How to Use "The Honorable"

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How to Address U.S. Officials,
Both Current and Former,
As The Honorable

Questions & Answers, Frequently Asked Questions, and Blog

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 23 March 2020

When Do I Use My Own "The Honorable"?    
Can I Choose Not Address an Official as
"The Honorable (Full Name)"
       If I Do Not Think he/she is Honorable?     
Do you capitalized the "t"  in "The Honorable"? 
May I Abbreviate "Honorable"?      
Can I use simply "Hon."?  Do I have to include "The"?                

Does One Use "The Honorable" In his/her Return Address?  
Does A Host Issue an Invitation as "The Honorable (Full Name)"?    
Is it Proper to Call Yourself "The Honorable" In Conversation?     
Do You Use "The Honorable (Full Name)"
         When Signing Your Own Name?     
Do I Use "The Honorable (Full Name)" on my Business Card?     
Do I Use "Dear The Honorable (Name)" in a Salutation?              

Is an Acting Official "The Honorable"?        

Is The First Lady "The Honorable"?     

Is a Former Appointed Official Still "The Honorable"?     
Is a Former Elected Official still "The Honorable"?      
Is a Former President of the United States an "Honorable"?     

How to Address a couple who are both The Honorable?     
How to Address an "Honorable" & his/her Spouse?     

How to List a "The Honorable" in a Program?       

Are Deceased Persons still referred to as "The Honorable"?    

Does a Host/Hostess Use The Honorable on an Invitation?
    I am writing with regard the use of the Honorable on invitations. Our president, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is the Honorable.
      How should we write the name of Dr. Jackson on invitations? What is correct for listing titles and degrees (both earned and honorary) with Honorables? 
     Is it proper to say:
          The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, PhD
          President of XYZ Institute

          invites you to join her and ...
      Please advise.
         -- DP

Dear DP:
    On invitations the host/hostess is actually writing his/her own name, and one does not identify oneself as "The Honorable": Others address the person as "The Honorable" it is never used reflexively.
     Also, post-nominal abbreviations -- like "PhD" -- are not used on social correspondence. Invitations, even official ones like this, are considered social.
YES to:
        Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
nt of XYZ Institute
        invites you to join her and ....

               -- Robert Hickey

Is an Acting Deputy Secretary or
Deputy Attorney General Addressed as The Honorable

     How does one address a letter to an Acting Deputy Attorney General?  Does one refer to him as
The Honorable (Full Name)?  If he were the Deputy Attorney General he would be the Honorable (Full Name).  I believe that the Honorable is used for all presidential appointees; but this current Deputy Attorney General is just Acting (in office until he is confirmed by the Senate).
          -- Anup Sanjay

Dear Mr. Sanjay:
    Unconfirmed cabinet-level officials ... acting secretary, secretary ad-interim, and secretary designates (and corresponding attorneys general, too) ... are addressed as The Honorable. I base that on Mary Jane McCaffree & Pauline Innis's Protocol. But for office holders below cabinet level I know of no source that says the courtesy title is use with any office holder.
    So, an acting official below cabinet level would not be The Honorable until appointment and confirmation are complete.  Until then he or she is simply:
              Mr./Ms./etc. Name + Name of Office Held

    If an appointee had been elected to office in a general election or in some way was entitled to be addressed as The Honorable already ... he or she would not have to wait.
       -- Robert Hickey

How to Use the Honorable in a Salutation?
        I have to send a letter addressed to two state legislators, one a woman, the other a man. They are co-chairs of a joint committee.
        I assume the letter should be addressed to each separately using The Honorable, as in
            The Honorable (insert full name), Co-Chair
             Joint Committee Name
              Room Number
      State Capitol
        What would the salutation be? Would it be:
               The Honorable (insert full name)
               and The Honorable (insert full name)
        Or should I begin the salutation with Dear as opposed to The?
        Since they both have the same status as co-chairs, and each has held the position the same amount of time, should their order, both in the address and salutation be determined by how long each has been a legislator?
       Thank you in advance for your reply.

