The most spectacular battles connected with planning a wedding may be over how to humiliate the bride's father's new wife, force the guests to channel any generosity they may feel into the bridal couple's favorite fund, or jam two or more old ladies into matching dresses totally against their lifetime tastes in order to identify them as the wedding party grandmothers.
But the most insidious one with the most lasting repercussions has to do with names.
Wouldn't you think that getting everyone's name right would be a simple matter when dealing with a presumably close circle of relatives and friends? Miss Manners trembles for a society whose members can't even figure out what to call themselves, let alone how to address their relations and friends without insult.
Yet typically now:
The bride may not decide until after the wedding whether she is going to keep her original surname, assume her husband's or use both, and whether she wishes to be styled Miss, Ms. or Mrs. Or she may announce from the start what she wants, only to find it ignored by those who don't approve of her choice.
The bridegroom's family hands in a guest list with initials it in place of first names, no honorifics and the notation "and family" to designate children or other resident relatives.
The bride's relatives succumb to pressure to allow their friends to bring long- or short-term romantic partners, and they write "and guest" or "and escort" on the invitations to single people.
The bridal couple demand to have their nicknames on the formal invitations or their parents think it's too stuffy for them, as hosts, to be "Mr. and Mrs." and want their first names used.
All of this is justified as the simplest, friendliest or most common current solution. That's what people always say when they violate rules of etiquette, and they always get in trouble for it.
In this case, the bride feels insulted by everyone who misaddresses her, assuming that the reason is never ignorance of her preference but the desire to express disapproval of it.
Guests feel insulted because their names are not written as they prefer, and either they use "and family" as license to bring their extended acquaintances or they boycott the wedding because they do not consider that any members of their household not listed by name are invited.
Guests with proper fiance's or other stable partners feel insulted that no one has bothered to learn the names of their loved ones.
Those without such arrangements invite someone who then either feels pressured because the invitation seems to be a hint that the inviting partner wants his or her own wedding, or feels totally unobligated to the unknown hosts and therefore free from any present-giving or other conventions of wedding guest etiquette. Or the original guest can't find someone to invite and feels depressed and unwanted as a single person.
Those who might have felt that formal invitations are pretentious still feel so, because the invitations are engraved and expensive looking, while those who are used to formal invitations now think this one is pretentious because it is being issued by people who are not familiar enough with the form to do it properly.
That is a great deal of ill feeling going around for the lack of a few basic rules. Here, then, since it is back-to-basics time in the etiquette department, are a few simple rules:
It is now a bride's duty to let people know what she prefers to be called after the wedding. (If possible, she should refrain from telling them why, as in "I don't intend to lose my identity.") She can tell everyone in person or she can use the old at-home card formula:
Dr. Daniela Tribble-Atkins Mr. Kevin Atkins
with address in the lower right corner and the date from which they will be there on the left.
(It is appropriate to use two lines for the names of two people, married or not -- Miss Manners is of course thinking of adult brothers and sisters -- who live at the same address but do not fit into the "Mr. and Mrs." form.)
She should also refrain from bristling at those who get it wrong. There is enough ill will in the world without running around looking for it.
Guest lists must be accurate. If you don't know the people well enough to find out what their actual names are and whether they prefer Ms., Mrs., Doctor or Baron, they don't belong at your wedding.
Children, as well as adults, have names, and so do romantic partners. The tactful thing, if you really want to be so liberal as to permit unknown guests, is to say: "Dora, I know you've been seeing someone; would you like to bring him? Just give me his name and address, and I'll send him an invitation."
Informal wedding invitations, which are charming, are made in the form of handwritten letters. Formal ones are lovely, too, but cannot be tampered with.
Dear bridal couples: If you are not going to bother to get things right now, when are you going to start?
Q: At my husband's school reunion, I commented to another spouse that it was an enjoyable evening. She responded, "I have been doing this all my life and have been born and bred to enjoy this very type of occasion."
I was astounded and didn't know what to say. I would appreciate knowing what an appropriate reply would be, short of inquiring if her parents were cows.
A: That is not much of a retort, aside from its being rude. However, Miss Manners doesn't know that any was necessary. School reunions are all very well in their way, but anyone born and bred to such an occasion has enough troubles, without anyone's adding to them with more than silence or a stifled roar of laughter.
Q: What would your reaction be to a young couple who married at a courthouse more than five years ago, had a home reception for 80 people, have two children and now would like to have the wedding they missed as a bride and groom, with bridesmaids and the whole scene?
A: That they had better have a lot of extremely good-natured friends with rollicking senses of humor.