I adore the New York Times and I love me a good party, but even more so I am pedantic about honoring people’s surnames. So I was particularly dismayed when Phillip Galanes answered in a NYT’s Social Q’s column to a C. Z., San Francisco that they should by no means be concerned about their spouses poor invitation etiquette, “Your neighbors will be far happier to be invited than distraught by Hubby’s inability to spell Frances. (Or is it Francis?)” Galanes idea of invitation etiquette is probably the worst advice two people planning a wedding and writing their invitations could possibly follow. Galanes probably has no clue what problems he is contributing to in his response.
When it came to invitation etiquette, Galanes stated “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” And while he was specifically referring to a holiday party invitation and not a wedding, discounting the importance of getting your friends’ names right is by no means a small issue. Wouldn’t we all feel more comfortable going to a party where the host knew our name?
I clocked six weddings this last year, four of them failed to call me by my real name and one completely missed the mark in the difference between Miss, Ms. and Mrs. Only one wedding (1 out of 6) knew my correct name. For the record I kept my full original name, but to make matters worse a few even spelled my spouse’s surname incorrectly, so sometimes I was Mrs. Spelt Name Wrong. Which means the save the dates, invitations, place cards and thank you notes were also wrongly labeled. And after conferring with a few other female guests, it turned out I was not alone. The brides and grooms are not to be blamed completely, patronymics is the real culprit.
If you’re not familiar with patronymics, it’s the adoption of a male’s surname. There’s also matronymics which is the adoption of the mother or spouse’s surname, but this is seldom practiced except in places like Iceland and other Scandinavian countries. As a newlywed of little over a year, most just assumed I had taken my spouse’s name, few bothered to see if that was actually true. It is not.
For Galanes to brush off the importance of knowing your guests’ names is insulting, especially since one reason women often cave to patronymics is because it’s so important for the male to ‘carry on his family’s name.’ If it’s not so important, then men should be more willing to relinquish their namesakes and women should have as much equal opportunity to keep their name or pass theirs on as well. However, the culture we live in is one in which the most important surname is the male’s. I disagree with this assertion. Society and its inhabitant’s must give equal value to a woman’s names. I would love Galanes to be right about a name being unimportant, but not when it means that only one name is unimportant.
To add to the fire Galanes excused poor name etiquette so long as the party was successful, “Your husband’s generous hosting is probably reflecting better on the household than any calligraphic envelope could.” Where are our priorities if respecting our guests comes secondary to a fully stocked bar or good house music?
He further justified overlooking poor name etiquette so as not to make your partner feel inadequate in his shortcomings. This tells me that’s it’s okay to insult multiple guests in order to maintain your spouse’s delicate sensibilities? Whatever happened to people being able to handle constructive criticism? If I have something stuck in my teeth, I would rather be embarrassed momentarily by one person than walk around in front of everyone with green guck between my chompers. This attitude reminds me of a recent Modern Family episode when the family is split over telling Manny that sometimes his creations are less than masterpieces. Ultimately the patriarch (played by Al Bundy Ed O’Neil) lets Manny down gently explaining that he has all the capabilities of being great in life, but will never achieve that success without understanding his weaknesses.
If you’re unsure of your guests’ names – contact them and ask. It is less offensive to call and politely explain that you want them to be apart of your big day and want to make sure you get the name on the invitation perfect. I thoroughly appreciated the bride who called to double check my full name before sending out an invitation. That is a sign of respect and courtesy we should all give each other. And perhaps, accidents will still be made on the guest list. I never confronted the bride or groom who assumed I was Mrs. Someone Else, but taking polite advantage of the opportunities to provide the correct information is also crucial; for example, when signing the wedding card, the guest book, the invitation reply and most recently address requests during the holidays. There are ways to deal with guest invitation so that everyone feels honored and respected, as opposed to Galanes’ no-big-deal approach.