           -- Bob E. in Wisconsin

Dear Bob:
    Your outside envelope looks fine.
    You can use this form on the letter's "TO" spot, also.
    In a salutation you use the "conversational form"   So it would be:
        Dear Senator (Surname):       .... if a member of a senate
        Dear Delegate (Surname):     .... if a member of a house of delegates
        Dear Mr./Ms. (Surname):        .... if a member of legislature that doesn't have it's own honorific
                ... etc.
    The Honorable is a courtesy title that always precedes a full name and is not used in salutations.
    As to the order of the names .... even when legislators were sworn in on the same day one was first and one was second .... so they have precedence.  Maybe you can see them listed on their committee website and see who is listed first there?
    But if this is impossible, to use their precedence as legislators would be reasonable.

           -- Robert Hickey

Can I Use Just Hon. rather than The Honorable? 
       Is it proper to abbreviate the Honorable in the address of a letter? For example:
                       Hon. Peter Davis

                       1234 Main Street
                       Anytown, USA

       -- Janice Sidwell

        Is there a rule about using the with the abbreviated form of Honorable
        I remember some rule that tied using
the with Honorable in the Honorable.
        So, should the the
be used with Honorable? Just if I want to? Is there such a rule?
       -- TS in DC

Dear Ms. Sidwell & T.S. in DC:

         Never Honorable (Full Name) and never Hon. (Full Name).
       When there is room to spell it out, it is always:
                The Honorable Peter Davis
        If space is an issue, and you need to abbreviate (e.g., on a place card at an event where for some reason it has been decided that the style is to include courtesy titles) it could be:
                The Hon. (Full Name)
        -- Robert Hickey

Can I Not Address Someone As The Honorable
If I Think They Are Not Honorable?

I have a hard time writing The Honorable when I don’t find the official honorable (living with a woman not his wife, lying, corrupt etc.). Is it completely ignorant, to just use their official title such as Senator (Name), Governor (Name), etc?  I am respectful when writing to government officials, but that title galls me in some cases.  However, I don’t want my letters to be ignored just because of a lack of political etiquette.  So how crucial is it?
          -- G.C.

Dear G.C.,
The Honorable is a courtesy title which we in the U.S. have addressed elected officials since the late 1700's. If you want someone to pay attention to you, starting the conversation in a way they think is respectful -- is key to getting their attention. I know how I feel when I get a misaddressed letter, or get a letter with my name misspelled: I know for sure they don't actually know me, and the letter is going to be a waste of time.
          You write "I have a hard time writing The Honorable when I don’t find the official honorable."  I get variations on that question often:
          * Should I call the rabbi, Rabbi (Name), which means master or great one, if I am not Jewish?
          * Can I not address the mayor as Mayor (Name) if I voted against him?
          Of course, you can do whatever you want to do, but, it's standard practice to address an official in a hierarchy with their traditional forms of address. To push one's opinion into a conversation -- not on that specific topic -- may make the conversation a waste of time.
        So I say if you are taking the time to write a letter, address it in the way it's most likely to get the greatest attention.
        -- Robert Hickey

When Do I Use My Own "The Honorable"?
     In 1970  I was nominated by then President Nixon and confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Secretary of Transportation. I was thereafter written to and addressed as "the Honorable".
     In 1984 I was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed by the Senate as Under Secretary of Health and Human Services. Same "the Honorable" form of address.
     In between the two and after the second -- in my civilian life -- I used my business title, Chairman, President etc. with but two exceptions. My London office insisted upon using "the Hon.", which seemed to please the British, and our Frankfort office, in typical German fashion, used all the titles they could think of.
     My question; is it permissible and a matter of my personal choice when to use "the Hon." title somewhat similar to a "General" using his military tittle after retirement?
     I doubt that there would be many times when I would choose to do so, but upon occasion it might be useful (or amusing).
     - The Honorable in DC

Dear The Honorable in DC:
    The Honorable is not used by the person him or herself. It's a courtesy title, used by others as a courtesy when addressing another person. Thus, others address you as The Honorable (Full Name).
    You, actually, never use it with your own name.
                   -- Robert Hickey

Does One Use "The Honorable" In the Return Address?
Dear Mr. Hickey:
In the return address on an envelope for
an elected official, should his name appear as Joseph Schmo / (name of office) / (address) or The Honorable Joseph Schmo / (name of office) / (address) or something else?
         --- Adam Halsey

