Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stationery Etiquette Mystery Needs Solving

My post yesterday, noting that even Twitter Wizard Ashton Kutcher uses personal stationery when the message is meaningful, has a short postscript noting the practice of crossing through one's name when writing a very personal note.

Here's an example from the slide show at Details Magazine showing congratulatory notes on their 10th anniversary:

I had never heard of this custom until queried by a writer recently. I have heard second- and third-hand that this is an indication that the note is of the most personal and respectful nature. I went to my go-to source - Google - and for once it was no help.

So, please help me and stationery-lovers everywhere learn the details of this custom. Original sources are welcome, as are stories from your childhood.


Tara said...

I've heard of that convention, but it makes no sense to me so I choose to ignore it. Does that help?!

Unknown said...

I've seen this done with stationery, business cards- cross out one's own name and write it in for personalization, usually accompanied by a short note.

I've also seen it on letterhead, where the writer crosses out the formal name of the recipient and writes in a first name or nickname.

Lydia said...

I have these words of advice from Judith Martin about when it is appropriate to draw a line through a name:

Washington Post, 6 June 2001
Dear Miss Manners:

I use my given name, Patricia, on my business cards, but I prefer to be called by my nickname, Pat. In business situations, should I have "Pat" printed on my cards? I do try to have my nickname used on name tags at meetings and conferences.

In an ideal world, you would have your formal name printed on your card and people would address you using only your surname with a title until you said, charmingly, "Oh, please call me Pat."

But you're not in the ideal world; you're in the modern business world. People are probably going to call you whatever first name they read on the card. Perhaps "Hi, Patricia (Pat), how ya doing?"

So it is just as well that you put only "Pat" on name tags, as that is how you prefer to be addressed. A way to preserve your formal name on your cards -- and offer a semblance of the aforementioned charm -- would be to draw a line through "Patricia" before you hand one over, writing "Pat" there instead.


Washington Post, 4 December 1988
Anyone using a business card to give information to a prospective friend-for lack of a social card or from wariness about giving a home address that early- should apologize with "I'm terribly sorry, a business card is all I have" and draw a line through the company name


Washington Post, 13 November 1985
Q: How does a professional address correspondence to relatives when it is strictly business mail and involves nonrelatives who are entitled to copies of the correspondence?

Obviously a "Dear Mother" salutation with copies to attorneys and financial institutions is inappropriate, but I feel uncomfortable with "Dear Mrs. Connor" even though the subject matter is business, and in some ways it seems that, to business addressees, I am denying the relationship.

A: You are quite right that your mother's bank may be startled to receive a copy of a "Dear Mommy" letter, and also that your mother might start wondering, if you address her as Mrs. Connor, whether the illusion of being an adult has gone to your head.

So you do both. One on top of the other.

Address the letter formally, as you do all business correspondence. Then take your pen, the one she gave you for high school graduation, and draw a line through "Dear Mrs. Connor." In your own little hand, which only she can read, replace it with "Dear Mother."

At the ending, cross out "Yours very truly" and write "Love and kisses" or whatever, and above where "Charles H. Connor III" is typed, sign "Chucky."

Miss Manners promises you it won't show up on the carbon. Only your mother will know.

Peter Hopkins said...

Thank you Lydia! I now have an even greater appreciation for Judith Martin.

With best regards,

Martin said...

I was astonished yesterday when I saw all the crossed name. I've never seen this before. It is not customary in Germany. So I'm keen to read more about.

Thank you for your interesting blog!

Martin said...

I was astonished yesterday when I saw all the crossed names. I've never seen this before. It is not customary in Germany. So I'm keen to read more about.

Thank you for your interesting blog!

Peter Hopkins said...

From Ellen Prague: Regarding the line drawn through one's name.....

This has been done since the beginning of time. When sending a gift and enclosing an engraved calling/gift card, we always draw a line through our name.... also, on printed or engraved holiday cards, the line is always drawn through the name.... it does indeed signify that a personal touch was given to your communication.

Best regards,
Ellen Prague

The Paper Shop, Inc.
Winter Park, Florida

Gin said...

It's also customary for writers to strike through their name when autographing books.

Peter Hopkins said...

To introduce: Gin - above - is a renowned expert on handmade paper and has a book to prove it! I looked and she crossed over her name in my copy.

Time spent with Gin Petty is time well spent.

Fannie said...

I was taught that this was for when you are writing to a friend, and your stationery has your full name (if it only has initials, then you don't cross them out). It also seems similar to the convention of authors crossing out their printed names on the title page of their book when they autograph a copy—it suggests that the person is there to write his own name, so the formal, printed name has been surpassed.

Unknown said...

I'd love to see what Leticia Baldridge has to say on this topic. Also, what about the Crane Blue Book?

Peter Hopkins said...

Hi Christopher:

You have me soooo busted! I had Letitia's book right at hand and completely forgot to check. Says Letitia about holiday cards: "Always sign your Christmas cards, even if they are printed with your names....Put a diagonal slash through your printed name (or names) and sign beneath it.

Please send me an e-mail at peter dot hopkins at comcast dot net.


Unknown said...

Simply amazing!
I've never heard of this, but now will be practicing such.

Peter Hopkins said...

Marjorie Maxfield, a national etiquette expert, writes:

Crossing out the last name on personal stationery, or a Christmas card is a commonplace with CEO's, the socially prominent and those in-the-know. It says," We know one another quite well" This savvy writer knows his etiquette, and continues a long-standing tradition in his well-mannered life.

Bunny said...

It shocked me that I didn't know this was a convention for personal correspondence. Thank you so much for bringing this to light.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you ask Tom Ford!

The Desk Set said...

Peter, I've been told it is to indicate that you personally wrote the correspondence and not your secretary.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this practiced and enjoy it thoroughly. But, if addressing it to someone who doesn't know/understand the etiquette, will they be offended? That is a whole other discussion!

xJane said...

It's generally for the kinds of people who often have other people write in their name. An A-List actor, producer, or whathaveyou might send holiday cards to everyone it is expedient for them to do so, but some few will receive holiday cards that are actually written by that person. These people will get the same card as everyone else but the person from whom it is will actually write the note, crossing out their name on the stationery to indicate that it is a personal rather than simply political note.