How to Address a Widow

How Do I Address a Widow?

Here are your options. You can read them all or just skip to #5.

—-#1) Mrs. John Doe is the traditional form for a widow. Just because her husband has died, a widow continues to be ‘Mrs. (Husband’s Name)’ … if she chooses to.
—-For example, my mother continued to use Mrs. Thomas Hickey after my father died. She had Margaret Hickey on her checks, but never Mrs. Margaret Hickey.  She disliked Ms. but I think (in her case) it was a generational thing.

—-#2) Mrs. Jane Doe is the traditional form of address for a divorced woman. Since she would no longer be Mrs. John Doe the divorced woman inserted her given name so everyone would be clear that she was not married anymore.
—-But many married women prefer Mrs. (Their Given Name)+(Family Name) because they want Mrs. (maybe they have children?) and want their given name used. Either they don’t know about the ‘traditional form for a divorcee’ or don’t care! What they prefer is what they prefer and that’s the end of the discussion.


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

—-#3) Ms. Jane Doe is the contemporary form which does not suggest a marital status. I note that more and more younger women use this form professionally and anytime they think their marital status is not pertinent to the communication/conversation.

—-#4) Simply Jane Doe – is a casual form. Not using any honorific is very informal.

—-#5) Ask the preference of the person you are addressing. She may prefer different forms of her name in different situations. For a wedding invitation from a bride who knew her husband she might prefer Mrs. John Doe. But from someone she knows professionally – who did not know her husband – she might prefer Ms. Jane Doe.

—-#6) For a spouse who never used the same surname, see the post below, “How to Address a Widow Who Never Used Her Husband’s Surname?”

 – Robert Hickey  


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

How to Address a Widow Who Never Used Her Husband’s Surname?

How do you address a sympathy note’s envelope a new widow who kept her maiden name?
For example: Her name is Jane Smith and her husband’s name was John Taylor?
———————– Sausalito, CA

Dear Sausalito:
Address her using the name she has always used:
————Ms. Jane Smith

Them not using the same surmame made them no less married.  In the note include something like ….  ‘the loss of your husband, John”

In much of the world it’s the norm for women to keep their maiden name. In Much of Asia, South America and the Middle East women typically keep their surname when they marry. It’s really just the European cultures – and places influenced by that style – where women change their surnames.

— Robert Hickey


Robert Hickey author of “Honor & Respect”

When Do Widows Prefer Mrs. or Ms.?

My aunt’s husband died several years ago and she has been seeing someone else for the past several years. They aren’t married but I am inviting him to the wedding too.
—-When addressing her invitation, I don’t know if I should still write Mrs. or if I should refer to her as Ms. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
——————– Keri

Dear Keri:
Whether she prefers to be addressed as Mrs. (Name) or Ms. (Name) is her choice.

—-She may prefer Ms. (Her full name) since you are inviting her with her new beau.

—-She may prefer ‘Mrs. Richard Wilson’ (her deceased husband’s full name) since it is a family event. It’s no secret to her new friend that she was previously married.

The only solution is … call and ask. I’ve never encountered anyone who was offended when asked ‘what form of their name do you prefer’.

NOTE: It’s not a forms of address issue, there are a couple of ways to issue this sort of invitation.
Formally – adult guests who do not pressent them self as a “permanent couple” (whatever that is) are issued separate invitations. This includes roommates at the same address and ‘dating’ adults who are living at different addresses.
A bit less formally – the principal guest is sent an invitation and you tell them they are welcome to bring a guest. Not everything has to be formal, but I thought I would throw that in.

– Robert Hickey   How to Address a Widow


Related Forms of Address:
—-Couples: Military
—-Couples: Private Citizens
—-Couples: U.S. Officials
—-Couple, Same Sex
—-First Names
Man or Woman, Social
—-Woman, Married
Mrs. vs. Ms.
Spouse of an Official


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”