Dear Mr. Halsley:
      An individual never refers to him or herself as
The Honorable (name). So in the return address the name should be (Full name) / (name of office) / (address).
      I've seen on an envelope The Office of  / The Honorable (full name) / Delegate for the Seventh District / House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia / (address)   That's O.K. since it's stationery for all to use and it is not the official referring to the himself.
     Similarly, I wouldn't say "Hello, I am
Mr. Robert Hickey" ... one does not give oneself an honorific or courtesy title.  Sometimes I get free stickers in the mail with my name as Mr. Robert Hickey / (address) -- but not wanting to throw them out, I do use them -- on envelopes for paying bills.
          -- Robert Hickey

Is it Proper to Call Yourself "The Honorable" In Conversation?
Dear Mr. Hickey:
Is it proper to use the term the Honorable to refer to yourself in conversation
         --- Carla Harkness, Austin, Texas

Dear Ms. Harkness:
    If you are an
Honorable others would address you as The Honorable Carla Harkness, but you would never use it reflexively (referring to yourself that way).
    So you would never introduce yourself as
The Honorable Carla Harkness  If you were the mayor, you would introduce yourself saying  "Hello, I am Carla Harkness, I am the Mayor of Austin, Texas."
          -- Robert Hickey

Do You Use "The Honorable" When Signing Your Name?
A friend has been elected at the county level to sit as the state's attorney.  He signed a registry "The Honorable (name)" - Was that appropriate?
             --- ABH in Montana

Dear ABH:
One never describes oneself as "The Honorable" ... others address you as such, but you never use it 'reflexively'
    So, your friend should have signed the registry with just his name. If he issues an invitation, he wouldn't use "The Honorable (full name)" either ....
    But you and I would write his name on an envelope -- or introduce him/her -- as  "The Honorable (full name), State's Attorney for the Sixth Circuit Court"

           -- Robert Hickey

Can I Use "The Honorable" on My Card?
Dear Mr. Hickey:
Is it proper to use the term the Honorable to on my business card

         --- Keith Reinhardt, Cleveland

Dear Mr. Reinhardt:
ou would not use The Honorable Keith Reinhardt on your own card. on your stationery, in a letter you write, in your own signature, or an invitation you would issue. In every case you would write Keith Reinhardt, (office), so if you were a Senator, it would be Keith Reinhardt, United States Senator from Ohio.
          -- Robert Hickey

Are Elected Officials The Honorable for Life?
I am the mayor of a municipality - and the question arose: "Is a mayor the honorable for life?"
     --- Cate Wilson in Florida

Is a former state senator or assemblyman still "the Honorable"?
      --- F.P.W. in Albany

Dear Mayor Wilson and F.P.W.:
         The rule for U.S. officials elected to office in a general election is once an Honorable, always an Honorable.
         Mayors: So a current elected mayor of a municipality is formally: The Honorable (Full Name), Mayor of (Name of City) In conversation you are addressed as Mr./Madame Mayor, Mayor (Surname) -or- Your Honor.
         Other former elected-officials: They too continue to be formally addressed as The Honorable (Full Name) when they leave office. If they held a job which only one person can hold it at a time ... then the special honorific ... if there was one ... does not continue.  They revert to whatever conversational form of address to which they were entitled before they took office .... e.g..  Mr./Ms./Dr./etc. (Surname). Their successor gets to be one-and-only while they hold the office.
      E.g., for mayors, in a salutation or conversation, when one leaves office he/she goes back to Mr./Ms./etc. (Surname) -- since it is a job of which there is only one at a time.  A former mayor doesn't continue to be addressed as "Mayor (Name)" once they are out of office.
      But senators and judges, of which there were always many at the same time, may continue to be addressed by the "title" when they are out of office.  If they are fully retired they are more likely to want to use the elevated form of address.  If they are working professionally in some other field, they are much less likely to do so.
           -- Robert Hickey

Is a Person Still Addressed as
The Honorable
(A Former Official) If
He/She Is Now Working as Something Else?

