the issue:

—-#1) Former Officials:
—-—-A. Continue: If a former official had a title that many people had at the same time – doctor, ambassador, military rank, judge or senator – they can continue to use it socially in retirement.
—-—-B. Don’t ContinueIf they held an office which is held by only one person at a time –  president of a university, chairman of a board, commandant of a insitution, mayor of a city, etc. – they go back to the form of address to which they were entitled prior to taking office.
——–C. Use in a New Job: If retirees are in a new job, then they should use a form of address supported by their new job and not based on their former title/rank. It is a misrepresentation. They should use a title/rank based on the current position – not a former one. How to Address a Former Official


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—-#2) More Than One Title: Once upon a time – when a person retired it was the end of their working life. Today people retire from one role and begin another, retire, and begin yet another. Thus some people will apparently have several titles. For this situation, see People with Two Titles.

—-#3) Military | Retired or Left Before Retirement: There is a difference between the two when it comes to forms of address. For those who (A) are fully retired from the U.S. Armed services, see Retired Military. For those who (B) have served – but left the service before full retirement – see Veteran.

— Robert Hickey How to Address a Former Official


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

How to Include My Former Positions On My Current Card?

I am a former City Commissioner of Parks and am now a government relations consultant. For my business card, what can I put on it? How do I identify myself as a former commissioner ?
—————-– PN

Dear PN,

—–#1) A Professional’s Card: A business card contain all the information the other person needs to be in contact with you after the interaction in which you presented your card. It isn’t your resume/CV.  It is only about ‘Let’s be in touch. – Here is how.”   This is the style of card people who charge the most tend ot have.

—————Your Name
—————Your Expertise / Company Name
—————How to contact you: Addresses and numbers

—–#2) A Card That is Promotional: Often speople have cards listing services, products, slogans, photos and all sorts of other information. This is not a bad thing – but has a sales aspect that the Professional’s Card does not.  This style of card is what sales representative tend to have.

I suggest you use #1. I know a government relations consultant who was the City Commissioner of Zoning. His former position is not on his card but, he makes sure everyone knows of his experience and how it would be useful to them $$$$$. I bet you can do the same.

—————– Robert Hickey

Mr. Hickey,
One more thing. Is it appropriate for me to be addressed as ‘Commissioner (Name)’ at my new job? I’ve heard it said that ‘once a Commissioner, always a Commissioner’
—————– PN

Dear PN,

———#1) Official Use: I’ve never heard ”once a Commissioner, always a Commissioner”. Some offices come with a personal rank . These include ambassadors, doctors, military officers, bishops, and judges. Their form of address travels with them.

Being addressed as ‘Commissioner’ stayed with the job of being City Parks Commissioner.  Most offices don’t come with a personal rank that the former office holder keeps. The former official goes back to what he/she was before holding office. Their replacement gets the “title’ for as long as they hold office.

———#2Social Use: As an informal practice –friends who want to acknowledge your service may wish to orally address you as Commissioner (Name) on the golf course … but it’s unofficial, casual, and not in writing.  As long as there are no current commissioners in the group there’s not much harm done.

– Robert Hickey How to Address a Former Official


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

Is a Person Still The Honorable When Working as Something Else?

I have a question regarding a former judge who by his own choice returned to private practice. When he was a judge he was the Honorable (Full Name). Is he still addressed in writing as the Honorable (Full Name) and in conversation as Judge (Name)? Would that be inappropriate now that he is a lawyer in private practice?
———————-–- Mark

Hi Mark, How to Address a Former Official
Two-part answer:

—-#1) The general rule is ‘once ‘the Honorable’, always ‘the Honorable’. So, addressing a social envelope to a retired judge would be as follows:
——–—-The Honorable (Full Name)
—-—-Retired judges are socially addressed in conversation as ‘Judge (Surname)’. In a social salutation you would address a retired judge as ‘Dear Judge (Surname)’.

—-#2) However, if a retired or former official (who has assumed another form of employment for pay) is not necessarily accorded the courtesies of a current or fully-retired official when acting in a subsequent professional context. A judge who has assumed another position – e.g., returned to private practice and is acting as counsel in litigation – is addressed & identified on a business envelope in the style of an attorney.
—-—-He or she could be addressed in a purely social context as ‘Judge (Name)’ – by friends at parties, by neighbors on the street, or when issuing a wedding invitation for his daughter. But he would not be addressed as ‘Judge (Surname)’ when acting as legal counsel in another judge’s courtroom.
———————-– Robert Hickey

Dear Mr. Hickey,
It could be argued that the title of ‘Judge’ has supplanted the title of ‘Mister’ and that it would be a discourtesy (both to the retired judge and to the court that he or she served) to strip the retired judge of the title he or she earned. A judge in court is referred to as ‘Your Honor,’ or ‘The Court,’ so the parties involved in the proceeding will not be confused.

I should add it is the practice in our legal community to continue to refer to a retired judge who has returned to private practice as Judge (Surname)’ at least outside of the courtroom.
———————-–- Mark

Hi Mark,
If a retired judge were invited into the court room as a judge for some reason, then I’d say O.K. And if by ‘outside the courtroom’ you mean in social situations, I’d again say O.K.

The pattern in forms of address is when one leaves an office which has a special form of address – use of the forms of address related to the office extend to social use only. If one uses the dignity and honor of one’s former office for one’s personal monetary gain in a subsequent personal endeavor – red flags appear.

E.g., when USAF General who retires but then works for a defense contractor and is selling a product or service back to the U.S. government – he is addressed as Mr. (Name) while working as a commercial representative.

Through interviews with attorney’s and jurists I have confirmed the same pattern.

The former judge might still be addressed socially as Judge (Name) and could send out wedding invitations for his daughter’s wedding as Judge (Name) – because there is no possibility that anyone would think his actions have the force of the government behind them.

Thus, addressing a retired judge as Judge (Name) socially makes sense.

But addressing a practicing attorney as Judge (Name) is misleading to his role in the current circumstance.

– Robert Hickey   How to Address a Former Official

Related Posts:
—-Candidate for Office
—-The Honorable, Use of
—-The Late, Use of
—-Pro Tempore


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

When Should You Use the Forms on this Page?

You can use these forms of address for any mode of communication: addressing a letter, invitation, card or Email. (If there are differences between the official and social forms of address, I will have mentioned the different forms.)  The form noted in the salutation is the same form you say when you say their name in conversation or when you greet them.
___What I don’t cover on this site are many things I do cover in my book: all the rules of forms of address, about names, international titles, precedence, complimentary closes, details on invitations, place cards, all sorts of introductions, etc. I hope you’ll get a copy of the book if you’d like the further detail.

Not Finding Your Answer?

—-#1)  At right on desktops, at the bottom of every page on tablets and phones, is a list of all the offices, officials & topics covered on the site.

—-#2)  If you don’t see the official you seek included or your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day or so (unless I am traveling.)  Note: I don’t have mailing or Email addresses for any of the officials and I don’t keep track of offices that exist only in history books.

—-#3)  If I think your question is of interest to others, Sometimes I post the question  – but always change all the specifics.

— Robert Hickey 


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”