Dear Robert,
     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. Is he still addressed "The Honorable (Full Name)," and as "Judge (Name)", or would that be inappropriate now that he is a lawyer in private practice?
             --- Mark

Hi Mark,
    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 – he/she is addressed & identified on a business envelope in the style of an attorney.
     He or she would traditionally 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
     t 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.  In court the judge 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.
             --- JAL & GW

Hi JAL & GW,
         If by "outside the courtroom" you mean in social situations, I'd 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 courtesies of the forms of address related to the office extend to social use only.
        E.g., when USAF General who retires but subsequently works for a defense contractor and is selling a product or service to the U.S. government -- he is addressed as Mr. (Name) while working as a commercial representative

        Through interviews with attorney's and jurists they 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.
        When you observe formers being addressed as currents ... it has more to do with the person addressing the former office holder wanting to flatter the former office holder, or the former office holder wishing to continue to receive a courtesy accorded a current office holder.
           -- Robert Hickey

Is The Honorable used with the Names of the Deceased?
In a picture caption, should former president be listed as The Honorable (Full Name) as The Honorable George Washington or The Honorable John F. Kennedy?
             --- CH in Watkinsville, GA

Dear CH:
     The courtesy title the Honorable is used when addressing or listing the name of a living person. When the name of a deceased person is listed it's just (Full Name) + Office Held that is pertinent to the story being told for which the photo is included.
     So a photo of John F. Kennedy might list his name followed by
John F. Kennedy, Lieutenant aboard PT109, John F. Kennedy, Senator from Massachusetts, or John F. Kennedy, president of the United States.  But it would never be The Honorable John F. Kennedy.
           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former President of the United States?
Is He Addressed as "The Honorable"?

I have an example referring to a former president as "The Honorable (Name)"  Is that incorrect?  Yet I also find that one should call a former president as "Mr. (Last Name), and identify him as a former president. So what should I say to formally introduce a former president?
            --- MJH

Dear MJH:
Former U.S. elected officials are The Honorable (Full Name).
     All of these would be correct for a formal introduction:
          The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton,
                   President of the United States. 1993-2001

          The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton,
                   Former president of the United States
          The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
                   42nd president of the United States
     If you just first & last name –
William Clinton – that would constitute a (Full Name) too. I would not suggest using his nickname – Bill Clinton – with The Honorable.
     This is correct for direct address, in a one-on-one introduction, or in conversation:
          Mr. Clinton
                  -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Two Honorables?
     I need to send a letter to two people (husband and wife) who are married and both need to be addressed as The Honorable in an address.  How do I address them?!  Thanks.
     -- Rick Eckis on Capital Hill

Dear Mr. Eckis:
      I include how to cover how to address two 'honorables' in Chapter 9: Joint Forms of Address.
(1) First determine which person has higher precedence so you can know whose name is listed first.
     (2) Then list each person's name on a line by itself. Anyone's who is The Honorable gets his or her name written in full on a line by itself.
     (3) the "t" in "the" is not capitalized on the second line. Only on the first.
Neither age nor gender are considerations. So if you determine he has higher precedence, his name is on the first line and hers in on the second. If she has higher precedence she is listed first.
           The Honorable (full name)
         and the Honorable (full name)
    -- Robert Hickey

Is the First Lady "The Honorable"?
     Is it appropriate to address the First Lady of the United States as The Honorable?
     -- Anne Howe

Dear Ms. Howe:
    Officials elected to office are recognized by the use of the courtesy title the Honorable.
    Actually, First Lady
is not traditionally used as a title or honorific for the wife of the President of the United States as it is in some church congregations. She is addressed directly as Mrs. (Surname) and identified (as if you need to identify her to anyone) as First Lady of the United States.
   If you were to introduce her to another person you would say:
        Mrs. (Surname) may I present ....

   If you were asked to introduce her from a podium prior to her speech you would say:
        May I present First Lady of the United States of America
, Mrs. (Surname).
   See my book for every form used when addressing or communicating with the First Lady, or the page on this site where I give the forms for addressing a letter and salutation to a Spouse of the President of the United States.
                  -- Robert Hickey

Is the "t" capitalized in "the Honorable"?    
   Is the "t" capitalized when referring to the Honorable?
        -- Carl Hanson

Dear Mr. Hanson:   
    It's not capitalized unless it's the first word in a line ... or in a sentence.
    In my book I followed the style recommendations of the Chicago Manual of Style and New York Times Manual of Style ... and neither would cap the "t" in "the Honorable" in the middle of sentence.
         -- Robert Hickey

How to List More Than One Elected Official?    
   How does one list the governor and the mayor in a program for an event at which they will be speaking. I found the forms of address in you book, but just not sure if that's what I should use on a program?
           -- Susan in Honolulu

Dear Susan:
    Use this formula:
         1) In the program list their names in the order they will speak
         2) List them using the official form of their name
         3) Identify their office after their name.

Welcome Remarks
The Honorable (Full Name), Governor of the State of Hawaii
The Honorable (Full Name), Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu

         -- Robert Hickey
     I don't think it's necessary to list their offices. Everyone will know who they are. O.K?
           -- Susan in Honolulu

Dear Susan:
   You are right, sometimes offices are not included because those present may know who they are. But programs also serve as keepsakes and as a record of the event. Often to include / not to include offices, date, year, and location are made with posterity in mind.

How to Address an "Honorable" and His Wife?
     When addressing an "Honorable" male and his spouse on a formal invitation, I have always addressed them as The Honorable and Mrs. John Q. Citizen.   Someone in my office now is suggesting the correct form is The Honorable John Q. Citizen and Mrs. Citizen.
     Please help!!  Thank you so very much.

                   -- LCP

Dear LCP:
      The person in your office is correct. I think the "The Honorable and Mrs." form comes from just changing the "Mr. and Mrs." form.  
      The formal form is "rank + name" all kept as a unit. 
      These forms are not used:
          Admiral and Mrs. John Q. Citizen
         Rabbi and Mrs. John Q. Citizen
The Honorable and Mrs. John Q. Citizen
    Correct on a formal invitation would be:
        Admiral John Q. Citizen and Mrs. Citizen
         Rabbi John Q. Citizen and Mrs. Citizen
         The Honorable John Q. Citizen and Mrs. Citizen

             -- Robert Hickey

Not Finding Your Question Answered?
(1) At left is a list offices/officials covered and (2) below are other topics covered in my blog. Between the two I probably have what you are looking for.
     But after checking both lists if you don't see your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day (unless I am traveling.)
      If I think your question is of interest to others, I will post the question & answer – but I always change the names and specifics.
      -- Robert Hickey

Mr., Miss, Jr., III, & Names        
Married Women       
Deceased Persons         
People with Two Titles
Post-Nominal Abbreviations and Initials         
Sequence Post-Nominal Abbreviations: Sr., Jr., etc.    
Couples: Private Citizens / Joint Forms of Address 
Couples: U.S. Military / Joint Forms of Address     
Couples: U.S. Officials / Joint Forms of Address      

Former Officials            
Professionals and Academics        

United States Federal Officials, Currently In Office             
United States State Officials, Currently In Office              
United States Municipal Officials, Currently In Office             
       All About The Honorable with U.S. Officials         
       Former United States Officials of all types             
United States Armed Services
       Addressing Active Duty Personnel              
       Addressing Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Veterans      

Tribal Officials 
Clergy and Religious Officials           
Canadian Officials         
Australian Officials          
British Officials, Royalty, and Nobility        
Diplomats and International Representatives
Foreign National Officials and Nobility        

Author's Name on His/Her Book       
Business Cards, Names on
Introductions, Names in
Invitations: Names on
Invitations: Names of Armed Service Personnel on        
Name Badges & Tags            
Names on Programs, Signs, & Lists            
Naming a Building or Road            
Place Cards            

Plaques, Awards, Diplomas, Certificates, Names on    
Precedence: Ordering Officials 
Tombstones, Names on      

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 23 March 2020


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Robert Hickey is the author of Honor & Respect:
The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address
Published by The Protocol School of Washington®
Foreword by Pamela Eyring

Available in   Hardcover   /  Kindle   /  Apple Book

Copyright © 2020 Robert Hickey.     All Rights Reserved.
Book Photo: Marc Goodman.